Nelsons Unveils Vision For The Future

From a small office above a shop to a UK top 200 law firm with three offices across the East Midlands – we have grown significantly since we opened under four decades ago. As we launch a new identity and vision for the future, we want to continue to evolve in a traditional sector.

Nelsons Vision For The Future
L-R: Stewart Vandermark and Tim Hastings

In the early 1980’s, law firms were not allowed to do anything to directly attract work and simply had to wait for clients to come to them.

We opened our Nottingham office in 1983 – and co-founder Tim Hastings debated whether a ‘please enter’ sign on the front door was a regulatory breach.

It meant that we had to think outside the box. We couldn’t tout, but we could at least always be available.

So, in an era where competitors’ doors were closed during lunch times, our staff printed their home phone numbers on letterheads and business cards, offering a 24-hour service.

Chief executive, Stewart Vandermark, who took on the role in summer 2017, says:

“It allowed clients to contact solicitors out of hours, something that was then very rare in the legal industry.”

And this is just one example of the forward-thinking ethos at our company.

From early on, we bucked the cellular office fit-out trend by housing our lawyers in an open plan environment.

“You’ll struggle to find an office that isn’t open plan these days, but law firms weren’t structured like that a few decades ago,” says Stewart.

“Lawyers in other firms tended to have their own offices, with the size marking their progression through the organisation.

“What struck me when I joined Nelsons was how its open plan approach made it feel far less hierarchal than I had experienced elsewhere.”

Today, we continue to innovate and challenge the traditionally fragmented workplace structure in the sector.

“Early on, Nelsons also got hold of an IT agenda that is still with us today,” adds Stewart.

“People continue to join us from other firms and tell us our IT is at the leading edge of the sector and that’s because it has always been our priority to be as responsive as we can to clients and engage in a way they want to engage.

“That desire to push ourselves forward to allow us to serve our clients has been a constant throughout our evolution.

“More recently we’ve developed packages in conveyancing that feature robots, and we were one of the first to offer people the chance to buy documents, such as a will or to start up a business, online for a fixed fee as an alternative to the more traditional ways of purchasing legal services.”

Having taken the opportunity of incorporating as a limited company, we also became early adopters of an alternative business structure.

This requires us to hold a licence from the Solicitors Regulatory Authority so that employees who aren’t solicitors – such as those in the management, conveyancing and investment management teams – can also reach partner status.

“It’s something we did so we could celebrate the expertise and specialisms of the skilful people we have in the non-legal disciplines,” says Stewart, who joined Nelsons in 2001.

“Since the start, we’ve always understood that you need to be well-managed and well-run to be successful – it’s all well and good having lawyers, but you need to have people who can turn that into a profitable enterprise with a sense of direction and purpose.

“That’s something we’ve really celebrated and we pride ourselves on breaking down hierarchies and allowing all of our employees to develop.”

By 1999, we had grown rapidly with offices open in Leicester and Derby, completing seven mergers with long-established law firms within just 18 months.

Just seven years later, we took the decision to drop criminal law from our range of legal services.

“Many of us joined Nelsons after it became a regional firm and then a ‘regional heavyweight’, according to the prestigious Legal 500,” says Stewart.

“But when Tim and the other founders opened the doors, they took a gamble by setting up a new firm, which was willing to push boundaries to put clients first and to create something new.

“It is the spirit of that disruption that is at the heart of the story of Nelsons and a reason why it has grown so rapidly.”

Last year, we embarked on a journey to rediscover our sense of purpose, to understand why we open our doors each day and to reconnect with our employees with a sense of purpose – and the process spiralled into something even greater for our business.

“We hadn’t set out on a rebrand, it just happened naturally,” says Stewart, who specialised in resolving intellectual property and insolvency disputes before becoming CEO.

“I had taken on the role of CEO and it marked an important transition in the life of Nelsons.

“Tim had opened the doors 36 years ago and managed the firm throughout its life, so a move to a new CEO was a significant moment.

“It was a great opportunity to pause, take stock and think about who we are, what we are doing, why we do it and where we are going.

“I thought it was really important to capture what made Nelsons, which would free us up to continue to reinvent ourselves in fresh ways relevant for the modern world.”

Our annual partners’ conference was used as a way for colleagues to share stories about when they were most proud of the firm. Stewart says:

“What struck me as we started to think about it was that we were clear about what we did.

“But we’d never really stopped to think about why we were doing it. We wanted a process to help us connect with that.

“So, everyone shared specific stories about why they’re proud to be here, what has most excited them and what has encapsulated Nelsons at its best.

“We’d never done the conference like this before – it was a deliberate step in a fresh, new direction.

“It was a great success and two clear themes continually emerged when stories were being shared,” according to Stewart.

He adds: “One was the idea of empowering clients, which I suppose is inevitable because as lawyers, that’s what you do – we give clients a voice, fight for them, help them seek justice and steer them through the complex legal issues they face.

“The other theme was about pushing boundaries, which came through Tim’s story and the evolution of Nelsons.

“It was always a law firm that was looking to do things a bit differently, it was a bit of a disrupter in its early years.

“But we were very clear that we weren’t interested in pushing boundaries for the sake of it – it’s about doing it for a purpose, and our purpose is ultimately to serve clients, to stand alongside them and help them take control of their lives and businesses.”

Following the Conference, our senior leadership team went away and worked on creating a one-page plan that became a “vision” booklet for staff to keep, which captures Nelsons – including setting out our three-year picture and 10-year target.

“Those who had been here from the early years in particular felt that the firm had been a place with real swagger. At the heart of it all was the idea that we wanted to recapture that spirit of the early years,” says Stewart.

“There is a general feeling around the office of excitement and positivity, and I think the new branding, which shows us as we are – a vibrant, dynamic and innovative law firm – has helped with that.

“I’m immensely proud of how far Nelsons has come.

“It’s a unique story – from a small office above a shop to a leading law firm for businesses and individuals in under four decades.

“Nelsons has always been, and must continue to be, willing to push forward so we can find new and better ways to serve clients.”