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Spiranti pioneers – Robert Camp, Director of Strategic Innovation, Stephens Scown

Robert Camp was for eight and half years the Managing Partner of West Country law firm Stephens Scown.  During that time, he doubled the turnover and profit of the firm and its headcount, making it one of the region’s legal powerhouses.

Now as Director of Strategic Innovation he has the client experience firmly in his sights.

Stephens Scown is quite rightly considered one of the more innovative law firms in the country.  It first caught the market’s imagination in 2016 when it introduced its employee ownership scheme, called ‘Scownership’.  Now, the firm is now turning its attention to the customer experience.

Robert describes himself as something of a magpie – always interested in new things and thoughts.

“I am always looking to stretch myself and as Managing Partner I would regularly attend conferences and events on leadership and practice management.  At first, I would feel a little out of place but there was usually something I could take back, tweak and put into our practice.  I was always looking for new ways to get a competitive edge in our market.”

As Managing Partner, he spent a lot of time getting the people side of the business right.  “Now it is time to focus on improving the experience of our customers and their journey,” he says.

“Our clients are predominantly entrepreneurs, owner-managed business and high net worth individuals and their families,” says Robert.  “They expect slick systems but married with partner contact.  Our approach to innovation is always focused on how we can improve their experience, and that does not always mean turning to technology.”

It also means taking the long view.

“Our budgets and resources are limited,” Robert explains.  “We cannot just flick a switch and change direction.  We need to pick small areas where we can make a big difference.  This will often mean looking outside of the sector, such as how the new challenger banks like Starling and Monzo onboard new customers.”

A big step for the firm was the creation of its Innovation Hub a little over two years ago.

The Innovation Hub has some 30 members of staff, or 10 per cent of the firm’s headcount, drawn from across the firm – including receptionists, accounts staff, marketing and legal advisors – who meet quarterly with the primary objective of improving the customer experience.

“The whole firm can feed into the innovation hub,” explains Robert, “and we are currently looking at a more sophisticated engagement platform where staff (known as Scowners) can track and vote on ideas.  Ideas can be small, such as changes to lighting and having plants in our offices, through to the very large, such as process automation.”

Robert is very aware of the changing demographic in the workplace and the impact this will have on legal businesses and the way innovation is approached.

“We have four generations of people in our offices, and the younger generation is increasingly entrepreneurial, commercially savvy and wanting to get involved,” says Robert.  “There has always been a war for talent and whereas 10 or 15 years ago we may have lost people to money, now firms are likely to lose people to those firms who are more innovative.

“Developing a real culture of innovation will attract the right people and bring a true competitive advantage.”

Robert’s investment in the firm’s people has made it much easier for innovation to be embraced by all Scowners, irrespective of where they are in their career.

“Older generations need to understand how innovation sits with firm strategy and that it will make their lives easier,” says Robert.  “They need to see the benefits.  Small and team pilots can help.  And lawyers are, of course, naturally competitive.  When they see one team doing something different, they often want to follow.”

Innovation is as much about the way a firm works as the technology used.  Choosing the right technology platforms for smaller and mid-sized firms can be a real challenge. Robert offers this advice.

“Firms of our size cannot break the mould – we simply do not have the budgets.  We are increasingly looking outside the legal technology market and discovering some really interesting companies with technology focused around the customer journey wishing to break into the legal sector.  This brings some advantages in that the fundamental testing has been done, leaving just the beta testing to the legal market.”

But it is all too easy to get distracted by the myriad of technology offers available, making decisions difficult.

“Find a company where the product is good and where you are comfortable working with the people, and then shut out the noise,” says Robert.  “Focus on what you have and what you want to achieve.”

And that is where a good chief innovation officer with a passion for improving the customer journey is critical.  Stephens Scowns is likely to be setting the innovation benchmark for mid-sized regional law firms for many years to come.