When Laura Devine set up her boutique immigration law firm in 2003 wellbeing was certainly not a recognised term in the business world, never mind in the traditionally stressful legal sector.
However, Laura was driven by the desire to offer a workplace where staff were at the centre of the firm’s ethos and the values of the firm were nurtured in order to ensure a positive and enriching staff and client experience. Her focus was on building a ‘3 C’s culture’ ensuring a caring, collegiate and collaborative environment where the entire team felt comfortable and appreciated at all times.
What is LDS doing to promote a healthy and well-balanced life for employees?
Initially we started off by introducing incentives like extra days holiday, Friday evening drinks, in-house exercise classes, and early summer day closure that were all positively received by staff. As the business has grown and matured, we have introduced a more comprehensive programme that has now developed into a movement lead by our dedicated wellbeing team.
The team is headed by Anna Robinson who joined the firm in 1997, who as well as being a senior solicitor, is a psychotherapist. Anna’s qualifications and skills in law and psychotherapy provide a unique perspective to our bespoke wellbeing movement which has been designed after conversations between the partners, wellbeing team, and staff and studying the feedback from comprehensive staff questionnaires.
Last year the wellbeing team launched a weekly drop-in surgery offering a safe space for staff to discuss work stress/matters in confidence with Anna. One of our employees reported how the sessions helped her to name and reflect on her bereavement and loss, which in turn alleviated the mental load enabling her to function more productively at work and has been vital to her to allow her to move forward and process her loss. Conversely, these sessions have also presented opportunities for others within the office to speedily mediate and diffuse conflict by providing a platform for resolution.
As a result of constantly monitoring staff needs we also identified the value of three key support groups. Our parent and carer group facilitates discussion and shares experiences. The Wise Women’s Wellbeing Club supports staff going through the menopause and highlights the need for awareness to sensitive and often taboo issues. Following feedback we also created the men’s group to counterbalance our female majority. The groups meet regularly to bond and discuss pertinent wellbeing topics and provide feedback on where this can be extended and improved.
How does having a strong wellbeing culture benefit LDS?
Time and time again our new joiners say they are drawn to LDS because of the culture we operate, and in today’s highly competitive legal market, this is what helps set us apart and attract the best talent. We strive to offer a wellbeing programme that enables all of our staff to have healthy work-life balance and our staff respond to this with loyalty and diligence. We have excellent retention rates and longevity of service (many staff have over 10 years’ service and all partners have over 15 years) which has an extremely positive effect on productivity and service levels as we have built long standing relationships with clients and are acquainted with their needs, enabling us to be proactive and provide bespoke support.
What do you think the legal industry needs to change in order to promote a healthier well-being for employees?
We have seen over the last few years the need for the legal sector to adapt to a more flexible approach to working as a way improve staff wellbeing, and this is slowly happening, however the industry has some way to go to.
At LDS we try to treat changing circumstances as an opportunity to be innovative. Whilst other employers may settle for part-time working arrangements, we are trying to develop initiatives that incorporate flexible working hours, working from home and global remote working. For example, we have retained a solicitor who had to relocate to Israel due to her partner’s job as well as a paralegal who relocated to Paris to study. We created two, flexible roles to retain these staff whilst providing continuity of service to clients. Some employees have also chosen to work a four-day week, which has resulted in improved performance levels and overall wellbeing. We are keen to continue looking at alternative working practices and one of the ideas that the partners are currently looking at is the nine-day fortnight.
About the author
Laura is the Managing Partner of Laura Devine Immigration Law, a prestigious boutique immigration firm with offices in London and New York providing UK and US immigration advice which has been described as a “transatlantic powerhouse”. Laura is recognised as a Who’s Who Legal thought leader and its highest-rated UK immigration lawyer in 2018 standing out as “the best”. Laura and her firm of 60 staff are rated by all legal directories in the top tier of immigration firms as are the other partners of the firm. Laura is an English solicitor and a US attorney and before launching her own law firm she established the immigration practices at Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC) and Eversheds (now Eversheds Sutherland).
The firm is commended in The Times Best Law Firms 2019 for immigration. Laura is the UK representative of the International Bar Association Immigration Committee. She was a Council member of the Law Society for eight years and sat on the Law Society Immigration Committee for 15 years. She is the immigration correspondent for the Law Society Gazette and editor of Thomson Reuters’ first book on global immigration entitled ‘Immigration Law: Jurisdictional Comparisons’ now in its second edition. Laura speaks internationally on immigration, law firm management and women in business. She is seen as a pioneer on CSR in law firms.
As Managing Partner Laura, oversees all staff and client matters for both the UK and US teams. She advises on UK and US immigration with a client base spanning all sectors from finance to fashion and corporates to individuals.