Parslows’ LLP puts its long-running success down to its approachable, open and people-centric way of doing business. Emily Moore reports
WHEN Carl Parslow decided, some 12 years ago, to set up his own legal practice, he was hoping that such a move would both support his clients and give him a better work/life balance.
But, as he admits with a slightly wry smile, it has taken more than a decade for the second part of that goal to come to fruition.
And the past 12 years, while enabling him to fulfil his ambition of building a practice which focuses on providing ‘direct but bespoke advice’ to individuals and smaller-to-medium-sized businesses, have also presented plenty of challenges.
‘While the initial plan may not have gone quite as I first envisaged, thankfully it wasn’t long after I launched Parslows that we started attracting some good talent and team members who shared my vision of a practice which really did put it clients first,’ explained Carl.
Indeed, it was a desire to provide that tailored support which inspired the advocate and notary public to establish his own business.
‘While there are plenty of law firms in the Island, there are very few catering for private individuals and smaller businesses,’ he explained. ‘Many firms may say that they cater for smaller businesses but, in a number of cases, they apply the same model that they would to a large-scale firm, which isn’t really appropriate.’
It was a year after setting up the firm that Natalie Jenner, now an advocate and managing partner of Parslows LLP, joined the business. Having ‘fallen into law by accident’, Natalie had followed a similar path to Carl, starting out in personal law before switching disciplines.
‘My original intention was to get a summer job in a law firm while I was at university,’ reflected Natalie. ‘I joined a really small firm, where the advocate specialised in criminal law and, as a 22-year-old, I found that area really interesting.
‘However, it was while I was working there that I was introduced to family and private client law and that is the area in which I tend to specialise now.’
And Natalie is not the only one whose career path has changed since university. Having started in finance, Carl’s deviation into law stemmed from ‘a wish to help people’.
Having provided support and advice for many local businesses, it was not until the Covid pandemic hit that Carl was suddenly struck by the similarities between his own business and that of his clients.
‘Covid was a scary time and definitely the most challenging period of the practice’s 12-year history,’ Carl reflected. ‘During that first week of lockdown, not only was I questioning whether Parslows would survive, but I was also trying to answer queries from lots of other worried business-owners.
‘A lot of people have a perception that lawyers are all incredibly wealthy and drive around in Bentleys and have £25m yachts. Covid really brought home the fact that our firm, and those of many of our contemporaries, are the same as any other small business. We may provide a different service, but we suffer from the same issues and we certainly don’t drive around in Bentleys.’
The pandemic also, says Carl, highlighted the importance of having strong business foundations.
‘You can’t rely on anyone else,’ he said. ‘If your boat isn’t secure for the storm, don’t blame anyone else and don’t ask for handouts.’
In many ways, it is perhaps Carl and Natalie’s slightly more cautious approach to business which enabled Parslows not only to weather the Covid storm but also to emerge stronger and more confident in its future.
‘We know our limits and we know our expertise, specialising in the four areas of property, family law, wills and probate and business law for SMEs,’ they explained.
‘Among the many lessons which Covid taught us was the importance of having the right plans in place to ensure longevity. We are not greedy, we are there to assist and, to do that consistently and reliably, we need to expand slowly but surely, which explains why we haven’t suddenly grown our workforce ten-fold since the pandemic.’
Paving the way for that ‘slow and steady’ growth is the firm’s recent formation of a limited liability partnership, which came into effect on 1 September.
‘It was the right time to take the next step,’ said Carl. ‘Over the past few years, and certainly during and since Covid, we have consolidated our practice and are now in an excellent position to move forward. Having said that, we are not suddenly going to employ hundreds of people and hope for the best. We will continue to take a careful approach, planning for the medium and long-term.’
As Natalie explains, though, the new company structure is designed to support Parslows’ growth.
‘We currently have 12 team members including two advocates, two English solicitors and three conveyancers,’ he said. ‘We have also established a firm foundation, with a strong 12-year track record. Forming an LLP, which means that partners are not faced with unlimited liability, should help us to attract new talent and build that longevity.’
While attracting talent may be challenging in the current market, retaining staff seems to be more straight-forward for the firm, something which Natalie says plays a big part in shaping the business’ culture.
‘Most of our team members have been here for several years, largely because people get a lot of enjoyment from working here,’ she explained. ‘We carried out an exercise this year where we asked the team why they liked working here and, apart from the fact that Carl makes a good cup of tea, a lot of the answers were about the humour, teamwork and work-life balance.’
‘The culture here is great,’ agrees Carl. ‘It’s very friendly, and everyone has the same drive and goals in terms of wanting to do a good job for the clients. In many firms, people don’t get involved in certain things if they don’t think it’s their job. Here, we all chip in wherever needed. It doesn’t matter who the person is or what the task is. If a job needs doing, we make sure it gets done.’
And that focus on teamwork and employee welfare is important, says Natalie.
‘I don’t think it’s too bold to say we are a happy team and I think that’s vital, as we sometimes deal with some very upsetting and sensitive issues, so having that support around us is very important,’ she explained. ‘That is also why several of our team members are qualified mental-health first-aiders, as we know how stressful an environment it can be.’
Perhaps it is because of this dual focus on employee wellbeing and commitment to clients that the team received an award this year, which is particularly poignant to Carl and Natalie.
‘We won the Customer Service Awards 2023 Professional Services category,’ said Carl, ‘something which is quite extraordinary as it is very unusual for a law firm to receive a customer service award.’
But then, as Natalie says, Parslows does not adopt a ‘standard’ approach to its clients.
‘In many cases, if someone wants to speak to their lawyer, they go through a process akin to trying to get into Fort Knox,’ she said. ‘Here, if you phone to speak to your lawyer, you speak to us. We don’t have a big network of junior fee earners; it is the senior people who do the work. We make the tea, open the door and answer the telephone. We all work as a team and I think that’s why we won the award and why our clients and staff stick with us.’