MY CARBON STORY: "TRUE FREEDOM"
In the olden days when I used to go to parties, pre-Covid, people would ask me what I did “for a living”. I would reply - to keep things simple - “I’m a lawyer”. And then move on - because how do you explain a relative specialism that fascinates you (and benefits your clients) when you’re shouting above the noise of “Things can only get better” and trying to avoid the sloshes of mulled wine that come in your direction from your new friend’s enthusiastically waved and overfilled glass?
Because what I do is a relative niche, even in the legal sector. I specialise in advising clients on employee share plans and equity incentives. This could be in the form of share options for a broad-based workforce or a share offer simply targeted at the Senior Management Team. On occasion I also advise individuals when they are joining a new company to help them get the most benefit from the share package their new employer is offering them.
So, what is on offer? Essentially, I help companies that want to offer employees a stake in the business, make this a reality. And in a way that people can understand - because it’s not something many people have come across as individuals, so it needs a bit of explanation, in language people can relate to.
I also provide a company secretarial administration service, helping companies keep their statutory company administration up to date and keep track of share capital. It sounds straightforward, doesn’t it - after all, how hard can it be to count shares? But when you are a founder of a busy SME, pushing on to grow your business with different types of investment rounds, keeping track of who owns what, with what voting rights, isn’t always at the forefront of your mind. So it’s an easy “sub-contract” decision to provide peace of mind and make due diligence the proverbial “piece of cake”. In my case, preferably lemon drizzle.
I enjoy what I do. I have developed my know-how in 20 years as a share schemes specialist in international City law firms. I worked on drafting and implementing share plans for companies, often when they were at an early stage in their development, and providing support to the corporate lawyers advising on company sales and purchases or private equity investments, either where share options needed to be exercised or rolled up to allow employees to take advantage of the available tax breaks . Phew! See what I mean about the cake?
After I worked in the City for a while, commuting from London suburbs and juggling care of my two daughters, I became aware of a law outfit called “Carbon Law Partners”. I was intrigued and wanted to find out more. “Freedom within a Framework” was the core offer described by Carbon’s persuasive Founder, Michael Burne. Carbon’s “7 Qualities”, encapsulating the enterprise’s people and client-centred values, really resonated with me. Michael is truly inspirational when he talks about Carbon’s business vision and values. That was what convinced me to join.
I had spent a long time working in large organisations with clear hierarchies and requirements to work in a particular way; as I became more senior, I began to think there must be a different, better way of working.
It felt like an easy next step to take my corporate experience and adapt it to a slightly different client base in a work context that gave me flexibility in all kinds of areas. In contrast to my City life I now had:
• my own business, led by an experienced CEO - myself!
• autonomy on fee scales, to adapt them to my needs and my clients’ circumstances;
• freedom to manage client relationships in a more personal - but no less professional - manner;
• the choice to work from office or home; and most importantly
• the chance to work in a way - and at a time - that my clients and I prefer.
Fee autonomy is a big thing for me. I can agree fixed fees, staged payments, retainers or success fees in any combination. And this is a huge selling point for my clients.
Carbon’s beautifully-branded hub model means that the essential framework (compliance, invoicing, IT systems) is provided - in a professional, responsive and light touch way. So I can focus on the parts of my work that give me the most satisfaction, leaving head room for business and personal growth.
For the longer-term, there is also a chance to invest in the Carbon model, as well as the opportunity to use my own business to generate ongoing dividends in planned, semi-retirement or sell it to fund my later years and give my daughters a helping hand.
You will have noticed that I’ve mentioned my clients rather a lot - so who are they? Well, now, although there are some big corporates, they are largely SMEs - of all sizes, from well-established entities on their “nth” investment raise, to start-ups, investing their own cash and/or securing seed capital from family and friends. So, building an SME is not easy. My clients are a creative, resilient, determined bunch and I have huge respect for what they do and the jobs they create for others. Helping them grow by having employees invested meaningfully in their shared future gives me a buzz. Their success is my success.
Covid-19 has affected us all in different ways. I am fortunate - my daughter and I both had an early experience of Covid in March 2020 and we both recovered well. It’s not been the same story for others. So I want to be respectful that my clients will have different preferences now for how they want to work and interact. I have many more video calls now but, in truth, my work has not really changed in any other way. Carbon’s hub and Partner model is ideally placed to be able to offer continuity of service, even in the extreme context that Covid presents us with. If anything can be said to be “optimised” for working in the time of Covid, Carbon is.
For the future, developing my company secretarial offering is an exciting prospect that takes an essential role off my clients’ groaning “to do” lists. I want to continue to develop good relationships with clients I’ve known for a long time. It can be harder to do this in a corporate environment; with Carbon I can be more authentic, more myself.
I can honestly say that I wish I had moved to Carbon earlier - to help even more in combining professional and family commitments in a way that plays to my strengths. I am now able to maintain the lifestyle I want without having to “kill myself “ with an ever-escalating chargeable hours target. I can build my business in the way that I choose. And that is true freedom.