The Cup of Dreams.
Keystone Law is the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2021, making it the happiest firm in the UK.
Out of 54 qualifying firms, Keystone Law boasted by some margin the most satisfied staff in the UK, with dozens of its people telling RollOnFriday they were overwhelmingly satisfied with their pay, career development and work/life balance, and with their firm's management, culture and Covid-19 response. It scored a barnstorming 94% overall.
Reacting to his firm's victory, CEO James Knight told RollOnFriday, “94% of anything is a lot, so if that number represents a level of satisfaction experienced by Keystone personnel, then that is simply wonderful. We often describe ourselves as the happiest law firm in the country; that has always been a rather subjective and immodest boast, but not anymore. Thank you RollOnFriday for running this most unusual of awards and, in particular, for keeping us so far away from the dreaded Golden Turd”.
The reason Keystone triumphed is rooted in its unorthodox model. Founded in 2002 by Knight, who qualified at Trowers & Hamlins, its partners and senior consultants keep 60% of what they bill, plus an additional 15% if they introduce the client.
Unlike most firms, around two thirds of Keystone's 350 solicitors are classed as partners and its lawyers are overwhelmingly lateral hires with a number of years of PQE under their belts. Crucially, Keystone's lawyers can also work as much or as little as they like, from where they like.
As such, Keystone found itself perfectly positioned for the (end) times of 2020/21, with staff barely noticing the effect of lockdowns while other firms were forced to make swingeing changes to their working practices. Keystone respondents to the survey said its uber-flexible structure meant it could hardly have been better prepared for the disruption wreaked on business by the coronavirus.
"Keystone was miles ahead of all the other firms when it came to remote working", said a Keystone partner. "I would not have wanted to be making an emergency change to my working arrangements in the midst of a busy practice".
"Keystone's model was built on remote working", said a trainee. "Before COVID-19, I could work from home when I wanted (within reason of course), and it was nice to have the option".
That meant, said a senior solicitor, "there was literally zero adjustment required. I noticed no difference to my workflows (other than the sad pausing of the regular in person CPD and social events)".
But it wasn't just Covid that showed up the firm in a good light. Keystone's lawyers kept coming back to the control they had over their working lives.
"I get paid directly according to what I earn" said a senior solicitor. "I control the work that I take on, when I work, and how I work. If I need time off for personal reasons, I can have it".
"We set our own rates, we are in charge of what we invoice and we get 75% of that (slightly less if it's work referred from someone in the firm, and a cut if we have referred work to someone else)", said a partner.
"It's refreshing getting paid in accordance with what you bring in, instead of shoring up all the overinflated drawings of overpromoted Partners as is common in the 'traditional' law firms", said the solicitor. "The beauty of life at Keystone is that there are no 'Partners' in the true sense of the word- so no pointless Partners' Meetings, no committees, no politics. It's just me, my clients and getting back to why I wanted to be a solicitor in the first place. All the 'noise' has gone away. It's liberating. Liberating!"
Junior lawyers were also happy. "Keystone offers an unbeatable range of work for trainees", said one of the few trainees the firm has. "Because the firm draws partner-level lawyers from top-tier firms, they bring with them an excellent range of clients and work, which they involve trainees in at a high level in part because the firm has a low trainee intake".
Lawyers described taking the leap to their home office before everyone else was forced to jump as "a life-changing experience after years in the City".
Keystone may become a fixture towards the top of the rankings. It appears to have successfully supercharged the quality of life improvements that lawyers who move from the City to regional superstars like Burges Salmon and Osborne Clarke have reported.
"Then: 4 hours' commute a day, 2000+ hour expectations, zero life outside the office, probably on the fast track to a divorce and a heart attack", said one emigrée. "Now: complete control over my practice, an actual family life and time for outside interests".
Congratulations to Keystone Law.