Many office-based businesses reported staff alienation during the pandemic but Alison Lobb, managing partner of Liverpool law firm Morecrofts, insists the crisis brought its team closer together. Tony McDonough reports
It is not uncommon these days for people in business to describe themselves as “disruptors’ but as we all found out in 2020 there is nothing more disruptive than real life.
COVID changed everything. At the beginning of March in that year everyone was just getting on with normal life. By the end of the month office life as we knew it was obliterated, at least temporarily.
Similar to countless other professional firms, Morecrofts Solicitors in Liverpool had to pivot quickly to this new reality, and has found that the benefits of this have carried through to the present day.
In 2020 people had to work from home and many businesses found that technology had to be upgraded quickly to allow this to happen. Fortunately, Morecrofts had just installed a new hi-tech phone system just a few weeks earlier in January.
As lockdown progressed there were fears of alienation, with people no longer able to speak to colleagues or clients face to face.
However, in an interview in 2022, Morecrofts finance partner David Parr said the firm, which operates from six locations across Liverpool city region, found that the pandemic actually helped bring people closer together as a team.
“Rather than just passing someone in the corridor and saying a quick hello, people started to make more of an effort,” said David.
“They were making the most out of the zoom meetings and the telephone calls. We were talking to each other a lot more and everyone felt valued.”
And managing partner Alison Lobb says that post-pandemic Morecrofts has implemented policies that, even prior to the crisis, she had believed had value but had found it difficult to get buy-in from others.
“We have now changed 180 degrees, with working from home and flexible working now the norm,” explained Alison. “Before the pandemic there had been some working from home but coming into the office each day was very much the default.
“That has changed completely. Now most people are only required to be in the office for a minimum of one day a week. How much they do actually come in can vary across our teams.
“It can depend upon the work they do, the people and clients they need to see, and the collaboration their work-type needs.
Morecrofts has been around in Liverpool for more than 200 years, having been founded in 1813. It offers a broad range of legal services for both individuals and businesses across employment, commercial, family law, HR, property, litigation, personal injury, wills and probate, and more.
It is a go-to firm for many small and medium-sized businesses across Liverpool city region and is the firm behind the Merseyside Independent Business Awards which it has run annually since 2013.
On January 1 Morcrofts promoted five of its senior team to partner. They are senior associates Carly Philp, Michael Lamb, Eleanor Cockrell, Rhea Munro and Peter Pownall.
Eleanor and Rhea are members of the firm’s award-winning family law team. Carly Philp leads the personal injury and clinical negligence team, while Peter Pownall is head of the firm’s residential and commercial property.
Michael Lamb is a senior private client solicitor specialising in wills, trust and probate. Both Eleanor and Carly began their careers at Morecrofts as paralegals.
Despite its rich history, Morecrofts in recent years has very much been a firm that has looked forwards rather than backwards. In 2021, Alison talked about the importance of breaking down barriers for women in the law, particularly in the upper echelons.
Since 1990 around 60% of people coming into the profession have been women. However, just 20% of senior lawyers, or partners are female.
This trend has been well and truly bucked at Morecrofts. Of the 120 people employed across its six offices, more than 80% are women. Among the nine owners of the business six are women and just three are men.
And with women still the primary carers in society, Alison says the flexible working revolution has been transformational for working women.
“Prior to the pandemic, fitting in child care or other requirements around normal office hours could be a real headache for many parents,” she said.
“Now we have both men and women who can log off, do the school run and log back on to work, fitting their hours around the actual needs of their lives”.
“And it goes further than that. Being a parent also means school plays in the afternoon, sports days, trips to see teachers, medical appointments. Under the old way people would often have to book half a day off.
“Now they don’t have to. They can use their holidays for the purpose for which they are really meant, rest, relaxation and recuperation.
“We cannot underestimate the positive impact this will have on peoples’ lives and mental health. Any parent who also works is aware of the mental stress that comes with juggling all the different responsibilities.”
And far from being a ‘charter for shirkers’ as some working-from-home sceptics have claimed, Morecrofts has actually seen an increase in productivity since flexible working became the default.
However, Alison does acknowledge the challenge when it comes to younger workers who traditionally have relied on their more experienced colleagues when it comes to learning the ropes.
She added: “What we found when we first returned after lockdown was that younger employees were keener to return to the office than their more mature colleagues.
“Seeing more experienced people at work is an important part of the learning process for junior colleagues. So people who have a trainee under their wing are asked to spend more time in the office with them.
“Learning in this environment has to be more directed. So, for example, we also ask experienced people to take positive steps to ensure that as much as possible they enable their younger colleagues to accompany them to client meetings or networking events.”
Morecrofts has also increased the frequency of social events to make sure there is regular contact between its team members. So this goes beyond the usual Christmas and summer get-togethers.
“We now have events at least once-a-quarter,” explained Alison. “We get people together for a drink and a pizza or an activity such as a quiz night or treasure hunt.
“It helps people to get to know each other in a relaxed environment and it is also good to bring people from different offices together.”
All Morecrofts employees are also signed up to private health plan provider Medicash. Its app offers a wealth of resources for when people need help and support with both their physical and mental health.
Alison added: “Of course we do need to recognise with flexible working the risk of people working too many hours without realising it – work life seeping into personal time. Doing things such as responding to emails at night. It’s so easily done. We emphasise the danger of that to people.
“From a technology point of view the pandemic made us consider using things in a way that perhaps we hadn’t thought about before. People were trying new things and innovating such as discovering useful new apps.
“Any firm would be short-sighted not to offer flexible working these days. But I also think it’s essential that we need to live what we say. I am aware people have gone to work for other firms with the promise of flexible working but that wasn’t actually the reality.
“It is really important to us here at Morecrofts that we actually deliver what we say we are going to deliver.”