Unprecedented with Jessica Hampson

Published 7th May 2021

At Unprecedented, we had the opportunity to speak to Jessica Hampson, Director of CEL Solicitors, who spoke to us about how she is switching up the way law firms operate.

A background into you and your business?

I am not your typical law firm owner. I am a female millennial, first-generation, who qualified as a solicitor late, at the age of 28, and set up CEL Solicitors one year later. 

I always had a clear vision of what I wanted in my business, which was something completely different, but better, than the law firms I had experienced and worked at. For me, law was a really stuffy institution pillaged by nepotism and hierarchy. I wanted to disrupt that and I believe that I have.

CEL Solicitors is an ethical law firm specialising in civil litigation and we help everyday consumers fight against big businesses.

The firm is a “people before profits” law firm, meaning that people are at the heart of the business model, not profits. Profits are important, we aren’t a charity, but profits are not the core of the business, staff and clients are.

I believe that our ethos has allowed us to grow, even through the pandemic, and in 4 years we are now a team of 70, including 6 trainee solicitors, and we have just secured more office space to expand even further.

Define leadership and what being a leader means to you.

A leader is a ‘doer’ not a ‘sayer’, meaning that they are always prepared to roll up their sleeves and show their team how it is done by leading from the front and within.

A leader is someone who is open to new ideas, challenges, feedback and criticism.

A leader has a healthy attitude towards failure and isn’t afraid to take calculated risks.

Who are your Leadership role models/inspirations

I draw on inspirations from such diverse places, from Jay Z to Legally Blonde, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and my husband.

Their inspiration has peppered my career. I couldn’t have set up my law firm without my husband’s support, especially when he stepped into the company in year 2, when we had our first baby and I was on maternity leave. My husband set up his own law firm when he was 27 and he has been a role model for me in how to run a successful business. He’s done it all, and seen it all, before and despite us being husband and wife, we work really well together because we know each other’s strengths.

There are also two books, ‘The Secret’ and ‘Think and Grow Rich’, that changed my life. I now practice gratitude daily and it’s even one of our company values. I have gifted these books to so many people over the years, every director of the company has a personal copy from me.

Eric Thomas, aka E.T aka the Hip Hop Preacher, was someone I watched obsessively on Youtube to get me through my studies. He was the first modern motivational speaker that I connected to. His Guru story really woke me up to being mindful of how I was choosing to use, or waste, my time. His story is so inspiring - he went from being homeless to being booked to coach the Superbowl for a cool £100,000 an hour!

What would you like your Leadership Legacy to be?

I would like to show people that you can successfully choose a career in law AND have kids.

Law has been a traditional “old boys club”, especially at senior level, and I love that the legal landscape is changing and progressing in order to better support women.

What are the “non-negotiable” behaviours that you expect you and those around you to live by?

  • A healthy attitude to failure

  • Ability to take risks

  • Operate outside of your comfort zone

  • Passion

  • Mastering your craft

Are there any people within your support network who made a big positive impact on you as a Business Leader during those early weeks/months?

Yes. Sedulo’s founder, Paul Cheetham-Karcz, who wrote an amazing book called ‘Taking Care of Business’ in which he was extremely open and honest about his mental health and his journey to create his accountancy firm. This was a firm that had a fully stocked bar, Disney suite and sweet shop, and I couldn’t get enough of it. It was a definite blueprint for CEL Solicitors.

There were immediate parallels between our stories. We had the same type of council estate upbringing, mental health struggles, and accountancies and law firms are both part of that old stuffy, traditional type institution. 

I always felt like I was taking a huge risk by putting people before profits but when I finally met Paul, I could see that he had walked this walk very successfully 10 years prior to CEL Solicitors. He was a trailblazer and it was very reassuring to me.

CEL Solicitors is now a client of Sedulo’s, and there have been many positive collaborations between the firms, not least our record-breaking charity drive Christmas Toy Appeal last year, as well as podcasts and business expansions.

What have been the Unprecedented decisions you have made? Those where there was no playbook.

The largest unprecedented decision we made was to put all our cards on the table and buy up a Grade A 8000sqft building space when we only had 15 staff.

It was a huge risk, we had only been operating for 2 years and we couldn’t fill a quarter of the space, but I had unwavering faith in my vision and I ended up creating the £1 million office of my dreams that we filled within the next 12 months of it being built. It’s since been dubbed the “Scouse Silicon Valley” by the Law Gazette and I am extremely proud that the gamble and investment paid off.

The word pivot was used unprecedently in May/June. What have you done to innovate or differentiate you or your business?

TECH

We became a tech-first, and legal second, type of business. Technology is exponentially growing, and I have invested hugely in technology and automation for law at a time when some offices still aren’t even paperless. I believe the tech firms will continue to dominate and innovate the other industries, so I am harnessing that technology myself.

CULTURE

Culture is our main unique selling point as a law firm. With our kindness contract, in-house performance coach, 3 bars, pool table, think swings, holiday giveaways and wellness checks to name a few, we really stand out from the crowd in the legal industry. We embrace being different in a sea of grey, old fashioned offices.

What were the 3 biggest (or best) decisions you made in 2020?

  1. To not furlough any staff;

  2. To continue to grow;

  3. To invest in technology.

What remain your 3 biggest challenges?

  1. The impact of Coronavirus;

  2. Growing so quickly;

  3. Opening new areas of law/new departments.

How have you/your business evolved from a digital/tech perspective?

We now harness technology to automate and streamline our processes. For example, in our financial miss-selling department, we have used tech to cut down on a process that would take anywhere between 2 hours and 2 days. It now takes less than 60 seconds with tech. This means more productivity and quicker access to justice for our clients.

We are now working on creating our own operating system and re-imagining the client journey using AI and bots to interact with clients.

How have you (your business) coped from a mental health/stress perspective?

Its been tough during the lockdown, especially as we are so team orientated and social, but there is a huge emphasis on wellness at CEL Solicitors and our mantra is “your health is your wealth”.

We have 3 designated mental health officers and conduct monthly wellness checks on all of our staff. We make sure to ask them things like – how is your workload? Where are your stress levels at at work? How are you feeling? What can we do to help?

I have created a “chill out zone” that can be actively accessed at any time of the day, whether that is to take a nap on the blanket and beanbags, or just step away from the screen for a while.

We also made the decision to hire an in-house performance coach who is ex-army and fully trained in mental health. The coach works on anything from wellness and confidence to suicide prevention training, which we hold in group or 121 settings and is bespoke for each team/individual.

We have in-house run clubs, PT sessions, Peleton bikes and fruit baskets to encourage exercise and healthy living. 

I think that now more than ever, businesses are realising that mental health must be taken seriously and that employers have a role to play in that.

Looking ahead to 2021 what are your predictions for the economy? For your sector?

On one hand, I know a lot of law firms have suffered and made redundancies and, on the other hand, some firms have become resilient and have thrived.

I believe the ones that have thrived have embraced technology and automation, and have diversified into other areas.

Finally, I think that there will be a much-needed acceptance of technology in law. For example, pre-pandemic, emails were not an accepted form of service of court documents and remote hearings/ trials were unheard of. Now it’s the norm.

I think a lot of firms will make the mistake of getting rid of offices completely and move to full-time home-based working. For me, law is about interaction, sharing ideas, shadowing one another, listening to how your colleague negotiates a deal or how your manager deals with a complaint. It’s the soft skills that will suffer if law firms stay fully remote.

What are you doing to retain your superstar / Leaders of the future?

We offer an alternative and stand out from the crowd.

We have a 3 prong approach to attraction and retainment of talent:

  1. Pay well and competitively despite our smaller size.

  2. Culture. We attract talent through our £1 million pound Google-esque office and People before Profits ethos.

  3. Level up. We strongly invest in skilling up our staff.

What advice would you give to those entering the workforce today?

My advice to leaders of the future:

Be fearless. When I started out in my career, we were still in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, but so what. If you want something bad enough and are 110% committed, you can achieve it no matter what. The same goes for the pandemic. Don’t make excuses, it’s as hard or as easy as you allow it to be.  

Be resilient. There are always downs in any career, things will go wrong and you will fail, but if you harness that to improve and learn next time, then you will succeed and grow.

Be confident and kind to yourself and others. There are enough cutthroats in business and life, you don’t need to be another one. Get to your destination by being kind and helping others, and victory will mean so much more.

Time is money. Become mindful of how you are using (or wasting) your time. This includes who you surround yourself with. Do you surround yourself with winners and people who lift you up and believe in you, or do you surround yourself with people who distract you, are high drama and negative?

The Pandemic has caused many of us to reassess what is important in our lives. In which ways have you recalibrated your own priorities and goals?

Understanding how important your health and family are, and how important it is to make time for a healthy work-life balance.

If you have enjoyed this blog and would like to learn more about CEL Solicitors, visit their website here. Alternatively, to learn more about Jessica, you can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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