Jessica is the Owner and current Managing Director of CEL Solicitors, CEL stands for Celebrating Excellence in Law. Jessica founded the company in 2016 following 10 years’ experience in legal civil litigation at a number of top 50 UK law firms, as well as 4 years’ management experience.
Jessica gives an open and honest account of her career journey into law. She openly shares the challenges and obstacles she faced and what motivated her to set up CEL Solicitors. Culture is of the utmost importance to Jessica, that’s why her firm is based on the ethos of People before Profits.
For anyone doubting starting, establishing or progressing a career in the legal sector this is a podcast for you. This episode highlights that anything is possible with the right people around and supporting you!
Key episode topics include:
- What managing a law firm involves
- Alternative routes into law
- Tips for aspiring solicitors
- How law firms can put people before profit and do more to support mental health
Rob Hanna (00:00):
Welcome to the Legally Speaking Podcast Powered by Kissoon Carr. I’m your host, Rob Hanna. This week, I’m delighted to be joined by Jessica Hampson. Jessica is the owner and current managing director of CEL solicitors, C E L stands for celebrating excellence in law. Jessica founded the company in 2016, following 10 years experience in legal civil litigation at a number of top 50 UK law firms, as well as four years management experience. So a very big welcome Jessica.
Jessica Hampson (00:34):
Hi Rob, thank you for having me!
Rob Hanna (00:34):
It’s an absolute pleasure. And as we were speaking off air, we do start with our customary Suits question, which we had a lot of interesting answers to over the course of our sort of first and second season. So on the scale of one to 10, 10 being very real, how real would you rate the hit series Suits?
Jessica Hampson (00:54):
Okay. Well, as you know, I don’t watch suits because I feel I have enough legal things going on to go home and watch that. But I think with anything that Hollywood has a dabble in, it probably all looks a lot glossier than it is in real life. We all have names that are off teams. So we’ve, we’ve all called our names certain teams, and our first response unit is called Suits. So it’s definitely rubbed off on them. They must think it’s really good. So there you go.
Rob Hanna (01:25):
There you go. There you go. So that’ll give it a high, you’ll give it a low, so we’ll kind of score it as a four or five for you.
Jessica Hampson (01:34):
I just think, why would you want to go and watch more about law when you’ve done it all day, but hey ho.
Rob Hanna (01:39):
Hey ho indeed. So look before we talk about your current situation where, you know, you’ve done fantastically well with CEL Solicitors. Let, let’s start at the beginning. So tell people a bit about where you were sort of born and raised and a bit about your background.
Jessica Hampson (01:56):
Yeah, I mean, I’m not your typical director or owner of a law firm. First of all, I’m female. Second of all, I’m a millennial and third of all my backgrounds is, you know, I was, I was raised on a council estate and quite a rough area of Liverpool and the first of my family and generation to go to university. So on paper, I shouldn’t really be here. But what’s really exciting now and why it really wants to speak to you because I think you’ve gave a fantastic platform to the new generation of solicitors. And I think we’re so diverse now. We’re not all fit in this one, traditional mold of what a solicitor has to be. So I’m really excited and to, you know, lead my generation in a sort of higher position as well.
Rob Hanna (02:52):
Yeah, no, absolutely. And we’re definitely going to talk a lot more about that as our discussion unfolds, but in terms of you then, you’ve talked very openly about your background. What was the legal industry, always something you considered or how did you sort of get into it?
Jessica Hampson (03:07):
Yeah, I think I came from a generation where a lot of mums and dads wanted a better life for their children. So my mum put a lot of emphasis on education and thankfully I was always really bright in school. And she really wanted me to go to university. So we always joke it was either a doctor or a lawyer. I don’t really like blood. So a lawyer, it was. I always had, you know, I really liked to arbitrate between people and I always liked to help people in the playgrounds and they called me Jessie Springer. I don’t know whether you remember that show because it was all always mediating between people. So the shoe definitely fitted. And it was something that I always had an interest in as well growing up.
Rob Hanna (04:01):
No, absolutely. And look, it will be great for you to sort of articulate again before we get onto sort of CEL and all the things you’re doing now, your, your, your journey before that. So, you know, talk, talk people through sort of some of your experiences and, and what you learnt along the way.
Jessica Hampson (04:15):
Yeah. I mean, my journey was horrendous really, and it sounds silly, but I’m so glad that I had such a tough ride. I was a paralegal for 10 years. I found it really, really hard to qualify and I’ve found it really hard to fit in. And I think for anyone who’s going through a similar journey or a difficult time, please let me reassure you that there’s a purpose for everything. You might not realize it at the time. Right now, as it’s all happening, this definitely will be a silver lining. So to me personally, a little bit similar to yourself, I just always worked in large corporate, you know, top 50 law firms and never fitted in. I really wanted to work for a small firm but for some reason I just never got the job. I always got the job in large corporate firms and it gave me a really good window.
Jessica Hampson (05:18):
I think if I’d just gone straight in as, you know, partner or associate, I just never would have had this window and insights of the job that a paralegal or a junior or admin do and their struggles and their journey. Because I felt that as a paralegal, I was definitely taken advantage of all the hoops that you have to jump through to get a training contract. And I was exposed to quite a toxic workplace where everyone was pitted against each other. And that sort of window into it really made me realize I stood back and I thought there must be a different way, and there must be a better way because this doesn’t feel right and it doesn’t feel good. And I’m pretty sure we can reach the same solutions and results, but doing it in a better way and that’s really shaped my journey with CEL solicitors, which is a people before profits law firm. Where actually it’s not about the bottom line. It’s not about the profits. It’s about the people because I strongly believe that happy staff make happy clients, make happy profits. And in the three to four years that we’ve been open, we have seen that. And I think that’s really gave me the tools and the foundation for why we’re doing so while during the lockdown as well, because the emphasis is on the people. But I had to go through that journey, a terrible journey myself. So in the end, I ended up resigning from this sort of dream career, I was in, you know, a top firm. And I thought to myself, you know, all my family’s really proud that I work at this firm, but something was missing to me and definitely my mental health was suffering. I just wasn’t happy. I didn’t want to go into work every day. I saw members of staff and team members, you know, in tears, I saw all sorts of bad things going on.
Jessica Hampson (07:19):
And I knew I had to get out of that. I handed in my resignation, I didn’t have another job to go to. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I actually took a little break from law. I ended up going back into it, my role now I don’t fee earn now, I do wear quite a few hats, but I think one thing that people miss sometimes about the law is they think, Oh, you just have to be a lawyer, but actually what I’m teaching here and what I do myself is, there’s a lot of different things that you can do under the umbrella of law. So, you know, we’re building an app on our mobile phone, which you’d never think a lawyer would have to do. Management’s bringing in business. There’s all different things that you can do under the umbrella of law that contributes to the law firm as a whole and to get work in as well.
Jessica Hampson (08:13):
So I’m really glad that I got back into the law. I just knew that I wouldn’t get a training contract in the firm that I was in and I actually went down an alternative route, and I did the periods of recognized training. And I was one of the first to do that. And it’s basically a dissertation, that you send off to the SRA to show that you do the equivalent work of a solicitor and they either say, yes, well, no. You do need to demonstrate different seats which I had, including non-contentious. And as a result of that, I qualified myself as a solicitor, but I had already set up CEL without qualifying. My Board are all Grade A solicitors. And I’m actually the only one who isn’t a Grade A, but I think that goes to show that it doesn’t matter about titles. It doesn’t matter about experience. It doesn’t matter what grade you are. You can still contribute and build something regardless.
Rob Hanna (09:11):
Yeah, no, absolutely. And that’s some really good sort of snippets in there as well. And the one thing I wants to touch on more is the sort of people before profits, because I completely echo that. What, what does that sort of mean in, in day to day terms for your people? You know, what have you done to instill that culture gives some sort of practical example?
Jessica Hampson (09:29):
Yeah, I mean, I think the biggest thing that we’ve done is create this brand new office and everything was designed with my staff in mind and with mental health in mind. So the people before profits is really investing in your staff, but authentically because as me and you know, these these words get banded around about quite a bit. But you know, they’re just words, they’re not acted upon. What I wanted here was I wanted, I wanted a true and genuine voice for everybody, but I also understood that I had to make a safe environment where everyone felt safe to contribute as well, which is really important. So culture is one of the most important things to get right in a law firm, however, it’s also the most fragile. So it definitely taught me a couple of years to get the culture right. And I think the best thing that we did was we sat down and we had to look at, what is the company? What does it sound for? And what are our values? So our values are; celebrating excellence in law, people before profits and gratitude as well. And I think using those parameters is a good guide for every, every decision that you make, out of the firm. So in terms of why we are people before profits, we now have an amphitheatre where we have twice weekly meetings with all of the staff, we always are transparent sometimes probably too transparent with the decisions that we make, all the decisions that we do make are made at Board level democratically as well, which I know cause sometimes I’m outvoted on things. And they’re always discussed and explained to all of the staff. So no one’s in the dark. And we also have an anonymous suggestion box because if someone doesn’t feel like they can speak freely, there’s another way that they can get their suggestions opened up at board meetings as well.
Jessica Hampson (11:27):
We also have monthly one to ones with the staff as well. So I’ll carry out the monthly one-to-one. So, every single member of staff always has some face time with the directors on, within them, one to ones, are mental health check-ins as well. And they actually came out through our M&M meetings, which stands for mental health and mindfulness. So when we had a mental awareness day, we had a meeting about what we could do better as employers. We realized that one session just wasn’t going to cook the mustard. So we had weekly meetings until we got to a point where we developed quite a good structure. And now we have quarterly meetings. In those meetings, one of the suggestions by the staff was to have an check-ins, to have a mental health officer, which we have already, but have check ins as well. What are your stress levels? How do you cope with stress? And what’s your case load? How have you had any difficult clients? How have you dealt with that? What’s the support like from management? What’s the support like from the company? We also have annual anonymous and these from all the staff as well about what we can do to improve what we’re doing well, what we could do better. And I think it’s great having a survey, but you’re not going to get people know that you read the survey and naturally carry out the suggestions. You take any suggestions on the chin. And I think from a leadership point of view, leaders should lead. And so you should always be the first one to do, you know, what you propose and what you say as well. And that’s when everyone builds trust and understands and really invest in the company. I think it’s, culture is contagious.
Jessica Hampson (13:16):
So they see how much I’ve personally invested in the firm.. And I personally care and invest into all the staff as well. And equally the staff will personally invest back into you and back into the business. And I think those foundations, which take time, no one can do this overnight. And it’s a collaborative effort as well. Those foundations is what has really held us all this huge test of the coronavirus. That’s why we are actually thriving and doing really well because when all these hard decisions came in about, you know, furloughing staff, which we haven’t done, you know, what to do, when to send the staff home, to do work from home. I just, before I made any decisions, I sat down and I really evaluated our values and I use them to guide us as the parameters to make all the decisions of the firm. And I think if you’re true to your values and the staff know that, then everything else will follow. It’s sort of like when you go to school, you know, the teachers that care and you knew the teachers that don’t care, it’s the same in work, they know the managers that care and the managers do.
Rob Hanna (14:32):
Yeah, no, absolutely. And thanks for sharing that. And I think in terms of something else too, to think about, there’s a theme throughout our podcast season, very much around networking and sort of online networking even more so now, and this sort of COVID-19 situation we’re in, but you know, how do you go about day to day networking? Why do you think that’s an important skill or do you not in the legal profession?
Jessica Hampson (14:55):
I mean, it’s how we met, isn’t it. We actually met over our bond for the authenticness of people before profits. So I think LinkedIn is an amazing way to connect. Having said that I’ve always been a little bit sceptical about networking stuff. I’ve been to some events that are just an absolute waste of time. And I think a lot of people like to just keep busy by saying, Oh, I went here, I went there and networked. It really depends on the individual. You can go to a hundred meetings and you can go to one meeting. It’s what you make of that meeting and what you’ve put out there and the genuine connections, you know, you cell phone so long, just copies and pastes, a sort of hello introduction to you. And you know, when someone genuinely does their backgrounds and really does wants to connect on a greater sort of level. So I do think it’s important. It all comes down to how do you use the network and yourself?
Rob Hanna (15:52):
No, absolutely. I think you’re right, because you can be busy, but it’s actually, are you being effective to be busy when you’re actually attending or investing time in these and actually measuring the outputs? I also find that actually it’s the follow on after the networking particularly event, you know, if there’s no follow up, it tends to lead to nothing. So it’s actually one part of the action is attending. The other part of the key action is obviously following up and actually trying to sort of convert whatever you’re trying to network.
Jessica Hampson (16:17):
Yeah. I think that some people just think it’s really glamorous networking and going to meetings and stuff. And I think after you have several meetings in the fanciest restaurant with a bit of wine, it doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day, it’s not about the steak that you eat and the wine that you drink and you can see you in your suit meeting with blah, blah, blah. It’s all about the actual physical, real connections that you’re going to make and how it’s going. You should always be thinking, how is this going to benefit me? How is this going to benefit the business? How is this relationship going to help the other person as well moving forwards. I think like on social media, there’s a tendency isn’t is to like look a certain way. And actually networking isn’t as glamorous as sometimes it looks.
Rob Hanna (17:05):
Yeah, no, absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, tips you would give to young and indeed legal professionals throughout that, that sort of experience, those are the levels that are being asked. What tips would you give to people?
Jessica Hampson (17:18):
I think the biggest tip is just to believe in yourself because throughout my journey and career, you’re going to have a lot of nos and it’s, it’s that grit and determination is how you get through. So it could just be, you know, and nos to your applications, nos to your training contracts, nos to ideas inside the law firm. And as long as you stay true to yourself and believe in yourself and believe in what you’re doing, then you will succeed. No one gets it right. Or 100 percent the first time they do something. And I think the problem sometimes with my generation is we’re so eager to get to the top of the mountain that we forget It’s a mountain. And it’s actually, you know, it does take a journey. You’re going to fall down the mountain a few times as well before you get to the summit. So I think in this generation where everything’s instant, I think we think our careers are going to be instant as well. And you know, you’re instantly going to be partner after five years and everything is mapped out. Your career just isn’t like that, you just don’t know what’s around the corner. Me personally, I never thought that I would own my own law firm. So you just don’t know what’s around the corner. But one thing that is there, is that there will be uncertainty
Rob Hanna (18:46):
Yeah. On the theme of sort of uncertainty and sort of changes, particularly in the legal sector. What do you think are going to be some of the biggest changes to the legal sector as a result of COVID-19?
Jessica Hampson (18:58):
That’s an exceptional question. And I think there’s always silver linings, whatever it is in life, in your career, whatever there’s always going to be silver linings. And I think with the COVID, finally, I think the law is going to come into to the 21st century a little bit more. And that means flexible hours. That means flexible working. That means working from home. That means the Court accepting electronic signatures and, you know, the PBA accounts, just getting into modern times a little bit. And I think all the sorts of employers that I’ve spoke to and the other businesses that I’ve spoke to actually they’re finding that a lot of the staff are being super productive, working from home, the hours are good. People aren’t, you know, slacking, what some people would fear. And actually there is going to be a lot more flexibility when this is all over. I know personally we’re thinking about hot-desking now we’re definitely considering the four day week, you know, where you can take one, one day, at least a week from home, working from home as well. So thankfully, I think technology will infiltrate the legal profession at last.
Rob Hanna (20:19):
Yeah, no, indeed, indeed. I think it definitely, it definitely will. And you know, one of the other things that is important you know, It’s probably an extension of culture and mental health as well is downtime. You know, you’re the managing director of a growing business that is doing fantastically well, but what do you do for downtime?
Jessica Hampson (20:38):
One huge plus from all of this is I’ve had so much more family time. At first, it was really strange because I sorta, I’m always busy. I never stand still. So the first two weeks of lockdown not going into the office made me really go outside of my comfort zone. And I realized that I just couldn’t relax, which is bizarre. So just learning to relax again. And once I did that, you know, cause I’m always so conscious of everyone else moves really conscious with the staff, making sure that they have a good balance between their work and life as well, that sometimes as the managing director, you forget to do that yourself. So one thing I’m really great is just relearning to just, just relax and enjoy doing nothing really. And as I said to you, I just took advantage of the sunny day on Monday and I just decided to take a holiday that day and took the day off. So that’s what I’ve loved about all this actually, there has been some silver linings.
Rob Hanna (21:49):
Yeah. And maybe certain lawyers or legal professionals that have been placed on furlough, given the current situation, is there anything you would advise that they could be doing or I think you would suggest to them that that might be helpful for them as part of their careers that’s maybe not directly linked to their role obviously, but things that could be thinking about doing?
Jessica Hampson (22:09):
Definitely. I mean, so on the flip side of what I’ve just said, I think the whole theme of why I couldn’t relax is because it’s so easy to keep busy, you know, with the internet, with your emails on your mobile and with LinkedIn and over networking sites, there’s always things that you can be doing. So I would to use this time to, well, I would say work on yourself because if you work on yourself, you’re always going to be better in your role as well. Definitely use this time. What I’m seeing now is new staff and, and new friends on LinkedIn, that have never accessed LinkedIn as well. Have a little go with that platform because it’s absolutely amazing. I’ve made some really good connections and all my podcasts have actually come out of my LinkedIn connections as well. Revise all those sorts of jobs that you put off, go back to basics. One thing that I’m doing is I’ve printed off every single letter that we use in the whole firm and, and I’m re-reading them, cause I haven’t done that for a while. So root out all the sorts of cobwebs, go back to basics and just make sure that all the basics are the best that they can be. This is a good time now to do those jobs that you’re always too busy or put off.
Rob Hanna (23:25):
Yeah, no, absolutely. And just on the theme of sort of giving back and everything else, I know you’ve been in terms of some of your volunteer experience, you’re an advisor, I believe for the Merseyside sort of welfare rights. Do you want to tell us about that and what that involves?
Jessica Hampson (23:39):
This is something I really really advise every single person in the law to have a little go at, because it really shaped me as a solicitor and the areas of law I picked to go in and specialize in as well. I think being a lawyer is all about giving back. So this was a placement that I was, I really, if I’m really honest, I thought, Oh, it’ll look good on my CV. I’ll just do it for a week or so. And I just ended up staying there for six months and absolutely loved it. And I do have some ties to that. And I think one thing that’s amazing is finding out and talking to everybody else about all the sorts of charity stuff that they do do and during this time, so that’s something you can definitely get involved in now with some down time, people do need drop in. People do need legal advice and it’s definitely something that just because the lockdowns happening doesn’t mean that people’s legal problems stop.
Rob Hanna (24:40):
Yeah, no, absolutely. And that was going to be my sort of final question. If this is to become the new normal, do you think it’s still, you know, will the legal profession still be able to go forward? Is there anything you think may change drastically If this is to become the new normal?
Jessica Hampson (24:54):
It’s really difficult, isn’t it? Because for all the successes, I’ve had some really bad horror stories as well. And although I’m always of the mind that there’s always a silver lining and then the glass is always half full. I think it’s really difficult as well with some firms. And I think now we’ll hold up a big ugly mirror to a lot of firms as to the corporate responsibility. I know myself that cash is King and that we’ve always kept a cushion and a reserve in in the businesses where other businesses don’t. And also, I think now I’m seeing an influx of CVs from disgruntled employees as well. So I hope that if this is the new norm, then there is more corporate responsibility and that the industry as a whole, will get more into the 21st century with technology and maybe adopt some of these methods that me and you are talking about, such as people before profits, because I think law firms forget that their asset is their legal advice, which comes from their solicitors and paralegals. So that should be your best commodity, that that should be what you look after the most. So hopefully there will be, if this carries on, then it will force the industry to look at itself and scrutinize itself a lot.
Rob Hanna (26:24):
Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more particularly on the sort of people before profits, which has been the theme throughout this discussion. You know, I’ve always been of the belief that, you know, you should not necessarily treat your clients as your clients, of course, but you know, your people are your clients treat them how you would like to be treated and treat your clients. And if you stick to that mentality will go a very, very long way. Jessica it has been an absolute pleasure having you on the show. I think you’ve been a very honest, open, humble, inspiring guest and shared some very, very clear insights and what people can be doing and giving them some hope as well in the, in the legal sector. So I wish you, CEL Solicitors, lots of continued success in the future. No doubt we’ll see you appear again on the podcast in the future. So take care and over and out.
Jessica Hampson (27:09):
Thank you so much. Health and happiness to everyone. Thank you.