Happy lawyers, shaking up change
“If you find yourself in an organisation with shit values, get out. If it doesn’t exist, invent it.”
Few can forget Michael Bradley’s talk at Purpose 2015.
Kicking off with an endearing dad joke, Bradley confessed to being nervous. He reckoned he was going to be the oldest person at Purpose – “I don’t know, how do you actually talk to hipsters?” – and earlier that morning his 15-year old daughter had reassured him by quoting something she’d read in the toilet cubicle at school:
“So you’re the ugliest person in the room… At least you’re in the room.”
Down to earth, honest, inspiring, funny and decidedly real, Bradley continued to cover in his talk what must be the biggest challenge for every purpose-led business out there: How do you truly live and breathe your values in the day-to-day running of the business? And – dare we say it – go beyond the mission statement you might stick on the wall.
“So you know what a purpose-driven business looks like and you know that people work harder and better and are happier when they derive meaning from what they do. So I’m just going to delve straight into what meaning means for us… what we practically do to bring those concepts of purpose and meaning to life.”
Managing Partner of Marque Lawyers, Bradley and a group of colleagues founded the firm in 2008 with a singular ambition to completely change the way law is practised. The firm is famous for ditching timesheets and the mindless pursuit of profit: “Our purpose is simple. We like being lawyers. We believe it’s possible to be happy and be lawyers at the same time. And our mission is to prove that.”
Eschewing the very-corporate (read non-human) practice of policy-making, Marque instead prefers to encourage a freer culture that centres on embracing diversity, trusting its people and giving.
For example most managers speak in awe of discretionary effort, where staff go above and beyond the minimum effort that is required of them. At Marque? “It’s about doing exactly what we’re asking for in return.”
Using the very tangible example of parental leave, Bradley went on to demonstrate how trust and giving plays out at Marque. On top of 12-weeks paid parental leave, staff members have complete freedom to work out their situation for themselves, namely how long they will take off, how engaged they stay in the business while away, and the circumstances they want to work in when they come back. “To every single thing they have asked, we have said yes.”
The result? 100% of parents in the business (that’s 18 babies in seven years) have returned to work at Marque. “Boom. That’s huge – particularly in our industry.”
An evolving purpose
A year on, Marque’s purpose continues to evolve.
“Increasingly we’re looking at ways to leverage what we’ve got … looking to a broader frame, thinking of our place as a business in the world, and recognising our ability to be an agent for positive change.”
Earlier this year the firm achieved B Corp certification, a process that gave them clarity around the areas in which they can be confident of their positive impact, and those on which they could improve. The firm’s procurement and supplier process, for example, has received a rigorous review.
A key initiative to enable talented and passionate staff to reach outside of the law firm is underway, with a pilot program in development in collaboration with the Community Migrant Resource Centre. The program aims to connect members of the team with young people in a mentoring relationship.
“The focus is on creating connection and opportunities into the workforce – providing training on generic interview and workplace skills, offering exposure into the corporate world, and giving people a window into something that may be more available to them than they think. A mentor from the firm will meet with (the mentees) during the program and help guide them through the process – smooth the path and help them build confidence in an alien environment.”
If the pilot’s successful, Marque will seek to help other businesses replicate the model, creating a significant benefit to a community that really needs it.
The role of capitalism in the world
Bradley is critical of business as usual, believing that the norm is to operate in way that’s not human.
“What I’ve come to realise is that the conventional understanding of capitalism – that business stands outside society, and exists for the purpose of doing stuff and delivering return to its owners – is a misunderstanding. Businesses lives in the world – it takes from the world – we don’t exist in the abstract, we are part of the environment, we use its resources and benefit from it.”
Instead, he looks at business as a way of delivering social good.
“It’s not about being completely amoral and taking advantage of our opportunity to max our material gain – nor is it about the model of pursuing profit amorally and then giving some back. It’s important to recognise we’re part of society. It’s a different way of thinking about business … but business is best placed to deliver social good. It’s more efficient than government and it has enormous leverage. There is a web of connection between business that covers the whole world and every corner of it. What business is capable of delivering is so far beyond anything a government can do.”
It starts and ends with people
The fact that staff members at Marque have asked to create and contribute to their mentoring program – and that the firm has answered – demonstrates a commitment to thinking bigger than their own business.
And while the firm is growing its potential for impact, it remains committed to a basic truth – that the level of success you can have in business, social good or in your own happiness is totally reliant on people. Because no matter how far or wide the business world evolves, people will always do business with people.
“It doesn’t matter what aspirational values you’ve created or what the mission statement says, the lived reality will be what people remember. For example: If I get sick or my child gets sick, how does the business respond? Does it respond in line with the values it has asserted or is it all bullshit?”
And a friendly warning for all purpose-driven budding business owners who fail on the promises they make to their own teams: “You‘ve created expectations and then dashed them, which is worse than creating them in the first place.”
Law firms leading the way?
Despite attracting much admiration and attention for doing it differently, Marque’s approach is far from the norm, meaning there is a sustained need for Bradley’s candid commentary (he writes extensively about law, politics and social issues, formerly in a weekly column on ABC’s The Drum and now for Crikey).
Considered something of a maverick in the legal industry, Bradley’s honesty is not always appreciated by his esteemed colleagues in the profession at large, according to his Purpose 2015 talk:
“In our industry – lawyers – we get laughed at… a lot… as middle aged hippies who’ve smoked too much of our own hype.”
They may not appreciate the blend Michael, but we can’t wait to experience more of your magic. Pass us the pipe!