I met up with Penina Shepherd, the founder of Acumen Business Law, an award winning business specialist Law Firm based in Brighton & Gatwick, on Friday last week in a pub in Hove. She reminded me that the start of my stewardship of the BHBPA coincided neatly with her setting up her new law firm around 2007. We have that much in common, which gives me leave to ask her for a lunch meeting occasionally. She had wanted to do things differently in the legal profession, and she has certainly achieved that. In purely financial terms at Acumen turnover grew by 40 % in the year to March 2016 and profitability by 20%
So that took care of the question I asked her about whether the business was still growing! Acumen Business Law now employs a staff of 15 legal experts and not a secretary in sight as it defeats the whole personal, modern business-like approach that forms one of their main core values. This is indeed a different law firm, whereby prices aren’t fixed precisely by the hour, and where 95% of decisions affecting all aspects of their work are decided communally at weekly meetings.
Penina will not tolerate being called ‘the boss’ or the people ‘her staff’, she finds these terms to be the exact opposite of what Acumen is all about. They are all colleagues working together to achieve a mutual goal that will benefit everyone. Each person is unique and has something to contribute, the aim is to let each person shine and bring out their uniqueness. The youngest and the newest have the same one vote on issues as everyone else, including Penina. She has created a culture of openness and goodwill towards clients, and a community culture among her colleagues which means there will not be small groups of disaffected staff lurking in corners to moan about the management. At Acumen it is an egalitarian culture, there is no hierarchical structure and there is no dress code either. When it comes to employing people in interviews one important factor they have to weigh up is whether a candidate will fit easily into this unusual working culture.
Penina is a clever woman, a brilliant communicator with lots of ideas and a generous listener. Unlike many others, she really does want to hear about what you’ve been up to, rather than to simply talk about herself and her business. She told me about her recent trip to India, to visit an ashram, where she stayed in Chennai with 20 other like-minded business people and talked about business ideas around the pool and on the beach. She told me how wonderful it had been for facilitating discussion and developing ideas about running a happy business with a purpose where one is aligned to their core values. She came back invigorated after just one week there.
Once the trip to Chennai had been discussed it was enough about her, she wanted to hear about what I’d been up to, and we then compared notes on the books we are both writing! Whilst I think she will actually write a book, I do have doubts about my own ability in this respect. However, when I told her what mine was about, a cultural and work exchange from both perspectives, she was fantastically keen to hear details about it all and incredibly supportive about the whole scheme. She gave me enormous encouragement and to me it’s little wonder to me that she is making such a success of business; she has the right mindset for it and, crucially, understands that treating people properly is one of the essential keys to success. An hour with her just flew by, and I am looking forward to chatting to her again already.