Legal awards: Idealist wins award for visionary partnership

Carol Fox receives her award. Picture: John Young
Carol Fox receives her award. Picture: John Young
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A gap in the market led to an unparalleled innovation for the winner of Specialist Lawyer of the Year, writes Maggie Stanfield

CAROL Fox is something of an innovator. Operating as a traditional legal practice didn’t fit in with her vision for her Edinburgh-based company, Fox and Partners. Instead, she and her colleague, Brian McLaughlin, founded a company which now operates under an Alternative Business Structure that allows everyone in the organisation to own shares. That, in turn, creates a sense of loyalty and commitment. Everyone is involved: everyone wants the company not only to succeed, but to do so within an equality-based framework.

That concept clearly appealed to the judges of the Scott and Co Legal Awards, who not only awarded Fox and Partners the plaudit of Employment Team of the Year, but also gave an individual award to Carol Fox as Specialist Lawyer of the Year.

Fox explains: “We wanted to practice what we preach. Usually, only a few equity partners at the top of the firm benefit from the hard work of others, rather than sharing the rewards with everyone. That’s what didn’t sit well with me and employee ownership seemed to be a very good value system and model that would work.”

All employees, a team of ten, can own shares within a structure that demarcates the ownership interests of Fox and McLaughlin from the employee interests through a Trust arrangement set up with the Baxi Partnership (BPL). Staff can buy shares or are given them through a share incentive plan.

Established originally in 2000, Fox and Partners has evolved over the years into its present status as the only Scottish company specialising in employment law from a claimant perspective, unlike other employment law departments or legal practices, which act for both employers and claimants. Fox’s reasoning is that acting only for claimants ensures a clear and reassuring path for individuals struggling with difficult problems at work.

Fox says: “I have a background as a trades union official and I have also worked at the Equal Opportunities Commission. I think we bring a unique perspective both in how we run our organisation and in how we serve our clients.

“I specialise in employment litigation and equal pay issues. My perspective in standing up for clients at employment tribunals is grounded in a real recognition of the challenges people face. We treat our clients with empathy and respect.

“When employment tribunals were originally set up, the idea was that you could go along and represent yourself in a ‘people’s court’, but the law has become so complex, it’s unlikely that an individual is going to be equipped to represent themselves alone.

“We wanted to work out how to make that kind of support manageable for everyone, so for some cases we work pro bono. It’s a very challenging environment, but our referrals are coming thick and fast, mainly by word of mouth.”

In winning two awards, Fox is delighted to see the judges recognising newer companies and especially those operating under an alternative business structure.

“The event itself was great for us. We brought all the staff and took two tables so that our team from Baxi Partnership could join us. That was unusual in itself. Generally, law firms don’t bring their staff along, but our approach is different.

“It is very heartening that the judges are willing to recognise the smaller firms who are doing something different and progressive, something distinct from the traditional structures.”

Fox and Partners has proven already that being different in approach and ethos can work successfully both for its staff and clients. Perhaps the company has opened a gateway that other lawyers will seek to follow.