Building the case for change

7th December 2022


Charlotte Snowdon, Director of Operations at BHP Law, talks to PETER BARRON about the challenge of guiding one of the region’s oldest law firms into the digital era

EVEN if she didn’t always realise it at the time, Charlotte Snowdon has been grappling with change since ever she was a child, growing up happily on a County Durham sheep farm.

“I suppose I was always a problem-solver by nature – always looking to see how we could do things better,” she smiles.

While her father, John, was shearing sheep by hand with old-fashioned clippers, young Charlotte bought a pair of the latest electric shears so she could get through the job a lot quicker.

Meanwhile, her mother, Frances, was selling flowers from the farm, so Charlotte always had a strong insight into running a business.

Those days on the farm, at Middleton-in-Teesdale, are a world away from how Charlotte is making a living now – leading a programme of change at one of the region’s longest-established law firms. And yet, the fundamental question remains the same: how to maintain the best of the old, while embracing the benefits of the new.

“BHP Law is known for placing an emphasis on traditional, personalised customer service, but we also have to make the most of technological advances if we are to maintain our competitive edge,” she declares.

The thought of working in the legal sector never entered Charlotte’s head during her childhood on the farm. Having grown up around horses, she thought she might be a groom. The alternatives were teaching or doing something in sport because she had a talent for hockey, and continues to play for Darlington, the town where she was born.

She was still mulling over her future when she embarked on a human resources degree at Teesside University, graduating in 2000, and starting her first job with telecommunications provider Orange. After manning the telephones, she moved into the training department, and discovered a passion for the ‘neuro-linguistic programming’ approach to high performance personal development.

“It’s about supporting mindset and behaviours in order to produce better results,” she explains.

After ten years with Orange, she moved on to become a learning and development consultant with energy and services company, Centrica.

Charlotte’s first step into the legal world came eight years later when she joined Irwin Mitchell in a national role as Head of Operations, overseeing compliance, and building a 65-strong high-performing team.

Her growing reputation for change management led to her being approached to join BHP Law in May 2022.

“I saw it as a great opportunity to put something back into the area where I’m from, and to be part of a great business that knew it had to go on a journey but needed help getting there,” she says.

With a history dating back to the early 1800s, the firm has built its reputation on traditional values but equity partners, John and Karen Pratt, and Peter Blackett, are also determined to move with the times, ensuring the business is in good shape for the future.

Charlotte’s appointment is a key part of BHP Law’s refreshed strategic plan as the company has continued to grow with offices in Darlington, Durham, Tynemouth, Newcastle and Stockton, served by 12 specialist teams across the full range of legal services.

The Covid-19 pandemic presented challenges for all businesses and BHP Law was not exempt, resulting in changing working practices worldwide, and underlining the need for BHP Law to adapt more quickly to maintain a high level of client services in the modern world.

Charlotte’s appointment is aimed at building a sustainable future under a five-year plan based on three key areas – people, process and technology – and there has already been progress on four key goals:

  • GROW THE BUSINESS – BHP Law has 113 employees serving around 5,000 active clients, and is looking to bring in new recruits, as well as grow its own talent, through internal progression, and the employment of the first five apprentice lawyers in the company’s history. The business has also recently announced an increased focus on the Aycliffe area.
  • PROVIDE EXCELLENT CLIENT SERVICE – The emphasis on customer care is underpinned by using Trustpilot, and the rating has risen steadily in the past seven months, so it is now an “excellent” 4.7 out of 5.
  • CREATE A GREAT PLACE TO WORK – Staff turnover has been significantly reduced, and more flexible working has been introduced, with staff having more choice in where and when they work, providing clients’ needs are at the heart of what they do.
  • BE A RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS – BHP Law has increased its profile this year, with a range of community interactions, including: headline sponsorship of this year’s pantomime at Darlington Hippodrome; buying a new strip for Darlington RA Under-9 Tornadoes football team; engaging with Dementia Friendly Communities; fundraising for Access to Justice; and supporting Women Today in its campaign to supply sanitary products to impoverished parts of the world.

Charlotte’s current critical focus is on technology, with upgraded laptops, and a new practice management system. Training and development, aligned with performance management, is also high on the agenda.

One of her first priorities, when she arrived, was to encourage staff to use less paper and adopt digital practices, with the aim of spending less time on administration, and more time on building strong customer relationships.

But she is acutely aware that BHP Law is catering for a wide range of customers, with some preferring a more traditional service, while others have digital requirements.

Improving diversity in the business is also close to her heart, and she brings the perspective of being a gay woman who is recently married to Sophie, a director of Northern Pride.

“I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t experienced homophobia in my past working life, but I know people who have, so employers have to build a culture where people feel comfortable just being themselves.”

“We are definitely seeing progress in all areas of the strategy,” she says.

“The leadership shown by John, Karen and Peter as equity partners has been crucial because they are going through this massive transition too and supporting it because they know it’s the right thing to do.

“Staff are so passionate about BHP Law, and there’s a growing acceptance that we can have a smarter way forward that retains traditional values but embraces the future.”

From growing up on a County Durham sheep farm, to driving change at one of the North-East’s oldest law firms, finding ways to do things better has been a way of life for Charlotte Snowdon.

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