Carbon Stories | #4: The Flourish Story

Cardiff’s Morgan Arcade has a rich history in entrepreneurship. It’s where in 1896, David Morgan opened a drapery shop. It later became the biggest independent department store in Wales before closing its doors in 2005. The building and surrounding arcade has since been filled by a healthy mix of shops and traders including The Plan Cafe and Spillers, the world’s oldest record shop.

The upstairs of the former department store is home to the Creative Quarter where a cluster of innovative businesses have taken up residence, including architects, tech businesses, brand agencies, a production house and Carbon Law Partners.

A creative community where Carbon feels at home.

It might seem an unusual home for a law firm, but Carbon Founder and CEO Michael Burne feels Carbon belongs here. “We’re at home in Morgan Arcade. There are lots of different creative and entrepreneurial businesses here. I like the building’s rich history and the fact it’s been re-purposed. It is the ideal metaphor for what we are doing as a law firm, mixing the old and the new, making it relevant for today’s changing world.”

Carbon is building a radically different model for buying and selling legal services. Lawyers called “Partners” work throughout the UK from their homes, their client’s premises and from Carbon’s offices in London Bristol and Cardiff, supported by a management service and back office facility called the Hub.

The move to the Creative Quarter at Morgan Arcade signals a new chapter in the company’s history. It’s embarking on an expansion plan, having recently hired four new members of the Hub team alongside nine new partners. Lawyers now number twenty five: the plan is for this to increase to fifty partners in the first quarter of 2018.

As well as boosting growth, a new office environment has also helped shaped the culture. “The regular Hub meetings have changed. There’s a different, more relaxed, vibe,” says Linda Bridge, Head of Talent.

“Cardiff’s purpose as a city has changed. It has an industrial history, but the future looks distinctly creative and entrepreneurial. We feel part of that. We like being in a city where there is possibility and opportunity,” says Michael.

Far from being a shiny office tower, beloved of many professional services firms, Carbon’s location in Morgan Arcade puts them at the heart of the city and close to the action. Michael enjoys mixing with his neighbours downstairs, starting the day with a coffee at Uncommon Ground. Michael shares the creative businesses’ vision for well made, high-quality products and services. “What’s wonderful about being here is that we’re so near to independent businesses and traders doing things their way, with that entrepreneurial, go-getting spirit, a spirit we share. I want Carbon to fuel growing businesses.”

Lead Talent Scout, Adele Carter says moving to the new office is a reminder that they are all on a journey together. “You can be so busy that you don’t stop to reflect. Moving here is a big neon sticker that says we’ve made it this far,” she says. “Here everything is in sync with who we are. In the Creative Quarter we are surrounded by neighbours who are entrepreneurs and intrepid explorers. It’s a great space full of people similar to us.”

Giving people the chance to flourish.

The new space in the Creative Quarter reflects Carbon’s spirit: of doing things differently, shaking things up and embracing the human element in what can often be a dry industry.

At the heart of Carbon’s expansion is Michael’s ethos of creating the conditions for individuals to develop and grow, where they feel they can bring their own personalities to work. “We never stand still. Our values and mission stay the same, but execution is open to change. Everybody’s different so people are going to need different conditions to flourish. At the end of the day, it’s about giving people space to grow their own way.”

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‘Flourish’ is the name given to Carbon’s new learning and development programme, run by Linda Bridge. “Our partners all have a passion for learning. They like venturing out of their comfort zone. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have joined Carbon,” she says. The programme is about creating the conditions for exceptional people to succeed, and will provide workshops on skills from resilience to how to run a great pitch, with the emphasis on doing things differently. “The Carbon brand gives us permission to play with how learning is delivered. This programme is designed to make people feel hugely inspired and fired-up,” adds Linda.

Partner Natalie Murray recently had her first ‘Flourish’ meeting with Michael Burne. It changed everything for her. “The meeting helped me to see the qualities I bring to clients, just by being me.”  Natalie explains how, in an initial client meeting, she was asked to outline her approach to an FCA authorisation process. Being artistic, Natalie thinks visually. She got out her notepad and drew the process. The client loved it, and hired her on the spot. “I wouldn’t have been confident enough to do that, without having had the Flourish meeting with Michael.” She says she’s never been busier.

Carbon: the right mix.

Whilst Carbon has a big plan for talent acquisition, finding the right people is an organic process. As a recruiter, Adele knows that the Carbon proposition is not for everyone. The model offers flexibility, but not everyone wants to take the leap from a big firm to collaborating in a different, more independent way. “Talent acquisition is not an algorithm, it’s not a numbers game, it’s human. Looking for a fellow pack animal sometimes takes time. You can’t rush chemistry and quality. It’s finding the right people, not the right-now people.”

Powering into the future.

It’s not unusual for business leaders to take time out of the role and create the space to step back and reflect. But Michael found a rather unusual place for reflection when he cycled 575 kms from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas in October, raising money for Cardiff’s City Hospice. One day, there was a gruelling 18 mile climb in intense heat. He was running out of water and was desperate to stop, but he carried on. “Before I went I said I would ride every inch of the way. And I did exactly that,” says Michael. At the end of the leg, he was surprised to discover some of his fellow cyclists didn’t complete the challenge. “What did I learn as a leader? That I am able to go beyond where I think I can go.”

“Growing a young business hasn’t always been easy,” he says. “It’s been rough at times but we’ve learned some lessons along the way. Now we have a really good handle on what we do, how we do it and why we do it. We’re clear about developing those conditions for success.”

With fresh people on board coupled with the new space, everyone’s feeling energised. The team is feeling excited about Carbon’s plans for 2018. 

As Adele says, “The anchor’s up and it’s full steam ahead!”


Penned by Ian Sanders | @IanSanders