28 Mar The Democratic Law Firm: BvdV
At democratically-run Dutch law firm Bruggink & Van der Velden (BvdV) in Utrecht, everybody works four days a week. Also everybody is free to decide how much he or she wants to earn. In a sector that is currently having a hard time in the Netherlands, the firm realises growth.
The law firm, founded in 2006, is organized according to the principles of Brazilian entrepreneur and management guru Ricardo Semler. The core of Semler’s philosophy: let employees do what they want to do, so they will feel engaged and create the most added value for the organization.
That implies entrepreneurship and transparency. At BvdV, everybody knows how much everybody earns. The firm set up a system in which all employees have to work a certain amount of billable hours to be able to break even as a company. Of all extra billable hours that employees make, he or she gets half. The other half goes to the shareholders. This implies that the lower the break even point is, the more everybody can earn. This makes everybody aware how to cut costs.
Although this system seems to stimulate excessive billing, BvdV prevents this by maximising the workweek to four days and, more importantly, by maximising the amount of billable hours. On top of this, BvdV has a social structure in which a lawyer who spends evenings and weekends at the office is addressed with concern.
At BvdV, someone can only become a shareholder when all employees agree about the person and about the fact that this person brings in so much work for (other lawyers at) the firm, that he deserves to get a bigger piece of the pie. The shares give dividend rights. No one can be a shareholder forever – 13 years is the maximum. The firm is not limited to four shareholders, either.
Although BvdV currently has only four shareholders, decisions are made democratically by all 28 employees, secretaries included. There is a regular meeting once a month in which basic stuff is discussed. Twice a year, all employees gather for an afternoon and evening to discuss more philosophical questions about the way they work together.
The benefits of the system are clear to everyone. The company has no precedents of burned-out employees, and does not squander money. Very few people have left the company. Financially, the company is healthy too. Everybody is responsible for his own debtors and everyone is and feels responsible for reducing costs: no company cars, no company phones, no extraordinary expenses and a good work-life balance are all part of that.