‘Competition’, ‘innovation’, ‘new business models’, ‘new entrants’, ‘creativity’; all words and phrases that are being bandied round the legal market with increasing frequency at the moment. To what extent has the market responded? Are those who provide legal services really as slow to react as many argue? A quick canter through some of the developments just in terms of the delivery of personnel might stop some of those naysayers in their tracks.
Let’s take a look at Acculaw (now known as Accutrainee) first. Deemed an “innovative approach to solving the challenges law firms face in recruiting appropriate numbers of trainees and managing their cost” by none other than Tony Angel (ex-Managing Partner of Linklaters), Accutrainee recruits trainees and seconds them to law firms and in house legal departments in accordance with their requirements. Accutrainee employs trainee solicitors under a SRA approved training contract and is responsible for the trainees and for ensuring that all SRA requirements are met or exceeded. The ‘sell’ is that Acculaw minimises the risk, uncertainty and headache of sourcing trainees.
What about qualified lawyers? There have been many developments in this area, so I can only pick out a handful. One innovative delivery business that is on a massive expansion drive is Obelisk Legal Support (OLS). Billed as a legal outsourcing business “with a heart”, OLS uses former City lawyers to provide law firms and in-house departments with temporary support. The “with a heart” bit comes from the fact that the model helps highly skilled people to remain engaged with the workplace until they are ready to commit again to full time or part time employment. OLS allocates and manages the work based on the principle of ‘pooled capacity’ – each lawyer gives the time they have available around their family, typically a few hours per day. According to OLS’s Chief Executive, demand from mid-tier firms is growing fast as they seek alternative ways to manage the peaks and troughs in their work.
Another innovative model is Virtual Law, working in association with the Practical Law Company. Virtual Law provides businesses with access to cost-effective legal services without compromising quality of service and advice. The lack of partnership structure and high administrative costs and overheads helps to ensure an efficient service at very cost-effective prices.
What about existing law firms? Are they being left behind? Well, a couple of examples show that this is clearly not the case. What about BLP’s Lawyers on Demand (LOD) service? This is a legal resourcing solution for in-house counsel designed to deal with cost pressures, a mounting workload or other resourcing challenges. The LOD service comprises a team of more than 80 “high-quality, flexible lawyers who will provide your business with a premium legal resource at a low cost base. They work directly with clients on a contract basis, either at client offices or remotely”. The idea is that by establishing a team of freelance lawyers all supported by BLP, LOD is able to provide a service which combines the commercial approach and flexibility of an in-house resource with the support and quality assurance of a major law firm.
BLP are by no means the only firm taking this approach. Eversheds have a similar service, Eversheds Agile, launched as a pilot in September of last year, but converted into a permanent fixture only five months later. Enabling clients to bolster their in-house legal teams with lawyers supervised and indemnified by Eversheds, Agile’s roster had now grown to almost 80 lawyers by March of this year, with around 20 of the firm’s clients having used the scheme to that date.
This is of course without even looking at the innovative models rising up around delivery of services themselves, from firms’ own paralegal centres (see Addleshaw Goddard in particular), to ‘behind the scenes’ innovations from companies such as Eqoq and their Direct Law model.
Slow to respond. Traditional. Conservative. Is it really fair that the legal market is pigeon-holed in this way?