Annette Freeman is a K2 Ip Network Attorney, principal of Freeman IP, and a long-time friend of the Trademark Blog:
There’s a lot of talk around these days about new ways of structuring legal and attorney firms. Dr George Beaton calls the paradigm “Old Law/New Law” and argues that major changes are on the way.
Meanwhile, as the debate rages in the blogosphere, many have been quietly getting on with new ways of doing business. A variety of different concerns might spark the desire to try something new. Attorneys and lawyers might hear their clients asking for better charging models with more predictability or transparency. Quality staff may want to use technology to work remotely more often. Perhaps expensive office suites in the center of the city with marble foyers and high-end art on the walls are, these days, sending the wrong message to cost-conscious clients.
Many firms have responded to this by relocating to the periphery of major cities, retaining good communication links but reducing overheads – New York-based boutique Leason Ellis is a prime example of how successful this can be in driving down costs while both retaining and attracting clients. (Ed note: I told you she was a friend).
But there are also subtler drivers there can encourage alternative approaches. It seems that clients don’t only want reasonable and transparent costs. They also value access to the right professional, someone who fits their needs and who won’t delegate their work ‘down the hall’. Professionals get a lot more job satisfaction from building close relationships with their clients, taking time to learn about the business they’ll be assisting, and building team-work and trust. And not everyone wants to slog away their entire career to become managing partner.
Of course, clients and professionals have always wanted these things. Finally some innovative new firms are trying out different models to see if they can deliver better outcomes. Certainly, the availability of fast, streamlined technology has brought new models within the bounds of possibility and there are now a number of successful examples in place around the world.
In Australia and South-East Asia, there’s AdventBalance, founded by ex-large law firm partners. It advertises “a refreshingly different approach to law”. Its lawyers work on projects, anywhere from a day to a year, often at the client’s premises.
London’s McCarthy Denning says it is “redefining the business of law”. They talk about vastly reduced overheads and no chargeable hours targets. Their lawyers work from home, at the client’s premises, or at one of their hot-desking centers. These models are backed up by central office support usually providing such things as telephone reception, messaging, postal services and meeting rooms.
Also based in London, Keystone Law talks about a “fresh new approach” and “a liberating experience”, a highly successful approach developed over ten years, that now involves 120 lawyers who receive support from a central London office, with support staff and administrative functions, and meeting rooms where required.
These firms have their finger on the pulse. In line with evolving community expectations, the UK has just brought in changes to employment legislation, granting a statutory right to request flexible working to all employees after 26 weeks’ employment (whether or not they have children), with such requests to be dealt with “in a reasonable manner” by the employer. ‘Flexible working’ in this context may take various forms, including job sharing, part-time working, or working from home.
In the sphere of patent and trade mark services, London-based K2 IP Ltd (with whom I’m affiliated) has brought together a group of twenty five geographically-spread IP attorneys and consultants, with an IP management infrastructure – including record-keeping, accounting, paralegal, marketing and office functions – provided by the London firm Keltie LLP. With UK and EU attorneys and consultants spread throughout England and Scotland, as well as in Miami, Nice in France, and Sydney, Australia, it’s a model that’s popular with the professionals. But it also brings together senior attorneys who have ‘done their time’ in the big companies and firms, and now want to build more meaningful client relationships.
Keith Turner, Chief Executive of K2 IP, says that these types of models have definite benefits for clients, too, but can also happily co-exist alongside other more traditional approaches. “A client may really want to work with a particular highly-experienced individual, but may be wary of entrusting a major project or portfolio to a one-person firm. With K2 IP, the client gets the expertise they want, plus back-office support and access to other specialists in the K2 attorney line-up.”
At the heart of all these new firms is some form of legal framework to allow a group of independent professionals to effectively work together as a team to service clients. The most successful firms also utilize a simple revenue sharing formula to encourage collaborative working and client referrals to ensure the best person does the work for the client.
These brand new firms sprouting up everywhere are taking the concept to a whole new level. If they can deliver happy clients and happy professionals, we’ll be seeing a lot more of them.