Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
September/October 2006, by Delia Venables

Woolley & Co.
by Andrew Woolley

Woolley & Co.

Woolley & Co., www.business-lawfirm.co.uk started as a virtual law firm as long ago as 1996. There are now 11 lawyers specialising in divorce work (mainly for business people) and also company / commercial (with an emphasis on IT, e-commerce and software law). There are no offices of any type although my home in Stratford upon Avon is 'the office' in the formal Law Society rules sense.

I was motivated to start the firm following my period of study at Warwick Business School and a growing interest in saving costs by the use of IT (a topic upon which I frequently present at seminars and increasingly am asked to consult on by other law firms). As a partner in a very well run law firm at that time, I saw the gross fees figure with great excitement each year and then had a huge disappointment when I looked at the net profit. Much too much of the income went in infrastructure and non fee earning wages and costs.

How it works

The firm of Woolley & Co. is not just a network of independent lawyers but a genuine firm like all others except that we have no offices in the traditional sense, absolute flexi-time and pay very much by way of performance related benefits. Woolley & Co allows lawyers to have direct contact from clients and other lawyers but that is managed by the fact that almost all our communications are by way of e-mail or phone and we use a very expensive ASP web based complete software solution which allows me to view and supervise all work done and to set procedures which cannot be varied. The firm meets as a whole centrally once a month and I have a 'person and files' review meeting with each lawyer at least once a month. There are also various social events. The lawyers consider these meetings of crucial importance. They are often used for coaching sessions on the software, a corporate approach to things and on marketing issues.

Decisions about the firm are generally taken by me, assisted by my invaluable Marketing and Finance Directors who are outside consultants.

I have never had any problem with the Law Society who I find very helpful and fair. I explained from the beginning how I was running the firm and I often ask the ethics section for advice. According to my FD, I am 'over cautious' about financial compliance. In fact, I may well not be of too much interest to the Law Society as I do not deal with IFAs and commission, personal injury, property work or probate and we have little operation of the client account.

The software used is Osprey, from legal software company Pracctice which is, I have to say, not without its issues. It is a full practice management and case management solution and is held on a server by the providers thus allowing access from any internet connection. It also allows clients to view their files and allows for e-billing and helps with e-payments. In theory and sales talk it’s great but in actual use I am somewhat disappointed by the system. Nevertheless, albeit with significant time and cost investment from Woolley & Co and a lot of help from the very keen and helpful people in the support section of Pracctice, it is getting better.

The firm provides full web based library type services and lawyers use Virtual Assistants if they wish by way of digital dictation but this is not often used as we are setting up the system with most standard documents and phrases.

We have two websites, www.business-lawfirm.co.uk and www.divorce-lawfirm.co.uk, both of which have won national awards. These sites, and marketing generally, are crucial to our success and to our recent (and future) large growth. We spend a lot, a real lot, of money on marketing and without the web sites, growth would not be possible.

I believe that firms such as ours will work together increasingly as they are natural allies and I do not foresee a great danger in the increasing competition from other such firms. There are more than enough clients 'out there' for all of us. I believe that this sort of business will grow and that conventional firms such as those who write to us (in printed form) in reply to an e-mail and then show their own e-mail address in bold under their signature will have major problems in the near future in competing.

Many lawyers are approaching us and no doubt the other firms featured in this series of articles. There are very good reasons for this level of interest and traditional law firms need to find out what they are and resolve the issues.

Andrew Woolley, andrew.woolley@businesslawfirm.co.uk

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