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

NetworkLaw
by Marcus O'Leary

NetworkLaw

NetworkLaw, www.networklaw.org was launched in February 2006 and is run by a team of five experienced solicitors with many years of private practice and in-house experience behind them. The firm operates from very pleasant offices in the heart of the Thames Valley. It is growing quite quickly and already has 14 fee earners on its books; there are around 40 more applications from solicitors wishing to join the firm currently being processed.

Our core areas are IT/IP, Employment, Corporate/ Commercial, Commercial Property, Life Sciences, Personal Injury and Family. These will expand quite rapidly.

How it started

We became aware that clients were seeing law more and more in terms of a commodity and further, that the cost of legal services was becoming an increasingly important element in their decision as to where to allocate work.

It is also apparent that more and more lawyers are becoming disenchanted with the long hours culture of City firms, with unpleasant travelling conditions and with the administrative burdens being placed upon them.

We therefore saw an opportunity for adopting a new approach in the delivery of legal services, cutting out many of the overheads that affect traditional law firms and allowing lawyers the flexibility to work in a location and at a time that works best for both them and their clients.

How it works

In management terms, Networklaw operates in much the same way as any other law firm. With the exception of IT, the management and administrative functions are all undertaken centrally from the Thames Valley HQ.

We provide our lawyers with the following services:

  • Telephone answering - calls are answered at HQ and routed to the lawyer, as if they are in the office
  • Morning post and faxes - these come into HQ, are scanned and put into the lawyer's electronic inbox
  • Typing services - a digital dictation service is available (free up to £1,000 of dictation)
  • Headed notepaper and business cards
  • A NetworkLaw email address
  • Time recording facilities; billing from HQ; also bill chasing
  • Money laundering and conflict checks
  • Online legal resources and electronic precedents
  • Library facilities
  • Professional indemnity insurance
  • Help with arranging CPD points
  • A VoIP telephony service (soon).

    Our Consultants typically meet their clients at the client’s offices but can also use the Thames Valley HQ; the firm can also arrange an office for meetings, if needed, around the country. Consultants are also encouraged to drop into the Thames Valley HQ whenever they like and the management team also travel around the country to keep good face to face contact and to carry out audits.

    NetworkLaw Consultants keep 80% of fees recovered from their own client base and 70% of fees recovered from NetworkLaw-provided work. Any Consultant passing work to NetworkLaw to be carried out by another Consultant is entitled to a 10% referral fee.

    IT and Support Services

    Advanced technology plays an important part in the way we operate. We provide each lawyer with most of the tools of their profession through a 'virtual office' environment called Online Desktop www.onlinedesktop.co.uk, operated by ADS Portal in London. Thus, the lawyers have access to the very same network and electronic tools that they would have if they were sitting in the Thames Valley HQ. Online Desktop is a Citrix (thin client) system whereby all the servers are maintained by ADS Portal at their premises in London and all the data and processing are carried out there; the only data sent to the individual lawyers’ screens is the actual data as displayed on the screen; the data as such is maintained securely at the centre. Incidentally, I negotiated additional confidentiality clauses with the company to reflect our particular requirements.

    Thus, when a Consultant logs in, they are presented with their own Windows XP based desktop and they can access all of the standard Microsoft office applications as well as the firm’s internal network, including an electronic library containing in-house precedents, standard clauses, newsletters and updates, the Outlook email system, the practice management system PC Law (on which all clients and matters are entered, documents and correspondence are saved and time recording and billing are undertaken) and other electronic legal resources provided by the firm.

    This solution ensures that our Consultants are not tied to any particular location as they are able to access their own personal desktop from anywhere in the world - provided that they have a means of accessing the internet.

    Role of the website and marketing

    As with any new approach, effective marketing activity is fundamental in order to raise awareness amongst target groups and we have a budget for this.

    Through our website we try to address the requirements both of clients and of potential Consultants. For the former, we have developed an e-commerce element, allowing standard legal documents and presentations to be downloaded either free of charge or very cheaply. For the latter we formulated a very comprehensive set of FAQs, which we also provide by email if requested.

    The future

    We firmly believe that businesses models similar to our own are the future of legal practice. By making smart use of technology and doing away with the requirement for physical office space, the business model is flexible and adaptive in a way that a bricks and mortar firm cannot be.

    We believe that this is just the start of a new and exciting journey - and one which we embrace enthusiastically!

    Marcus O'Leary, MOLeary@networklaw.org

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