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

The Legal Desk
by Alyson Jackson

The Legal Desk

The Legal Desk, www.thelegaldesk.co.uk, is currently a two partner law firm, set up by myself and Tara Trower in November 2005. We both have a strong background working commercially in-house in the IT and telecoms sectors and this has therefore become the niche specialism of the firm. We provide the kind of pragmatic commercial advice to our clients that many organisations expect of their in-house advisers.

Our lawyers all work from home and we have no need for a formal office. As our clients are business clients we meet them at their offices. This cuts down significantly on overheads and enables us to offer very competitive rates compared to other lawyers with similar expertise.

Tara and I worked together at BT and conceived the idea for the firm in the war room of a major deal we were working on. Having spent long periods away from home in hotels we were convinced that there must be a better way to have a rewarding career - one that provides a genuine work/life balance. We also appreciated the dilemmas of our employer, trying to balance the benefits of legal support from a team of in-house lawyers against the ever increasing demands for support that keeps up with the drive for revenue whilst managing costs.

The obvious conclusion was a model - this model! - that gives everyone the best of both worlds.

How it works

We are building a team of lawyers by taking on self employed consultant solicitors. The firm takes care of many of the things you might expect from an employer (branded stationery, precedents, training, invoicing, office manual, indemnity insurance, etc) but as the consultants are self-employed they retain autonomy and control over their lives, at the same time as having the support of a team. We operate a commercial model which includes paying a percentage of revenues to the consultant.

We subscribe to PLC which gives us online access to precedents, legal updates and training.

Modern communication facilities make it easy to keep in touch remotely. We do this by using anything from phone, email and instant messaging to Voice over IP (VoIP) calls. As the VoIP calls are free, there really is no financial limit to how much we talk to each other! We do meet up physically from time to time too.

Each of our lawyers needs to have a broadband connection to provide access to email and the internet at realistic speeds. We have a password protected section of our website where we keep an online office manual. This provides central access to up to date versions of the firm’s procedures, precedents, branding guidelines etc.

We have mechanisms in place to ensure we receive all correspondence and that we can retrieve records easily. Much of our communication and documentation is already in electronic format so it is easy to share and store.

We also have very simple and easy to use systems. This coupled with a degree of IT literacy ourselves means we do not currently rely on external IT support. Our approach to billing is also slightly different from the traditional firm in that we recognise clients' desire for certainty of costs and hourly billing tends to be the exception rather than the rule. We agree fixed pricing wherever feasible and do not therefore rely on a traditional feed of time recording to billing.

As our consultants work on a self-employed basis, we do not have the same need to monitor such things as the efficiency of employees or billing return relative to salary for example. So long as the client gets a fair invoice, the number of hours our lawyers work can be as few or as many as they like!

As we grow, we will consider whether other systems can improve efficiency (without unduly adding to overheads) but our aim really is to keep things as straightforward and flexible as possible.

The relationship with the Law Society is fine although it did take a while to get them used to the concept of not having a physical office. There were some misunderstandings in the early days, which was a little frustrating. Perhaps they will adjust their procedures once more firms adopt a virtual way of working.

The website

Our website is our shop window and it will very often be the first contact that new clients (and new lawyers) will have with the firm. It is therefore very important. We keep it regularly updated with news items and also have a profiles page introducing each of our lawyers.

The website is of course an important marketing tool and one that can be used in conjunction with other forms of marketing, such as 'pay per click' advertising as well as articles including a link to the site.

The Future

This must be the way to go. Whilst the model will not suit everybody, there is clearly a huge demand for different ways of working. Since launching our firm we have been met with a lot of enthusiasm and praise! Not only that but anything that cuts down on commuting is bound to benefit the environment - something the world will embrace.

Alyson Jackson, alysonjackson@thelegaldesk.co.uk

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