Bloomsbury Law Online

Articles filed under Virtual practice

More than three years ago I wrote an article for this Newsletter extolling (in the main) the benefits of using a virtual approach to working in the digital age by virtualising legal services. The last three years have seen a further embedding of virtual law firms in the legal marketplace, with Keystone Law becoming a (more) established name, Setfords Solicitors receiving a substantial private equity injection and Excello Law apparently moving from strength to strength; my own firm, Redmans, although much smaller, has substantially increased revenue and profits.

redmansThis article looks at how my firm’s practices have changed over the last three years and gives an update on the benefits (and disadvantages) of the virtual model. It also looks at how the model of a virtual firm may have changed over this period.

Nick Holmes and I have been covering “virtual law firms” in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers since 2006. In May 2007, I wrote an article called “Virtual Law Firms – where we are now” which looked at several of the firms we had already covered, and cross linked this with the size of firm, the type of clients they were working for and the type of work covered. I also looked at practical issues like the need for social contact between fee-earners, secretarial support, handling accounts and practice management, telephone, post and fax (remember fax?), sharing of fees and (importantly) why they had decided to “go virtual”.

You can view all articles on virtual practice which have appeared in this Newsletter over the years at www.infolaw.co.uk/newsletter/category/virtual-practice/ (this includes a couple relating to Chambers).

Looking back at these articles now, it appears that the so-called “virtual firms” were still, at that time, trying to be a “real” firm, generally with a central office (which could be the senior partner’s home) and still requiring SRA registration, but with developing solutions for computers, software, telephone, secretarial services and accounts. Despite all the new technology, however, I would say that they were still firms of solicitors that my father (who was senior partner of Vinters in Cambridge in the 1960s) would have recognised.

Fast track forward to 2016, and it seems as if the phrase “virtual firm” is not really used any more, probably since most firms will be using many of the characteristic new technologies involved and they are just normal firms.

I founded Summerfield Browne Solicitors at the beginning of 2014. The firm specialises in advising on business and commercial law and we offer these services throughout England and Wales. We advise a wide range of companies from start-up to established international companies and from a diverse range of sectors. We now have offices in London, Birmingham, Cambridge, Oxford, Northampton and Market Harborough.

Why start a new firm?

I set up the new firm because I identified an under developed niche legal services model that I felt could be exploited in a very competitive legal services market. It is still very early days but the intended business model is a hybrid structure consisting of consultant solicitors who work remotely to service our clients at low overhead and also employed solicitors working at various strategic office locations. To keep the cost structure competitive it is anticipated that there will be significantly more consultant solicitors than employed solicitors. We use various strategies to source our staff including online marketing.

Inksters

ReInvent Law London 2014 took place on 20 June. This was its third London outing. It appeared first in 2012 as Law Tech Camp and was renamed ReInvent Law for 2013. I have attended all three and gave a presentation at this year’s event.

The coming of the much-vaunted information age, improvements in digital and internet technology, and the increasing requirement for law firms to diversify and innovate over the last ten years has led to a series of interesting experiments in business models for lawyers. Law firms (as demonstrated by the success of such firms as Excello Law, Setfords Solicitors and Keystone Law) are increasingly moving to a virtual (or dispersed) business model at the expense of bricks and mortar (where a firm would have an established office).

There is very little that is actually “virtual” about the way Clerksroom is operating. You could say it’s a “procurement company”, or a service company, or a business. Our barristers are self employed, sole practitioners working from 55 home based offices around the UK and increasingly, globally. We now have members based in Ireland, Spain, India and New Zealand as well as the UK. Our members are spread nationally from Cornwall to North Yorkshire, East Sussex to Lancashire.

Traditional high street law firms are under attack on every front. The recession reduces their bread and butter property work and they face ever rising overheads and staff costs. The solution for some firms has been to specialise and to gain competitive advantage by adopting a more businesslike approach and IT solutions.

A response to the article on virtual firms in the last issue of the Newsletter

Over the last couple of years, we have covered a whole series of virtual firms in this newsletter. In some cases, the firms have sprung up as a fully-formed (but usually one-person) virtual firm; in others, the firm has gently moved from being a “normal” firm with “proper” premises, to becoming virtual in stages.

Just over a year ago I set up Lawbridge Solicitors as a virtual firm after 21 years as a partner in a High Street practice. As the partner responsible for my former firm’s IT, I had been interested in the idea of a virtual law firm for some time. The increasing financial pressures on High Street firms, the likely changes to the legal landscape in the next few years and the increasing suitability of technology for a virtual practice, persuaded me that the time was right to take the plunge.

In December 2006, armed with the belief that I had spotted a gap in the legal services market, in which to grow a niche virtual law firm, I left my safe job and its final salary pension scheme, to form “Legal Hobbit” even though a lot of people, whose opinion I respected, thought I was insane and told me so. After all, who ever heard of an international telecommunications law firm in Kidderminster (or any reputable law firm with the word “Hobbit” in the title)?

Delia Venables interviews Heather Rose who set up the Towcester Family Law Practice in February 2008 with a specialist family law legal executive colleague. “I have set up a virtual office and rather than people coming to the office, I take the office to them. There is nothing that I cannot do or access when out with a client. I am making legal advice a lot more accessible, manageable and flexible than the average high street practice and I can pass on the savings of lower overheads to clients.”