A vision of the future
William Robbins looks at some of the practices and initiatives adopted by â€˜new law' firms to create a better experience for lawyers and clients
A seismic shift is occurring in the legal profession that is transforming the very anatomy of the traditional law firm. The rise of agile and alternative business structures is forcing legal practices to reconsider the way they think, operate, and attract talent. But this is just the beginning. With greater reforms approaching, firms must prepare themselves for the challenges that lie ahead.
Today’s partners have never been so highly skilled, nor under so much pressure. Typically, they run the firm, the team, the client relationships, and do the fee earning. It’s an impressive juggling act, but therein lies the problem.
Many partners tasked with the role are reluctant to take it on, particularly if they feel the distractions involved will adversely affect their client base. The responsibilities of the job are multifaceted and the mindset of a manager is often drastically different to that of a legal partner.
The challenger firm
Fifteen years ago, Keystone Law launched into a marketplace that had remained largely unchanged for centuries, with the aim of harmonising the interests of both client and lawyer and embracing agile working to create a better experience for everyone.
Being managed by a partnership of non-lawyers means that Keystone can avoid many of the anxieties found in the traditional firm, while its flat structure creates a level playing field for all its lawyers. Instead of being salaried, lawyers are given complete autonomy over their practice – managing their own workload and freed from the billable hour and set targets – as well as working from wherever best suits them. Keystone has grown from a start-up into one of the UK’s fastest growing full-service law firms, with 250 lawyers, a central support team of 50 dedicated staff, and offices in London, the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Melbourne, Sydney, and Belfast.
The pursuit of happiness
In 2016, Keystone commissioned a report into lawyer satisfaction levels. Analysing the happiness and wellbeing of over 300 partners and associates, the study found that 67 per cent of those surveyed believed that law was more stressful than any other profession. Unsurprisingly, almost 40 per cent cited greater flexibility as a means of making their job more enjoyable, while 64 per cent agreed that the traditional partnership model was outdated.
Meanwhile, the firm recently carried out its own internal survey around workplace satisfaction across the entire firm – with interesting results. Around 40 per cent of Keystone lawyers cited office politics as the most significant reason for leaving their previous firm, while 30 per cent said that management obligations were the biggest driving force behind their decision to move.
When asked what the biggest benefits of joining were, greater flexibility across the board generally came out on top at 53 per cent. The second most highly ranked benefit was being able to focus on getting back to lawyering at 25 per cent.
Rainmakers and recruitment
Unusually, much of Keystone’s marketing spend is aimed at recruitment, because its growth stems largely from the acquisition of rainmakers with their own individual network, which they will look after throughout their time at Keystone. So as much as the firm markets itself on tech investment and modern working practices, the old-school business principle of one-to-one human relationships is of equal importance.
This ethos is reflected in Keystone’s recent recruitment initiatives. For three days in 2015, the firm staged a live installation on the main concourse of Liverpool Street station featuring a lawyer imprisoned in a cage. Channelling the message that lawyers do not have to be imprisoned by obsolete working practices, the innovative PR stunt created a stir across print, digital, and social media platforms. But it wasn’t all shock tactics and bulking up headcount: the real focus was quality. The aim was to attract entrepreneurial partners who don’t want to jump out of the frying pan of one traditional firm and straight into the fire of another.
At the turn of the millennium, commentators struggled to coin a phrase to describe the ‘new law’ model. ‘Virtual law firm’ became widely used, as did ‘dispersed firm’. However, as the market has matured, the new law model has segmented. Some have embraced the virtual moniker, while others, with Keystone Law among them, now present to clients in a similar manner to the traditional firms.
The more innovative of the traditional firms are not standing still, though. On the contrary, they too have had to adapt in order to meet the changing landscape and have moved to adopt many of the practices of new law firms. At the end of last year, in the wake of much market uncertainty, Keystone relaunched its interactive financial calculator with a ‘team move calculator’ which showed the benefits of joining the firm for whole teams. Partners were invited to enter in their own time as well as additional staff costs, allowing the calculator to determine potential profit per team, profit per partner, and office costs at a fixed amount.
At the time, Keystone’s managing director, James Knight, explained that the whole purpose of the tool was to demonstrate to partners and teams that moving didn’t mean everything had to change. They could still maintain their existing arrangements and grow their practice, with all the remunerative and support benefits on offer.
Agents of change
The future of law is here whether the industry supports its evolution or not. New entrants are emerging daily and a new generation of savvy client is shaking up the industry like never before.
While the idea of clients before lawyers might not seem like breaking news, the concept of individual lawyers being way ahead of their firms is having an even greater impact on the marketplace.
It might be an overused clichÃ© these days, but the saying ‘innovate or die’ has never been more appropriate. In doing so, practitioners and businesses alike can expect unprecedented client demand and a happy workforce.
A vision of the future, then, has never been more important for law firms and lawyers with an active interest in getting ahead.
William Robbins is the chief operating officer at Keystone Law