Is there a different legal pathway other than a traditional law firm?
There’s a scene in Richard Beasley’s Australian novel, ‘Hell Has Harbour Views’, where you find out that a hot shot Partner of fictional law firm, Rottmans, Maughan and Nash (otherwise known as Mean, Rotten and Nasty or the ‘greatest law firm in the universe’) achieves the particularly impressive feat of billing a client more than 24 hours in one day. Adept at puffing out his timesheet to meet his billable targets, Tim ‘No Doze’ Sullivan defies basic human sleep requirements and scores the 24.3 hour day in one month alone.
That kind of billing pressure sound familiar to anyone (minus the timesheet trickery and outright fraud, of course)?
Is it any wonder that lawyers are looking to find an alternative model to the six minute billing mayhem, the ruthless targets, the long office hours, and the competitive partnership race?
Enter the ‘NewLaw’ era, where a few smart players in the Australian legal market have decided to revolutionise the industry by doing law a little differently. We chatted to Jeremy Szwider, Managing Director and Founder of Bespoke and Simon Davidson, Principal and Founder of Hive Legal, to find out about how their firms are different and how they embraced innovation to bring value to their clients and their lawyers.
Law With a Difference: What Does it Mean?
It is easy to use the word ‘different’ to make a company or firm sound innovative, groundbreaking, special or new. But what sets these two ‘disruptive’ firms apart in a profession renowned for its old school conservatism?
Launching Bespoke in 2009, Jeremy Szwider says that words like ‘different’ are often bandied around without thought or foundation.
“Take any of the phrases like ‘we’re different’, ‘we go the extra mile’, or ‘we get to know your business’ and insert company name! They’re no doubt well intentioned, but ubiquitous and largely meaningless. Difference has to be demonstrated”, says Jeremy.
Whilst Jeremy acknowledges that a growing number of progressive firms employ similar strategies such as value based pricing, low overheads and a high technology focus, he says the key difference is Bespoke’s in-house philosophy.
“At Bespoke, we are truly different, adopting an outsourced in house counsel philosophy. We use innovative value-based pricing to give clients complete cost certainty and complete transparency. We even adopt fixed prices for M&A work which because of its complexity was thought to be the final frontier of fixed prices”, says Jeremy.
“At our core, we work to a mantra of ‘working in-house’ with our clients. It sounds simple, but getting advice from an in-house lawyer (without the inhibition of the clock ticking) is a revelation to clients in the way they use legal services.”
Well, there’s certainly no place for No Doze Sullivan in this firm. So how does Hive Legal achieve its point of difference in the marketplace?
Simon Davidson says that Hive Legal, winner of the 2014 ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Award in recognition of its innovative business model, is different in three key areas: pricing, use of senior practitioners and disaggregation or innovation.
For starters, Hive Legal lawyers don’t time record. The focus on value pricing “frees lawyers from clock watching and the demands of timesheet based performance analysis”, says Simon. “Clients also have greater certainty and transparency regarding fees and clients and lawyers are more aligned because efficiencies are rewarded rather than hours of potentially unproductive input – time is no longer money.”
Exactly the kind of progressive, commonsense argument that would put the shady timesheet ‘puffery’ practices of No Doze to shame.
The second key difference, according to Simon, is the concentrated team of senior practitioners where clients obtain more access to Principals rather than work being pushed down to junior lawyers to keep them busy (not that we don’t want career options and work for young lawyers but that’s for another post!)
“Our pricing models means that clients don’t pay more to have a number of senior lawyers truly collaborating with them.”
Access to expertise and value for money? Another win for clients. And while Sullivan would have had graduate lawyers stuffing around in the firm’s discovery room at a premium price, that kind of inefficiency is not part of Hive’s modus operandi.
Measuring staff on outputs rather than recorded time means the Hive Legal model embraces flexibility, allows lawyers to work remotely. “We also broke down all internal barriers which are detrimental to lawyer/client relationships – for example there are no rewards based on client ‘ownership’, there are no ‘teams’ to create silos.”
The final difference with the Hive model, says Simon, is the firm’s ability to source the best resources for a particular job or task, either internally or externally, whether that be a paralegal, senior lawyer or an LPO. “It is about finding the most cost-effective resource, rather than relying on $400 per hour junior lawyers to proofread or sort documents.”
Sounds like clients are winning with these service delivery models. But what about the lawyers? Is it actually different working at a ‘NewLaw’ firm?
Same, Same: But Different
According to Simon and Jeremy, it’s a resounding ‘yes’. Simon says that Hive Legal provides:
- a much freer, less constrained, work environment for lawyers
- a focus on collaboration, promoted by the flatter structures, the lack of time recording and the removal of internal barriers, and
- a flexible approach which allows lawyers more freedom to manage work/life demands as they need.
With expertise, experience, innovation and a willingness to embrace change high on Bespoke’s hiring agenda, Bespoke appears to have a similar philosophy. Jeremy says the flat structured firm with high levels of autonomy is a place where challenging notions of status quo are expected in a fast paced environment where there’s time for fun too.
“We regularly hold sessions like ‘Why we think more like Google than a law firm’”, says Jeremy.
More Silicon Valley, less Chancery Lane. Now that doesn’t sound Mean, Rotten or Nasty to me at all. Where can I sign up?