Denise Nurse in The Lawyer: ABS’ can “flip the script” to focus on clients
Halebury CEO and co-founder Denise Nurse was interviewed by The Lawyer magazine about the benefits of a streamlined model and how ABS’ are bringing the focus back to clients ahead of The Lawyer’s Business Leadership Summit 2016.
What is it like delivering legal services as a smaller, more agile business?
It’s liberating not being confined by the overarching infrastructure and formality associated with a traditional ‘big law’ firm, however we’ve had to work much harder to gain a foothold in the industry. Getting people to understand our model – especially in the early days, attracting blue chip clients willing to embrace a different way of working, attracting talented lawyers who understand our model and see the potential for their career development, gain trust from institutions such as banks, and differentiating ourselves in the market.
Commerciality is key – understanding our market, being clear on our offering and how it differs from others, and focusing on clients and their needs. Our ability to deliver legal advice is a given, but it’s our commerciality and industry experience which sets us apart and provides value to our clients. Being nimble allows us to truly focus on customer service.
By providing a streamlined model where our lawyers work directly with clients in their environment we are able to deliver a much more collaborative service and react quickly to customer needs. We focus on quality over quantity. Each member of our team is highly experienced and has a deep understanding of the challenges of in-house teams. We also focus heavily on client development and stability; the model is designed to help create a long term relationship between the lawyer and the clients so that the knowledge gained during a placement is not lost.
That combined with the flexibility of our model gives out lawyers a real sense of freedom over how they provide the best legal support to our clients. For example one of our lawyers is extremely customer focused and will work intensely on leading and completing a high value transaction for a client and will then take some time off to spend with his family who live abroad before starting the next project. This really is the best of both worlds – excellent customer service and flexibility.
What can firms learn from ABS and NewLaw about how to remain flexible, efficient and cost-effective for clients?
Flip the script. Focus on clients first and partner profits second. As much as lawyers love precedent, our careers are built around finding new ways of doing things and challenging the status quo. It’s focusing on what clients need in the most expedient way, whether that’s by technology, people or process improvements. ABS and NewLaw has shown that there is a real appetite and market for the provision of legal services that are not tied to the hourly rate or restricted to providing legal advice. Lawyers adept in business and legal affairs, who understand technology and project management are also required. The ability to really work closely with non-lawyers to run a commercial business is also a key skill. It’s what makes in-house extensive in-house experience so invaluable; their exposure to fantastic colleagues in different disciplines and their approaches to problem solving.
Our model was created from mine and my co-founder Janvi Patel’s experience of working in-house and the frustrations and difficulty buying cost-effective and commercial legal advice. That has always been central to Halebury’s ethos. The future of work is changing and businesses, law firms in particular, need to realise that flexibility can be a positive in terms of scaling up when needed and giving team members a balance in their lives especially at the senior end of the market.
In-house legal functions are becoming more sophisticated with external provider panels and budgets contracting, so being able to deliver a commercial service to clients which is not only cost-effective but also adds value is essential. Flexibility can work for both lawyers and clients but there needs to be an understanding that flex doesn’t mean part-time but more going with the ebb and flow of work/deals. We have always believed that work completed and value delivered equals efficiency rather than hours spent.
What is the future of the ABS/NewLaw/law firm relationship and how will this shape the legal industry?
There is a real opportunity for greater collaboration between NewLaw and traditional law firms. Partnering with other service providers to ensure an enhanced service to clients is the future if we want to provide value for money and customer services. I believe the future will see more ABS and NewLaw firms partnering with non-law entities in technology and other disciplines.
BigLaw should seek collaborations with NewLaw and vice versa to create real efficiencies and benefits for clients. We are not competing; we should be collaborating. This fresh way of approaching client service will eventually lead to the real revolution that is coming. The recent Brexit decision may also have an impact. The one thing we know at the moment is that we don’t know. The uncertainty in the environment can perversely create more risk taking and creativity in delivery of services because nothing is certain and we have all been reminded of that.
Follow Denise on Twitter on @denisebn
This interview was first published in The Lawyer in August 2016; http://www.thelawyer.com/issues/online-august-2016-2/halebury-ceo-abs-can-flip-script-focus-clients/
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