Halebury – pioneering a new model of law
Halebury Co-founder and Chairwoman Janvi Patel writes for Managing Partner magazine on the evolution of Halebury as a business and lessons learnt along the way.
Mind the gap
Having spent many years working in-house and in private practice, a number of things became clear to my business partner and Halebury co-founder, Denise Nurse, and me: there was a gap between the changing needs of in-house legal teams, the career expectations of many lawyers both in-house and in private practice, and the delivery of services between the two.
From a client’s perspective, there were constant pressures on in-house teams to do “more for less”; budgets were getting squeezed but regulatory and commercial pressures were constantly increasing. Eight years ago it seemed that in-house teams had limited options. They could approach the locum market, which at that time was not very developed, or approach traditional law firms, which was an incredibly expensive and inflexible option. The growth of in-house teams was also a clear signal that traditional law firms alone were not addressing clients’ needs; they were bringing the service in-house because external support was too expensive and not commercial enough.
There was always the option of interim lawyers, but previously this was a much less developed market. Quality control was not necessarily consistent or obvious to clients and for lawyers the interim path was more of an unknown for their CV; the objectives of both parties were not aligned. We therefore wanted to create a senior service, providing highly experienced in-house lawyers on a flexible and affordable basis and, at the same time, a credible alternative career path for senior lawyers, which ensured greater rewards for their efforts. We wanted to give our lawyers a unique opportunity to achieve their personalised vision of career success.
The structure we developed out of this is simple and streamlined; the internal team focusses on the regulatory issues, at the same time supporting the relationship between clients and lawyers and project managing to ensure that the clients have continuity of the relationship and the team have continuity of projects. When the team are working for clients we (and they) would rather focus on the client work than where their next project is coming from; this process is led by our Head of Client Resourcing.
On an individual basis, each lawyer is required to prepare a business plan, which sets out their career goals, from what their remuneration aims are to which contacts/clients they would like to work with. We, the management team, led by our Head of Business Development and Marketing, work with each lawyer on a one-to-one basis to help them achieve that plan. This means that each lawyer’s business development and marketing strategy is unique and tailored to fit their experience, sector and even location. We work to each lawyer’s strengths and within their comfort zone with appreciation for how they like to market and business develop.
We feel this model offers clear advantages for both our lawyers and clients. Clients have access to senior, exceptionally experienced in-house lawyers as a flexible, continuous resource at competitive pricing. Our lawyers are all ex in-house lawyers, and they want to continue to work in an in-house environment but for a variety of clients. They also want continuity of relationships and assistance with managing their projects so that they are not always alone searching for their next project, as well as the ability to increase their remuneration.
Clients want certainty and we give it to them; therefore the majority of our billing is undertaken on a fixed fee, discounted bulk hours or daily rate basis. We do not share profits, we share income; lawyers are remunerated based on set percentages which vary according to the ‘ownership of the client’. This means that lawyers who spend time on business development and marketing are fairly rewarded for their efforts, but if business development is not for them, that is fine as well.
However, there are certain disadvantages to our model. For clients, the disadvantage is that we are not a full service firm. We are senior commercial, corporate, and employment in-house lawyers within the TMT, sports and financial services sectors. Due to our in-house experience we are able to project manage litigation, transactions and projects in most areas, but we do not advise in all areas.
The main disadvantage for lawyers is that there is no place to hide! The transparency in pricing and structure means that lawyers who are not able to perform at this level are quickly seen. This is not the place for every lawyer. We support our team a huge amount, but you have to be confident in your skills and ability, and you also have to play well as part of the team and go the extra-mile for clients. Being parachuted into a different business, culture and deal is challenging, but this type of scenario is an everyday experience for our team and something that their strong communication skills make them excellent at dealing with.
Standing out in a crowd
The alternative market is becoming very competitive and we are often asked about the difference between Halebury and the other alternative/ NewLaw players in the market. Although there are many differences, for example we do not have junior lawyers and we are a fully regulated law firm, there are two key differences. For clients, they have access to senior in-house lawyers on a flexible long term basis, as in contrast to other businesses which focus more on interim placements only, our team remain available post a placement for follow up ad hoc advisory work. The client has continuity of support from someone who understands their business and the lawyer is able to build up their client portfolio at the same time. It also means that the lawyer has an opportunity to create genuine value within the in-house team, helping to develop processes and strategies to create greater efficiencies based on their experience of working within that team. For our lawyers, our management team are dedicated to supporting them in their efforts to generate work and to working with them on an individual basis to create a personalised career path.
We are very proud of the fact that in an increasingly competitive market, we are a well regarded and significant player amongst alternative/NewLaw businesses. Given our size and lack of backing of either a law firm or institutional investor unlike many of our competitors, this means a lot to us. We have managed this by remaining focused on quality. We work with true sector specialists in the TMT, sports and financial services sectors. Our clients often comment on the seniority and experience of our team as what sets us apart. For our lawyers, no other business offers them the opportunity to be truly entrepreneurial, develop their network and build a long term career that is more than back to back placements. Our lawyers develop their own client relationships, work on strategy with clients and most importantly work together as a team.
It is always hard to sell a new concept and this is exacerbated in a traditional market! The lack of funding and any ability to obtain coverage in the market place was really hard and we set up just before the financial down turn which meant many traditional options for funding or support were closed.
When we started in 2007 we were selling a completely new model in a new marketplace, on limited funding and in an exceptionally competitive market. This meant marketing and business development was tough and sponsoring large events or expensive recruitment campaigns were next to impossible. We had to think creatively to get our message out and to make an impact. Ultimately social media has been our life line in this regard. We connect and network primarily on social media; LinkedIn and Twitter are our main platforms. Our Head of Business Development and Marketing is a social media guru and has trained the management team and the lawyers. As the company has grown, and post my move to Los Angeles, social media has become ‘the’ marketing tool for us. I cannot attend many events or constantly turn up for coffee or drinks. Social media enables me to keep in touch with our contacts and in the loop with issues our contacts are addressing. It is really an invaluable tool.
Irrespective of how good your product or service is, you need the ability to reach your consumer and we were struggling to reach ours within our highly competitive, protective market, at least at first. In addition, the tough times meant many clients were more sceptical of new approaches and only the more forward thinking were ready to embrace change. But as the wider economy has shown, the economic challenges the world has faced have forced many industries to look again at how things are done and make major changes and 8 years later, we are starting to see the tide turn and a real interest in NewLaw from all sectors.
We also put a large emphasis on corporate business development and marketing to develop key client relationships which result in on-going work and placements for our team of in-house lawyers. We all fully embrace and support business development undertaken by our lawyers, offering them access to senior level marketing and BD support to coach, support and train on a 1:1 basis. This enables each lawyer to tailor their career and to make the most of their network and relationships.
We focused on our brand and IT infrastructure at the outset when cash was limited. This basis has allowed us to punch above our weight in terms of standing shoulder to shoulder with more established firms when pitching for projects and winning. It also enabled our team to work flexibly and sustainably from the outset. We then dedicated resources to attracting senior talent for marketing, BD, recruitment, client relationships and finance. Ensuring that we have an experienced, creative and enthusiastic office team who are empowered to make decisions has paid real dividends and we have seen our business grow significantly in direct alignment with those investments.
Overall, we created the Halebury model from a blank sheet of paper. We essentially drew a road map of what most parties in a legal transaction want from their ideal scenario, from the clients to the lawyer to Halebury as a business. Then we worked backwards to create the model; from pricing and remuneration to how the legal team works with clients and what their specific career aspirations would be. We strongly believe the right legal, financial and operational model leads to attracting the right team. If you want to attract truly entrepreneurial in-house lawyers, you need a model that is entrepreneurial and rewards entrepreneurship. If you want transparency in pricing, you need transparency in remuneration. And if you want lawyers to be commercial you need a model that incentivises them to be commercial. It’s the basic rule of science and life, the opposite and equal reaction.
Use Social Media effectively
Social media is efficient and effective tool for marketing and business development. As mentioned it has been our lifeline.
Give clients financial transparency
Clients have fixed budgets and are constantly under pricing pressure. They want financial transparency from their legal providers. If we say we can do and have done similar projects, that we are experts in our field, then we should be able to provide clear pricing solutions.
Focus on sales
You have to develop ways to reach your market, however closed that market is. Sales is what keeps your business afloat and drives growth.
Develop your team
Many companies talk about developing their team, but it is important to know exactly what your team’s goals are, if they mirror the company’s goals and if so, can they be realistically achieved.
Invest in IT
We are constantly looking to invest in technology, but when you set up, do so with the best available otherwise you will be 10 steps back before you start.
Do not over complicate the model
I love Denzel Washington’s line from the movie Philadelphia, “Now, explain it to me like I’m a four-year-old.” Business models should not be complicated. The more complicated the model the harder it is to sell.
Do not follow the recruitment rulebook
Look at your recruitment process from all angles. We look at recruitment from every angle, from setting the lawyer’s career goals, to the contracts the team enter into the way the incentive model works. We believe the right model will attract the right team.
Flexibility is not a given
I read a recent statistic that over 80% of the legal profession are looking for greater flexibility. Many of our team members work flexibility, in terms of hours and location but flexibility is not a given, it is very much earned. A team who focus on output not hours spent should be able to work flexibly.
Make value add part of your value proposition
GC budgets are getting squeezed annually but yet the are being asked to get involved in more projects and to sit at more tables. It goes to the heart that GCs are being asked to do “doing more for less”. The only way to genuinely assist GC by adding value; don’t just do the deal, help with implementation but also with making the next deal more efficient and effective.
Never stop evolving
The legal market is changing at a rapid pace. If you want to stay relevant, never stop evolving.
We are now in our 8th year of continued growth. Last year our turnover increased by 47%, our team by 63% and our listed clients by 48%. We do not take this growth for granted. We are in a competitive, aggressive and innovative market place. Our team works hard to achieve this continued growth and we hugely appreciate the faith our clients have put in us.
But we will not rest on our laurels, we are continuing to expand our service range and we will always push for quality and sustained growth. Last year, we launched three service lines, Halebury Advisory, Halebury Resourcing and Halebury Legal Project Management which formalized the work of our teams. We are developing each service line as well as continuing to grow our team to meet client demands. We are not looking to recruit 100s of lawyers; we are not in the numbers game – it is all about experience and quality. We are currently at 30 lawyers and we are looking to reach to approximately 50 lawyers over the next two years.
This article first appeared in Managing Partner magazine in September 2015: http://www.managingpartner.com/case-study/business-strategy/blank-slate-how-newlaw-competes-oldlaw
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