4 British Trailblazers.....Plus 1 Aussie.


I posted a few weeks ago that I was going to spend a few days in the UK meeting with several people including some courageous and inspirational trailblazers in both the legal and accounting professions. I would like to share with you a brief summary of my discussions and impressions of just 4 individuals I met with.

searchMany of you would be aware of the juggernaut that is Riverview Law. Headquartered on The Wirral across the Mersey from Liverpool, Riverview Law is one of, if not the, fastest growing legal providers in the UK. I hesitate to call them a law firm because quite deliberately it is anything but your typical law firm,their CEO Karl Chapman anything but your typical law firm Managing Partner. Riverview Law is refreshingly transparent on their brilliant new website and in many talks and papers Karl Chapman has given,about  their approach to the provision of legal services,their DNA and culture, their pricing( all fixed fee contracts and annual retainers),their values and their ownership and structure.

I managed to spend a day at their offices not only meeting with Karl but also with other members of the Riverview Law team so I managed to glean something about their culture( very team oriented, absolutely customer focussed), their market segmentation & focus, their data and technology emphasis,their future aspirations and how they run their teams of barristers and solicitors. Their DNA, derived from their HR advisory and outsourcing model and not a law firm model, means they are not lawyer driven and I observed first hand that their "Moments Of Truth"program* is far  more than some marketing or PR fluff but is embedded in the Riverview Law behaviours. One of the most interesting things about Riverview Law is that they have revolutionized how many in the UK thought about the provision of legal services in a few short years without even being an ABS. They have now received their ABS licence which, according to Karl Chapman, will enable them to combine all their offerings and structures under one umbrella,be regulated,and put in place a more corporate structure to among other things source additional funding if they wish to accelerate growth, pursue off shore opportunities and offer share options and the like to employees.

search-1Alex Hamilton CEO of Radiant Law was another innovator I was pleased to meet up with.Prior to forming Radiant Law Alex was a partner at Latham & Watkins but some years ago became increasingly restless and frustrated at that firm's inability and unwillingness to respond to the changing market realities and to really service what clients needed**.Realising that the resistance to change were not just Latham & Watkins challenges but moreover "Biglaw" business model deficiencies, Alex, together with a handful of co conspirators, ultimately set up Radiant Law in 2011.Primarily building the firm around managed legal services,price certainty (again no billable hours/no timesheets), cost effectiveness and ontime delivery and turnaround.Demurring from the traditional cumbersome partnership model, Alex also explained that non time based pricing enabled them to re-engineer their work processes,focus on what clients really need and think and operate innovatively,rather than simply churning the hours. Combined with innovative technology and their own outsourcing operation in Cape Town they are able to produce lower cost high volume quick turn around documentation to add to their portfolio of service offerings. Like Riverview Law they did all this without an ABS licence which they too have now just received and which will, as reported recently in Legal Futures, allow their new non executive chairman, former retailer Greg Tufnell  (more evidence of their innovation) to have a minority stakeholding in the business. Presumably it will also allow them to potentially attract more external investment should they need it,especially if they make their widely tipped foray into the US.

search-2Catching a train to Maidstone Kent to meet up with the 2012 British Legal Awards GC of The Year Geoff Wild Director of Governance & Law at Kent Legal Services was just so rewarding.As reported in LegalWeek last year, since taking over as head of Kent Council's legal arm in 2006 Geoff has led a massive transformation of the structure, function but most importantly the culture mindset of those involved in Kent Legal Services.Geoff felt that many public-sector lawyers had it too easy – they were basically guaranteed both work and money, without having to search for either. This often bred complacency and less than acceptable client service.  His aim was to make his in-house lawyers at least as hungry, and as customer focussed as their private sector counterparts.  That meant changing the basis upon which the in-house legal team was funded and structured. They wanted to be self funding instead of a drain on Council’s coffers.

And transform they did.Kent Legal Services now employs 125 lawyers, they set up Law:Public as a partnership with Law firm Geldards LLP,they now provide legal advice to over 600 public sector bodies, and they now make a profit of over AUD $5M annually for the Kent Council Council. But Geoff is far from finished.Like Riverview Law and Radiant they have achieved what they have without an ABS. They shortly expect to receive their ABS which will enable them to expand and partner into other services,invest in even better technology, potentially source external investment and maybe even full privatisation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAway from legal sector innovation,I also caught up with VeraSage colleague Paul Kennedy of O'Byrne & Kennedy Chartered Accountants.Some of you will know Paul Kennedy as the business partner of the late Paul O'Byrne, my mentor and friend, who sadly passed away all too soon in 2008. It was Paul O'Byrne who first introduced me and many other professionals in the UK,US and Australasia to the concept of value based pricing.The 2 Paul's were the first professional firm in the UK to completely move to a total value based pricing model and to ditch timesheets. The OBK story is testament to what 2 courageous visionaries can do (for instance sacking 3/4 of their customer base and moving their remaining customers onto retainer agreements) and, despite the tragedy of losing his friend and partner, it is so pleasing to see that Paul Kennedy continues to push the boundaries and be a pioneer for many other professionals who aspire to be a Firm of the Future rather than a firm of the past.

I realise that these short words fail to do justice to each of these inspiratonal leaders and I also know that there are many many other innovators, disruptors and visionaries in the professions doing remarkable things with remarkable teams all over the world-including Australia ***.

Apart from Paul Kennedy, I really don't know each of these individuals well enough to comment on what really drives them, but if you were to ask me whether there is some common denominator evident-in addition to obviously recognising the importance of good culture and that there are better ways to practicing our crafts and searching for and having the courage to actually implement the better ways- I would say that it is their unswerving focus on exceptional customer service that to me was just so pronounced from our discussions.

These entrepreneurs, dressed in professionals clothing, to me epitomise the famous quote by Stanley Marcus formerly chairman emeritus of Neiman-Marcus:

"You are not in business to make a profit,but to render a service that is so good people are willing to pay a profit in recognition of what you are doing for them".


.......oh and the Plus 1 Aussie you ask? That is my new grand daughter Collins Vivian Beckwith.Grandfather holding up OK.

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* "Moments of Truth" is the title of Jan Carlzon's 1989 top selling management book that essentially encouraged all businesses to focus on exceptional customer service and empowering everyone in the organisation to achieve that goal.

** Some years ago Alex wrote a memo ( what he calls his "Jerry Maguire mission statement") to the Executive Committee of Latham & Watkins where he put in writing his views of the forces of change in the profession and how the firm should respond. 6 years on, many of Alex's foretelling has come to pass.

*** For the legal profession at least, a list containing some of those innovators and game changers can be found in Jordan Furlong's excellent post titled "An incomplete inventory of New Law".