Given its highest office bearers wear horsehair wigs and ruby robes trimmed in ermine to work, it’s not surprising that the legal profession is regarded as staid and conservative.
When most people think of lawyers they think of big city firms, suits, old school tie networks and hourly rates that would make most of us gasp.
But a group of young lawyers based in Melbourne are going all out to forge a new approach using online technology, new pricing models and flexible work practices to deliver clients a completely new experience.
Bespoke Law is a firm that offers around-the-clock legal services for small- to medium-sized businesses.
“Clients pay for outcomes. Not for hours logged,” says Jeremy Szwider, who founded Bespoke Law in 2009.
With legal services delivered at up to 50 percent less than the traditional big firms, business has started to boom for Bespoke Law and a lot of people in the fast-changing legal sector are following this new model with interest.
A self-confessed “legal services entrepreneur”, Szwider is a no-suit type of lawyer – but he’s still a lawyer. So when it comes to pinning him down on the firm’s expansion plans, or potential future investors, he’s cautious.
“We are growing with the evolution of the legal profession, running at a very quick pace and there’s lots of activity going on,” he says.
Rewind to 2003.
A 30 year-old Szwider lands in London and takes up an in-house general counsel role for Carphone Warehouse, a company that rode the wave of the mobile phone boom through the 1990s, floated on the stock exchange in 2000, hit the FTSE 100 a few years later and was in aggressive acquisition mode when he arrived.
The experience left a big impression.
“At Carphone Warehouse, we built an almost mini law firm from within,” says Szwider.
“I experienced the benefits of working as an in-house lawyer – you get to know the business, are embedded within it, want the business to do well and are intrinsically involved in business decisions and milestones. So there is a different element to your involvement in the company.”
He also learned a lot from the new business models that emerged following the deregulation of the UK legal profession in 2007 – and when he landed back in Melbourne, he brought some of these new concepts with him.
Szwider’s vision was to combine the in-house lawyer’s knowledge of and engagement with their business, a virtual office environment, the best and most effective collaborative technology and flexible work arrangements to create a cost-efficient outsourced legal marketplace.
“It took about 12 to 24 months to set up,” he says.
“We really didn’t have a client base to start with so I had to get out there and create it from nothing. I just pushed and pushed and pushed and focused on a lot of the key efficiencies”.
One of Bespoke Law’s key innovations is its proprietary pricing model, called D.cubed.
“Law firms bill on hourly rates, [but] we believe that time is not the best way to price our product. It creates inefficiencies and doesn’t represent optimal value for the client,” Szwider says.
“We align ourselves to the particular needs of the transaction. It might be a percentage of the price, or we may agree to a monthly retainer fee.”
Bespoke Law has a team of about 20 staff, mostly aged in their 30s and 40s who are at the partner, senior associate and general counsel levels.
Working arrangements are flexible, depending on the needs of the firm, the lawyer and the client.
“We have stripped away the conventional environment and through technology and the virtual world our lawyers may be mums with a baby at home, or a lawyer sitting in the UK,” Szwider says.
The firm doesn’t advertise for staff or clients, but uses social media tools like LinkedIn and a blog called ‘wespokelaw.com’.
“The current generation of lawyer tends to be aligned with these sort of concepts and we find there is a huge demand,” Szwider says.
“They can work from home, work flexibly, and be connected with the family of Bespoke lawyers and systems.”