Andrea Pierce, Legal Services Director, Kings Court Trust

Our lawyers are not evaluated on how many hours they record (we do not record time or use hourly billing) nor on the business they bring (our Marketing and Sales Department does that). Our lawyers are evaluated on defined KPIs...such as meeting service level requirements and deadlines.

UK-based ABS Kings Court Trust is a probate service assisting families through the probate process upon the death of a loved one. It operates on a volume model supported by online platforms. KCT is owned, in part, by private equity firm Smedvig Capital and KCT’s CEO, Tom Curran, is not a lawyer.

I was in private practice as a solicitor before I joined KCT, having worked in several different small to medium sized law firms prior to that, specializing in the area of Private Client. I always had a desire to become a specialist in one area of law but was unsure how to achieve that, given that the area of Private Client is quite wide ranging and encompasses a lot of areas within it.

I left the last law firm to go travelling, and when I returned home I was unsure as to the career path I would take, bearing in mind my desire to become a specialist. But quite fortuitously just one week after my return in 2006, I was contacted about an opening at KCT, and I thought that it sounded like a great opportunity, so I went for it.

I joined KCT as Head of the Legal and Tax Department. In that role, I was responsible for all of the legal and tax components that need to be undertaken within probate and estate administration. In 2010, I was promoted to Head of Legal Services. In this expanded operational role, I have reporting into me the new Head of Legal and Tax (made up of four lawyers and tax specialists, plus one outsourced lawyer, who works from New Zealand), as well as the Head of Customer Service (who the Case Managers report into — Case Managers are the principal point of contact for clients) and the Head of Support Solutions (they cover niche, specialized roles, like dealing with stocks and shares, again looking after components of probate work).

While the client has one point of contact, there are at least five, if not six, pairs of eyes that work on a file until it is completed. From a risk perspective, this offers a great advantage. In private practice, typically only one person oversees a file from start to finish — and potentially something could be overlooked.

Another advantage we offer clients is a shorter life cycle for a file. This happens in part because of our project management software which has allowed us to build in efficiencies into our processes, and in part because of the way we structure our work — each person who works on a file is highly specialized and is able to provide solutions very quickly.

For example — at any given moment, we have in excess of 500 open files. In contrast, in a traditional structure, typically a lawyer would deal 10, 20 maximum, probate files a year. It could be argued, can you ever become expert when handling such low volumes?

Because of the volumes of cases that we handle, and because no file is ever the same, we are exposed to many different compositions of estates, and such exposure it would be difficult to get in private practice.

I cannot recall that we have ever had any issue with our ethical rules — that is, I cannot recall any time when the fact of having nonlawyer owners and managers has created any ethical issues for us. Our nonlawyer management has never pressured us, or even wanted us, to make a recommendation or a decision in breach of the ethical rules or against our professional judgment.

We have a very open culture where everyone can talk. We have systems in place that monitor everything we do and how we do it, and the sign-off of the Legal and Tax Department is required before any monies are distributed from an estate to beneficiaries, in order to ensure that all legal and tax matters have been completed on a file.

There is a lot of administrative work that needs to be done in relation to an estate. That work does not need to be done by a lawyer — things like simply liaising with financial institutions and gathering in or arranging the transfer of assets. Our lawyers are not used for that. Instead, we reserve them for the legal components that need to be undertaken on the cases.

As a new lawyer at KCT, you have a steep learning curve. You are exposed to so many different types of estates.

Our lawyers here do have client contact, but less, and less regularly, than they would have in a traditional structure. That is something that I missed when I first came to KCT.

Our lawyers are a very important part of the team and of how a case is handled. That being said, they are not put on a pedestal — they are part of the wider team and they, like everyone else, have a role to play. It is very much a team environment. You don’t usually see that kind of teamwork in a traditional structure, where you tend to work on your own and endeavor to record as many hours as possible.

Our lawyers are not evaluated on how many hours they record (we do not record time or use hourly billing) nor on the business they bring (our Marketing and Sales Department does that). Our lawyers are evaluated on defined KPIs (key performance indicators), such as meeting service level requirements and deadlines.

Our structure offers different career paths to our lawyers. They can remain in a strictly legal role, or they can branch into business and management roles.

Technology is a very important part of driving our cases forward. In treating a file, we’ve broken the process into ten stages, and each stage has certain required components. With our technology, everyone knows what stage a file is in, and everyone knows what work they need to be doing. And the best part is that everything that we see in-house, our clients see too — it is fully transparent — they can track their files as we do.

Having nonlawyer investment and nonlawyer management is very exciting. They bring great benefits — they bring a fresh pair of eyes. They come from a business background, and they can bring a lot to a company to drive it forward and help it grow. It is necessary to continually innovate, create efficiencies and develop new product lines. It would be impossible to do those, and impossible to grow, without external investment and professional management.

There is still very much a place within the market for the traditional providers of legal services, and at KCT we are just providing legal services in a different way. It does not mean that the integrity of what we do is threatened — it’s just a different way of doing it.

Most importantly, having companies such as KCT alongside traditional providers in the marketplace benefits consumers — it provides them with greater choice and competition to allow them access to justice.

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