Category Archives: Holistic Services

Holistic Services

Keith Arrowsmith, Partner, Counterculture Partnership LLP

There are clients who talk to me now because I am sitting with them wearing a Counterculture badge that wouldn’t dream of walking through the door of what they see as a law firm. There is something about the perception of being in this more comprehensive structure that allows them to be more comfortable in engaging with me.

UK-based ABS Counterculture Partnership is a multidisciplinary practice that offers to cultural and creative not-for-profit organizations services in the areas of strategic planning, funding, financial and project management, legal and governance advice, capital projects, training and advocacy. Counterculture has 10 partners of which one, Keith Arrowsmith, is a lawyer.

What the partners of Counterculture have in common is that we all serve not-for-profit clients in the arts sector. The firm was formed in 2009 by two people who had extensive experience providing professional support to London art galleries, notably in the areas of fundraising and accounting. Over the years they joined forces with a number of other persons who provided complementary services (strategic planning, governance, marketing, tech support,…) for the arts sector. A mutual contact asked me to provide workshops, and I started working alongside them, as a qualified solicitor working with a traditional law firm. They would bring me in on a project basis, to help with governance structure and charity and commercial legal questions — essentially to provide a suite of legal services to run alongside their offering to their clients.

When I was working with Counterculture on a project basis, our clients told us that they love working with us because we have a shared ethos and a shared way of working. But, they complained, it could be simpler, since you make us do the administration and the invoicing twice instead of once. This is why we became interested in the ABS mechanism — we saw it as a way for us to work more closely together. We spent some time thinking about it and discussing it — about a year — and we finally decided that ABS was the best way forward. While we saw a number of benefits, a large one was that I could go on providing my services under the qualification of solicitor and under the regulation of the SRA.

When we started the application process with the SRA, it became quickly clear that their concept of a multidisciplinary practice was quite different from ours. It seemed difficult for them to get their heads around what we were, in part because of our small size, but especially because the percentage of our legal services is so small compared to the percentage of the other types of services that we offer. We ended up having a number of meetings with the SRA in order to explain how we work.

Further, there was a mismatch between the SRA’s concept of regulated activities and what we needed from a regulator. Their system of checks was more geared up for a typical high street law firm doing wills and conveyancing work, which is not our risk profile at all. Notably, the SRA is quite focused on the security of client accounts, but we hold very little client money. We didn’t fit into any of the SRA’s standard risk profiles, and they appeared to have trouble developing one that was right for us.

As if that were not enough, the SRA also had to get a handle on the fact that, because of our accounting, public funding and other work, we were already regulated by about four or five other regulators. Those regulators had all gone through our processes already and were happy with them. We had to review our processes again to be sure that the SRA was satisfied with them, too. And for every change we made in response to a request from the SRA, we had to make sure that our other regulators were happy with it as well. We have taken the approach that when the various regulations overlap (such as with respect to confidentiality, money laundering, disclosure…), we conform our processes to the most stringent. We’ve not experienced any direct conflict among the different regulations.

One thing that I find odd with the SRA’s rules is that as an ABS, I have to have higher levels of professional indemnity insurance then I would have to have as a sole practitioner. The risk profile is completely out of kilter. I chose not to be a sole practitioner because, in my view, having people sitting around my partnership table who are experienced and skilled in accountancy, cash flow, finance — all those extra things that help run a business — is less risk for everyone, including myself, and certainly less risk than if I tried to do everything on my own. Yet, the SRA considers it more risky.

In summary, I don’t think that the regulations in place today in England and Wales are as adapted to structures like ours as they should be. I don’t think that they focus on the real risks of my practice. Some parts of the SRA’s Code of Conduct is not particularly applicable to my activities.

I have to be careful with how I establish my files and document my work. For example, with respect to governance, I provide training as well as legal services. When I provide training, the applicable engagement letter, invoice, file structure and insurance policy are all different from the ones applicable when I provide legal services.

Our competitors are, for the most part, large, traditional law, accounting, and management consulting firms. I believe there are three reasons why clients come to us instead of them. The first is because our overheads are lower, we are able to charge lower fees. The second reason is because we are able to work in a seamless manner that other firms don’t do. Our clients will come to us from those other firms complaining that they met with one person to explain their problem, and were then passed from department to department or individual to individual. The other firms aren’t “joined up” like we are. The third reason is because we are specialized in the art sector — this gives us an insight into our clients and their needs that large law, accounting and management consulting firms are not able to offer.

When we applied to the SRA to become an ABS, we were asked how Counterculture would improve access to justice. This is my response to that question: there are clients who talk to me now because I am sitting with them wearing a Counterculture badge that wouldn’t dream of walking through the door of what they see as a law firm. There is something about the perception of being in this more comprehensive structure that allows them to be more comfortable in engaging with me. Some of it might be related to concerns about cost, but I think that the real reason is that because I am wearing a Counterculture badge, I can begin conversations that otherwise I never would have been able to have. Many people in the arts start with the premise that their world and the legal world are so far apart, a lawyer could never understand them. With Counterculture, I am able to communicate with clients in a much more open way because they don’t see us as a traditional law firm. We’ve had real success in that way, and it has been helpful for the arts sector.

To be honest, many of our clients don’t care about whether or not we are an ABS. They just want us to crack on with the work, and they are happy that they do not have to worry about whether a question is for an accountant, or a lawyer, or a fundraiser, or whoever. They just throw us the question and we sort it.

Beyond that ability to work seamlessly, our status as an ABS brings additional advantages to our clients, even if they do not make the connection with our status. For example, when we assist with a dispute, I can accompany the client all the way into the court room — something that I could not do if we were not an ABS. Further, when we are dealing with third parties (for example, a client’s landlord to negotiate a lease), there is value in being able to say we are a law firm. If we couldn’t, we would be treated as if we didn’t know what we were talking about. Another example – the fact that I am a solicitor greatly facilitates our negotiations on behalf of clients with companies like Google and Facebook, whose procedures are much simpler for solicitors than for lay persons.

All that being said, there is a certain amount of regulatory hassle and fees involved with being an ABS. So, we will periodically review whether or not it is worthwhile for us to maintain the status.

It is easy for us to organize our work internally. We work in a t-shaped way, in that each of us has a huge depth of knowledge in his or her particular area, and does not dabble in other areas. At the same time, we communicate extensively. We use the cloud-based CRM system Clio, which is designed for law firms and we find it works well for us, too. Each client has a client relation partner, and that person is responsible for making sure that things get done as they should.

We have ten partners — four senior and five junior, and an independent Chair. Of those, I am the only lawyer. The backgrounds of the other partners are in accounting, public funding, business and strategic planning, project management, and as practitioners in the arts. All but the independent Chair provide services to our clients. Our independent Chair has the skills to provide services to our clients, but we purposely keep him at arm’s length in order that he can maintain an independent perspective, as a check on our own, internal perspectives. He brings us a wealth of experience from his management positions with a number of major arts organizations.

Before I came to Counterculture, I worked in a traditional law firm of about 200 people. At that firm, almost all fee earners were competent lawyers, but most did not have any real training in management, in communications, in planning or processes, or in finance or accounting. Yet, everyone was a manager. As a result, there was a risk of lack of rigor in the work and I felt more exposed there than I do at Counterculture. Further, I had little in common with my colleagues around the table who worked in insolvency, in personal injury, … Their clients were completely different from my clients and the crossover was low.

In comparison, at Counterculture, we all have something in common, which is that we all want to work in the arts. This provides a framework for our work that simply isn’t there among lawyers in a traditional law practice. At Counterculture, we all provide a different kind of service, but to the same kind of client — we have a commonality that I never had before. Also, when I sit around a Board table, the people I am with, with their different backgrounds and training, see problems very differently than I do. Sometimes it takes us a while to understand each other, but eventually we do, and we are much better for it. In sum, I find Counterculture to be an easier — a better — place to work, because each of us recognizes the strengths of the others. We each bring something to the table that the others value, we share clients, and we share a way of working. This was not the case at my traditional law firm, where, even at client events, you could tell there was little in common in the room. Having our focus being the sector rather than having the focus be “you’re a lawyer” is fantastic for us and for the clients.

I think there are two different kinds of multidisciplinary practices — there is the kind where the legal arm is operated as a business separate from other arms, and there is the kind where the legal arm is part and parcel of a singular business. I think that as regards the first kind, there is a danger that clients can be pushed from one arm to the other, without a feeling of having a real choice in the matter. This raises questions of free choice of lawyer, of independence and of credibility. That being said, these issues are not unique to legal services — we accept these kinds of conflicts in other industries, such as in journalism and the ownership of media outlets. Nevertheless, in the case of Counterculture that type of issue does not arise because, while my colleagues and I are from different disciplines, we are one business.

In my opinion, the real challenges to our industry today are less with regulation and more with technology. I think that someday in the near future, there will be a company that will have the resources to develop the technology needed to reach a highly disparate global market. As a result, I wonder if, in the future, we will be looking at just one or two legal services providers in the world, with everyone else just getting their information from Google.

I’ve heard the criticism that law firms should not be owned or managed by nonlawyers because law is a profession and not a business, or because nonlawyers will cause the lawyers to violate the ethical rules. I find that criticism ludicrous as well as highly conceited, insular, and disrespectful of other skills and experience. I personally find there is much more value to have colleagues sitting around my board table who have a set of skills and experience that I don’t have. The suggestion that those colleagues are less as persons or less as professionals because they do not have a law qualification is just wrong. I have friends who are brilliant, switched-on, client-focused lawyers. But they have no idea how to run a law firm. Any training they’ve received was tick-the-box training, not real training. The only time I’ve felt really exposed was working in traditional law firms. Because the partners did not have the skills to know if the person they were employing, for the accounting function, for example, had the right skills, and they had no way of interpreting the information they were given by their employees. In contrast, at Counterculture, I have someone sitting next to me bearing the same risk that I am bearing, and who is able to reassure me regarding the risk.

ABS is a tool to enable lawyers to consider how they deliver legal services. It allows individuals to challenge the profession and challenge how it works. It means that lawyers can no longer take their relationship with the market for granted. Without ABS, there was a real danger that lawyers would become so stuck in their ways that they would deliver a Dickensian service that hadn’t moved on for a hundred years. ABS is a way of enabling the marketplace to move on. Not everyone has wanted to or felt the need to, but many of us have, and this experience has been positive as well as valuable. Today traditional law firms co-exist with ABSs – there is a plurality of services that did not exist before.

For lawyers, it’s easy to be afraid of having a discussion about ABS — to be afraid of the changes they may create. But, as lawyers, it’s our duty to have the discussions. As lawyers, it’s a mistake for any one or group of us to lock ourselves into one way of doing or seeing things, because if we do the world will move on without us.

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Holistic Services

Jeff Winn, Managing Director, Winn Solicitors

What clients like about us, and why they come to us, is that we do offer this one-stop-shop. If we were competing on just one element, such as just compensation for damages, we would not be able to attract the clientele that we attract.

Winn Solicitors (WS) offers a one-stop-shop accident management service for customers, including compensation, provision of replacement vehicle, medical services and professional advice.

WS started as a very specialist service in relation to road traffic accident work. We have evolved to become a one-stop service for someone who has suffered from an accident and it was not their fault. Insurance works differently in the UK than it does in the US — UK insurers have a lot of discretion in how they settle traffic accidents. Sometimes the insurance companies of the two parties will apportion blame for an accident to both drivers, even if only one was actually at fault. This results in each insurance company covering the damages only for its own insured, and the premiums for both drivers going up. This arrangement works in your favor if you cause a lot of accidents, but it is not in your favor if you are an innocent victim.

When a potential client comes to us, we first verify that they were not at fault.

Once we’ve made that assessment, we then:

–           Notify the client’s insurance company that there was an accident, but without making a claim on the insurance,

–           Pursue for payment the insurer of the other vehicle directly (including compensation for injuries and damages),

–           Organize the repair of the client’s vehicle, making sure that it is repaired with high quality materials and workmanship, and

–           Arrange for the client to be provided with a replacement vehicle.

While this service offers many benefits to the client, the biggest benefit is that it keeps their insurance premiums down.

When we started this service, it was targeted to wealthy customers who could afford to pay upfront for their repairs and to rent a replacement vehicle and wait for compensation from the insurers. Now we are in a position to offer this service to a wider range of clients. We can do that by having a sister company of the holding group offer interest free credit to the client. This pays the bills for the repairs and replacement vehicle until we recover from the other driver’s insurer. Of course, this means that we have to make sure that we get right our initial assessment of who was at fault, because if we don’t get it right, we lose out.

This service has proven to be very popular — since we started it about 12 years ago, we have grown from a staff of 8 to a staff of 300. It’s been a very rapid growth rate for a very specialist service.

Our route to market is in part directly to clients, and in part indirectly through insurance brokers, who outsource their claims services to us. Because of our expertise in reviewing the evidence, we are able to have many cases judged as no-fault, which saves the brokers’ customers money.

What clients like about us, and why they come to us, is that we do offer this one-stop-shop. If we were competing on just one element, such as just compensation for damages, we would not be able to attract the clientele that we attract. Our clients know us as the place to go if the accident was not your fault — as the place that will take care of everything.

When we applied to the SRA to become an ABS, in some ways the application process was easy and in some ways it was difficult. We expected the part about our operations and business plan to be tough, but it wasn’t. But as regards our investors, the process was not so smooth. The process probably works well if the investors are a few private persons who live in the UK, but in our case we had international capital coming in. This created complications when we needed to complete full criminal record checks on every investor in every place where they had lived. The criminal record check process in the UK is quick and easy and can be done online. But in some countries it is not quick or easy at all, and some of our international investors have lived in many different places in the world. One of them is a woman in her 60s who was born in a no-go zone in Mexico. She ended up having to travel across Mexico in bullet-proof car and with an armed guard in order to return to the town where she lived as a child, as there the criminal record check could only be completed with her personal presence.

As soon as we could in 2006, we changed from a partnership to a corporate structure. We did it partly because it offered certain tax and investment benefits, but also because we understood the regulatory changes that were coming and we wanted to be ready for them. In particular, we wanted to be ready for capital investment as soon as the rules permitted it. The changes to the rules did not happen as soon as we thought they would so we turned our attention to other things. But later our financial advisor mentioned to us that he had recently met an investor, JZ International (JZI), who was interested in regulated sectors and in the legal sector in particular, and asked if we would be interested in meeting them. Of course we were interested. At that time, we were growing so fast we were at the top end of their investment criteria, so JZI brought in Souter Investments as a co-investor. They did a pretty thorough due diligence on us, and then in August 2013 the investment was finalized.

We wanted outside investment because we saw it as the only way to be able both to grow the business as well as to take some cash out. Funding from banks is not an option for us because banks struggle to understand our model, and notably to understand the time involved in recovering payments. Banks are used to lending on invoices of 30, 60, 90 days payment. They are not used to lending on the outcome of litigation. So, the only way for us to grow as rapidly as we did over a ten-year period was to fund ourselves by taking as little cash out of the business as possible. When we received the investment from JZI and Souter, there was finally some cash for me and the other directors to take out.

As for the money that remained with the business, some of that money has been earmarked for future acquisitions.

JZI explained to me that they invest in regulated sectors, such as finance and banking, because they see regulations as barriers to entry, thus the businesses they invest in will not face fierce competition. They became interested in law, they told me, because they foresaw that the new regulations would force smaller players out of the field, in favor of larger ones who can streamline their processes and handle work more efficiently. They saw that as the smaller players leave the market, they will leave open opportunities for the larger players to acquire their assets and grow further. JZI told me that they spoke with approximately 100 other legal businesses before choosing to invest in us, so they learned the legal sector thoroughly and got a good idea of what it looks like.

In our governance structure, we have two boards — an operational board and, above that, a strategic one. The operational board is made up mostly of lawyers – that is the board that oversees the company’s work on a day-to-day basis. There are lawyers on the strategic board, but they are not in the majority. The strategic board takes a big picture view of finance, potential acquisitions and growth.

This structure has required us to change our decision making processes — some decisions are discussed more thoroughly and take a bit more time to be made. We appreciate the business approach that our investors bring to law — they bring a level of strategic thinking that we didn’t have before. They are always on the lookout for new opportunities for WS and they have contacts that have proven beneficial for the business.

WS is in the process of implementing a share option scheme for its employees. We want to do this as we think everyone works harder if they have a piece of the action. We think that our employees will have more drive to see business succeed if they know they will share in that success.

I don’t understand arguments that having nonlawyers as shareholders will cause us to act unethically. I don’t think it works like that. There are business interests and there are client interests — those interests are tied as our business interest is to serve the client’s interest. I can say that WS’s investors are very very conscious of the existence of ethical rules and in no way do they want WS to breach them. And it is not in their interest that the rules be breached — if they are, WS could be fined and will lose its authorization. Our investors put a lot of money into our business — they don’t want to lose their investment.

Allowing outside investment into law firms has increased competition in the legal market. Banks are not keen to lend money in the legal sector — at least not large amounts — because it is a sector that banks do not understand. Investors, on the other hand, are coming in and are learning about the sector. And when they decide to invest, they drive competition harder and faster. What you see in the UK is that some of the best companies have attracted investment, and they are using that investment to push aside some of the less competitive players. It’s like investing in any other business — it permits the good ones to grow quickly and destroys the weaker ones. It has brought capitalism into the legal world. Whether you like it or not depends on where you sit. If you are one of the successful businesses, then obviously it is good for you. But if you still sit with your little quill pen and you are still writing things by hand on a note pad somewhere — you probably will not think that it is good for you.

I believe that over the coming years the changes in the UK market will accelerate. I think that we will see more businesses with good ideas to reach a greater number of customers — they will develop a good business model and a good delivery model, they will be able to raise funds more quickly and easily. These new models will be seen as delivering greater value to the customer, and the older models will be pushed out of the market. Overall, legal services will become both better and less expensive.

It’s not clear to me why the US rules haven’t changed yet. What is the argument for keeping out competition? For keeping out investment? The longer the US takes to change its rules, the greater the advantages that UK and Australian firms will have over US firms once the US does finally change its rules. If I were a lawyer in the US, I would be preparing myself now for these changes.

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Holistic Services

Richard Stephens, Partner, Proelium Law

Adrian and I could have set ourselves up as consultants under two separate structures, but we strongly preferred a singular structure. It allows us economies of scale, it gives us leverage, and it permits us to have unitary conversations with clients and potential clients.

UK-based ABS Proelium Law is a multidisciplinary practice that offers legal and business advice to companies, individuals and governmental agencies that seek to operate in complex, high-risk and hostile environments (Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq,…). The firm has two partners, Adrian Powell, who is a lawyer, and Richard Stephens, who is not.

I have a background in the military and, since retiring from the services, in security consultancy. Adrian and I met in 2010 on a UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office hostile environment course. We stayed in touch afterwards and increasingly had the occasion to work together. The two of us came to realize that with our combined rolodexes, we had a reasonably big network. We also realized that we could put our combined experience together in a unique fashion, seeing that we could serve a niche audience that works in — or services — complex environments and who otherwise would not have access to the specialist expertise and legal knowledge that we can provide.

Indeed, our market research tells us that our offering is unique. We offer specialist knowledge in a highly particular industry, and we underwrite our services with huge experience from around the world.

My area of expertise is in security and counterterrorism. In the course of my career I have helped to developed counterterrorism institutions, I‘ve given advice to governments with respect to counterterrorism, and I’ve written national counterterrorism strategies for countries in South Asia. I also have expertise in the area of tracing and tracking of individuals. In sum, I have a pedigree in surveillance and reconnaissance around the world. Through Proelium Law, I am continuing to offer these unique services and expertise.

The most significant difference is that because Proelium is a law firm, my business card carries more weight. The fact that we operate as a law firm offers a degree of comfort to our clients. In itself, the security industry is not truly regulated. Anyone can offer their services, and, indeed, anyone does — the industry seems to attract a lot of crazies — people who read guns and ammo magazines and decide they are experts. In contrast, the legal industry is highly regulated. The fact that Proelium is a regulated law firm offers assurances to our clients of our reliability and, to put it bluntly, our basic sanity.

My contribution to Proelium Law is, of course, not on the legal side. We are careful to explain to clients that I am not a lawyer. Adrian and I are careful that we each address the matters that fall under our respective areas of expertise.

A big part of my role is business development. This means that even though I do not perform any legal analysis myself, I nevertheless need to be able to describe the legal aspects of our offering in a clear and credible manner. At the beginning, I felt ill-equipped — I needed time to get my head around it. Adrian worked with me extensively, and I did a lot of reading, and now I feel confident that I understand how to represent what we do — both the legal and non-legal aspects — in a credible manner.

Adrian and I could have set ourselves up as consultants under two separate structures, but we strongly preferred a singular structure. It allows us economies of scale, it gives us leverage, and it permits us to have unitary conversations with clients and potential clients.

We position ourselves internationally. Our industry, our subject matter expertise and our experience are all international. We anticipate that we will open an office in Dubai, as that is a fulcrum for our industry.

A suggestion that I, as a nonlawyer, would cause Adrian or Proelium Law to act unethically, does not make sense. I am perfectly capable of understanding the ethical constraints in which we need to operate, and I have no motivation to not respect them or to cause Adrian or the firm to not respect them. At any rate, the fact of being a lawyer offers no ironclad guarantee that the ethical rules will be respected — lawyers themselves breach the rules. To accept an assertion that nonlawyers are less ethical than lawyers I’d want evidence; I have a history of effective and ethical senior leadership and find the assumption that my standards would fall below those of a lawyer to be hubristic by those in the legal profession who think that way.

I am aware also of the assertion that nonlawyers need not be offered partnerships in a law firm, that it would be wholly appropriate for them to be salaried employees only. This seems to be me to be conflating two separate issues, those of lawyers and business leaders. Is there a guarantee that the former is also the latter?  We set up a partnership because we know that we work well together, we’re happy to share the risk, we provide different yet hugely complementary skills, we each bring strong reputations and therefore the firm enjoys balance. As a partner you share ownership and so feel a greater motivation and commitment to the organisation. In sum, the reasons for partnership in an ABS are (presumably) identical to those supporting partnership in a standard law firm.

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Holistic Services

Adrian Powell, Partner, Proelium Law

Having Rich as part of the ownership means we can offer not just legal advice, but real structured help to companies, individuals and organizations that need context-specific non-legal advice.

UK-based ABS Proelium Law is a multidisciplinary practice that offers legal and business advice to companies, individuals and governmental agencies that seek to operate in complex, high-risk and hostile environments (Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq,…). The firm has two partners, Adrian Powell, who is a lawyer, and Richard Stephens, who is not.

Proelium is a Latin term for conflict, battle or combat. At Proelium Law, we combine legal expertise together with business and other non-legal expertise. My partner Richard and I have extensive experience in complex environments, and our multidisciplinary ABS structure allows us to combine that expertise with my legal expertise. It is an ideal platform for us.

We target clients, UK-based or not, who seek to operate in complex environments, or notably in the areas of security and defense and international development. We offer highly specialized legal as well as business expertise in the areas in which our clients seek to operate: police, intelligence, security, international development, defense industry,…

I was with the Royal Military Police from age 17 to 28. I was deployed extensively during that time: Bosnia three times, the first Gulf War, and Northern Ireland. When I left the army, I went to law school and became a solicitor. I worked as a partner in a criminal defense law firm and later for the Crown Prosecution Service. But my time in Bosnia had whetted my appetite for international work, so then I shifted to an in-house legal advisory role with a defense services company. In that role, I spent a lot of time in Iraq and then, later, in a different role, in Afghanistan. During those times, I learned the commercial aspects of the defense industry — private security companies, logistics companies — I learned how they work and the issues they struggle with. I also learned about the sharper end of counterterrorism and obtained an in-depth understanding of how the law affects overseas operations. That’s when I realized there is a real market for helping companies, individuals and governmental agencies in these areas. There is a lot of extraterritorial law today that affects people who are working overseas and that they need to understand — bribery acts, counterterrorist financing, sanctions … the pitfalls that people can fall into if they are not aware and thinking about them.

But I don’t have all the answers, which is what makes Richard so valuable. He has significant technical expertise in the areas of surveillance, reconnaissance, and problem solving in complex environments. He has a large and strong network — he served in the Royal Marines for 23 years and he has held senior management positions in companies that work in complex environments.

Let’s say, for example, that a client is seeking increased financial backing for its operations, and comes to us to understand how they can make themselves more attractive to potential investors. I can rattle out a list of legal requirements for the client to comply with. But that is not all that needs to be done — someone needs to look at the client’s management structures, how the client works in the given environment, and how it will be able to continue to work in the future. That is where Richard comes in. Richard also brings a range of technical skills, like how to track and trace someone who has absconded with a large amount of money.

Richard is not a lawyer and he cannot give legal advice. But, given his huge breadth and depth of experience, it would be naïve to think that he cannot give a legal perspective.

For clients that operate in complex environments, it is easier for them to come to us rather than to a law firm that does not have any particular knowledge or understanding of complex environments or the client’s particular industry. A traditional law firm would struggle to provide our unique combined and specialized expertise and services — their solution would probably be to throw people at a problem in order to come up with a solution. In contrast, we understand what the client is trying to achieve, and we understand the realities of the environment they operate in. From the client’s perspective, we “get it.”

Here is an example — private security companies have a lot of challenges: who they recruit, how they recruit, how they procure their equipment, how they move their equipment overseas, how they account for their equipment, how their companies are set up, what their management structures are, how they grow and merge with other companies,… Other law firms can deal with these things, but we have a better perception than most other firms do of how to deal with them in the specific context of a complex environment.

While for the moment most of our clients are based in the UK, we position ourselves internationally. We anticipate that we will develop clientele in the UAE and, eventually, in the United States, which is of course a big and attractive market.

Theoretically it would be possible for us to work without an ABS license, but that is not the way we wanted to go. We want to be able to offer a full package to our clients, and our ABS license permits us to that. That is, it allows us to work in the reserved areas, and notably in both civil and criminal litigation. So, for example, if a client runs afoul of counterterrorism laws or is subject to sanctions, we can represent them.

There are very few firms in the world that do what we do, the way that we do it and with the range of expertise that we have. The fact that we can offer clients a one-stop-shop is comforting for them. Much more so than clients needing to go to two, three or four places for the same mix of work. At the same time, defense, security and international development are in an enormous industry — that is, we are in an enormous industry.

We found the application process for our ABS license to be beneficial for us. It provided us with a structure to clearly identify and delineate what our objectives as a firm are, what our risks as a firm are, and how we will manage them. It helped us to clearly focus on what we are as a business.

More than that, our ABS structure brings us a great advantage and competitive edge in that it allows us to rely on much more than legal work to earn a living. So, for example, I can provide a 3-month training course on legal aspects of counterterrorism, without needing to get a special dispensation from the SRA or to set up set up my own consultancy with its own separate accounting, etc.

Further, our ABS structure allows us to work in a way that makes us happy. We can do a variety of different forms of work, and we can work outside the context of a traditional law firm. We enjoy working this way, and we don’t discount the importance of that.

A lot of other professions and skills are built on many years of studying and practical experience, not just the legal profession. Embracing those skills can only benefit the professions and make it more attractive to clients. Whilst hiring non lawyers as employees is an option, I believe you get better buy in and commitment if someone has a say in the management and leadership processes and feels like they own the process. I acknowledge that my perspective is probably different from a lawyer who has solely worked for law firms, but there is a great utility in taking on different thinking and approaches to business. I asked Rich to partner with me for a few reasons. I enjoyed working with him in the other environments we did. He isn’t the same type of personality that I am and we worked well managing staff and getting the best from them. There were strong synergies in our thinking about global business and he brought ideas that I hadn’t had, but also I showed him approaches he hadn’t thought of, somewhere in the middle we had new ideas and that can only be a good thing. Our combined networks together were strong when we looked at them and it made sense to bring them together. We know we can run large organizations, but both of us enjoy, and wanted, the challenge of creating our own, new organization where we had the final say on its direction — and it combined our years of experience. I believe that partnering with Rich rather than paying him for work as an employee, I will get the best from him. He owns the issues and the success and I think that’s a hugely important motivator. That’s not to say I am better than him at leadership or management, just that I felt he was better being an owner rather than employee. Remember, the firm isn’t offering legal advice on divorces or buying houses, its defense, security and development markets. They aren’t brand new legal areas, but having Rich as part of the ownerships means we can offer not just legal advice, but real structured help to companies, individuals and organizations that need context-specific non-legal advice.

Creating a multidisciplinary practice is not a straightforward matter. It took Richard and me some time to make the decision to create Proelium Law and then more time to complete the application process. Creating a multidisciplinary practice requires big picture thinking — thinking from the client’s perspective rather than the lawyer’s. I have spent many years not just in the legal industry — I believe that has made it easier for me to see the big picture and to understand issues from a client’s perspective. I suspect that many lawyers who have spent most of their careers in the legal industry alone struggle with that more than I do.

I understand that in the US there is resistance to ABS-type structures — to multidisciplinary practices and to allowing nonlawyers to own shares of law firms. I think that if lawyers had the experience of ABSs, they would understand their benefits and stop being so afraid of them. Putting it very simply, I think ABSs are a nicer way of doing business than traditional law firms. In the US, I wonder if there is ego involved — does that explain the resistance to ABS? Myself, I don’t have the type of ego where I am so protective of being a lawyer that I can’t allow myself to partner with a nonlawyer. We all still have to obey the ethical rules, regardless.

In my opinion, the legal profession that needs to think more expansively, and more internationally. It needs to think more about integrating with other professions and skills, lest the profession whither on the vine.

From my perspective, the world today is a very small place. Getting on a plane to the US or to Dubai is nothing for me. Proelium Law is industry facing, but our industry is worldwide.

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Holistic Services

Julia Hulme, Managing Director, Omnia Strategy LLP

With us...the client can pick up the phone and speak to just one person, who understands all of the different work streams, and from who they can be confident they will receive a consistent message.

ABS Omnia Strategy LLP is a multidisciplinary practice that advises governments, multinational companies and high-profile individuals in a wide variety of areas including international public law, negotiation and dispute resolution, market entry and strategic communications including reputation management. Its management team includes lawyers along with experts in business, diplomacy, and communications.

Omnia is not a conventional law firm and we do not fit within the traditional law firm model. Instead, we are a hybrid organization, combining multi-disciplinary skills beyond pure legal expertise, such as commercial understanding, government relations and diplomacy, policy, strategy, and communications.

The firm has four pillars or core areas of practice: (i) international dispute resolution, which means finding strategic solutions and, where possible, preferring negotiation to litigation, although we are always prepared to represent clients in court or at arbitration if  it is in their best interests, (ii) international public law, effectively an umbrella for our focus on business and human rights, legislative reform and capacity building, (iii) outsourced general counsel, this generally involves helping companies as they expand with the challenges they face including market entry, and (iv) international strategic communications and reputation management.

Because we do not conform to the standard expectations of a UK legal practice, it is difficult for us to pinpoint our competitors — we need to point to a large variety of firms and companies, because we mix different qualities that typically are not mixed.

The firm was born from a recognition of the gap between what law firms can provide and what clients want. Clients often just want help solving a problem by their trusted advisor. Their problems are not just legal — they concern the company or the individual as a whole. This is why we wanted to become an ABS — to permit us to deliver to our clients a holistic approach with our advice. The flexibility to offer clients comprehensive advice and not just legal advice — that is what the ABS structure permits us to do.

The ABS structure definitely gives us an advantage as compared to a typical law firm because we can assemble the entire team that the client needs. Take high-profile litigation for example: Normally, a client needs to hire a law firm for the litigation itself, a government relations firm for government advocacy, a communications firm for reputational and communications issues, and a strategy firm to help with how to move forward. With us, it’s a one-stop shop. The client can pick up the phone and speak to just one person, who understands all of the different work streams, and from who they can be confident they will receive a consistent message.

Clients are expecting a lot more from their lawyers today — they want better solutions to their issues at more reasonable rates. This requires more agile structures. The ABS structure offers flexibility and the ability to have a modern approach to providing legal services. I don’t think that anyone should be afraid of it.

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