Christopher Mills, Partner and COO, Schillings

Our ABS allows us to think differently and to offer more services. Our ABS also allows us to be what our clients want us to be — able to provide intelligence, cyber, advisory and legal services seamlessly and without being limited by jurisdiction.

Before acquiring ABS status in 2013, Schillings operated as a traditional law firm, specializing in privacy and defamation and family law. Upon acquiring ABS status, Schillings integrated a cyber-security business and recruited risk management professionals from the management consulting world, transforming itself into a reputation and privacy multidisciplinary practice combining legal services with intelligence gathering, risk consulting and cyber security. Schilling’s Chief Operating Officer and partner Christopher Mills is not a lawyer.

2007 was a great year for Schillings. But by 2008, everything had changed. Before, there were a small number of players, everything was in print, and issues rarely expanded outside the borders of the UK. Today, the market is diluted with many new entrants, everything moves very quickly and nothing stays within borders.

We could have stayed a traditional law firm, but opportunities for growth were limited. We could have diversified into other legal sectors, but we did not see a future with that either, because the market is saturated. In the end, the best option we saw was to stick with our core competency of reputation, privacy and family law, but to add non-legal, or what we call ‘extra-legal’ services. So, knowing that the new rules would soon come into effect, we bought a cyber-security business, and, as soon as we could, we combined it with our legal practice into one entity.

As an ABS, we have transformed our business. Today we are international consultants specialising in defending reputation and protecting privacy, as well as international family law. Our professional staff includes lawyers as well as intelligence analysts, risk consultants and cyber security specialists. We are the only business in the world to complement a reputation, privacy and family legal offering with intelligence gathering, risk consulting and cyber security. No other single provider groups these legal and non-legal services together the way we do — typically clients need to work with three or four other organizations to get the same services. Compared to that, we are able to provide both a higher quality as well as seamless service to our clients.

I would say also that previously, as a traditional law firm, we were very much evidence-led. Today we are also intelligence-led. All of this has been made possible through the diversity our ABS status affords us.

Our status as an ABS allows us to do much more than we could if we were not an ABS. It allows us to help our clients in the ways that they really need help. Although we are more than law, law is still important to who we are, in fact it’s our USP because we bring legal rigour and legal privilege that other non-legal providers can’t.

Because of the wide range of services we offer, our competitive field is large. That being said, we are the only ones that combine those services into a single MDP service offering. We have lawyers working with risk consultants working with intelligence analysts working with cyber security specialists — all on a single team. If we are compared to law firms, we offer a breadth of extra, non-legal services. If we are compared to an intelligence or a risk consulting firm, we can offer legal privilege while they cannot. In sum, no other firm is what we are or does what we do.

Further, because of our heritage as a law firm, our clients are reassured that our work is rigorous and disciplined as well as ethical. This is difficult for firms that do not have their heritage in law to replicate.

Our clients are international businesses and high net-worth individuals. What defines them is that they are global citizens. They have activities and assets in a number of countries, which may or may not include the UK. Our non-legal services are not bound by jurisdiction.

More specifically regarding our individual clients — their main country of residence could be anywhere in the world, and at any given moment, they could be anywhere else in the world: Americas, Far East, Middle East. They are some of the world’s most successful individuals, and our work is geared around their private lives.

Currently, I am one of two nonlawyer partners in the firm. The second person is Major General Tim Robinson, who served in the British Army. He brings a highly strategic approach to crisis management and prevention. We are planning that by the end of 2016, we will have a total of seven partners who are lawyers and four partners who are not lawyers (their backgrounds will be in intelligence, risk consulting and/or cyber security). This reflects the diversity of our business. It also reflects where our business is going — the revenue generated by our non-legal staff is growing very quickly, and we expect that soon it will equally match the revenue generated by our legal staff. Our partners are our principal client-facing people. They do not all need to be lawyers. They do all need to be problem-solvers.

In the old days, the partners did client work, business development, supervision, and firm management. Today, many firms have woken up to the fact that you need to bring in experienced, qualified professionals to run areas like finance, marketing, operations — if you want to run a professional organization, those are not just things that you do after-hours or on the weekend. In a corporation, the question would not even be asked — you would naturally have qualified persons with business skills and experience who know how to run a business. The ability to offer partnership to nonlawyers is important in recruiting and retaining the best people. You have to be able to motivate them and reward them. If you want to grow the business, it is important to give them skin in the game.

What we are doing is ground breaking. We are moving very fast, and I find it exhilarating — and fun. We are able to stretch ourselves individually and stretch ourselves as a firm.

Law firms are slow at change. For that reason, even in England and Wales where the regulations permit alternative structures, it is not a surprise that there are still many law firms that do not appear prepared to embrace change — they don’t understand innovation is about evolution and survival. In my opinion, in the long term those firms will suffer.

There are, of course, a number of innovative firms who are taking advantage of the regulations in England and Wales to create multidisciplinary structures. Not just in law but in other professional services, in particular the big accounting firms. They have applied for and received ABS licenses, and they are beginning to offer legal services, which will take away work from some law firms. They have existing relationships with their clients that make it easy to cross sell their new legal services.

As a partner at Schillings, even though I am not a lawyer, I am approved and authorised by the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) to be a nonlawyer manager.

I think that those who continue to hold onto their opposition to alternative business structures are missing the point. The point is the need to evolve with your clients to better serve their needs and respond to what they want.

Since we became an ABS, our revenue has doubled, and we project that over the next few years our revenue will double again. Our explanation for this is that our ABS allows us to think differently and to offer more services. Our ABS also allows us to be what our clients want us to be — able to provide intelligence, cyber, advisory and legal services seamlessly and without being limited by jurisdiction.

That being said, as happy as we are being an ABS and as much as we enjoy the freedom to innovate beyond legal services, to be truthful, in many ways we’ve moved on from it. That is, it already feels old news. It’s just the way we do business.

Here in the UK, you see less and less the reference to “ABS” and more and more the reference to “new law.” All that means is the desire to do something different. And it especially means the desire to stay up to date in this digital, global, interconnected, 24/7 world. What it brings to mind for me is the Charles Darwin quote that goes something along the lines of it not being the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent, that survive — it is those who are most prepared to adapt and evolve.

Our vision for 2020 is to be an international consulting firm that helps successful individuals and leading companies all over the world to enjoy what they have achieved, free from intrusions into their private lives or assaults on their character by defending their rights and freedoms in an age of instant communication and relentless change.

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