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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