Tom Curran, CEO, Kings Court Trust

KCT is a business that uses the expertise of lawyers. We are not legal experts who are trying to run a business.

UK-based 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 Tom Curran, KCT’s CEO, is not a lawyer.

KCT was founded in 2002 by a very farsighted lawyer and accountant who knew that the changes to the UK regulations to permit nonlawyer ownership of law firms were coming. They asked themselves, if they were going to set up a probate and estate administration business on a blank sheet of paper, how would they do it? The answer was using fixed fees and transparent service delivery, two of the foundations upon which KCT is built. KCT eventually became an ABS in 2012, when the regulatory changes finally came into effect.

KCT is a business that uses the expertise of lawyers. We are not legal experts who are trying to run a business.

This is how we work: we assign a case manager to each case. This person is not a lawyer, this person is essentially a project manager. They have two jobs — to make sure that each case is handled effectively and efficiently, and to handle communications with the client. Lawyers are our technical experts — our case managers seek the advice of the lawyers on their cases.

As a result of this model, our lawyers see a huge number of probate cases. The experience that our lawyers get here, in terms of variation, volume, breadth, and complexity sets them apart from general practitioners, who, because they do a little bit of everything, can’t necessarily develop the same level of expertise in any one kind of matter.

Our lawyers are highly regarded and well paid. The head of legal sits on the Board of the company. We support our lawyers in their professional training and professional associations — given that they are technical experts, that becomes even more important than if they were in private practice. Some of them have become known in the industry for their technical expertise and often speak at conferences.

To be clear, we do not expect our lawyers to bring in business — they are not evaluated, promoted or compensated in any way on that basis. That is not their job — we have sales and marketing people whose job it is to bring in business. Our legal positions are easy to fill as there is an awareness that the market is moving in this direction, and there is a lot of openness towards businesses like ours.

There are some great legal firms that are good at business. But the average lawyer is trained in law and not in business. They’ve come into business by necessity, as a result of a desire to be a lawyer, but they’re not trained to be in business. So, if they came into business that way, then why would they be good at business? Legal expertise is a technical expertise, not a business expertise. Why does anyone think someone trained in law is going to be great at marketing, or great at customer service, or great at IT, or great at business? Some lawyers may be, but think of it the other way around: would you put your trained marketeers in a legal role without any support?

The changes in the UK regulations coincided with a massive growth in desire from consumers, principally driven by the internet, for information and transparency. As a result, it became more difficult to disguise work that, even if it was traditionally done by lawyers, was really just administrative work, potentially billed at the full lawyerly rate.

Another example — in order to help consumers make informed choices, businesses will provide information to consumers for free in a way that lawyers have difficulty to understand. This is because businesses have worked marketing and cost of sales into their pricing methodology in a way that allows the business to charge the appropriate fixed fees.

There is a fundamental flaw in some partnership models: it can result in chronic underinvestment. Under a partnership model, profits are not retained for reinvestment. As a result, of course there is no investment in the firm, and so by default they can get behind in terms of technology and customer service.

We believe that in the future, consumer law will increasingly be bought in a different way. We believe that increasingly, legal service will be an additional service that will be provided along with other offerings, such as with accounting or insurance, rather than being provided separately via a traditional law firm. We think that the changes will take time, but nowhere near as much time as some might think.

In the area of probate, and in dealing with consumers and families, legal expertise is a technical expertise. People genuinely do want to buy and consume probate and estate administration services in a different way than they have traditionally been provided. Consumers want to understand what they are buying, but people may have been put off by the apparent complexity and have felt pushed away from using solicitor services as it hasn’t been made easy for them. If solicitors had asked themselves how to make the process easier and more straightforward for the families they serve, they would have been prepared to take advantage of the changes brought by the Legal Services Act, rather than it happening to them.

Legal services need to be re-engineered and re-focused around consumer needs. The concept of fulfilling customer journeys is a business concept rather than a legal one. This means thinking about every element of the interaction with the customer, in a way that lawyers do not normally think about it. Everything needs to be re-thought: office hours, pricing, how you market and attract business, how you interact with customers. Many law firms are set up around making the law firm achieve its own goals, which are usually billing as many hours as possible, rather than putting the customer at the heart of everything they do.

In about five to ten years, the legal market will look completely different than it does today. It is happening — there is no stopping it. Law firms can either sit around and wait for it to happen, or they can anticipate it, and make themselves better in the process.

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