No staff and no paper: is this the future of law firms?

The traditional law firm must be deconstructed to survive in the 21st century, according to the co-founder of a new practice based in Bristol.

Temple Bright LLP has been established by former colleagues Tim Summers, James Howell and Justyn McIlhinney to offer ‘City’ quality advice to SMEs and growing businesses via a ‘no-staff, paperless office model’.

The trio have deliberately shunned the classic law firm pyramid structure, with Mr Summers saying SME clients are increasingly unwilling to pay for plush offices and large teams of junior lawyers and administrative staff.

“The market for legal services in the UK is worth £25 billion,” he said. “But how much of that is actually spent on the high quality legal advice clients need to make critical business decisions or conduct their transactions?

“At Temple Bright, we are using IT to handle functions historically carried out by entire floors of staff: the law library, know-how lawyers and accounts teams have all been replaced by online providers. The office is as close to paperless as solicitors can manage and the resulting efficiencies clearly make us very attractive to commercial clients.”

The practice is niche at present and, for the areas of law they do not personally handle, the partners utilise a local network of tried and tested senior lawyers sharing their own philosophy.

“Lawyers are unfortunately best known for their large bills,” he added. “But these are becoming increasingly difficult to justify in the 21st century. There is no doubt that the impact of the Legal Services Act and the rise of the ‘supermarket law firm’ are forcing some established players to sharpen their focus.

“But, more generally, all firms are having to re-examine their efficiency in view of an increasingly well-informed and cost-aware client base.

“Our model for the modern legal firm is to strip out many of the overheads which make traditional practices expensive. The result is not only a more efficient service – in which clients have direct access to a senior lawyer who is an expert in the field – but also, without all the peripheral charges, a more cost-effective one.”

Summers, Howell and McIlhinney worked in the City and medium-sized law firms in Bristol before establishing Temple Bright in 2010.

They take their inspiration from leading legal author and academic, Richard Susskind, whose 2008 book The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services challenged the profession to consider which elements of their workload could be delivered more quickly, cheaply, efficiently and even to a higher standard using different methods of working.

This article appeared on the Bristol 24/7 website on 14 April 2010.