Customer service is the key to lawyers’ new-look approach

A new Bristol law firm focusing on the corporate, commercial and property market has been launched.

The firm has been set up by a group of young lawyers and the aim is to take a fresh new approach to an industry which has long been seen as stuffy and old-fashioned.

Co-founder Tim Summers said: “We know all the lawyer jokes and a lot of them seem like fair comment. We started with a blank sheet of paper and wrote down a list of things that businesses don’t like about their lawyers. That wasn’t difficult. Coming up with an approach to deal effectively with the issues was much harder.”

The three co-founders Summers, Justyn McIlhinney and James Howell have worked in a wide range of firms from City giants to large and medium-sized Bristol practices.

“We think a visit to the lawyers should be a pleasure rather than a chore where you know the meter is running,” said Mr. Summers. “Our goal was to create a business model which would make this aspiration a reality.”

Problems identified by the Temple Bright co-founders include the unwillingness of most lawyers to commit themselves to a fixed price, delegation to people who are inexperienced and the feeling that a partner is too busy overseeing other cases to talk in detail to individuals.

The co-founders decided that many of these complaints were a result of the classic law firm “pyramid” structure, with an upper layer of partners perched on top of a base of associates, assistants and staff.

“Our clients are mostly those who own and run their own businesses,” said Mr. Summers. “These are entrepreneurial people who want practical advice from an experienced lawyer. They also like dealing with someone who is not an employee on a salary, but a businessperson like them who understands commercial risk.”

Temple Bright’s solution has been to turn its back on traditional methods which come with expensive staff and offices. The firm has set up its headquarters in serviced offices off Park Street and uses online technology for functions such as the law library and accounts. Instead of recruiting junior assistants to take over the partners’ workload, Temple Bright plans to recruit only senior lawyers.

“We wanted to avoid the familiar syndrome of success leading to growth leading to a loss of ideals,” said Mr. Summers. “And we have a lot of ideals. To the world outside, we promise senior lawyers, quality and value for money. Within the firm, we want self-motivated people and no hierarchy or politics. Our business model allows the firm to grow while preserving its integrity in both areas.”

The co-founders are also convinced that the new technology means traditional infrastructures are no longer necessary.

“The recession is simply accelerating a process of reform in the profession which has been gathering momentum for a long time,” said Mr. Summers. “We are seeing corporate brands offering will-writing and conveyancing services at vastly reduced cost. For the more complex commercial work we do, lawyers are still needed, but clients are no longer willing to write a blank cheque.”

The firm’s strategy is already proving a success. Temple Bright has been “extremely busy” with client work in its first three months, and has already added a fourth partner, Jonathan Poole – a corporate finance specialist from Thring Townsend Lee & Pembertons.

This article appeared in the Bristol Evening Post on 30 June 2010.