Breaking into the Bristol scene

Tim Summers, founding partner at law firm Temple Bright, tells us how the firm broke into the highly competitive Bristol legal scene and what to do if you are a new business looking to stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Some businesses break the mould – think eBay, think Apple – but what if your company isn’t quite so revolutionary? What if it’s in danger of being simply another a professional services business opening up in a crowded market? How can you stand out then?

Back in 2010, these were big questions for us at Temple Bright, as we sought to launch our law firm in the spring of that year into a Bristol market that was already an established centre for legal services.

The answer we came up with was to create a new business model for providing legal advice, namely a solicitors’ firm that is structured like a barristers’ chambers – what we call a “chambers practice.”

Two years down the line, it feels like a decision that has paid off. It’s given the practice a different profile to our Bristol competition – and it’s also a profile that is appealing to the entrepreneurs and SME business owners that we like to serve.

Our chambers model simply means that, like barristers, Temple Bright lawyers are all experienced specialists who advise personally rather than delegating to juniors – because there are no juniors in the firm!

Every partner runs their own practice, but we also work closely in teams, with a strong sense of what the brand stands for, how to do the best for clients, and how we all want Temple Bright to develop as a firm.

Because all the lawyers are experienced, we really can be commercially-minded – that is, you get lawyers who are pragmatic, quick and aren’t afraid to be directive. I believe that people come to lawyers for advice, not an uncommitted checklist of technical options, so advice is what our clients get.

The combination of cost-saving technology and our structure means we can offer this expertise for a lower price than our peers, which is often fixed from the outset. This is difficult for traditional firms which have large overheads including the salaries of junior staff.

Since our March 2010 launch, we’ve also learnt plenty more about Bristol and its business community, which I’d like to share with you.

First of all, it’s abundantly clear that Bristol’s business community is a vibrant, confident place, with lots of niche, clever companies in the mix. It’s quite a tight-knit scene, too. And in amongst the various entrepreneurs that roam the city (e.g. hi-tech, creative, food and drink) it’s striking how well-connected the professional advisory community is – both among themselves and with the entrepreneurs and owner-managers based here.

I can imagine that Bristol might look to outsiders like a business scene where there are easy pickings for the professionals, but they really shouldn’t be fooled. For those parachuting in from outside and hoping to gain a foothold, Bristol is likely to be a tough nut to crack – everyone here knows everyone, and there is plenty of specialist expertise around already.

When I take a step back to think about things, I reckon we have been able to make inroads in Bristol, supporting the city’s businesses, in large part due to the distinctive nature of our chambers model. Above all else it’s this chambers model, and the service it enables, that helps us to win and retain clients in a city with many lawyers. There are plenty of energetic business leaders in Bristol, looking to make things happen with a minimum of fuss, and that’s just how we like to do things too. Long may it continue.

This article appeared in Moon News on 25 September 2012.