Legal speak: Tim Summers of Temple Bright

Each week Bristol Business News speaks to a major player in the city’s legal sector.

We kick off the series with Tim Summers, co-founder of Bristol boutique law firm Temple Bright, recently named Bristol Law Society Regional Law Firm of the Year.

According to Tim, the award – presented at the Bristol Law Society’s annual dinner two weeks ago – marks a turning point for Temple Bright, the firm he helped start two years ago, and a watershed for the city’s legal sector.

Temple Bright beat established Bristol firms Clarke Willmott and Foot Anstey to collect the award – a fact that Tim says indicates the pace of change in the legal field. And he predicts further upheaval is on the way as the largest firms jostle for position in a tough market while smaller firms struggle to find new business models.

“Winning this major award, and seeing off the long-established firms who were shortlisted, really does confirm us as a significant player on the local scene,” said Tim.

“We’re taking it as recognition by the legal establishment in Bristol that innovation – and some disruption – are to be welcomed in the profession. And we are delighted that the judges chose us over the more traditional alternatives.”

Tim believes Temple Bright collected the trophy partly on the strength of a business model that the firm calls a chambers practice – a solicitors’ firm structured like a barristers’ chambers.

“That means we promise a senior lawyer for all aspects of a job, as there are no juniors in the mix,” he said. “It’s an unusual model but it has helped us grow quickly. We’ve gone from three to 15 partners in just over two years.”

Tim argues that the large commercial law firms that have historically advised SMEs don’t always do the best job as the work often gets delegated to the juniors in the ranks.

“I’m generalising of course, but I think many owner managers will recognise there’s a truth to what I’m saying,” he said.

“Funnily enough, we aren’t just doing SME work now. We have started to be instructed by some larger companies, who like our commercial focus and prices. I’m sure we will see this side of things grow in the next year even if we can’t do everything yet. We wouldn’t expect to advise on an IPO or bond issue but we can meet the more everyday needs of most clients, regardless of size.”

Tim sees a growing pressure on firms to charge less and fix fees, partly because the competitive environment is changing. “For more traditional firms, we’re likely to see continuing consolidation over the next year as firms seek the scale that they perceive as necessary to win the biggest deals, for which the traditional structure can still work effectively,” he said.

But whatever the competition do now, Temple Bright will be a talking point. Its place in the professional community in Bristol is made clear by Mike Lea, managing partner of the Bristol office of leading accountancy and business advisory firm Smith & Williamson.

“Temple Bright has been consistently practical, approachable and efficient in all the work our two firms have done together,” said Mike. “If something needs doing with the minimum of fuss and at a very affordable price then I would recommend Temple Bright as people to do it.”

This article appeared in the Bristol Business Newsletter on 2 November 2012.