Industrial disease specialists eye ABS to aid extraordinary growth spurt

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By Legal Futures

14 August 2013

Jackson: fantastic opportunities to obtain caseloads

A specialist industrial disease law firm in the north-west is looking to convert to an alternative business structure (ABS) to take advantage of a period of extraordinary growth.

Roberts Jackson has been built up organically since 2009 by personal injury and industrial disease litigator Karen Jackson and husband Oliver, a corporate lawyer.

The Cheshire firm has just revealed fee income of £7m for the year to June 2013 – up from £3.5m in 2012 and £1.7m two years ago. Staff numbers, which were at 43 last year, have shot up to 170.

With plans to increase office space and reach a revenue target of £23m by 2014/15, Mr Jackson said the option of converting to an ABS is an appealing option.

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He said: “We don’t need external finance as we now have four years of building up cases and so can finance our own growth from the cases we win.

“Having said that, we do feel that there will be fantastic opportunities to obtain caseloads from other firms as the legal market evolves and consolidates, in response to the Jackson reforms.

“Therefore an injection of cash from a partner that understood our model and plans for the future could help us undertake larger strategic projects.

“More importantly for me, though, are the opportunities now available through ABSs to gain new perspectives and concepts from those outside the law. Lawyers are very focused on the law and their expertise, and so input and ideas from those with more general business experience could be very helpful and valuable.”

Roberts Jackson channels a lot of its profits into recruitment and training. Its reputation in the niche industrial disease sector has enabled the firm to establish relationships with other firms where they run their cases for them.

Mr Jackson said that the firm’s expertise and investment in IT efficiencies encourages the smooth running of claims.

It has even set up a working agreement with one defendant firm with “mutually agreed fixed fees” and “streamlined processes” on both sides to improve the experience for all sides at a lower cost and often quicker settlement for clients.

ABS could now be the next logical step, said Mr Jackson. He said: “We would like to become an ABS to offer us more options going forward.

“Now this process appears to be less time consuming and painful, we will probably look into it in the near future as we have some exceptional people here whom are not lawyers and so we will want them to join our equity structure and board.

“If we really clicked with a non-legal external investor, partner or corporate, and an ABS structure would allow them to share with us in our profits, in return for their expert business knowledge, or whatever they were bringing to the table, and ultimately if they would make the overall firm stronger and a tie-up would be a good option for both parties, we would want to be able to act upon that.”

The firm does not have a traditional partnership management structure. Mr Jackson described it as a “meritocracy” with targeted and immediate remuneration and bonus schemes.

Mr Jackson said the firm’s success during a difficult post-Jackson period for personal injury is down to expertise. He claimed that prior to the LASPO changes, there was enough margin in the RTA/PI model for average lawyers to make decent profits, but now – to the benefit of clients – only those firms with real knowledge will survive.

He said: “Previously, a general PI practice with considerable cash-flow based on volume work could muddle through an industrial disease or clinical negligence case and gain a very high level of “disproportionate” costs.

“I think the referral fee ban will eventually help our sector as law firms have to know exactly what they are doing to get the right cases in. It was all too easy for a law firm to throw £500,000 at a bunch of cases in the hope that they would make a profit.

“With certain not very discerning claims management companies, it was the blind leading the blind – and there will be many law firms in a considerable mess now as a result.

“These firms will go, but the best and most well-run and expert firms will pick up their work and survive and thrive.”

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