By Legal Futures’ Associates CILEx Regulation 
Barbara Hamilton-Bruce, Head of Client Operations at Simmons Wavelength Limited, explores the real value of an ABS
My route to becoming a lawyer may be different from many of the people I’ve worked with but, when surrounded by CILEx lawyers, it’s fairly typical: a ‘once upon a time’ secretary who found a mentor who encouraged and lifted my aspirations. My route in was initially College and then distance-learning with CILEx Law School, side-by-side with an ever-increasing caseload and management responsibilities.
At a certain point I jumped out of law firm partnerships because it wasn’t the right fit for me: partnership wasn’t an option (at that time) and my interests had evolved from doing law to the business of law. My landing was ‘in-house’ in a role that drew on my subject matter expertise but also gave me a wide canvas to really develop my operational skills. I progressed through a range of roles (Head of, Director of) to Chief Operating Officer.
That role led to my early involvement with Alternative Business Structures (ABS). The minute the ABS process had the green light I was leading an application for ABS status to allow the business service to be delivered differently. Early days the process was challenging but being an early mover means you have to take some of the pain of informing and evolving the process for those who come after you! Since that point I’ve worked within three ABS entities (including market listed and privately-owned structures) that have intentionally organised themselves differently from the traditional, well recognised law-firm model.
In my recent employee past the ABS status had been no more than an enabler to the organisational structure, allowing external investment and non-lawyer management. It gave the business flexibility and consequently allowed me to experience a far wider range of business activity, funding opportunities and insights gained from people, insight and management styles from ‘out of sector’. It’s challenging to define the tangible benefits to clients of these ‘background’ ABS structures because it wasn’t a point of differentiation in how we went to market but the intangible benefits such as greater funding for infrastructure, 24/7 contact, research and development and investment into brand and marketing will have played a role in service and delivery.
It wasn’t until I met the owners of Wavelength Law that the ABS status became influential in my decision to join a business. Wavelength is a little bit different from the norm; it was the first regulated firm of legal engineers sitting at the intersection of law, data science and design creating solutions that significantly improve the delivery and experience of legal services.
Wavelength’s ABS structure was chosen to allow employees to have a stake in the business. This really mattered for a start-up doing something different in a sector that is often described in traditional tones; it needed good people with diverse skill sets and differing backgrounds who would take a chance on the vision and help build capability and support growth. The ABS also supports the non-hierarchical structure that is key to the blending of Wavelength expertise; in place of partnership progression we work in agile self-directing scrums designing and building solutions to meet client needs: everyone has the opportunity to participate, lead and learn from each other.
We build our skills and capabilities through Academy activity that allows expertise to be grown and shared and for emerging skills and market knowledge to be identified and harnessed. When Wavelength was acquired by Simmons + Simmons in the Summer (to become Simmons Wavelength) all employees were able to benefit from the acquisition turning the intent behind the ABS status into reality. And now, our ABS journey continues!