The mystery of LawVest

Posted by Neil Rose, Editor, Legal Futures

What's in the LawVest box?

What is LawVest? It’s a question I’ve been asking those behind it for a bit but the information they have released to Legal Futures today has not made things a great deal clearer. They are keeping their model confidential for the time being, which is fair enough.

But getting a firm like DLA Piper on board, and particularly Sir Nigel Knowles – who knows a thing or two about taking something small and making it very big – is a statement of significant intent. The other people behind this venture are serious players too.

As an anonymous poster wrote on Legal Week’s website yesterday, in response to the surprise news that former Linklaters managing partner Tony Angel had been named the firm’s senior partner: “DLA is like lava flowing down a volcano – its competitors can see it moving towards them, inexorably and unstoppably, getting ever closer, but can do nothing about it.”

What we know is that LawVest is targeting the business sector; it is no surprise to me that those who thought the Legal Services Act and alternative business structures were just about the consumer legal market are already being disabused of the notion. It is why I included a section on the needs and interests of SMEs during last week’s Legal Futures conference (although LawVest’s ambitions extend beyond just that section of the business community).

One also hears talk of big businesses looking to convert their in-house legal departments into ABSs and offering services to other companies, turning a cost centre into a profit centre, much like is already seen in local government.

What we also know is that DLA is not looking at this as a passive investment, but as potentially a way to service a section of its client base that will be less of a strategic focus as it continues its march around the world’s legal centres.

Peppermint Technology’s research into what clients want, released at our conference, showed that SMEs are less bothered than consumers about face-to-face advice as their matter progresses, with online and the telephone their preferred method of communication. This leads to the biggest hint of what LawVest is planning.

It comes not from the involvement of DLA, but of AdviserPlus, whose founder, Karl Chapman, has taken a step away from the business to become LawVest’s chief executive. AdviserPlus has invested because “it is a natural extension of its service offering”, the LawVest website says.

So, what is AdviserPlus? It provides a range of HR, employment law, and health and safety advisory services to organisations ranging from small companies to FTSE100 businesses. It does so through a combination of “a proactive and pre-emptive service delivery model” (it says around 60% of call activity is outbound to users), “highly skilled advisers and practitioners who are dedicated to client accounts and operate in the name of the client”, and a patented IT platform.

Essentially AdviserPlus sits between the line manager and the company’s HR department, and all dealings that the line manager has with them, either online or on the phone, is in the name of the company. The “model was built from the line manager up, not the centre down” (LawVest has built its model “from the customer up”) and is described as somewhere between insourcing and outsourcing.

It’s not a sector with which I’m overly familiar, but I think embedding the service into the client in this way makes it different to other major employment law consultants out there like Peninsula and Croner. And as every employment lawyer knows, these consultancies have been busy trying to eat their dinner for some years now, operating in an area where much of the legal work is unreserved, as it is in business law generally.

It is pointless to speculate to what extent the plan is to replicate the AdviserPlus approach with LawVest. But we can say the promise to disrupt a market with a new proposition is far more easily said than achieved; in fairness Mr Chapman recognises this, which is why he tells me they will move “with pace and in scale”. He adds: “Do not expect this to be a small business.”

Mr Chapman is no stranger to building businesses; before AdviserPlus he set up CRT Group, a consultancy, recruitment and training business, growing it both organically and by acquisition to a market capitalisation of over £600m; in 1996 CRT sold 50.1% of its equity to American company Knowledge Universe for £109m. He left the business in 2000, setting up AdviserPlus a year later. When he describes the legal market as “the single biggest opportunity in my entire career”, we should perhaps listen.

So could the time come when LawVest’s brand (whatever that is – and thank goodness it will not be called LawVest) is actually in competition with DLA? Mr Chapman laughs. “If we ever get to that point, we’ll both be delighted.”


    Readers Comments

  • This seems a really smart move by LawVest. They have brand, cash, and a proven managment team on day one. Most interestingly, if you look at the Adviser Plus webiste, they have a model that if translated to legal services legal will make legal services much more accessible and simple for small to mid-size companies (speaking at a user of legal services in a business context). I also think it is a smart move to focus on the B/B market when so many others are all scrambling for the consumer market. You have to ask where the serious money is to be made? Without doubt a company to watch and track. I see they already have a twitter account set up (which says something in itself) so I’m following them.

  • The only mystery is Karl’s penchant for intrigue seems inexhaustible.

    We’ve been here before. Berwin leighton teamed up with Deloittes to launch Beprofessional over a decade ago. They had a very professional team of developers building smashing compliance products for SMEs and LMEs. They spent over £3m to build a business with sales of less than half a million after 9 years. Good people, good intentions, good money, good products – but ‘there are no green fields’.

    Karl is certainly a different calibre of entrepreneur and maybe Dibb Lupton will be different, but the facts are this is a well established and complex market sector. SME and LME compliance advice is a £538m market even if you ignore the efforts of solicitors and accountants.

    Smaller VCs like Sovereign are spending low millions on assorted deals to build compliance groups, but frankly both Adviserplus and DLP will find these strange bed fellows. A war chest of £10m is modest – a big toy chest for playing with rockets etc – but simply not enough to be serious in a compliance market 8-10 years ahead of the lawyers already.

    Nice to see that more lawyers are beginning to see what they’re missing in compliance for LMEs and SMEs. RBP’s reports profile these markets in detail for anyone who’s interested. Maybe its progress at least that the emperor’s clothing of disruptive legal content services has finally had the wit to at least put a vest on.

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