A new alternative business structure (ABS) that aims to be a one-stop shop for SMEs launched this week, setting itself the goals of changing both the way legal and financial services are delivered and the way professionals work.
Richard Turner, chief executive of Alpaca, said that by employing a “doubly disruptive philosophy” it might be possible to break free not only of traditional business models but of traditional labels such as lawyer or accountant.
Alpaca, the trading name of ABS Alt Legal, offers clients a combination of legal, financial, consultancy and HR advice.
Mr Turner said a dozen lawyers worked at Alpaca’s office in Leeds, along with four accountants, two HR professionals and a business development specialist.
He said more accountants would be joining shortly, following Alpaca’s purchase of a small accountancy firm. Mr Turner is co-owner of Alt Legal, along with corporate lawyer Rob Ashall and accountant Rob Ormiston.
Formerly an associate at a large commercial law firm, Mr Turner said most corporate lawyers complained of “years of frustration”.
He went on: “Big law is more risk averse, less client-focused, and you feel a bit like a number on a spreadsheet. You might be hitting the right billable hours without finding the right solutions for your clients and specialising within ever-decreasing niches.
“Clients should not have to lose time, effort and money explaining themselves to different advisers, who seem often enough to be pulling in different directions. The old model encourages accountants and lawyers to blame each other.
“We want to eliminate silos. What is the opportunity the client wants to exploit? We find a way of bringing in joined-up skills to solve it. We are not a law firm. Law is one of the things we do.”
Mr Turner said alpacas were “friendly, inquisitive creatures” and, like them, Alpaca’s advisers worked in a herd and could easily be house-trained.
He said his aim was to have a “pool” of clients in the middle of a herd of lawyers, accountants, HR directors, learning and development specialists, management consultants and finance directors – all of whom were talking to each other constantly.
“The shepherd is the client service director. His job is to make sure the client has a rounded solution that has been through every member of the herd. We’ve already seen the benefit for clients – everything happens simultaneously.”
Mr Turner said Alpaca planned to grow “multiple herds” and become “a hive of activity for entrepreneurs”, where they could get advice which “looked through all the lenses” at the same time.
“If you try and be just a little bit different in the legal sphere you get dragged back to bland and boring. We had to shatter the mould and do something that people would either love or hate.”
Mr Turner said more than half of Alpaca’s clients paid through a monthly subscription, with almost all the rest paying fixed fees. He said the only exception was where hourly billing was requested by insurance clients.
He said the challenges facing lawyers wanting to work in a one-stop shop were mainly with “learned behaviours”, such as not being allowed to talk to clients about things outside their remit.
Mr Turner said the firm had recently taken on a newly qualified lawyer, who would work for the next two years with the accountants and the finance director, the sales team and the legal business to ensure they had a “rounded view” of how the elements fitted together.
“We would like to build an Alpaca Academy, where everyone will have an insight on how law and the other disciplines work and how they work together.”