An ambitious Merseyside practice has obtained an alternative business structure (ABS) licence as part of plans to start a round-the-clock “concierge service for SMEs”, and to kick-start its overseas expansion into southern Spain, targeting the British ex-pat community.
Southport-based Litigaid Law, which has five solicitors and an office in Chancery Lane, was co-founded by the firm’s practice manager and the ABS’s head of finance and administration, litigation executive Samantha Essenhigh. The head of legal practice is solicitor and sole principal Michael Gibbons.
The firm began life in Gibraltar with solicitor Kathryn Moran in 2008, opening its doors in Southport in 2010 and London in 2013. Ms Moran has remained in Gibraltar.
Ms Essenhigh said the concierge service, which is due to launch shortly, aims to “take the headache out of law for businesses”. It will focus on “taking away hassle” for business clients by anticipating legal problems, coupled with very high levels of personal service, including providing a named point of contact in the firm “who will be available 24/7, day and night”.
She said: “It’s business consultancy wrapped up with more, so rather than businesses coming to us down the road when they have a problem… we work to avoid the need for litigation and will give them a yearly health check to try to eradicate a lot of problems before they happen.
“What do they propose to do in the next 12 months? Are they changing property? Are they taking on more staff, for instance? So we’ll be thinking ‘that’s going to mean there’s a rental contract or a commercial purchase, there’s going to be employment contracts, health and safety, there might be a shareholders’ agreement’. There may be a joint venture, and if they’re relocating, you may have to consider tax, or seek advice via other managed professionals that we work with.”
Ms Essenhigh said Litigaid would talk to business clients about fixed fees and reduced fees, but essentially “what we’re doing is free consultations for each and every element of assistance that a company will need” with a view to saving clients money by avoiding costly litigation. “Our view is that we can make money in a different way, whether it be dispute resolution or avoiding the need for litigation, so taking the headache out of business.”
She acknowledged that other firms offered similar legal services to SMEs, but claimed Litigaid’s level of service would be superior. “Our service will be 24/7. It’s about having one point of contact who will be there for you in the middle of the night. Say you’ve got problems with Customs & Excise and goods that you’re importing get stuck, then we will be there. Or if you’ve got a director who has been stopped for drink driving, we’ll be there.
“Other firms may also offer the services, but I don’t think they have packaged them as a concierge service and certainly not 24/7. They don’t have one dedicated person a client can speak to at any time, day or night. We will offer the ability to webcam conference and/or have that person come to them, whether that be overseas or local, down the road.”
She added: “Becoming an ABS I think allows present and potential clients the ability to see more clearly that we understand a business’s needs and that we are not traditionalists, although we know the law and understand that businesses need more than someone who can simply preach to them in a language which they may not understand.”
Ms Essenhigh said the firm had plans to open an office in Gibraltar, in conjunction with a firm of solicitors there, “so that on the Costa Del Sol we can target the 750,000 British ex-pats and offer a concierge service to them.
“Not only to business owners, but individuals who have problems back in the UK, be it wills, probate, matrimonial, family, conveyancing, business disputes and so on, so that clients that can actually see somebody face-to-face”.
Mr Gibbons added that the firm had long-term plans which involved possible further overseas offices, in California and Dubai. Ambitions specifically for the ABS included external investment and an employee share ownership scheme. But he cautioned that the business would not “try to run before it can walk”.