Counterculture Partnership , a multi-disciplinary practice with one lawyer among its 11 partners, has become an alternative business structure.
Partners at the firm, which advises creative and not-for-profit organisations, include five accountants and the former director of a dance company. The senior partner, Tom Wilcox, was managing director of Whitechapel Art Gallery.
Solicitor Keith Arrowsmith said the firm now has a competitive advantage over other consultancies in the sector, and clients liked the fact that it was an ABS and was under strict rules on confidentiality.
“The business has gathered clients over 10 years by advising on fund-raising, accounting, financial planning and charity law regulation and governance. Most of us are regulated by one organisation or another. The thing we all have in common is the type of client – particularly arts and heritage.”
Before he joined Counterculture last year, Mr Arrowsmith was a partner and head of intellectual property, entertainment and media at JMW in Manchester, where he advised clients from arts and heritage organisations, along with individual writers and composers.
Counterculture is based in London, where it shares a building with the Institute of Contemporary Arts, but it also has an office in Manchester.
“We’re not trying to shoehorn artistic clients into this practice,” Mr Arrowsmith said. “They love the joined-up approach.”
He added that the firm had already got “too much” legal work, some of it referred by boutique law firms, some coming from individual writers and composers.
Mr Arrowsmith said the ABS application process took a year from the first draft to final approval, partly because it was one of the first MDPs to get a license.
He had to reassure the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that his stake in business was significant enough, as the only solicitor, for the firm to be approved. “The SRA said that we would have to bear with them while they worked out how to handle things,” he said.
“The standard application form did not fit. We began by submitting a draft application and getting their feedback. After six months, we put in a slightly different application. It was frustrating that the forms were so difficult to fill in.”
Mr Arrowsmith said another hurdle was the minimum indemnity insurance cover for ABSs, which stands at £3m, even though Counterculture holds only “tiny amounts” of client money.