Brilliance has its limits – pioneering ABS shuts down

Turner: helping Genus’s clients

Pioneering alternative business structure (ABS) Genus Law – which started life with the somewhat bolder name Brilliant Law – closed last month, with its book of business sold to fellow ABS Alpaca Law, it has emerged.

When it launched at the start of 2013, Brilliant Law was said to be the first law firm set up by non-lawyers and was backed by gambling millionaire Bert Black.

According to Companies House, Mr Black holds between 25% and 50% of the firm’s shares.

Its other investors include Jeremy Fenn, who as chief executive of Sports Internet Group plc in 2001 sold the company for £301m to BSkyB, and John Swingewood, a one-time director of new media at BSkyB.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority confirmed that the firm, based in Leeds, ceased operating on 11 August 2017.

Brilliant Law’s initial aim was to act as a legal ‘best friend’ offering fixed-fee legal services to businesses and consumers.

But in June 2014, it changed the name to Genus Law – saying the original name had served its purpose – and shifted its strategy away from personal and volume commercial services to a target of becoming a top-30 commercial firm within five years.

Instead, Genus was to focus on “growth corporates” and look to build relationships with them as they expanded. A few months later, the firm made its first acquisition, niche employment practice Pharos Legal.

Alpaca, the trading name of ABS Alt Legal, offers clients a combination of legal, financial, consultancy and HR advice.

It launched in May with the goal of being a one-stop shop for SMEs and changing the way legal and financial services are delivered and the way professionals work.

Alpaca chief executive Richard Turner said at the time 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.

Speaking about the Genus deal, he said: “We have a long history with Genus and we’re very glad to be able to help their clients to have continuity in their legal services.

“However, legal services are just one of the services we offer. Clients should not have to lose time, effort and money explaining themselves to different advisers, who seem often to be pulling in different directions.

“We want to eliminate silos. 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.”

Genus instructed accountants Armstrong Watson to find a firm to acquire its work, deal with the transfer and ultimately liquidate the business.

Meanwhile, another ABS pioneer, Co-operative Legal Services (CLS), announced a rise in turnover but dip in profits for the first half of 2017 as it continues its recovery from the major slump it suffered in 2013.

Turnover was up 9.1% on the same period last year to £12m, but an operating profit of £200,000 was a third of what it was last year.

The Co-op Group’s report said: “Our legal services business continues to develop new products to help our members’ long term needs, with the aim of developing our Funeralcare branch network as a way to introduce some of our legal services (will writing and probate in particular) to our members and their families.

“Growth in probate and estate planning sales helped drive overall sales in the business up 8.3% to £12m.

“Working with our group digital function, we have been championing the need to make will writing more accessible by promoting our online will service – over a third of our wills are now written online.”

A wills specialist then calls the customer to discuss any individual circumstances before the will is finalised.

CLS is also working with Cancer Research UK with the aim of raising raise more than £750,000. Customers who buy a will and lasting power of attorney package receive a discount plus CLS pays 10% of its fee to the charity.

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