A set of chambers in Birmingham, post Covid-19, is using unused floors in its offices to create a supported workspace for freelance solicitors.
Cornwall Street Barristers has associated with Forte Independent Solicitors, which is offering administrative and business support to freelancers and launched virtually on 1 June 2020.
Forte is not a separate law firm – the Forte brand is profession-facing – and there is no intention for Cornwall Street, which has 62 members, to offer solicitor services itself.
Forte is the brainchild of chambers director James Farmer and Andrew Beedham, a former equity partner of Clarke Willmott and ex-president of Birmingham Law Society.
Members of chambers own the freehold of the offices and Mr Farmer explained that they saw an opportunity with the change in Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) rules last year that allows solicitors to offer unreserved legal activities as independent solicitors.
Freelance, or independent, solicitors are self-employed solicitors who practise on their own and do not employ anyone else in connection with the services they provide; practise in their own name, rather than under a trading name or through a service company; and are engaged directly by clients with fees payable directly to them.
The SRA talked about such solicitors joining forces in a “chambers-style arrangement” but Forte’s model does not go as so far as that.
Rather, it is a service company that gives independent solicitors somewhere to work and provides a wide range of back-office services, from desk space, a case management system, IT support and library resources, to help with securing professional indemnity insurance, credit control and marketing facilities.
It can support solicitors who want to provide both reserved and unreserved legal activities, although because of the difficulty freelancers are finding in securing insurance for reserved legal activities, Forte is able to accommodate them as registered sole practitioners instead.
Solicitors will pay a service charge based on a percentage of their receipts, rather than billing, plus a monthly flat fee of £350+VAT. The Forte brochure indicates the percentage is a sliding scale, with those receiving £100,000 a year, for example, paying 18%.
Mr Farmer said: “Forte are keen to attract those solicitors at partner or senior level who are currently rethinking the way they deliver services to their clients. This could be either because they simply want a change or because of the impact Covid-19 has had on their practice.”
He added that, because of the coronavirus, “a lot of sets are rethinking their space and the association with Forte enables them to pool resources and reduce expenditure.”
He said there is a benefit to build cross-referrals of work for both chambers and Forte’s solicitor members.
According to the SRA, 149 solicitors have so far registered as freelancers. They include Jo Rayner, a commercial lawyer based in Stroud, Gloucestershire who wanted to “be her own boss”, and intellectual property specialist Shireen Smith, who had stopped doing reserved work but waited for the rule change so she could continue calling herself a solicitor.