City firm commoditises commercial law advice

Farmer: Market is being disrupted

A City law firm has launched a low-cost commercial law service, using a subscription model and fixed fees, as a “direct response” to the needs of business clients hit by Covid-19.

Jo Farmer, joint head of commercial at top 100 firm Lewis Silkin, said LS Assist had been “in the pipeline” since last year, but the pandemic had “speeded things up”.

Ms Farmer, co-head of LS Assist, said: “The idea that commercial queries needed servicing in a different way was not rocket science.

“We recognised that the market was being disrupted and clients wanted advice delivered in a more cost-effective way, using technology. The work is being commoditised and people don’t want to pay City rates.”

She stressed that LS Assist was “entirely permanent” and not intended to be “just for Covid-19”.

LS Assist is made up of three main components – an online portal, a helpdesk and LS Assist Projects, a bespoke service for larger scale but routine commercial projects, such as bulk review of similar kinds of contract or a ‘health check’ review of precedent agreements.

The portal enables clients to upload their legal problems and obtain advice on general day-to-day commercial law advice from the pool of lawyers operating the helpdesk.

The portal also gives clients unlimited access to the LS Assist Library, with its commercial precedent documents, template letters and contracts.

Fees for LS Assist start at £450 plus VAT for three hours of helpdesk support a month, with usage reviewed after three months and the cost adjusted up or down.

LS Assist Projects is charged on an individual basis, normally using fixed fees and in all cases based on the lower LS Assist rates. The service uses “a number of tech solutions” for contract review.

Ms Farmer said LS Assist would take advantage of “a pool of brilliant people” who were “not as busy as normal”, and associates would “service the helpline at incredibly cheap rates for people used to paying City prices”.

She said Lewis Silkin’s commercial department had not made any fee-earners redundant or put any on furlough.

She was “keen to work out with clients” which kinds of work could be classified as routine and suitable for LS Assist and which could not. Drafting a contract from scratch would not, for example, be considered routine.

Alex Kelham, partner and co-head of LS Assist, said it was inspired partly by the law firm’s low-cost Rockhopper employment law service launched in 2016, which also uses a portal.

She said Rockhopper were serviced by Lewis Silkin lawyers who worked remotely and often outside London, and who in many cases had children.

Giles Crown, joint managing partner at Lewis Silkin added: “While LS Assist is initially focused on commercial law, we are ambitious for the service and will continue to review opportunities for expansion into other areas dependent on client demand.”

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