A chambers set up as a company to shake up the Bar has now obtained an alternative business structure (ABS) licence after three years of strong growth.
Unit Chambers says it is the fastest-growing family law set in the country after expanding from one person to 30 since its launch in June 2020.
Chief executive Lisa Edmunds founded Unit Chambers Ltd with her partner Roger Draper, executive chairman of the chambers and former chief executive of Sport England and the Lawn Tennis Association.
They are both directors and owners but, to comply with Bar Standards Board rules, Ms Edmunds owns 51% of the shares. The holding company, Unit Law, has become an ABS regulated by the Bar Standards Board (BSB).
External investment and employing solicitors were both possibilities for Unit Law, she said.
Another possibility is expanding into ADR. Ms Edmunds said she had recently qualified as an arbitrator and two of the barristers at the chambers were mediators. ADR could be combined with therapeutic services to create a one-stop shop.
Unit Chambers has three KCs who are part-time door tenants, 15 consultant barristers and six pupils, along with five full-time support staff. It was originally based in Liverpool, expanding to Manchester in 2021 and this year to Leeds.
Ms Edmunds said the term ‘consultant barristers’ was used to emphasise their specialist knowledge to direct access clients – an important source of work for six of the barristers on the team.
After a benchmarking exercise showed that a lot of chambers had complex arrangements for what they charged barristers – with some requiring buy-ins – Unit introduced a simple model of a flat 10% of fees.
There are no ‘clerks’ – there is a practice manager, a combined fees manager and business development manager, and two client-care advisers.
Ms Edmunds said: “The term ‘clerks’ gives the feel of a hierarchy and I’m not convinced young people understand the term.”
Unit Chambers was set up in the belief that the Bar was being held back by its adherence to tradition.
Under the corporate structure, she and Mr Draper make business decisions as directors, removing the need for chambers committees made up of senior barristers who have often “been there for a long time”.
Ms Edmunds said she believed the firm’s culture had attracted so many so quickly.
“We removed the hierarchy and became more tribe-like. I want people to be happy working here and sharing our values. If at any point we’re not making someone happy, we have an open discussion to try and find out why not.
“We’re investing in the next generation. There are a lot of young people on the team who share our vision and don’t want to work in a stuffy chambers. People can see the energy coming out of our chambers and are attracted to it.”
Ms Edmunds said that, in many traditional chambers, senior barristers “felt entitled to behave in certain ways and call the shots”, getting first refusal on certain types of work.
She said: “We’re trying to modernise the industry.”