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Exclusive: small business adviser eyes law firm acquisitions as part of push into legal services


Kelly: market is crying out for this

A company that currently provides small businesses with accountancy and HR advice is set to move into legal services, with an alternative business structure (ABS) application and the acquisition of law firms likely, Legal Futures can reveal.

ClearSky’s aim is to become a single point of call for all services a small business requires. It will offer unlimited advice on everyday business law matters, such as employment and property, on an annual contract. The accountancy service costs from £95 to £245 a month, and HR service £55 or £95 a month, depending on the service level.

It would look to partner with other practices to handle more complex legal work, such as mergers and acquisitions, and litigation.

ClearSky is part of Optionis, which also owns employment organisation Parasol and recruitment technology company Silverline.

Optionis managing director Derek Kelly told Legal Futures that ClearSky is to design and test the concept over the next six months and, if it proves successful, roll it out next spring. The company’s usual approach when it scales up an operation is to acquire “one, two or three small practices strategically around the UK” to augment remote advice, he said. This would necessitate an ABS application.

He said ClearSky would be testing whether it could attract 3-5,000 clients to service on a regular basis; ClearSky Accounting, which has offices in Warrington, London and Poole, has grown from 1,400 clients to 3,600 over the past two years.

Mr Kelly said there are significant cross-selling opportunities with the other ClearSky divisions as small business owners want “one source of trusted advice… If they trust us to give them accountancy advice, why would they not trust us to give them legal advice?”. It is “a logical step” for ClearSky and one with little risk – “we’ve got the client base and we’ve got the delivery model”, he said.

He argued that high street law firms are too expensive, and clients are put off by the open-ended nature of hourly billing. Further they are set up in a way that is more convenient to the lawyer than the client; ClearSky is “organised to [the client’s] convenience”, and is open until 8pm and on Saturdays.

Mr Kelly said for many business owners, face-to-face advice is not that important. The experience with ClearSky Accountancy is that “not many people want to see you – they just want the advice”.

“I think the market is crying out for this,” Mr Kelly continued. “It’s a great time to be getting into it.”

Optionis is planning to grow by launching or acquiring other new businesses as well, including niche tax services.