Leading virtual law firm gunnercooke is ramping up its offering to associates as well as creating multi-disciplinary specialist consultancies in the next stage of its growth.
It is also taking the model overseas, opening an office in Berlin to test the waters of international expansion.
More than 270 lawyers currently work at gunnercooke, which is now 10 years old and has a turnover topping £30m.
They mainly work from home but serviced offices in Manchester, London and Leeds are about to be joined by Birmingham. Co-founder Sarah Goulbourne told Legal Futures that the only other English city it might look at is Bristol, as well as Scotland.
Partners are expected to have at least 10,000 hours of experience, but in 2016 the firm launched gunnerbloom, a ‘nursery’ for junior lawyers.
This has now been rebranded as gunnercooke Associates, and while there are only five currently on staff, plus a trainee solicitor, Ms Goulbourne said the firm was now big enough and had enough work to expand it.
The programme, for lawyers with at least two years of post-qualification experience, will emphasise training and personal development and she said it would “provide a route to growing a strong business of their own without the strictures of a large firm”.
Ms Goulbourne explained: “We will provide a broad approach to business technical and service training which will be far stronger than in their current firms and linked to individual coaching programmes and an MBA programme…
“They will work with closely with and market their services to gunnercooke partners, who will also act as mentors.”
The aim is that the associates will build their own client base and move up to become a full partner, a plan that could help existing partners with succession planning too.
Ms Goulbourne said offers had already been made and the hope was to recruit 10 new associates now, and potentially another 10 next year.
Some individual partners employ their own legal support as well and she said gunnercooke has so far helped two paralegals qualify as solicitors through the ‘equivalent means’ method, which allows them to gain the required experience outside of a traditional training contract.
Ms Goulbourne said she hoped more partners would put their paralegals through this process, while the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam would also suit the gunnercooke model.
Another route to qualification was an apprentice who started on the central administration team but ended up becoming a solicitor.
The firm has launched a private equity (PE) office in London’s West End – the home of the PE industry – and a football consultancy based in Scotland.
The PE business, led by Ms Goulbourne’s co-founder, Darryl Cooke, combines dozens of the lawyers with experienced accountants, management consultants and other professionals who form part of gunnercooke OP (short for operating partners) – another brand offering the same model for experienced non-lawyers.
The sports consultancy is being driven by a lawyer football agent who has joined gunnercooke OP.
“When you become multi-disciplinary, it broadens out the services you can offer,” said Ms Goulbourne. “It can seem to clients much more of a commercial offering – like the Big 4 getting into law just the other way round.”
Other consultancies could follow, with cryptoassets one possibility given the need for legal, regulatory, financial services and corporate support. The firm recently recruited James Burnie, who was Eversheds Sutherland’s head of blockchain and cryptoassets.
Ms Goulbourne said there were plans to open overseas offices in various locations, “but we need to get the platform right in one place first and then roll out the model”.