American consumer law firm Jacoby & Meyers (J&M), which last year laid out ambitious plans for the UK, will take a twin-track approach to expansion, with both branded offices and affiliations with existing practices, its newly appointed chief executive has revealed.
However, Gabe Miller told Legal Futures that J&M – which is working with London law firm MJ Hudson to develop the business – has yet to find the right opportunity to launch in the UK.
Last autumn, J&M also launched a major growth plan to spread across the US, with a new model that allows lawyers interested in working with the firm the chance to choose their own level of participation, while having J&M’s marketing, technological and administrative support.
They can own and operate a local/regional J&M office, become a branded affiliate – akin to an American Express travel agency, where the agency retains its own brand, Mr Miller explained – or become a “referral sponsor”, pooling referrals across the network.
He said J&M has been “overrun with interest” and indicated that a similar approach will be used in the UK as it starts its global roll-out – J&M said last year that it is positioning itself to become the world’s largest privately-owned, full-service consumer legal group. “We’re not saying ‘Give you your practice or brand – the real value is to be both what you are currently and [part of] Jacoby & Meyers.”
Emphasising the importance of brand – “brands are going to drive the market place for consumer law” – Mr Miller explained how wealth management providers in America decided to join a franchise run by Merrill Lynch. “They realised they had to join ’em rather than fight ’em; clients like that their adviser has Merrill Lynch behind them.”
He said J&M was more interested in finding partners in the UK who would buy into the firm’s philosophy, rather than who just wanted to be bought. It is possible J&M will look for an acquisition, but he indicated that it was not his preferred route: “We’d be competing with everyone else who’s consolidating. If I’m simply another buyer, the only reason to do a deal with Jacoby & Meyers is if I pay more.”
While J&M has brought litigation in the US to remove the blocks on non-lawyer ownership of law firms, he said “we’re not waiting around to be successful [with that]”.
“We’re building a structure that would allow for outside investment right now,” Mr Miller said. “It’s possible to do it in the US – it’s not easy, but there are ways that are ethical and defensible.” However – with interest from UK funds in backing legal ventures – he acknowledged that setting up in the UK would potentially enable the firm to funnel external investment back to the US practice. But this would just be a side effect: “We interested in the UK for the UK market.”
Andrew Finkelstein, one of J&M’s national managing partners, said: “It is great progress to have Gabe leading Jacoby & Meyers at such an important time, as the firm seeks to expand its services, not just in the United States, but also around the world.”