Niche ABS takes on external funding and non-lawyers

Cooke: ABS helps firm grow

A niche alternative business structure (ABS) working with companies that build the global infrastructure of technology has used it to take on external funding and non-lawyers who can help the business grow.

London-based Conexus Law Limited was granted its licence effective from last month by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

It specialises in advising IT infrastructure companies and their customers, clients involved in construction engineering, and tech clients who need advice on the global regulatory environment and how to monetise their innovative products.

It has already lined up a new chairman who is expert in critical IT infrastructure and plans to bring in others with similar expertise to add to the existing team.

Ed Cooke, the solicitor who founded the firm, is its head of legal practice. He was formerly a partner at law firms DLA Piper and Bird & Bird. Projects he has worked on include aspects of the 2012 Olympic games in London, solar power projects and data centres.

Speaking to Legal Futures, Mr Cooke described his niche as “where technology and real estate converge; we are looking at the tech side of real estate and… the real estate side of technology”.

As well as accessing external funding – the source of which he declined to reveal – the solicitor said the ABS has appointed a chairman who is a “fairly well-known figure within the sector that we work in – the datacentre and IT infrastructure sector”.

He said it was better to have somebody actually from the industry rather than a chairman who was an “elderly lawyer”. The firm will “supplement his skillset” on the board with people experienced at working in and scaling up law firms – a mix of “lawyers and non-lawyers, employees and consultants”.

So far the business has a team of 12 people, both employees and consultants. There are five lawyers, including Mr Cooke, and a non-lawyer director.

He continued: “One of the issues particularly if you are a niche player in legal services provision is you have to have real specialists, people who really know their stuff.

“If you set up a firm like this, you might not have a call on those people frequently; there may not be something for them to do every day. But if you want access to the real specialists, the really good people, you have to have them on board.

“So, for many of those specialists, we would look to bring them on board as consultants and for others where we know we’ve got a large amount of work for them today, then obviously we would bring [them in as] employees.”

The technology innovators Conexus worked for were often stymied by the regulatory environment, or have yet to work out their commercial model, Mr Cooke explained.

He said the firm was both very keen to use technology itself and to “engage with lawyers who are not traditional-thinking but can ‘think in four dimensions’.

“They can think slightly differently about what they are being asked to do and can use technology to help apply it and achieve what the clients want to achieve.”

He said: “We’re looking to invest in that technology and we are trying to find the right system at the moment, which is quite a challenge because lots of the systems out there do bits of it very well but I’ve haven’t yet found one that does it all very well.”

He went on: “In law firm terms we are relatively small so we haven’t got oodles of cash to spend on technology but what we are doing is spending a lot of energy… in making sure that we get the right systems in place that… will actually enable our lawyers to work in a less stressful way – so they always know where things stand and what they’ve got to do next.

“That technology will also enable our clients to understand similarly in terms of project management what needs to be done, where they are on billing and all that kind of thing.”

On the wider use of technology within the legal profession he said his impression was that it was moving at “a bit of a snail’s pace” although there was a lot of interest in legal tech and the legal tech market was “quite vibrant” with “a lot of development going on”.

He concluded: “I’m not clear as to whether some of the developments that we are seeing really deliver a better service to the end client or whether they’re really designed to maximise profits for the law firm.”

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