The profession is “on the cusp” of an explosion in solicitor consultants, an expert in a law firm regulation has predicted.
Paul Bennett, partner at Bennett Briegal, said the number of instructions received from law firms linked to consultant or freelance solicitors had tripled in the past year.
“We’re right on the cusp of something seismic changing in a way I haven’t seen before,” Mr Bennett said.
“There are an awful lot of people out there who are looking at it for the first time. Homeworking has turned out to be so successful and so popular.
“There will be an explosion. We will see a lot of partners, with their own clients, handing in their notice. They don’t want to return to the way things were.
“Law firms are looking for a way of increasing their income without increasing their base costs. They’ve got the IT and the support network. It’s about trying to think about the law as a business.”
Mr Bennett said high street firms, having made the transition to working from home, wanted to recruit more lawyers without the traditional overheads. Commercial law firms were looking to attract partners “falling out” of the big firms.
He said solicitor consultants were a “minority sport” a couple of years ago, but the pandemic had encouraged people to seek more freedom and work in a different way.
“The real change that I’ve seen is that I’ve drafted multiple consultancy agreements for multiple firms looking at it for the first time,” Mr Bennett said.
He said from eight to 10 instructions linked to solicitor consultants or freelancers in 2019, Bennett Briegal had received over 30 in the past year – two-thirds of them involving consultants and the rest freelance solicitors or solicitors wanting to work for unregulated legal services providers.
He said four of the instructions related to the model of a solicitors’ chambers, where the solicitors are regulated but the chambers is not.
Referring to a recent study by Arden Partners predicting that in five years’ time, a third of solicitors would be working as consultants, he reckoned the proportion was more likely to be a fifth or a sixth.
Mr Bennett added that the freelance model had not really taken off in the way some hoped because the insurance industry had “misunderstood it” and freelance solicitors could not do transactional work.
We reported last week that Setfords, one of the largest consultant-led firms, received a second tranche of private equity investment and expected to hire hundreds of solicitors in the coming years.
At the smaller end, Leeds-based consultant firm Legal Studio, said its numbers have grown from 10 to 16 in the past year and aimed to move that “a consultant a month” from now on.
Chief executive Ian McCann said the only limit was the firm’s “culture and character”, which he wanted to maintain.
“We treat our consultants as our clients. We are genuinely interested in what their aims and ideas are, and we listen to them.”
Mr McCann said that to celebrate relaxation of the lockdown and the ability to meet a single person outside for a chat, every consultant had been sent a recyclable coffee cup this weekend, with a bag of locally hand-roasted coffee, branded as Legal Studio Catch-up Coffee.