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Regional firm forges alliance with US legal business in differentiation push

Clinton: We don’t need to employ everyone providing a service to a client

A south-east commercial firm has signed a memorandum of understanding with an American legal business to meet the needs of in-house counsel without “bulking up” its own business.

Andrew Clinton, managing partner of asb law, said there was a “massive gap in the market” for client-centred law firms as general counsel became increasingly frustrated with their panels.

Elevate, based in Los Angeles, has 10 offices around the world, including Delhi, Manila and London, around 550 full-time staff and revenues of around $36m. In contrast, asb law has 17 partners and just under 150 staff based in Crawley, Sussex, and Maidstone in Kent.

Elevate, which describes itself as a ‘law company’, is not a law firm but provides a wide range of consulting, technology and legal support services.

Mr Clinton said providing good-quality legal advice was no longer enough, and there was a need for “market insight and consulting capabilities” to help in-house counsel improve the way they worked.

“If you think about the traditional law firm model, the assumption is that the firm has to employ everyone providing a service to a client.

“We are challenging that assumption. We don’t need to employ everyone, and they don’t all need to be lawyers. By joining forces with Elevate, we can provide a blend of services, including technology, to provide an effective solution.”

Mr Clinton said the memorandum of understanding signed with Elevate earlier this autumn was not about setting up a joint venture or sharing profits, but setting out jointly agreed objectives. He said that outside the law, collaborations were much more common.

“We have a common sense of purpose and vision, and both want to deliver legal services in a different way. Elevate has technology, consultancy services and flexible resources.”

He said the law firm’s relationship with Elevate began four years ago when asb law bought a project management tool from the company.

Mr Clinton said asb law used a “sales team”, led by partner Lindsey Ratcliffe, to go into the market and find out what in-house lawyers wanted and needed.

“Some law firms have told us that we can’t use the ‘sales’ word and are very dismissive. Others ask us whether they should set up their own sales teams. We must have spoken to over 800 GCs in the past four years.”

Mr Clinton said asb had redesigned itself around the needs of clients, scrapping the traditional departmental structure and replacing fee-driven structures for solicitors with a rewards system based on client feedback.

“I don’t see the need to move into London, or to merge with another firm just to get bigger. What we try and do is distinguish ourselves both organisationally and behaviourally.”

However, Mr Clinton did not rule out merging with a firm with similar values and said the firm was considering becoming an alternative business structure to allow non-lawyers to be partners.

John Croft, president and co-founder of Elevate, commented that asb law combined “great advice to their clients” with “creative fee arrangements” the firm achieved through efficient legal service delivery and disciplined project management.

“This strategic alliance is an exciting evolution of our relationship, which will extend, enable and amplify the resources of asb law and its clients, such as BT,” he added.

Asb law was recently appointed to BT’s litigation panel for BT. Chris Fowler, COO Legal at BT, said: “BT expects its legal services providers to come to us with innovation and with new and more efficient ways of helping us. Both asb law and Elevate differentiate themselves on this basis and this is exactly the kind of collaboration that we are looking for from our providers.”