Small law firm launches Australian partnership and tech business

Port Macquarie: Anglo/Australian partnership

A law firm specialising in advice for SMEs is launching a partnership with an Australian firm in a bid to provide clients with an international service which “does not cost an arm and a leg”.

Col Secomb, co-founder of Lewis Denley, also launched a legal tech firm in the autumn, which he plans to expand into Australia as part of a UK trade mission in May.

Lewis Denley, which has 13 solicitors and 26 staff, covers a broad range of civil work from its base in Horsham, Sussex, with a particular focus on SMEs and high net-worth clients.

Mr Secomb said the partnership, which will see virtual Australian firm Lantern Legal rebranding as Lewis Denley Australia, came about when a digital marketing agency, which has business needs in New Zealand as well as Australia, sought advice from the Sussex firm.

Having qualified as a solicitor in Australia before moving to the UK, Mr Secomb said clients could “get stuck when jurisdictions clash”.

“A lot of SME businesses are underserved, and we’re here to help them, whether it’s in Europe or Australia.”

Lantern Legal has an office in Port Macquarie, a coastal town in New South Wales, and specialises in commercial law, employment and technology.

Joint managing partner Dr Allison Stanfield, who has a PhD in electronic evidence, cites cybersecurity as one of the her specialisms, alongside dispute resolution and complex estate planning.

Zita Alle, the other managing partner, is a commercial lawyer who combines this with advice on employment law, while John Swinson is a solicitor and professor of law at the University of Queensland.

Mr Secomb said he saw the partnership as the first step in the two law firms working together, which could result in a merger. This would depend on whether a “tipping point” had been reached which made it worthwhile to tackle the regulatory hurdles involved.

Mr Secomb founded Lewis Denley with Natasha Lewis, a CILEX fellow, in 2017. Despite employing and training solicitors, it was regulated at first by CILEx Regulation because he had not practised for the necessary three years in England and Wales.

The law firm switched to the Solicitors Regulation Authority in 2019, which Mr Secomb linked to the firm’s need to be a member of lenders’ panels.

Ms Lewis and Mr Secomb set up Yao Technology (standing for ‘you are organised’) in 2020 before launching it last autumn. Based in the same building the law firm, it has six full-time members of staff.

“As the law firm got bigger, we kept changing case management systems, but they weren’t always what we needed to run a modern, digitalised firm.

“So we built our own system, which we realised created another business opportunity.”

Mr Secomb said Yao Technology had four law firm clients and he was talking to a further 10 about using it.

He is travelling to Australia in May as a part of a UK legal tech trade mission, which will involve promoting Yao Technology as well as meeting Lewis Denley’s Australian lawyers.

Mr Secomb described artificial intelligence (AI) as “the future of everything” but was not concerned about it taking lawyers’ jobs.

“It has to be grasped, but there is lots of technology that law firms need to adopt before they get into AI. A lot of them still have paper-based files and do not use digital signatures. They need to make quite a big jump.”

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