The founder of a pioneering not-for-profit law firm, where any profits are given to charity, has said his aim is not to create a “monster firm” but to inspire other altruistic lawyers to follow his example.
Nathan Vidini, director of AltraLaw in South Wales, said lawyers who “aren’t focused on the next bonus or the next promotion” were the ones he wanted to recruit.
Mr Vidini said the firm, set up in 2020 and based in Caerphilly, was the first not-for-profit law firm. It currently donates to around 200 charities a year, two-thirds of them chosen by clients and the rest by fee-earners.
He said he knew of three new sole practices in South Wales that were following the example of AltraLaw in “having a charitable purpose”, and were already giving a percentage of their profits to charity.
There are three not-for-profit law firm community interest companies (CICs) – London criminal practice Commons Law, Norwich private client firm Not for Profit Law, and North London employment and immigration firm Saltworks Law, set up by charity the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit.
Aria Grace Law, a fee-share practice that is not a regulated law firm, became the first corporate law firm to become a CIC in late 2022, having first pledged in 2020 to give all profits (after partner distribution) to charity and other good causes.
Mr Vidini said he carried out research, and had conversations with the Law Society and Solicitors Regulation Authority, before using the label of the UK’s first not-for-profit law firm.
Clients are asked, either at the end of their case or before, which charity they want to receive the law firm’s profits. Where they do not choose one, the profits can go to the fee-earner’s preferred charity for that given year. The profits are calculated and distributed every quarter.
Among the charities that have received money so far from AltraLaw are Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital for Wales, LawCare, Tŷ Hafan (a not-for-profit housing and social care organisation) and Shelter Cymru.
Mr Vidini said that, if it got much bigger, making it hard to manage the charitable donations, he would think about setting up a trust or charity to manage them.
AltraLaw, a limited company, has an asset lock in its articles of association, which means that all of its profits have to be given to charity.
The law firm, which specialises in employment law and wills and probate, has 10 staff, including six solicitors and a consultant. It has just appointed Carys Strong, a former HR consultant and trainer at gender equality charity Chwarae Teg, as a senior solicitor and its new head of training.
Mr Vidini, a solicitor at Slater & Gordon for over eight years, said he acted only for claimants in employment disputes, with work often referred by the large commercial firms in Cardiff.
He launched AltraLaw in February 2020, just before the pandemic, its name chosen both because of the world ‘altruistic’ and because ‘altro’ means ‘other’ in Italian.
He received a grant from the Welsh government, which meant that the firm’s offices were free for the first year, and training on how to run a business.
“I don’t want to create a monster law firm. You can only keep control of the quality of the advice and the nature of your employees in smaller environments.
“I want other firms to adopt the same practice as AltraLaw, and give away their profits, or a percentage of their profits. I want law firms to give the extreme wealth in the industry to those who need it.”
He said succession planning for the firm would not take the form of changing its structure, but finding the right person to replace him.
Mr Vidini said he had twice been offered the role of equity partner in law firms, but “never wanted it”.
He added: “If you’re a partner you can be compromised. Your eye tends to be on the profits, and not on the client. If you take the profit away, then there is no problem.”