Unregulated firm calls in unregistered barristers to help SMEs

Philip Harmer

Harmer: “appealing to the masses”

A new unregulated law firm is using unregistered barristers to offer small businesses “unlimited legal advice” for as little as £49.50 per month.

Philip Harmer, founder of LawPlan, said the business “set out to give value, which seems like an impossibility in the legal world”.

Mr Harmer, who is himself an unregistered barrister (that is, one without a practising certificate), said: “We’re appealing to the masses who can’t afford £300 a month. We cover the same areas as other services – the only difference is price.

“We set up the firm to try and provide corporate-level in-house advice for the price of a mobile phone”.

Mr Harmer said LawPlan, set up in March this year, had recruited six barristers, most of whom were unregistered, to provide freelance legal advice on commercial law, small claims, mediation and business contracts.

“We’re filling a gap between the lack of supply of legal services to small businesses on cost and availability, and an oversupply of barristers who find it difficult to get a pupillage in the current format,” Mr Harmer said.

“They may be unregistered but they’re all insured by TLO – exactly the same people who insure the Bar.”

LawPlan charges clients from businesses with up to 10 employees £49.50 plus VAT per month for unlimited legal and dispute resolution advice, letters and documents. Larger firms pay £99 per month. Mr Harmer said the new service had 25 clients.

“LawPlan has a wide appeal. We have a recruitment company, health clubs and gyms, a couple of builders, window suppliers and joinery shops.”

Mr Harmer set up his own business in 1994, which was based around car sales, finance, parts, servicing and accident repair. He sold it in 2007, before studying law, doing a postgraduate course in international commercial law and completing the BPTC.

“Pupillage was not really in my sights,” he said. “I started as a business manager, became a lawyer, but always remained a commercial manager.

“The moment I qualified as a barrister, I was inundated with people in the motor business saying ‘you’re the chap I want to sort my legal problems and deal with increasing regulation’. I had to take a commercial decision on whether or not to do a pupillage.”

Instead Mr Harmer decided to set up his first unregulated law firm, Stormcatcher Legal Services, which combines general legal advice with a specialist service for the motor industry.

He estimated that around 75% of Stormcatcher clients and around half of LawPlan clients had links to the industry. Mr Harmer said LawPlan’s turnover target was £200,000 by the end of the year, Stormcatcher’s £300,000.

He added that there was a “potentially very, very large” gap in the market for advice to small businesses.

“I came to the law late in life after having a business career. I can put the legal issues people face in a practical context. Our mission is to provide best value at affordable prices, though it doesn’t mean much profit.”


    Readers Comments

  • joe Reevy says:

    This, and the advent of free documents service for Direct Line policy holders, will impact strongly over time on those firms that stick to the ‘per hour’ model.

    The answer in most cases will be to emulate the model. You may think this is crazy, but it isn’t . The profit comes form the many months people pay and ask for nothing, plus the ability to tailor the time to the matter..and I suspect pass on the advice to consult a specialist when needed.

    Firms wedded to traditional charging models may think this is destined to fail, and indeed this particular model might…but this is the way it will eventually go.

  • Sceptical says:

    So 25 clients at £49.99 per month each.

    That’s a gross fee income of £1,249.75 for the business.

    Mr Harmer has six “freelance” advisers. Presumably they’re paid per advice, rather than a monthly retainer.

    The remaining overheads (premises? insurance? website?) come from that income, presumably after the advisers have been paid.

    I am struggling to see how (absent a large increase in client numbers) this is going to make money. All it would take would be one reasonably-sized dispute and that’s all the income eaten up.

  • LawJaw says:

    I agree with Sceptical, the figures in this article do not make sense.

    Law Plan has been running for 4 months, has 25 clients and hopes to sign up a further 309 clients in the next 8 months to achieve a £200,000 turnover in its first year.

    If this was achieved, which seems unlikely from the facts in this article, you divide £200,000 between Mr Hammond and 6 Barristers they will take home £28,500 each with nothing left to run the company.

    Sadly, I can not see barristers with any experience applying for this job and therefore am not left convinced this idea is something to celebrate.

    I agree legal advice does not have to be expensive BUT it certainly should not be cheap.


  • Bryony Jones says:

    ‘Unregulated’ – therefore not bound to comply with the Principles of the Solicitors Code of Conduct. I am not trained in law but I do not think that this sort of business can possibly upkeep the professional standards expected of individuals trained in law. You get what you pay for.

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