If you’re wondering what to get a loved one for their birthday, then look no further than a LawStore gift voucher. “Nothing could be more thoughtful than the gift of legal security,” says the flyer. Who could disagree?
The LawStore, along the Regent Arcade of the Glades Shopping Centre in Bromley, Kent, is proof that you don’t need to join a national network to have a presence in a shopping centre. But the law firm behind it, MTA Solicitors, is not your average legal practice, and has diversified more than possibly any firm in the land.
As well as three law firms, it is about to launch its 10th separate business with a legal-related or support service function. “The legal landscape was changing and we could see the writing on the wall,” says non-lawyer chief executive David Green. “We decided five years ago that we could either sit by and watch, or create something different by diversifying.”
Set up in 2002 by solicitor Michael Taylor, who quickly brought in Mr Green as chief executive to run the firm alongside him, MTA is a large legal disciplinary practice with offices in Bromley and Manchester. Mr Taylor remains the senior partner and it now has four partners in total and around 400 staff, of whom around 40 are either solicitors or legal executives. Its focus is personal injury-related legal expenses insurance work but the practice is branching out.
There is now a separate corporate practice in London – MTA Corporate Solicitors – and a separate conveyancing firm, Crossmans MTA Solicitors, in Cambridge.
But first the LawStore. It opened last November and, says Mr Green, is already paying for itself in driving business to the firm. It is a simple affair, with a small reception area with very friendly receptionist, and consultation area behind; clinics for different areas of law are held every day and should someone just drop in and need help there and then, the firm can whistle up a lawyer from its nearby offices. Most come in to make appointments, however.
MTA has learned some interesting lessons. A stand in the middle of a shopping centre can make potential clients nervous because they don’t want to be discussing their legal problems in such an exposed space. While those in the LawStore started off wearing branded polo shirts, they have since reverted to suits (although without ties, to judge by the solicitor I met on my recent visit), because that’s what people expect from a lawyer.
As well as the gift vouchers, it is also pushing MTA Legal Advance, where for a small monthly subscription (£4.95 for an individual and £9.95 for a family), consumers have access to free advice and discounted services if they need them. The idea of pre-paid legal advice is one we can expect to see more of in the coming years.
Turning a cost into an investment
Then there is the rest of what MTA is doing. The firm has shown great entrepreneurial spirit in looking at the various services it requires, and then building businesses – with appropriate partners – to supply them. It is about turning a cost into an investment.
So, as well as the three legal brands, there are the companies that provide support functions to the other businesses in the group (at below market rate), to each other’s clients and also to their own standalone client base. They are:
- Legal Investigations Ltd – an investigations company focused on personal injury case handling;
- Legal Assessors Ltd – providing vehicle inspection and valuation services across the UK;
- Positive Collections – an online debt recovery process which links directly to the law firm in the event of litigation being necessary.
- Taylor Green Recruitment – professional recruitment in law and accountancy;
- Imagine Recruitment – handling mainly retail based placements.
- Rubix IT Ltd – offering a range of IT services;
- RZ Accountancy – provides a range of accountancy services to small and medium business alongside tax planning. This is the accountancy firm for all MTA business. Also includes a payroll and credit control function;
- Navigator Creative Ltd – marketing and PR services; and
- HR Specialists – operates across all MTA businesses providing human resources support functions.
This astonishing list (for a law firm, anyway) is to be augmented shortly by an insurance broker, ProSure, selling motor, home and commercial insurance. ProSure will build its own law firm panel, of which MTA will be the lead member.
There is substantial cross-selling of services across the group. Mr Green describes these all as “independent trading businesses taking advantage of that ready source of work and using it as a platform for expansion”.
In essence, MTA has put its destiny in its own hands. Any firm involved in personal injury, particularly if legal expenses insurance is a major source of work, knows alternative business structures and the prospect of insurers taking the work in-house (especially if referral fees are banned) represents a major risk to their future.
Mr Green is not sure where MTA will be in 10 years’ time – he has talked to private equity houses in the past and would not rule out taking external investment to grow the business – but is clear that diversification remains the key, such as more corporate work and exploring what opportunities the near-death of civil legal aid may offer.
And more LawStores? The ease of the current arrangement is the proximity to MTA’s office, but “if I can get the model working, there’s no reason why we couldn’t do it in other town centres”.
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