Flexible and family friendly working: The competitive advantage for organisations in the legal sector
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Case study: Flexible working at Ignition Law
Ignition Law may only be 20 months old, but there’s no doubt about the firm’s ability to disrupt the traditional legal industry. Co-founder and Partner Alex McPherson tells us more about their innovative approach to servicing clients, and how flexible working plays such a big role in making their business a success.
Tell us more about Ignition Law.
Our focus is on SME start-ups, scale-ups and the mid-market, an area where there are visible frustrations with lawyers and the way legal advice is delivered. There’s an ivory tower culture, and a big disconnect between many law firms and their entrepreneur clients.
We wanted to do something different. That’s why we made sure our business model resonates with our clients and keeps us plugged in to the start-up community and everything that is going on around us. We are business owners ourselves and actually do appreciate all that it means to start, and run, your own business.
How does the way in which you work contribute to this?
We work in much more of an agile way than a ‘typical’ law firm would, and this is crucial to our success.
Firstly, our team can work from pretty much anywhere. We all work on encrypted MacBooks, integrated with cloud-based technology. This includes things like cloud-based time billing, shared documents which we all have access to, and our clients can even access the documents we’re working on for them in real-time.
Plus, we have staff working flexibly across the world, in different time zones. This means we’ve pretty much always got 24/7 coverage and can therefore offer our clients very fast response times.
There are also major cost savings when it comes to flexible working, which we’re then able to pass directly onto our clients.
As many of our staff work remotely, we save a considerable amount on real-estate and office space. We also save on the wage bill of support functions, as we have virtually integrated HR and IT functions.
How do you make it work so successfully?
One key to success is to remember that everyone has very different circumstances and different needs when it comes to how they want to work. For example, we have a team member based in Verbier who likes to ski in the winter, and walk in the summer. They flex their work around this, and will often remote-in, using the sophisticated conference call technology we have in place. We also have someone in New Zealand who is a barrister by day, but he enjoys doing some more commercial work around his normal day job, to help keep his skills fresh. Plus, we have team members working from home in Berlin, France and Hertfordshire to name a few locations.
None of this really has any bearing on the quality of our product or our responsiveness to our clients, as long as the right technology is in place to enable our guys to get the job done. Another crucial aspect is making sure we’re resourced in the right way. Each of our clients has a main point of contact to their legal function. We’re then quite clear on when we need to bring in one of our specialists, whether that be in intellectual property, real-estate, employment share options work, contentious work etc. Then, when it’s a case of just getting things out the door, we’ll quite often engage junior barristers who are a much more cost effective resource, and also fantastic on the quality side of things that we wouldn’t do internally. So, knowing exactly what the client is asking for, and where it would fit on that journey, is really important.
What impact does flexible working have on the way you recruit new talent?
We look to employ entrepreneurs, mothers and junior lawyers in particular. The traditional structure of a law firm doesn’t work for many people with a young family, who may not be able to commit to 80-hour weeks. In fact, many of our team have left the system because of seemingly conflicting priorities. We’ve found that it has been word of mouth, that’s spread like wildfire, that’s actually encouraging many lawyers to want to return to work. There’s clearly a lot of people from a traditional law background who are fed up with the current system. It’s just a case of making sure you are really clear on what it is you’re looking for and making sure that the quality is still there.
What are some of the challenges that firms often experience with flexible working?
At the top end of the market, where you have the big magic and silver circle firms, the challenges tend to be more around the fact that when you’re charging clients a huge hourly-rate, then they expect to have their lawyers available 24/7 - that’s part of the premium they’re paying for. So actually, having a job share or a lawyer that’s more flexible is a much bigger challenge.
But in the mid-level market, which is where we see ourselves, the challenges are a bit different in that there are many law firms almost trying to mimic that model. So I think actually, focusing on lawyers who have got fantastic skills and training and experience and who want to work start-ups, often have a challenge when it comes to budget. They have very high expectations. But actually, at this level, a lot of the legal products are quite flexible. If you have a clear niche and sense of direction, you can quickly realise that agile working, using technology, and paying people on a flexible basis, rather than have a huge salary bill every month like the larger firms do, presents itself as a huge opportunity.
From a clients’ perspective, they’re happy as long as they’ve got that consistent point of contact, they feel confident you know what you’re doing and that it’s a quality offering.
I think there is a huge disruption going on in the legal industry, as gradually more and more firms are realising this opportunity.