Law firms are traditionally associated with long hours and a fairly macho culture. But one firm is trying to change that and is travelling the country looking for recruits, particularly working mums.
Excello Law aims to be ahead of the curve, harnessing technology to reduce its overheads and capitalising on the experience of lawyers who want greater control over their working lives.
In an interview with Workingmums.co.uk George Bisnought, founder of the virtual law firm, said Excello Law had singled out working mums as a key target when it was first set up two years ago. “My market research showed that lawyers saw the legal profession as very inflexible with lots of lawyers in the City and the regions working long hours,” he said.
“Women suffered greatly when they decided to have children – it was seen as the end of their career path. They were out of sight and out of mind. When they returned they had to juggle work and family life in a macho culture of working long hours and under great pressure. Anyone who said they wanted to work flexibly was almost seen as a second class citizen. It seemed to me we were losing a lot of high calibre lawyers, especially women, and they found it very difficult to get back on the career ladder.”
Excello, which is Latin for “to go beyond expectations”, offers its lawyers flexible contracts so they can say where and what hours they want to work. “They have more control of their destiny,” says Bisnought. They get 70% of the fees they generate, compared to 25% in a traditional law firm. “We have lawyers who work the same hours as they did before and have seen a substantial increase in their income and those who have reduced their hours but still get the same money,” he adds.
Clients get a quality service, he says, due to the fact that they can pick the best of hundreds of lawyers wishing to work more flexibly.
Bisnought says he has seen over 300 cvs from which he has picked a staff of 13 so far. “Without quality we are nothing,” he says. “There has tended to be an issue around the quality of legal services offered in the past and concerns about the cost. Clients are concerned they get to see a partner at the first interview and are then fobbed off with a junior member of staff. We do not have junior members of staff.” They can offer quality staff by saving on overheads such as a fancy office. “The majority of our solicitors have worked in the City or trained there. They have worked at quite a senior level,” he says. “You can’t ask for more.”
Excello specialises in commercial law, including corporate work, IT work, commercial property issues and employment issues.
Their lawyers usually have their own following so bring in their own business, although not always. The firm is also looking at how the Legal Services Act will impact on how legal services are delivered and open them up to different structures from the normal partnership model. Excello is ahead of the curve in this, says Bisnought, as it is a limited liability company which means that it can attract external investment from shareholders that can go into the business rather than just to the directors.
In May, Bisnought and his leadership team decided they wanted to expand nationally. They moved quickly and set up a series of “unplugged events” in London in June. Next is Birmingham on 21st September, Manchester in October and Leeds after that. Bisnought says the events will continue to roll out into the New Year. “It’s an opportunity for local lawyers to come and talk to us on a confidential basis with no obligation to apply,” says Bisnought. “It’s an open forum for anyone to come and understand the concept behind Excello.”
He adds: “It’s unique for a law firm to get on its bike and travel the country. We see ourselves as at the forefront of a new way of delivering legal services.”