All sorts of jobs are now going virtual, including law. Excello Law is a virtual legal business, which employs lawyers who work mainly out of their own homes and so cut overheads. Mandy Garner found out more.
New technology is allowing more and more businesses to go virtual and for many, getting the right work life balance is a big factor. From sales to secretarial skills, businesses are going online in a bid to reduce overheads and taper work to clients’ and employees’ needs. Even law firms are taking advantage.
Excello Law was set up in November by George Bisnought. He says he was motivated by two factors: providing clients with a more cost effective legal service without compromising on quality. Cutting out expensive offices keeps fees down. The second factor was that he had found through his own experience of talking to lawyers for years that many, particularly women, did not value the traditional law firm model. He says that the number of women qualifying as solicitors in the last decade has doubled to make up 60% of solicitors, but only 23% make partnership. Many were leaving the profession because opportunities to work reduced hours were limited. Some were annoyed that they only got paid 25% of the fees charged for their work if they were at a traditional law firm. Working freelance at Excello the rate is up to 75%.
The firm employs several working mums. George says: “A number of our lawyers are mothers who could not face returning to work for their traditional law firms after their period of maternity leave or who felt that for them it was more important to spend more time with their children, at what they saw as a delicate and fun stage in their development.”
One of these is Kim Atherton. She is a single parent with a teenage daughter living in Essex and has been working as a solicitor specialising in commercial property for over 20 years. She was made redundant from her most recent post earlier this year and given three months’ notice. This enabled her to look around at her options. She searched online for job possibilities and came across Excello. “I had never heard of a virtual law firm. I was intrigued,” she said. “It sounded right up my street.”
She sent off her cv and was contacted for a meeting at the company’s headquarters in Reading. She says it was more like a chat. “It was clear there was definite compatitibility,” she says. She will work mostly from home, but will meet up with the other lawyers regularly so she knows what they are doing and is not too isolated. She says that at her previous firm she was only paid 17% of the fee charged to the client so as an Excello law freelancer she will earn more for less work. “It means I feel motivated to do the job well and to go out and find more work for the firm. So many firms want to squeeze as much out of you as they can, but are slow to reward good work. I have moved around a bit and many of my former employers said they were sorry to see me go, but they never recognised my contribution before that,” says Kim. “It’s all done the wrong way round.”
She says when she was made redundant it felt like “the end of the world”, but she is now very upbeat as it has given her time to consider what she really wants to do. “I have the opportunity to do what I want with my life,” she says. Her “grand master plan” is to do a little bit of legal work to keep her hand in and dabble in some other things she is interested in on the side. She already has a home shopping franchise which she has been running on a spare time basis from home for a number of years and is planning to increase her hours on that.
In addition she has recently started working on a freelance basis as a rep for a financial claims management company. But having had time to reflect on her future direction following redundancy, Kim has realised that her true passion is personal development. She has therefore also decided to embark on a parallel career as a personal performance/business coach. She plans to divide her time between all four of these options and she will also be freed up to spend more time with her daughter.
When her daughter was younger, Kim returned to work part time and then gradually increased her hours until she went full time around two years ago for financial reasons. Her daughter sometimes goes to various friends’ houses after school and is very happy with that. “She often wants me to pick her up later now,” says Kim. “She’s growing up.”
She is a little nervous about setting up her own coaching practice as she says she has never marketed herself before, but she is excited too. She has begun a coaching diploma course and is keeping an open mind about what her niche practice area will be – perhaps small businesses, parents and young people, or even specifically lawyers both at corporate and individual level on issues such as time management, work/life balance and career progression.
Another benefit of having a more portfolio approach to her career is that Kim can, as she says, “give something back” through voluntary work. She is already getting involved on a voluntary basis as a business adviser for Young Enterprise and is training with Working Links as a job coach/mentor to support long-term unemployed people who are just coming off Incapacity Benefit and getting back into work. She is keen to work with young people who may face particular challenges in life. “It would be consistent with the coaching work I intend to do,” she says. “It’s all about giving people self belief, which is something I have struggled with in the past , but I am more confident now. I still have massive responsibilities, but I believe I can make all of this work. I would not have thought that at 25, but I am 40 something now and I am ready to try something different.”
To contact Kim, email: firstname.lastname@example.org