FORMER FREEHILLS partner Ken Jagger is challenging the traditional law firm structure in more ways than one with his innovative new firm Balance Legal.
Based in Subiaco, Western Australia, Balance Legal offers clients needing legal expertise a unique alternative to either outsourcing to a law firm or hiring an in-house lawyer. Balance Legal — which opened its doors on 1 July this year — operates as a hybrid between the two, providing clients with experienced lawyers who are seconded to their offices for the required length of time.
Jagger said Balance Legal is structured as an incorporated law firm that directly employs its own lawyers. The lawyers are then seconded to the firm’s clients’ offices on a contractual basis that best suits the client, whether that be full-time for a month, or two days a week for a year.
According to Jagger, a key benefit of this structure is that clients get the benefits of having an in-house lawyer, but with a lot more flexibility. “A lot of the corporates we’re finding, have dribs and drabs of work, especially the ones that work in the resources industry where things spike up and spike down …. capital raisings, and things like that where there is a peak, but not necessarily enough to employ a lawyer in-house full time [or because] they’re not sure that they’ll have enough work going forward,” he said.
“But the idea is that the work is done out at the client’s premises [because] clients have always liked the secondments from traditional law firms because they get to use the full skills of the lawyer rather than just asking them bits and pieces as they go.”
In addition, Jagger explained, because the firm works on the basis of a “secondment” model, it has no need for its own permanent offices and operates instead on a “hot desk” arrangement. The firm, therefore, saves considerably on overheads and can offer more competitive rates than traditional firms.
Jagger has also done away with six-minute increment billing, instead offering clients a daily rate or, in some cases, a set fee for the contracted period.
“That’s been well received by clients because it gives them the budget certainty they need,” Jagger said.
“One of the things with traditional law firms is that you never quite know how much it will cost you because it can be difficult to assess how much work will be required.”
It’s still early days, but the innovative structure is already proving popular, and the firm has snapped up some top-end clients, including a number of big energy companies.
According to Jagger, Balance Legal’s model has also proved popular with lawyers, many of whom are keen to take advantage of the flexible working opportunities the firm offers.
“We’ve been knocked over in the rush, quite frankly, by experienced lawyers who’ve got children who just don’t want to work full time,” he said.
“The theory was to make it really flexible for that group of lawyers … who have a family, men [as well] as women, that really can’t see their way to go back and participate in the rigours of traditional law firms where part-time work just really isn’t feasible.”
Currently Balance Legal comprises eight lawyers, all of whom have at least eight years experience in general corporate and commercial law. A significant level of experience is essential, Jagger explained, because the lawyers will be working on their own within the clients’ businesses.
“We can’t be sending out lawyers who need to learn on the job — we need to send out lawyers who can do the job immediately,” he said.
Though he’s started off relatively small, Jagger intends to grow Balance Legal to a considerable size. “I’m looking for it to be quite a large firm, for the reason that the more lawyers we have then the more flexible we’re able to be with our clients to meet their needs, and more importantly, to be more flexible for our employees,” he said.
“I think the size will allow the model to work even better so I am looking to expand.”