With the virtues of the traditional law firm model increasingly being called into question, entrepreneur Jeremy Szwider has set out to incorporate in-house practices into a law firm structure to create a "third arm" to the legal profession.
The outcome is Bespoke Law, described on its website as "a virtual legal boutique where the principles of an in-house lawyer merge with private practice". Szwider himself has worked both in private practice and in-house, as general counsel for FTSE 100 communications company The Carphone Warehouse Group.
A key feature of the firm, Szwider explained, is that he works straight out of clients' offices, and this has allowed him to do away with overheads because the firm needs no significant office space.
"I move around and technology allows me to do that. And cutting out the overheads allows ... my model to be very cost-effective," he explained. "I pitch myself as working out of clients' premises on a rotational basis. So the aim is that I get to know the clients' business as if I am their in-house lawyer."
Szwider said that when he launched the firm his aim was to bring together the best aspects of in-house and private practice and create a "hybrid" model - at the same time significantly reducing the costs of legal services.
"I thought the time was right to [launch] based on the economic downturn. I thought that legal services have always been too costly, and a lot of the approaches, processes and models that private practice lawyers take are outdated and need to be advanced," he said.
"I felt the in-house model was a step in the right direction, but you're only working for one client. So, I decided to create what I believe is a 'third tier' to the legal profession. I feel quite passionate about the whole model and I want to revolutionise the legal market in doing that."
In keeping with his quasi-in-house structure, Szwider's aim is to practise more broadly than is the norm at private practice law firms. "I'm trying to move away from traditional models of specialising in certain areas. I certainly have my areas of expertise - they would be IP, IT and general commercial. But I aim to be a generalist so that I can capture all the legal requirements of a business as if I was their in-house lawyer who they were going to on a day-to-day basis."
He's also done away with time sheets and time-billing, instead adopting a flexible structure which can be adapted to the preferences of individual clients. "It's not at all based on time sheet - unless the client really wants me to do it that way. It's based on more flexible arrangements, such as project fees or retainer fees - I'm happy to charge a set amount to be an exclusive legal provider for a year or a month of whatever that be," he explained.
Szwider said he is specifically targeting clients with a global presence, and those who deal with global transactions, and he has a network of lawyers across the globe who he calls in on an as-needs basis.
"What I've found in my experience is that, with global transactions, you'll end having your own lawyer, then that lawyer will need to call up numerous other lawyers in the jurisdictions that come into play with the global transaction. That ends up being extremely costly, you lose sight of what's going on, and you don't have your direct relationship with a particular lawyer," he says. "So what I'm doing is trying to break down a few barriers to the legal profession, and one is global accessibility."
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- Zoe Lyon