The distributed law firm model is growing at an exponential rate. New model providers are taking advantage of good lawyers wanting to work in a different way and shaking up the traditional law firm model.
Nexa Law’s sales director Nigel Clark tells The Professionals why its platform is increasingly the home for lawyers and GCs wanting to take greater control over the work they do.
Nigel Clark is one of an increasing bunch of ex-law firm partners with an entrepreneurial streak and a desire to shake up the market. Having led Minter Ellison’s growth in Hong Kong, Beijing and London, Nigel stepped away from big law in 2014 creating with business partner Ben Walmsley Peregrine Law, a virtual law firm with a team of consultant lawyers.
In January 2020, Peregrine Law merged with the new distributed law firm platform Nexa Law.
“I have a geeky love of the business of law,” Nigel told The Professionals, “and started talking to the big UK and US law firms back in 2014 about the restrictions of the partnership model and the challenges of excess capacity with transactional teams. A well-paid lawyer that is not working at full capacity is a big drag on profitability.
“At the time we considered creating a resourcing model firm, but quickly discounted that not wanting to be a recruitment consultant. From that Peregrine Law emerged where we had a pool of consultant lawyers working for themselves supporting entrepreneurial businesses without the law firm overheads.”
Nigel recognises the model is not new, with Keystone Law leading the way, but the demand was there.
Peregrine Law grew quickly attracting talented lawyers, but a talented lawyer does not necessarily mean one who can generate their own work.
“They were increasingly reliant on us to provide the work, explains Nigel, “and Peregrine Law was beginning to look very much like other law firms – the ones we had left behind.”
It was then that Nigel decided to put Peregrine Law out into the market. Interest was strong with approaches from a US and UK regional firms wanting to take Peregrine Law into their arms to spearhead London growth.
At the same time, Nexa Law was emerging from an 18-month gestation, creating a platform to allow consultant lawyers to work however they want with the infrastructure and support needed in an increasingly regulated environment.
“It is incredibly hard for consultant lawyers to meet the regulatory requirements needed to practice,” explains Nigel, “and Nexa Law had spent a solid 18-months building a platform to address that. What they needed was revenue which was something we had – it was a good match.”
On merging in January 2020, Nigel took the role of sales director, partly, he says, to “wind up lawyers who don’t like the word ‘sales’”.
“Nexa Law is different in that we don’t require exclusivity – our consultant lawyers can work for other networks or for themselves,” says Nigel. “What we do look for are lawyers with a book of clients and can generate their own work but need the regulatory framework and infrastructure to support them.
“Some use our network to refer work to each other, some don’t. And some are leading large corporate deals and tap into our employment and tax specialists. The platform can be used however they wish.”
And it is not just lawyers from private practice that are joining Nexa Law. A growing number of GCs, including Etihad Airlines former GC and BT’s in-house GDPR lead, have joined Nexa GC, its virtual GC platform.
Nexa Law is soon to introduce its Nexa Support product, offering overflow capacity to traditional law firms.
“We are not working in competition with law firms, but collaborating with them,” explains Nigel, “offering an overflow resource, a new way of working for partners heading towards retirement or a home for specialist teams that no longer fit a firm’s profile.”
COVID has been a real catalyst for change and growth for Nexa Law, more than doubling the number of consultant lawyers joining the platform. Covid has, says Nigel, left lawyers asking what they want from their careers.
“There are around 3,000 consultant lawyers in the UK today, and we expect that to grow to 10,000 by the end of the decade. The demand for the distributed law firm is there and is growing.”
Whilst Nexa Law looks to its lawyers to generate business that does not mean that business development and marketing support is ignored.
“We would have liked to have thrown away the law firm marketing rule book, but our lawyers still want the kind of support they received when in private practice,” says Nigel.
“Where we perhaps differ is that everyone joining our platform is offered a 90-day personal marketing plan that really focuses on how they can drive new business. Our marketing is commercially driven as we only make money when our lawyers are earning.”