With all the changes in the legal landscape there are a lot of new entrants starting to appear, be they an offshoot of an existing law firm or with their origins in the swirling world of investment finance. With ABS’s now being granted status and lots of new legal suppliers kicking about why should I choose to blog about Riverview Law one of the brands offered by LawVest Ltd? The answer is Karl Chapman – the driving force behind it all.
I vaguely knew Karl in the 1990’s when we had some discussions about him buying my business. In the end it didn’t go through but even without my help (mmm!) he managed to grow a £400m recruitment firm in less than 7 years. If Mr Chapman has launched a legal service firm you can be pretty sure that a) it will be a disruptive force in the industry and b) it will be a success.
A little background
Here are a few of the salient facts about Riverview: –
- Riverview Law is a brand belonging to LawVest Limited which in turn is owned by Adviser Plus Business Solutions (Karl’s business); DLA Piper and a number of other individual investors.
- LawVest was launched in May 2011 with Karl’s usual “buy and build” approach to growing businesses.
- Riverview Law was launched in February 2012.
- New York office opened in May 2012 targeting US law firms and organisations who require representation in the UK.
- The key players are: Karl Chapman (CEO); Adam Shutkever (COO); Sir Nigel Knowles (non exec Chairman) and David Charters (NED).
- The firm was established because the deregulation in the marketplace will create opportunities that they feel requires a corporate vehicle rather than a partnership to capitalise upon them.
- Funded by the current owners they make it plain that further funding will be sought later if required: Karl and the rest of the management team are VERY good at this.
- Riverview Law is aimed at providing B2B legal services in a very corporate way: no hourly billing at all, only fixed prices for everything; annual contracts will be available; an online portal to improve customer access and service (think online banking here); loads of free resources and a membership model with plenty of opportunity to “get out if it’s not for you”. All in all pretty disruptive I’d say.
- Riverview will also offer the chance for larger companies to outsource all or part of their in-house legal departments through Legal Advisory Outsourcing as opposed to LPO.
- Offers the services of barristers and lawyers as part of its service portfolio.
So what does this mean?
Well you could easily brush Riverview Law aside as just another chancer legal services firm trying its arm in a post-ABS world and if Karl Chapman wasn’t involved I’d tend to agree. Of course the involvement of Adam Shutkever and Sir Nigel Knowles would also suggest that this venture isn’t just a “let’s give it a go and see how she floats” operation.
But what does this mean? Well, I’m not connected to Riverview in any way so I can’t say for sure but if I were a lawyer I would think about the following: –
- For starters I would suppose that they’re not slaves to the Tyranny of the Timesheet. More fixed price work means less on-the-clock fixation by senior management – I would imagine most lawyers who are expected to raise revenue and do BD would welcome this.
- I suspect that Riverview Law’s clients will belong to the firm and not be ring-fenced by a possessive partner. Cross-selling and client care could then be handled from a central BD function and would not rely upon the generosity of individual partners thus maximising client revenue returns.
- They are almost certainly going to view business development in a corporate way and not as a marketing-led round of seminars, mailshots and trips to the cricket. I reckon they’ll be a good deal more organised than that.
- Their approach is all pretty new stuff and can be considered quite disruptive. Now, if it works it will effectively create a new norm so that anybody who wants to compete will have to operate in the same way. If you are interested in how quickly markets can change you need only look at the travel industry, insurance markets or Karl’s heritage of recruitment. All transformed, all unrecognisable and all in only a handful of years.
- They are active on social media platforms and I would guess they have a powerful CRM system to drive their sales and marketing activities. Existence of their Myview Portal means they “get” technology unlike many traditional law firms.
- Finally, and this is a wild speculation on my part, whereas traditional law firms have evolved into the shape they currently hold with all their inefficiencies and idiosyncrasies. Riverview has been designed and built from scratch and whilst I’m sure it has its challenges I’m guessing it’s going to be a good deal more efficient that its traditional competitors.
What does Karl himself think?
Well recently he was asked how he thought the market was responding to the disruptive approach that Riverview represents. I think his response is really quite telling: –
“We don’t think we’re being disruptive. We’re just applying common sense business and management principles to the legal market, using a scalable model that is built from the customer up not the law firm partner down. It’s only disruptive if you look at what we’re doing from the perspective of the legal market … which has been protected by regulation and myth for far too long. What we’re doing is the norm in most competitive industries. Customers are responding well, I’ve not seen this traction so early in any of the businesses I’ve been involved in setting-up.”
The way I read this is he is just approaching the law like any other corporate service and intends to build a company to deliver it. Scary stuff eh?
What can you do?
I would suggest law firms who recognise the threat that Riverview, and firms like them, pose should consider the following actions: –
- Keep a very sharp eye on Riverview and other new entries: like it or not they are here to stay and some of them are being very innovative.
- Transform your BD capability to ensure that you can systematically win new clients as well as maximise returns from and protect established clients.
- Recognise the firm owns its clients not the partners and so accept that it can do what it likes with them.
- Launch aggressive programmes to investigate how new technologies (including social media), staffing options (including outsourcing) and more effective working practices could be used to achieve more revenue in less time and for less cost.
- Work on making some of your services into modern legal products with appropriate costing options.
The future belongs to those not bound to the past!