Interview with Karl Chapman CEO of Riverview Law



Riverview is one of the new breed of legal businesses created to deliver corporate legal work in a new way based upon the belief that the law is just another business service. One of the key people behind the company is Karl Chapman who recently agreed to speak with me about the inner workings of his company.

This candid post is the result. So is Riverview going to be the shape of things to come in the legal world? You decide.

How would you best describe Riverview Law?

Riverview is a legal advisory outsourcing business that offers a range of legal services to the corporate world.

At the bottom end of the legal value curve is Legal Process Outsourcing which covers fairly transactional non-advisory tasks that can be done by non-lawyers, junior lawyers or can even be outsourced. At the top end you have international M&A work carried out by the magic and silver circles. We’re focused on all the legal advice in between.

Where is the firm based?

Riverview Centre of Operations in Wirral

We now have a team of over 100 people of which around 60% are lawyers. But we are recruiting heavily at the moment and expect this ratio to change; ultimately we anticipate employing more non-lawyers than lawyers.

Our core offices are situated in London and Wirral. The Wirral office is our main centre with 30,000 square feet of floor space and we intend to fill it all with people!

Who owns the firm?

Its shareholders do. AdviserPlus Business Solutions [Karl’s HR outsourcing business], DLA Piper, private individuals and the staff. We are very committed to ensuring we have wide employee share ownership.

This typical corporate structure means we have none of the “partnership baggage or language” that prevents quick decision making – our board of directors and management team function like any other corporate organisation does.

Why did DLA Piper take a stake?

From our perspective we wanted a shareholder who shared the same values as us, who understood the changes taking place in the legal market and who could move quickly. DLA Piper seemed like a perfect fit.

You’d have to ask them why they wanted to buy their stake. Perhaps they can see a change coming and want to be part of it; I really couldn’t say.

What sort of clients have you already won?

Well bearing in mind we only set up shop in February 2012 I think we’ve done pretty well. We work with SME’s right the way up but our sweet-spot is the large corporates. They really seem to like our service and pricing model and value the benefits we can provide.

I’d love to be able to give you the names of the clients we’ve already won but for customer confidentiality reasons I can’t. If they want to publicly announce that we work with them that’s great but it really is their call. However, what I can say is that our expectations have been exceeded in two areas: large organisations and litigation.

So how are you different from traditional law firms?

Well it’s probably easier to say how we’re the same: we employ lawyers and we deliver a legal advice. Seriously though I think we are different in the many ways, from our culture to our business structure, and in particular:-

  • We use a fixed pricing model.
  • We understand the power of technology and management information.
  • Our people do what they do best. Our lawyers do what they like most and are best at, which is the law of course. We hire managers to manage and sales people to sell which is what they do best. I hope!

Do you have trouble finding lawyers?

Adam Shutkever COO and Karl Chapman CEO – “come on in, the water’s lovely”

At a time when a partnership can look risky and hard to come by we offer our lawyers a good salary, bonus arrangements, share options, no additional duties (unless appropriate) over practising the law, no timesheets and a clear career path. Added to this we have a great culture and strong values so what do you think?

Let’s look at sales now. How do you win new clients?

Well I head up the BD operations and then we have 3 BD Heads focused on Legal Advisory Outsourcing; SME’s and Litigation. Each of these leaders has a team working with them. In total we have 11 dedicated business developers but we are just in the process of hiring some more so this number will rise very soon.

Lawyers aren’t expected to sell unless they want to and have an aptitude for it in which case we will relent. Having said that we are being approached by prospective clients who have heard what we’re up to and want to know more. I can’t say too much more right now except watch this space.

Do you use a CRM system and if so what is it?

We most certainly do. We use Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM and have done for years. Although Riverview is only 155 days old our systems and processes come from 11 years’ worth of development as part of AdviserPlus.

IT is a crucial part of our business model and allows us to run in an extremely efficient way. Added to that we offer our clients access to enormous amounts of management information through our Cloud portal and all the data comes from our CRM system. We simply couldn’t manage without it.

Having said all of that we also know that however good processes and technology are it’s people that make the difference!

So who “owns” the clients within the firm?

Well from the outset we decided that the company would own the clients not the individual lawyers as it usually is in traditional law firms. The silo mentality that this often produces is harmful to the client and to us and we wanted no part of it.

Of course the client has relationships with their own Riverview lawyers and we don’t move them around a lot: the client deals with who they feel most comfortable with. Our larger clients also have a legal director and a relationship director assigned to them to make sure we have all their needs covered.

OK Karl one final question. What would you say to people who think this model isn’t sustainable?

Quite simple really. It’s based upon sound business principles, proven technology and processes and a belief that the client comes first. We have successfully used the same model in AdviserPlus for 11 years and we have a 100% contract renewal rate for our large corporate clients. Maybe the real question should be, is the partnership model really sustainable?

So there you have it. I found Karl to be very open and extremely proud of what he and his team are building. Will they change the face of the legal profession? Well I can’t say any more than you can but I have to admit their proposition is very compelling and is based upon a proven technology and process platform so just maybe they can.

 

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Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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14 comments on “Interview with Karl Chapman CEO of Riverview Law
  1. In my humble opinion Riverview Law is where the profession is heading. A structure more familiar for coroprate clients, and fixed fees to provide transparancy. Sounds like an exciting place to work.

  2. Steve says:

    Legal services made simple. The absence of timesheets myst be immensely attractive to many lawyers.

  3. Simon says:

    Hi Mike. From a customers perspective its a very compelling proposition, most SMEs typically avoid costs by engaging lawyers as a last resort i.e., when they have no alternative. This way you use the lawyers first, protect your position, building a stronger company.

  4. adrianmabe says:

    Some people have recognised that a partnership may no longer be the best model for delivering legal services. If Riverview Law look after their employees then I am sure it will be attractive to many lawyers.For many years it has been the case that however good a lawyer you are, you won’t get a partnership in many law firms unless you can combine legal skills with proven ability in business development. While lawyers have come to specialise in ever narrower areas of law, it is paradoxical that they are required to develop non-legal skills which they may not be best equipped to aquire. Riverview Law have had the idea of employing lawyers to practise law and business developers to get in new work. When you think about it, it’s not rocket science! I can’t see why it won’t work.

    • Mike Ames says:

      Thanks for your feedback Adrian, thought provoking indeed. Sometimes it takes a disruptive force to shake the tree a little and get some movement going on. These are interesting times for lawyers and striking a “if I ignore it it will go away” pose won’t cut the mustard I’m afraid!

  5. Good interview Mike. Firms that don’t respond to new entrants like Riverview are going to have a much tougher time of it in future. All this change we see right now is just the beginning IMHO.

    • Mike Ames says:

      IMHO too Mark. It’s like when I go surfing; you can feel the swell starting and you know if you can catch it you can effortlessly ride the monster to the shore. Miss it and you have to watch those who did and then wait for another chance. Except in this case there may not be another chance.

      How’s life without blogging? Changed your mind yet?

  6. BCReed says:

    Traditional Firms will need to respond to new entrants like Riverview, Axiom, Clearspire, Rimon, LPO’s. The big question though is how they should respond. A simple strategy, based on my study of Clayton Christensen’s research on disruptive innovation, would suggest that traditional law firms should consolidate their practices to those groups that offer the greatest aggregate profits currently and for which they are the comparatively the best in the industry. They could either fire the practice groups that don’t offer the appropriate value proposition or engage in some type of franchise agreement. Traditional firms should then do one of two things, either acquire a company that provides legal services but has a corporate type structure and offer services in a manner similar to Riverview or set up a fund and use it to set up a separate corporate legal firm staffed with attorneys from the traditional firm who have an entrepreneurial mind set and superior management skills. The traditional firm should have a large ownership stake in the new corporate firm. When consumers are demanding an elaborate operational changes, such as AFA’s and large reductions in pricing is it best forming a separate company to address these opportunities rather than attempting to fight against all the entrenched interests in your current business. To understand why please explore the works of Clayton Christensen. He discusses it in nearly every seminar, paper, or book he is a part of.

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Mike Ames

Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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