How to survive – a large firm model

In the first of a series of four pieces, based on a session from the Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group conference, Adam Makepeace explains Tuckers’ survival strategy

At the LAPG conference, I was pleased to be asked to join the panel for the session ‘how we plan to survive’. It was an interesting session – and whilst all legal aid practitioners are clear that the focus is pitched at the level of survival rather than any higher notions of the sustainability of our species, there are obviously highly individual approaches as to how. This is our plan – not necessarily a template for others.

Expansion, Intensification, Collaboration and Digitalisation are the words that describe the Tuckers’ business plan.

There are more challenges to expanding than simply try to find new areas to do duty work in. Just as pressing for us is how to find and retain those people who are capable of developing their own client practices.

The traditional partnership model is broken. But the entrepreneurial spirit that is key to the survival of businesses, still needs to be harnessed somehow. We have been keen to retain the brands of businesses that have joined us (Robin Murray & Co, Mulrooney Craghill), as well as developing new brands (LB Legal, SL5) to enable groups of lawyers to set up offices and have the benefit of the Tuckers ‘engine’, but to carve out independent niche’s for themselves.

Intensification partly goes hand in hand with expansion, but refers to the use of the back office functions. As a business of a certain size, we are blessed to have the support of separate support functions (finance/billing/IT/HR and indeed me – practice management). That all comes at a cost and obviously the cost has to be justified. As we have expanded, we have been able to get more value for money from these central functions and this, in turns, makes us more sustainable as a business.

When I joined Tuckers six years ago, I was all too well aware of the reputation that the firm has in the sector (I stress that the view of other lawyers is not necessarily shared by our clients). The Purple Peril. The word that rhymes with Tuckers but begins with the letter F.

I hope that I have spent a decent chunk of the last six years trying to engage with other firms to promote the idea of collaboration. We have developed software that we have given away to other firms, which has helped us share resources with regards diary management. We have 24 hour call staff based in our Manchester office. If you need a police station covered in one of our areas (or far and wide) – call us! Why pay one of the PS agencies £130 to cover a police station attendance when we might have someone on hand who we would be happy to introduce you to (for now and forever) who would be able to cover for £90.

All of this is reliant on our commitment to digitalisation. I stand by every word of my article published in April in the Solicitors Journal about the challenges of digitalisation. However, it is a challenge that we are determined to meet. And to work for Tuckers as a Luddite who is trying to find your way, is to work for a firm with support staff and mechanisms in place to try and get the most challenged up to a level of competence which means that they can work in a digital criminal justice system.

Who knows whether we will succeed? However, for the first time in a long time, I do get the sense that we are turning a corner. Our staff appear to be growing more comfortable in their digital skins – particularly because of the flexibility this provides them.

Criminal legal aid lawyers aren’t going to get the big bucks – but where they can work remotely and are not tied to an office desk, we can address some other aspects relating to their quality of life. By focusing on the dreams of some – to run their own ‘business within a business’ or the prosaic needs of others – to be able to access the Digital Case System, I think that we are finding one of the ways in which a legal aid firm may yet survive.

Adam Makepeace

About Adam Makepeace

Adam Makepeace is the practice directer at national law firm Tuckers, which specialises in criminal law, civil liberties and regulatory proceedings

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