Elevate’s Halebury acquisition: John Croft and Denise Nurse discuss customers, competition and how two + two = five

Acquisitive law company Elevate last week announced that it has bought senior flexible resource law firm Halebury. We caught up with Elevate’s president John Croft and Halebury’s co-founder Denise Nurse to find out about the key drivers for the acquisition; how the combined entity will benefit clients, and who Elevate now regards as competition.
John, can you tell us a bit about the rationale behind your acquisition of Halebury?
In layman speak, Halebury is a flexible law company – think Axiom or LOD but at the high-end GC level. Denise co-founded it: she was the young associate who left to set up her own firm and set up Halebury as a law firm. We now have an ABS license as a law company – we might be the first – and as Elevate builds out the law company, there are a wide range of services that we need to help us deliver corporate advisory support: some of those are services, some consulting, and some are technology.
Who are your customers and is that changing as you grow?
Our customers are both corporates and law firms. The purpose of Elevate is to delivery efficiencies and anyone who wants to become more efficient we’ll work with. We work with forward thinking law firms like Hogan Lovells and ASB Law. Just as we work with Morgan Stanley and HSBC and BT and many more.
How will clients benefit from this acquisition?
The massive benefit to Halebury clients is that until today, they’ve been able to offer flexible lawyers but that’s it. They are also working with the kinds of law departments we are trying to become more efficient and have clients asking for consulting and technology and a more managed or offshore service. Not until now have they been able to provide that but they can now offer clients the same one stop shop.
There is a plethora of options available to the buyer of legal services including outsourcing and flexible lawyering and to avoid confusion we’ve called ourselves a law company and can do all of those things. Our customers need all of those things and don’t want lots of vendors providing technology and law and offshore services: wouldn’t it be nice if one company could provide all of things under one contract.
Your list of competitors must be expanding – do you regard technology vendors as competitors?
We do and we don’t compete with them. We have our own legal enterprise management platform Cael and we acquired Lex Predict, so all [founder] Dan [Katz’] tech is being weaved in but we’re also working with the likes of Kira Systems, Seal and Luminance. We don’t demand that our customers have to work with Cael. If someone is already working with other technology such as eBilling or eDiscovery technology we’re very technology agnostic but have found that if we are in these enterprise relationships with a big law departments, over time they need just enough legal technology to mix all the pieces together and Cael does just that, it’s a very obvious platform for them.
In the same way as Elevate doesn’t have a single competitor the same is true of Cael  – jt does a whole bunch of things, of which legal project management was the first and it the best known.
And how about law firms? 
For law firms with an undifferentiated value proposition we are a threat because we bring efficiency but for firms that listen to their customers and are changing the way they deliver their services like Hogan Lovells and ASB Law, we’re collaborators.
So, Denise, for anyone who doesn’t know Halebury well, can you give us some more detail about it?
We are a new law firm that has been going since 2007. [Co-founder] Janvi Patel and I started out, having been inhouse lawyers ourselves, looking for a new way of serving clients and providing flexibility in terms of the types of lawyers and the right level of seniority on long term projects. Our lawyers at Halebury are looking for a new career path as well as a really credible career: they can be a partner, GC or Halebury lawyer working with high end clients, giving legal advice but also looking at things in a more holistic way providing clients with both business and legal solutions. That’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve grown our business and reputation and one of the many exciting things about this acquisition is that we’ve become an ABS.
Elevate acquired Halebury and simultaneously became an ABS, which is quite ground-breaking. Elevate had to become an ABS to acquire us because Halebury is a law firm; that’s what made us different to the likes of LOD and Axiom. We have full law firm insurance and indemnity and have always been a bit of a hybrid.
How big is Halebury and what is the male/female ratio?
We have around 50 lawyers working on a consultancy basis as is usual in this space and we’ve been growing year on year. All of those are senior lawyers who are generally 10 yrs PQE plus.
We believe in diversity of thought but one of the assumptions is that we’re only for women and that’s not correct. We’ve found that all people want to work in different way and our team is about 50/50 male to female – everyone has reasons for wanting to work in a different way.
Lawyers are with the clients or work from home. But part of the Halebury tribe is having that law firm feel – creating a group of lawyers and consultants who like the way we work. That knowledge and the relationships we have doesn’t come from just throwing people in: we have a wealth of knowledge. We’re a collective; we have clients and our team provides a service and we provide training and opportunities for them to get together and work on projects together. There’s a lot of collaboration.
For you what is the driving force behind this combination with Elevate?
The real driver is that it’s a great synergy. Janvi and I really care about the business and are always looking for the right partner. We got to know John and Liam and the team at Elevate and have a vision of where we think the market should be going. It’s like a jigsaw that fits together but two plus two equals five and that’s genuinely how we feel about it. The combination provides rocket fuel to both businesses in terms of providing our clients with a more holistic service.
The acquisition is about growth and not one where we are losing people – we are all staying.
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