Fast-growing virtual law firm Keystone Law is one of the oldest next generation, technology-driven law firms, predating the enactment of the Legal Services Act by almost a decade.
Set up in 2002, Keystone’s lawyers work from home or from within its commercial clients’ offices, with an emphasis on achieving and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The firm, which signed with NetDocuments earlier this year, is notable for its dedicated recruitment website and lifestyle calculator, which shows lawyers how many hours a day they would need to work at Keystone to maintain their current salary.
In the second of our ‘An Interview With…’ series, here Keystone’s founder and managing partner James Knight tells associate editor Caroline Hill about Keystone’s growth plans, and says the legal market needs to wake up to the fact that technology is no longer a “mere bolt-on for the marketing team.”
How would you describe your business in 20 words?
Keystone is a dispersed law firm that delivers a conventional legal service in a way that is becoming increasingly popular.
You are recruiting heavily, how many lawyers are working for Keystone now and how fast is the business growing?
We now have 162 senior lawyers and a small team of paralegals to support them. At the time of writing, we are recruiting approximately five lawyers per month, which represents a faster growth rate than at any time in our history.
What appeals to clients most about your model/brand?
Clients only ever look for two things: excellent service and reasonable value and our reputation for delivering both of these is growing exponentially. Clients don’t always know, or even want to know, how we manage to achieve this. Nowadays they are more likely to trust our brand than delve into the business model that makes it possible.
How is technology helping your business?
In many ways technology is Keystone’s backbone. It makes it possible for Keystone to operate more efficiently than a conventional law firm whilst introducing a raft of additional benefits too.
What are the most interesting trends you are seeing in the legal profession?
The most significant trends that I see is the desire from lawyers to practise law in a different environment to the conventional law firm. For many the idea of achieving partner status is no longer the holy grail and they consider other factors such as flexibility within the work environment to be more important. This trend has led to a myriad of different business models designed to deliver legal services in a more efficient and popular manner.
What innovation has particularly impressed you?
The Legal Services Act has had profound implications upon the legal landscape. Technically speaking this enabled non-solicitor ownership and management, but what it also did was make people view new business models as acceptable and even preferential to the conventional law firm. Suddenly, the Keystone model became regarded as a good thing rather then something to be viewed with scepticism.
What will the legal market look like in ten years’ time?
At the current time the magic circle firms look unassailable and there is little reason to believe this will change anytime soon. From a practical perspective, very large transactions need a lot of lawyers and support staff who are prepared to work around the clock from one location. For the remainder of the legal market it is likely that the change and consolidation that we are witnessing today will continue. Technology is bound to play an increasingly important role, not necessarily to replace lawyers but to enable them to operate with greater efficiency and in different ways. And, of course, we believe the dispersed law firm model will become much more prevalent across the country.
If you could change one thing about the legal market, what would it be?
The digital revolution has left no industry untouched. But while the legal sector is finally waking up to the idea of change, there is still a frustrating resistance by some firms to adapt due to a number of reasons – fear of the unknown and a lack of understanding about the value that digital can bring. It is no longer enough to use digital as a mere bolt-on for the marketing team. In a modern world that never sleeps, lawyers, firms and clients alike all need to be embracing technology. It’s up to the likes of Keystone, then, to show them how it’s done.