Aug 2022
The Age of the Legal Entrepreneur

We know. Lawyers have a bit of a reputation for being cautious. Risk-averse. Choosing to prioritise billable hours over the potential for higher return, both commercially and personally. We hear you. An entrepreneurial lawyer or ‘legalpreneur’ might seem like an oxymoron. But we’re here to tell you that, in our experience, here at Carbon Law Partners, we think there are several reasons why lawyers make great entrepreneurs.

What makes a great legal entrepreneur

The Harvard Business School wrote about the traits that make a good entrepreneur and the top four things hit the nail right on the head:

  1. Curiosity – We learn, from day one, how to explore a subject and research.
  2. Structured Experimentalism – A big part of what lawyers do is following a methodology for researching (see point one) and then testing what we find to decide whether it’s the right course of action.
  3. Adaptability – Great lawyers have excellent listening skills, as well as an ability to negotiate.
  4. Decisiveness – Once we’ve done all of the above, we have the confidence to make recommendations that might well challenge the status quo, as well as the professionalism to see things through to the end.

But to understand why we think lawyers make great entrepreneurs we have to look at what this actually means and how it has developed.

The history of the legal entrepreneur. Let’s start in the USA.

Legal entrepreneurship may seem like a new concept but the first example of entrepreneurship in law goes back to the 1970s, when people like Steve Kumble, Joel Hyatt and Steve Brill came onto the scene. Together they were responsible for transforming legal practice – something we’re continuing today here at Carbon Law Partners.

The alternative

Finley Kumble may have met a somewhat sticky end but it was one of the first American law firms to operate as a conventional business rather than a traditional law firm.

The communicator

Steve Brill, founder of the American Lawyer magazine, focussed on legal practice economics and viewed law as an industry. His annual survey, AmLaw 200, was instrumental in encouraging legal practices changing to a more ‘business-like’ model. He established the legal metric PPP (profit-per-partner) and in doing so, changed the entire profession. [Incidentally, Steve Brill’s exposé on Finley Kumble led to the firm declaring bankruptcy…]

The innovator

Joel Hyatt, founder of Hyatt Legal Services and Hyatt Legal Plans was the leader in providing low-cost legal services to the everyday customer. To this day, nearly 200 of the Fortune 500 companies have one of his plans in place as an employee benefit.

So, that’s the USA, but what about over here in the UK?

The rebel

In the 1970s in Aberdeen, Frank Lefevre was just embarking on his legal career. In the ‘80s he started his own firm that would replicate the American way of working and change the legal claims market in the UK forever. At the time, no-win-no-fee was so controversial that the Law Society in Scotland threatened to take away his practising certificate. Soon after launching Quantum Claims, around 800 other companies popped up offering the same services and it is now common practice in the UK.

The revolution

At this point, mergers that combined one firm’s specialism and another’s credibility or international reach (for example Clifford Chance) were commonplace. But the end of the 1970s, 80s and 90s marked a new age in the conservative world of law firms. First, came the collaborations, with firms such as KPMG, EY and PwC all making acquisitions of law firms – practices whose areas of work complemented their own services. Then in the 1990s (as an immediate consequence of the recession) came an industry-wide acceptance that a new way of governance, positioning firms as businesses, was needed. Fast forward to 2007, and the introduction of The Legal Services Act (LSA) in England and Wales. The legal landscape was changed for good. The LSA forced reforms that improved the way legal services were provided. It combined alternative business models, collaboration and a shift in focus towards client, rather than law firm and partnership, needs. All of a sudden, we saw names like Riverview Law (acquired by EY in 2018) and Lawyers on Demand exploding onto the UK legal scene.

The tech takeover

And that was only the beginning. As the world entered a new millennium, a second wave of legal entrepreneurs was born, thanks to the emergence of legal technology designed to increase efficiency, free up lawyers from mundane tasks and increase access to flexible legal services.

According to Forbes, ‘the global financial crisis, technological advances, and globalisation have produced a climate conducive to legal entrepreneurs’.

A recent  IBA Young Lawyers Report concluded that 17% of young lawyers are looking forward to ‘witnessing the evolution of law’ and 16% are excited about new ‘technology and innovation developments’.

Figures like Julia Salasky are synonymous with legal entrepreneurship in the UK today. Salasky founded CrowdJustice, the UK’s first crowdfunding platform for litigation. Her second venture, regulated law firm business process automation platform Legl, recently received an $18m investment, on top of the $7m she received just the year before. She is the first female founder to receive an injection of funding on this scale.

Alice Stephenson, founder of Stephenson Law, is another legal entrepreneur reshaping what it means to be a lawyer in the modern age. She said, about her work, ‘the profession has entered a new era, and the next stage of its journey falls on the shoulders of a new swathe of legal innovators’.

Their work – along with many others – is built on this history of alternative viewpoints, communication, innovation, rebellion and revolution.

Supporting your legal entrepreneurship journey

So how does Carbon Law Partners fit in with the history of legal entrepreneurship?

As far back as 2008, we looked outside the legal industry to other professionals as the stimulus for change. We took inspiration from financial services and consultancy models with sole traders and practices. And we created a platform that aligned the interests of clients, lawyers, staff and suppliers, a place for exceptional people to flourish that wasn’t constrained by the traditional law firm ways of doing things.

To this day still this means:

  • Providing lawyers and people with the opportunity to own a share of the firm, sharing in collective success.
  • Our lawyers only practice law through Carbon and are not hosted by multiple firms or platforms with the risks to clients and our community that poses.
  • Practice buy-out. A right for our lawyers to transfer their valued client relationships to colleagues when they retire, ensuring value for the owner of the legal practice and great care and continuity for clients.

And we back this up by setting the bar high when it came to delivering outstanding quality to clients, with external auditors carrying out spot checks on our lawyers and their practices.

The Carbon platform provides the foundations that entrepreneurial lawyers need to build their practice on. This includes everything from support on remuneration, technology and finance through to marketing, administration and training. In short, everything that entrepreneurial lawyers need to flourish and practice law on their own terms.

Michael Burne is the Founder and Chief Executive of Carbon. He describes the platform as a collaboration based on a shared vision. He strives to create the conditions for exceptional people to flourish: ‘Leading Carbon is a privilege. I get up every morning genuinely excited about going to what most people would call ‘work’. For me, it’s freedom – this is what I want to do’.

Ready to realise your potential as an entrepreneurial lawyer and capitalise your value?

Find out more about taking the next step and get in touch to find out how we can help you on your journey to becoming a legal entrepreneur. There has never been a better time to take the plunge.