SCOTLAND may have its own legal system, but there is something to be said from learning from your neighbours.
At least that is the opinion of Boyd Legal managing director Peter Boyd, who said his thinking on how to drive the firm forward is influenced by “constantly looking at what they are doing in England”.
Having set up as a conveyancing and estate agency practice 12 years ago, the Edinburgh-based firm had to change direction after the financial crash of 2008, when total exposure to the precarious property market was posing a threat to the firm’s future.
Since then it has expanded into areas such as private client, commercial and lettings, with the acquisition of other law firms’ wills books also seeing it expand its footprint into Fife.
“We didn’t have a substantial wills business but we bought a few databases from lawyers who were retiring then 14 months ago bought Kirkcaldy firm Gibson Spears Dow & Son,” Mr Boyd said. “It’s got a solid longstanding wills database.”
It is in the way that he wants Boyd Legal to be run, though, that Mr Boyd is seeking inspiration from some of the firm’s English counterparts, with Boyd Legal keen to operate less as a traditional law firm partnership and more as management-led business.
“The old way of running legal partnerships doesn’t really engender good management or strategic management as it would in a normal business,” Mr Boyd said.
“We’ve chosen to take it away from being partner-run and have taken on people who are good on the management side. We’ve got a very experienced finance director and business development director.”
While the intention is for those staff members to be given partnership status within the firm, this is not currently possible because the regulations governing the profession in Scotland do not allow non-lawyers to have ownership stakes in law firms.
With the Scottish Government currently working on a new regulatory framework that should see so-called alternative business structures (ABS) introduced in the near future, Mr Boyd said that “ABS is something we would obviously use”.
Although ABS have been a feature of the profession in England and Wales for several years, Mr Boyd said this does not necessarily mean the Scottish profession has been at a disadvantage by not being able to use them. This is particularly so given the high-profile issues faced by firms such as private equity backed Parabis, which ultimately collapsed, and Australian-listed Slater and Gordon, which has been taken over by its lenders after struggling to service its debt.
“We’re sitting on the touchlines and looking at what’s going on in England and seeing the dramatic demise of some ABSs down south and the amount of debt that those companies built up,” Mr Boyd said.
“Maybe we’ve avoided the worst of the excesses while watching what’s going on down there.”
Like many of the English ABS firms, though, Boyd Legal is keen to get into the volume market, with finance director Gerry Cockburn and non-executive consultant Stephen Gold helping to steer the change.
Having sold his firm Golds Solicitors to English insurance heavyweight Irwin Mitchell a decade ago, Mr Gold is well versed in how the high-volume commoditised segment of the market works while Mr Cockburn’s experience includes an eight-year stint at volume business Optima Legal.
“With their experience we’ve got the ability to move the firm forward in a different direction and we’re looking at options for high-volume conveyancing work for introducers such as estate agents or mortgage brokers,” Mr Boyd said.
“It’s almost like setting up a new business and we are speaking to firms down south to see what advances they have made that could be helpful to us.
“We’re going down to see a legal firm in Liverpool that does elements of some of the work we do. Their systems are brilliant. They are two or three years ahead of where we want to be.”
This is vital, Mr Boyd said, because technology will be “absolutely fundamental” to the way the firm repositions itself.
“We took on quite sophisticated legal software and have invested in expanding that,” he said.
“If you look at how other businesses are structured, they have a lot of software developers.
“That’s something we’re going to have to do because legal software has its limitations, particularly at the front end.”