Sarah Goulbourne

So how about this for a  law firm business plan? – no time sheets, no traditional partner structure, full profit-sharing . . and an objective to be one of the fastest growing law firms in the UK.

For Sarah Goulbourne, who started her legal shakeup in a Costa Coffee shop at the age of 45 (seven years ago).  Together with co-founder Darryl Cooke, her Gunnercooke firm is doing a £20 million pound turnover.

A lot of beans, in other words.

And a cloud-based, fee-friendly, profit-sharing plan that increasingly shakes up the traditional law firm model.

The firm now employs close to 150 lawyers, but Sarah Goulbourne is the first to acknowledge that it has not been an altogether easy road.

The firm was funded out of the co-founders’ pockets and they did not draw any money for the first two years.

 I ran out of money personally and had to take on a part-time job too, which was tough. But we knew Gunnercooke had legs. We were bold, we were agile and we weren’t afraid to try new things.’

Each lawyer in the network has at least 10,000 hours of legal experience under their belts.  Goulbourne quotes Malcolm Gladwell: , “10,000 hours of practice makes you an expert.”‘

The company has hubs in Manchester, Leeds and London but she stresses the mobile nature of the business and its affinity for lifestyle and family-friendliness.   “Our model is set up so you can work from your holiday home in France, if you want.’

‘We’re all about output, not presenteeism. The whole world needs to move away from that.’

Personal Motivation

It was a totally personal motivation that spurred the creation of the firm.

After having her second child, Sarah Goulbourne started looking for a new job, being unhappy to accept the ‘going rate’ of 12 weeks’ maternity leave.

“so I teamed up with a company secretary and we packaged ourselves as a job share. That was pretty much unheard of back then. We didn’t have the internet; we went to the local library, got out the business directory and wrote to the CEOs and FDs of around 20 companies, asking them if they’d like to hire us for a combined lawyer/company secretary role.”

She had previously had a successful career as an equity partner with DLA Piper and Addleshaws where she said to The Lawyer she had made plenty of money but “it wasn’t a very pleasant environment to work in.”

She took advantage of the deregulation of the UK law market with the onset of the ‘Alternative Business Structures’ permitted under the Legal Services Act in early 2012, which radically altered the UK legal market.

The firm employs ‘partners’ with a minimum 10 years’ experience on a consultancy basis similar to the Keystone Law model.

Legal Over-Spend

In an article last month, Sarah Goulbourne wrote: “Around £11-12bn a year is spent by consumers on legal services in England and Wales. Yet, according to recent research, British clients may be overpaying lawyers by nearly £500m a year.”

Sarah Goulbourne believes the current setup for law firm structures is one that virtually guarantees that clients miss out.

In particular, clients abhor firms that fail to work within an agreed budget, charge for their services by the hour, and don’t inform them when the estimated fee is exceeded – leading to the sense that law firms are fundamentally uninterested in delivering value to their clients.

What Do You Dislike About Lawyers?

Asking what clients don’t like about lawyers is taking the issue by the throat, which is what Gunnercooke did prior to launching their new firm – asking more than 50 financial directors and chief executives that very question.

“Top of the list? Spiraling bills and lack of transparency around pricing. They were tired of being landed with a huge bill that was impossible to anticipate.”

The key was to be transparent about pricing and charging – and to “liberate lawyers from timesheets”.

Since we launched our firm in 2010, we’ve seen more and more businesses adopt this approach in the UK, with clients saving up to 40 per cent in legal fees.

Our clients appreciate that we share the risk, and that we are completely transparent about what our advice will cost.

Gunnercooke is now one of the fastest growing commercial law firms in the country, turning over £20m and working with more than 6,500 clients, including the likes of Santander, Mitie and Bovis Homes.

It has also developed innovative ‘side products’ such as Gunnerbloom  a legal business run for businesses, which have specialist skills, “every one of our team is a member of the gunnerbloom foundation, which equips them not only with crucial hard skills including project and transaction management, corporate finance, and balance sheet acumen, but also softer skills such as outstanding leadership, brilliant client service and business development,” as the Gunnerbloom website expresses it.

And they landed their first client, the publishing giant Trinity Mirror, doing 2.5 days each with a ‘handover’ at lunchtime on Wednesday.

“We’d record notes to each other on an old-fashioned dictaphone. We made it work.”

The Current Structure

She notes that a crisis point is being reached around law firm pricing and firms are increasingly going back to the drawing board to rework their pricing structures.

The removal of time sheets – the “bane of the industry” – has meant that firms can approach pricing through a thorough scoping of work and outlining exactly what they will be doing and how.”

The innovations continue to flow for Gunnercooke, who continue to develop their law firm model as a hybrid between the traditional firm and the new age legal platforms that increasingly threaten the existing law firm model

Source: Management Today

Sarah Goulbourne’s 10 Rules for Being a Happy Lawyer – Click Here


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