For all the talk of innovation in the profession, experimentation with new models has so far been more evident at mid-pack players like Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and Eversheds than elite London or New York advisers.
However, as Legal Business reveals today (25 November), Allen & Overy (A&O) has become the first top tier outfit to challenge that orthodoxy with the Magic Circle firm launching a high-end contract lawyer service for major clients.
The launch of ‘Peerpoint’ will see A&O-vetted freelance lawyers deployed to handle a range of fixed-term needs, including covering maternity leave or fulfilling secondment requests. The service will provide lawyers ranging in experience from the equivalent of a senior associate to partner level, drawing initially on former A&O lawyers who want to work flexibly.
The team currently has around 10 lawyers, and aims to grow to some 20 to 30 members in the coming weeks. Lawyers will be employed on a contract basis and paid the pro-rata equivalent of a full-time employee.
A&O has been trialling the model for months in a venture overseen by managing partner Wim Dejonghe (pictured). Peerpoint is viewed as potentially a major initiative for the firm, offering bluechip clients a wider range of service options while giving A&O more scope to draft in skilled resource at periods of high demand.
The division, which will be managed by head of business improvement Ben Williams, is currently in a soft launch period when its lawyers will only be drawn on by A&O itself but a successful rollout is set to see the service offered directly to clients.
Dejonghe told Legal Business: ‘The traditional law firm model is under pressure and lacks flexibility. In a low growth environment, peaks in client demand are far more variable, so we need greater flexibility in our model. We also want to provide an option for those high-calibre lawyers who enjoy the challenge of working with top tier clients without the added demands of working in a large law firm. Peerpoint enables us to do both.’
The venture echoes other alternative models of providing legal services such as BLP’s successful Lawyers on Demand division, which launched in 2007, and the US business Axiom, which provides services through experienced contract lawyers.
But Dejonghe said that A&O’s venture is different. ‘Our position is at the top-end of the market. We have access to high-quality clients and high-quality associates that are probably better than anyone else’s. This adds an additional model to the top end of the market and that is different to what already exists.’
The launch of a separately branded arm with a different model by one of the world’s leading law firms will be seen as underlining a more imaginative approach from City advisers at a time when clients are pressing for value and new ways of working. The venture also reflects an increasing interest at major law firms in so-called ‘accordion’ staffing in which a leaner core team of permanent staff are supported by a larger, flexible group that can be deployed to meet temporary demand.
Dejonghe added: ‘We want to accommodate the new generation of lawyers. There are some excellent lawyers who would love to remain in the legal industry but don’t want to put up with what that entails in the classical model.’
See How to improve a law firm in 17 easy steps for an extended look at innovation in law