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Managing partner: Julien Rutler Turnover: £250,000 Total number of partners: Two Total number of fee-earners: Two Main practice areas: Exclusively commercial property Key clients: Farlows, Keeler Gordon, Ster Century Cinemas and the Swiss government Number of offices: One Location: London
"While the City law firms provide an excellent service, they don't necessarily provide the best value for money, especially for medium and smaller-size transactions," reckons Julien Rutler, a former Lovells lawyer and managing partner of RLS Solicitors. Rutler, together with another ex-Lovells lawyer, Craig Themistocleous, set up RLS two years ago as a specialist commercial property firm.
The niche practice's unique selling point is that it claims to offer effectively the same services to clients as big-name firms but at significantly cheaper rates.
Rutler says the City firms tend to delegate work to junior lawyers, who then refer it back to a supervising lawyer or partner for it to be signed off. "Effectively, you end up with two lawyers dealing with relatively small and medium-sized transactions," he argues.
As a result of a combination of the lower overheads of a smaller firm and having one experienced lawyer per case, the firm boasts that its fees are at least half of those charged by its larger rivals. "Essentially, our clients get a significantly more qualified solicitor from the same kind of big firm background doing the work at half the price of the big firms," says Rutler.
The two partners were both senior assistant solicitors at Lovells and have more than seven years' post-qualification experience (PQE) each. The firm has been established for only two years, but the lawyers claim to have won some significant clients. RLS recently acted for the Swiss government when it moved its head office from its Piccadilly base, and the firm has also advised national cinema chain Ster Century Cinemas on its portfolio management.
Rutler believes RLS is part of a new development in the legal services market. The trend, he believes, is for niche firms to join forces, matching complementary skills so as to undercut City firms' rates while offering the same level of quality.
"After setting up, we've come across a number of other niche firms with similar profiles to us who do not have any property expertise," Rutler says. "We've therefore assisted them in their clients' property legal requirements." It is a system that works well, the solicitor claims. "They can concentrate on their core areas of law and refer matters to us without any fear that they'll lose their clients, as we only do property work," he continues. "Our fee structures tend to be compatible, so the client gets a consistent service at consistent costs."
The solicitor reckons that another advantage of niche firms specialising in one or two areas of law is that they are "not constrained by frictions or conflicts of interest between different departments" and can therefore focus on providing a good-value service to their clients.