Mills & Reeve has set up a Norwich-based paralegal support unit in a bid to boost its bottom line.
The firm is looking to manage its profit margin by putting in place a number of best practice ideas, including setting up a team of seven paralegals in its Norwich office, where it has the lowest overheads.
So far the unit has dealt with specific tasks such as e-discovery, mainly around insurance litigation work such as professional indemnity.
But senior partner Mark Jeffries said the firm is looking to broaden that remit out to other areas of litigation and then into transactional work.
This is in response to an increasing pressure on rates from cost-conscious clients, particularly its education, health and local government instructions, but also from general counsel trying to keep legal fees down.
Mills & Reeve has posted a modest increase in turnover, up 3.2 per cent from £67.2m in 2010-11 to £69.4m for 2011-12.
Net profits are flat at £19.5m, as is profit margin at 28 per cent.
Jeffries said the model was similar to that of Addleshaw Goddard, which uses its Manchester office as a low-cost alternative, and firms such as Herbert Smith that have Belfast bases.
Jeffries said: “Norwich is a good location for us as there are good skill sets and strong financial services. It’s easy to manage and maintain the quality.”
The unit has seven paralegals with a view to growing, overseen by an associate and senior solicitor for quality control.
It enables the firm to avoid charging an hourly rate for a solicitor to do the same work and is part of a strategy to try to be upfront on costs with all clients.
That extended to Mills & Reeve’s introduction of a fixed-price family service, announced in November, (7 November 2011), which offers staged fees for divorce litigation to give clients long-term cost certainty and competes with non-legal market players.
Mills & Reeve has also invested in people and technology to knock 12 days off its lockup target by getting staff “on the phone and chasing up bills”.