You’re running a mid-sized regional firm and the pressure is on. The systems are there, the staff are there, but the work’s drying up. Can you find new revenue streams? Here’s a niche: pitching for the standardised work the big names deem too unprofitable.
This is the Mexican wave model that, as we report today (see cover), RBS is known to be exploring with its panel firms. It’s perfectly logical to combine big panel firms with their smaller cousins. Both have gone through the review processes, earned their kitemarks and have a complementary understanding of how clients operate. (You could have a lot of fun wondering which panel firms might pair off with each other, but let’s not go there.)
It’s a trend that’s been subterranean so far, but we’ve heard anecdotally of several clients that have suggested variations on the model, so I suspect that it will gather momentum. That’s not to say there aren’t issues to sort out, the main one being how to manage a triangular relationship. Assuming the legal department will analyse and unbundle the work, the question is then whether the smaller firm should have a direct relationship with the client or the larger firm. Is the larger firm’s role supervisory? Given that most negligence claims tend to be rooted in faulty due diligence, getting the framework right will be crucial.
So far - surprisingly, given the potential - not many smaller firms have spotted this opportunity. At the moment some lawyers are tentatively using their alumni networks to make connections, but so far we’ve only uncovered one firm that has formally identified it as a targeted niche: Bristol’s TLT, which is starting to make overtures to certain City firms along these lines. Another in the frame ought to be Cripps Harries Hall, which has probably the most useful experience of any firm in this area, having picked up a lot of standardised property work from Lovells as part of the latter’s Mexican wave initiative.
Odd how trends come in and out of fashion. Lovells real estate partner Bob Kidby, who retires next month, ought to get some industry recognition for not only dreaming up the Mexican wave concept, but for putting it into practice a decade ago. It looks as if its time has come - again.