Elizabeth Davidson reports

A LONDON commercial practice whose fee earners work from home has come first in a national British Telecom IT contest.

Davis & Co is believed to be the only City firm to have designed its business around the use of IT and to have introduced teleworking for all its staff.

It received the top award of £25,000 in the BT Work Smarter Awards for its use of teleworking, which allows staff to work when and where they like.

The practice is staffed by 30 solicitors who have moved from City firms such as Clifford Chance and Freshfields because they "don't want to travel into the City every day", according to company chair Christopher Davis, formerly the head of McKenna & Co's due diligence department.

Davis & Co, which was set up in 1993, is one of fewer than 200 practices which took advantage of new rules introduced in 1987 to form as a limited company. A further 25 firms are applying for company status.

Davis said several major City firms and in-house legal departments had approached the practice for information on how it operated teleworking.

He said: "The paperless office is much more of a reality in the financial sector than the legal world.

"All sorts of documents can be exchanged online. We can discuss topics spontaneously with clients and with staff via e-mail and it is recorded, so you can go back and visit it."

Davis explained that the secure e-mail system, audio conferencing facilities, fax and voice-mail to link clients and solicitors, and lawyers with keyboard skills reduced the need for secretaries. He said that the firm had saved 17 per cent of its annual turnover because it needed less City office accommodation and other overheads had been reduced.

One example of the benefits for clients was Davis & Co's ability to provide a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week advisory service to Britannia Building Society when it was negotiating a £1.1bn transaction, by linking into directors' homes.

Davis added that because teleworking reduced conflict between personal and business life, it also lowered stress levels among staff.

Davis & Co is currently developing an audit program to asses the effectiveness of companies' compliance with environmental standards.