“We don’t believe in charging clients for each minute we spend. Our philosophy is very much one of ‘pick up the phone and give us a call’,” says Carole Hailey, who set up boutique IP and IT firm the Waterfront Partnership two years ago.
Hailey says she believes absolutely in building a relationship with the firm’s clients and in being available to help them in much the same way that an in-house lawyer is always on hand. “Any fear we might have had that we would always be on the phone giving out free legal advice, is unfounded,” she says. “Clients don’t take advantage of our approachability and work flows from it.”
Hailey knows what it is like to be in-house, and brings extra legal as well as commercial skills to her practice. Upon qualifying with Linklaters, she upped sticks to teach English in Japan for two years, returning to pursue an ambition she had long harboured to work in the IT and IP sectors. As IT company CMG’s (now LogicaCMG) head of legal, she became one of the youngest FTSE100 heads of department, before moving on to Protégé, “a smaller company, but one where I was also part of the management team”, she says.
Hailey enjoyed her time in-house, but got itchy feet. “By the end I felt that I wanted to develop my own business model and make my own mistakes,” she says. “It also seemed to me that there was a real lack of specialist legal advice for small to medium-sized companies in the IT and IP world. What advice was available was invariably too expensive.”
She took the plunge and set up the Waterfront Partnership and has not looked back since. Initially based in Canary Wharf, the firm has just moved to new offices in Southwark. “We need more space and have taken an office in a business community that is home to about 90 other businesses,” says Hailey. “We wanted to leave the branded service office environment and the move is very much part of raising our profile.”
The firm handles a wide range of IP and IT work, including litigation. A trainee has just been taken on and costs remain competitive, not least because of the firm’s familiarity with the IT that forms the bedrock of its clients’ business. “I haven’t used a secretary in years,” says Hailey.
The firm often quotes a fixed price for jobs and there is a legal service support scheme where clients can purchase a ‘virtual’ in-house lawyer. “It’s a retainer-based service that ensures we’re not on the periphery and provide better management information, for example renewal dates for contracts and rate rises,” says Hailey. “Often these tasks are forgotten in companies, but a lawyer is well-placed to manage them.”
Plans to expand into different areas of the legal marketplace are not in the offing. Hailey says: “We want to stay in the same niche and grow with our clients, large and small, ensuring as they develop that they have access to affordable, good-quality legal advice.” However, expansion of the firm is on the cards. “In five years’ time I see us being a 10-partner firm,” says Hailey.
|Total number of partners||Two|
|Total number of solicitors||Three|
|Main practice areas||Contentious and non-contentious IP and IT|
|Key clients||Manpower Software, Railtech Solutions and Semagix Group|
|Number of offices||one|
|Location||The Leather Market, Southwark, London|