Four-partner London-based Kaltons has set its sights on the international IT and property market. “We want to be able to service key jurisdictions and have a global capacity,” says managing partner Maitland Kalton. Two years into a 10-year strategic plan, Kalton himself is now qualified to practise at the New York Bar. The firm has a Malaysian and Singapore-qualified lawyer and another New York Bar trainee. Kalton favours dual-qualified new recruits and hopes to grow the team considerably.
All these plans are, by necessity, tempered with a heavy degree of caution in today's economic climate. Kaltons has been hit by the downturn on all fronts, resulting in turnover sitting at around £750,000 and recruitment being on hold. However, the firm has been joined in the last year by Chris Phillips, who joined as an associate in September 2001 from London Bridge firm Beesley Burgess Williams. He was made partner in July. UK solicitor Raj Godfrey-Mahapatra, consultant for IT, internet and corporate finance, joined in May from LeBoeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae in New York.
The firm is stuck in that catch-22 zone – unable to afford more fee-earners, of whom they have seven – but desperately needing more manpower to achieve its goals. Kalton has been spending one week out of four in New York, but is set to change his gruelling schedule. “We've been frantically marketing. It is about bringing work back to the home countries. One of the ways we're raising awareness on that side of the pond is by doing a continuing legal education programme (CLE) for one of the New York Bar associations.”
The bulk of Kaltons' fees come from the property department, with much also coming from commercial. The majority of the commercial work is generated from IT/intellectual property, but this last year has proved difficult. “It's been extremely tough, but we're hanging in there,” says Kalton. “Fortunately, property has been extremely buoyant.” And the firm does well from private client work by supporting other law firms. “It is very much an untapped market for providing back-up services to other law firms,” says Kalton.
Within the last year Kaltons has invested £100,000 in its IT systems, both hardware and software. The Solicitech case-management software enables clients access to all their own files once they have opted in to the scheme. Many clients are engaged in a trial period.
E-signatures are the big new topic for digital security and electronic conveyancing. Kalton, as the chairman of the IT in Property Group, newly formed by the Society for Computers & Law (SCL), is at the head of discussions regarding its suitability. Kalton says: “They're not yet, in my opinion, sufficiently secure to pass the acid test of acceptability regarding something as valuable as the transfer of land.” The Government is slowly introducing the possibility of e-signatures with the Electronic Communications Act 2000, but in reality they are far from being accepted. At least Kaltons' clients know they will be kept well-informed.
Clients include US software company BEA Systems, the Public Trustee and NLIS Searchflow, winner of this years SCL award.