Firm: Russell Jones & Walker
Title: Chief executive and managing partner
Firm turnover: £38.5m
Total number of lawyers: 93
Neil Kinsella’s CV
Education: LLB, University of Manchester
1983: Qualified at Pannone Napier
1986: Promoted to partner
1991: Joined Russell Jones & Walker
1999: Appointed head of Manchester office
2002: Appointed chief executive
The chief executive of Russell Jones & Walker (RJW) Neil Kinsella is probably best known across the legal profession for always seeming to be one step ahead of his rivals.
Kinsella’s career, which has spanned a quarter of a century, has seen him at the heart of many innovations that have shaped the personal injury (PI) industry to cater for high-volume litigation.
The former punk rocker was in the mix when Pannone Napier’s co-founder Rodger Pannone created the first-ever UK disaster practice, which notably serviced the North Sea Chinook helicopter crash of 1986, the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 and the Marchioness disaster of 1989.
It was from Pannone that Kinsella learnt the secrets of his trade. “Rodger was my mentor and still is,” says Kinsella. “He made me realise that there’s only one important rule – to be aware of exactly what the consumer wants from their legal services and to ensure that you have a setup which can adapt with those needs.”
Kinsella continues to adhere to this rule, which is why RJW became the first law firm to throw its hat into the ring to take advantage of the legal reforms recommended by Sir David Clementi.
The firm aims to be the first to utilise an alternative business structure (ABS) in order to transform itself into a household brand for consumer legal services in time for 2010, when the Legal Services Act is expected to come into force.
But Kinsella’s outside-the-box thinking has seen RJW undertake innovative steps long before it decided to take up an ABS.
Historically, RJW has sourced many of its clients through the trade unions, including Amicus, Prospect and the Police Federation of England & Wales. This continues to be an important part of the firm’s business, but it has also worked to attract individual clients to the firm.
The change in strategy came around 2003, a period when RJW was going through a rough patch, with a wave of redundancies. At this point Kinsella took over as chief executive and managing partner and had his chance to implement the rules he learnt from his mentor Pannone.
In 2002 RJW bought the Claims Direct brand, which had gone into administration. Along with the brand, which has since been renamed ‘New Claims Direct’, the deal had a call centre thrown in.
“We realised that the legal world was changing and we as a firm needed to change with it,” explains Kinsella. “There seemed to be a growing emphasis on ensuring that all people had ready access to justice, where simple claims could be dealt with in as little as 48 hours. That’s what the purchase of Claims Direct and the setting up of other dedicated helplines has enabled us to do.”
Kinsella says the acquisition fundamentally “changed the culture” of the firm. “As much of the work through the helplines is standard law and administrative, it meant that we could take on law graduates and people from different backgrounds and allow us to train them internally. Their experiences from outside the legal world has brought fresh ideas and a different atmosphere to the firm,” he says.
Through Claims Direct, RJW has built up a strong panel of solicitors, and it is this type of setup that Kinsella feels would be a good foundation for the firm’s post-Clementi restructuring.
“We’ve learnt a lot about how to service the consumer through Claims Direct and the other legal helplines that we’ve set up,” explains Kinsella. “The reforms brought in by Clementi will allow us to develop what we already have into an even better consumer legal service.
“At the moment I consider a group structure, where we join forces with other specialist professions, as the best way to provide a value legal service.”
Such a structure would see financiers and insurers on par with legal partners, which is why Kinsella feels that “the traditional partnership model will not stand the test of time”, at least as far as the PI arena is concerned.