Our latest 60 second interview features Keystone Law CEO and founder James Knight, who talks to The Lawyer about the myths associated with law firms going public and the trend towards corporatisation.

What is the biggest challenge law firms will be facing in the next 10 years?

James Knight
James Knight

As ever it comes down to money, or the lack of it. It would be fair to assume that the downward pressure on fees that we have witnessed over the past few years will not be reversed whilst the overhead costs associated with running law firms will continue to rise. Conventional law firms have so far dealt with these challenges by applying ever more onerous billing targets but sooner or later they will need to look at different solutions because humans also need to sleep and play.

What impact will agile working have on law firms and can it be done?

In many ways the legal professional is ideally suited to agile working. Legal services are mostly delivered electronically nowadays, which means a lawyer can deliver them from multiple locations. Equally, a lawyer’s performance and profitability can easily be assessed by comparing their salary with their billings so that means presenteeism should not be an issue. There is a tremendous demand for agile working within the legal profession and since technology now makes this logistically possible, it would be fair to conclude that the impact will be profound.

As law firm structures change, what will the leadership of the firm look like in the future?

Law firm leadership will inevitably continue the already pronounced trend towards corporatisation. It simply makes no sense to have a partner who could be billing £1m per annum, doing the job of a CEO who could be paid £200,000 per annum. The widely-held belief that a law firm CEO must himself be a lawyer will further lose credibility. It is always the CEO’s role to report to the shareholders of a business and in the case of most law firms, those ‘shareholders’ are the partners. Leaders of a law firm should work to provide the best platform for its lawyers to do their job.

What are the biggest myths associated with law firms going public?

The dotcom world teaches us that IPOs leave business owners rich and free (to be annoying). So it is hardly surprising that many in the profession assume law firm flotations are about the partners cashing out and selling everyone else down the river. In reality, investors know that the most important assets of any law firm are its people and those investors need to see a deal that has been structured to ensure the firm’s long term growth and prosperity. There are many different ways to achieve this result, but doing so will ensure new members of the firm can be properly incentivised long into the future.

If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s recently ex-lawyer. Assuming of course, that he was happy to spill all the beans.

IPOs, law firm leadership, the impact of agile working and future-proofing your law firm strategy are all topics explored at this year’s Business Leadership Summit in association with Propero. For more information on the conference, a copy of the agenda, or to inquire about attending, please contact Nathan Graham on +44(0) 20 7970 4672.