With Bellevue Law’s fifth anniversary approaching, founder Florence Brocklesby reflects on the firm’s beginnings, the challenges it has faced, and the focus and culture that make Bellevue Law unique.
When I set up Bellevue Law five years ago it was something of a passion project – it still is! I failed gloriously in my original vision, which was to be a sole practitioner working from the home office at the bottom of my garden. The truth is, the practice grew much more quickly than I had anticipated, meaning that it was soon too successful for me to keep it at that size! The best laid plans, and all that…
My vision when I started – to create an employment and litigation boutique offering the quality and expertise of a City firm, but at a fraction of the cost, and completely agile working for the lawyers involved – proved an instant hit with lawyers and clients alike. We have been fortunate to achieve a winning combination of high-quality work and a great quality of life. Clients warm to that as they get outstanding lawyers with large-firm standards and work ethic, but we make sure this is aligned with the lawyers’ other life obligations. It’s a balance and we work hard on retaining it.
When we were setting up, my sense was that a lot of clients feel that firms beyond the City compromise on quality of advice or service to reduce their costs and make their model work. This doesn’t have to be the case and I spotted an opportunity and an opening in the market: to differentiate ourselves by maintaining a high level of quality whilst removing some of the bureaucracy and overhead that prevents firms from being efficient. The intention was to empower all our people, providing them with the tools and infrastructure to support their working, and then, essentially, getting out of their way as much as possible.
What we’ve ended up with is a unique, exciting work model that allows us to attract really exceptional talent yet keep the costs down for our clients. It’s also made Bellevue Law an extremely happy place to work for our small team, which is brilliant.
How we work – the keys to our success
A focus on where we are going to add value for clients. Our commercial litigators are ex-City lawyers who enjoy working on complex and timely matters that might usually be undertaken by larger firms. Clients – who range from major corporations to entrepreneurs to individuals – appreciate the combination of quality and value that we offer. And sometimes it makes more commercial sense for larger firms to refer work to us due to the value of the matter or size of the budget. City and US firms regularly trust Bellevue Law with their clients’ smaller matters as a safe, affordable pair of hands (equally, they know that we won’t compete for the matters that need a larger team and are in those firms’ sweet spots).
Our employment team works mostly for owner-managed businesses and senior employees, providing clients with the benefits of decades of big-firm experience and an empathetic approach – all for an affordable fee.
Fully agile working. Our lawyers can work from anywhere: from home; from the Bellevue Law Wandsworth office or a network of serviced offices across London; when travelling in the UK or abroad; or on-site for a client. Now that we have a small team, it’s great to meet up for training and social events, but nobody is required to come to the office on particular days or at set times, saving hours of commuting and allowing us to manage work and life.
Cutting-edge technology enabling people to work remotely. IT systems can be an endless source of frustration for professionals, so I knew it was worth investing in technology. Our system is of impressive quality, allowing our team to log in from any device (smartphone, laptop, tablet, etc.) and instantly (and securely) access all of the firm’s documents. We want to make our lawyers’ working lives as straightforward as possible and it wouldn’t be fair or practicable for a clunky IT system to slow things down.
No chargeable hours targets. Our lawyers have no billing targets – we employ exceptional lawyers with the expectation that they have the skills and diligence to manage their work effectively and fulfil their commitments to their clients, and they meet that expectation without fail. Beyond that, they are free to take on as much or as little work as they like. Our experience is that flexibility makes for a happy team, which makes for great work and happy clients.
Many people assume that flexible working means set reduced hours or days, but for us it works both ways, which benefits both the team and the client. One of our lawyers reduced her workload recently to allow her to support a child through exams, but shortly afterwards the same lawyer chose to work long hours to prepare an urgent High Court application. We regularly make ourselves available to clients out of standard office hours. It’s a system of trust and common sense, and it works enormously well: our clients tell us that they are consistently impressed with the outstanding level of service that we provide – it just works.
Empowered, expert staff. Our model means that we punch well above our weight in terms of the lawyers we attract. Bellevue Law isn’t a City firm, and we would never want to be – but we appeal to professionals with the same level of expertise and high standards. We won’t ever compromise on the quality of the people that we hire, or the quality of the systems that we use; but our smaller scale means that we gain efficiencies by cutting out overhead and not duplicating efforts in delegating to others. We also get an impressive amount of work referred in from leading City and US firms because they know that for some matters we sit at the right price and quality point for their clients.
Beyond their technical skills, in a small team it’s crucial that everyone has soft skills and emotional intelligence, and I’m fortunate to have such a great group of colleagues. We’re not only lawyers but all-round businesspeople: our team have the freedom to go out and build client relationships themselves, which again empowers them and increases their passion for the work, because they’re free to pursue cases that really interest them and develop deep relationships with their clients.
These are all benefits that we pass onto our clients, who enjoy more affordable fees, a really exceptional level of care, and high-quality legal services.
What our people say
“For me it works. Finding somewhere where I can do high-quality work, flexibly and supported by a great team, is ideal for me, my family and my clients.” – Oliver Stokes, Senior Consultant for Bellevue Law.
What our clients say
A recent client described my colleague Leigh Edgar as “a rare blend of kindness and insight, steadfast support and deep professionalism. Anyone who has cause to employ her services, will find someone who offers fantastic support, legal expertise and patience – exactly what is needed. She was a pleasure to work with and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend her.” That says it all!
What our peers say
“You were flawless, thoughtful, sensitive and very careful with your expenditure of time and resources. I will make a point of suggesting you to my partners and colleagues for our future needs.” – Partner, international firm.
We think that, over time, the market will come increasingly towards our model of working. We’ll adapt our model as we go to remain ahead of competitors. But one thing that won’t change is our ethos: we’ll never compromise on the quality of our work, the quality of our lawyers or the balance of life outside of work that it makes possible.