‘Utterly seismic’: the difference between two law firm models

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If you had to design a law firm from the ground up for a client in January 2015, how would it look? One lawyer believes he may have the answer.
For Peter Monk, it is difficult to compare his previous role as managing partner of DLA Piper’s Melbourne office and his new role as a founder and principal of new firm Hive Legal. The two are just worlds apart.
A ‘BigLaw’ firm stalwart, Monk spent a large portion of his career as a partner with Minter Ellison – both in Australia and in Asia –followed by a long stint with DLA in the Middle East and back in his home country.
Since he made a decision last year to join the vanguard of a brand new type of law firm, it has been like a quantum shift for Monk to make.
“Whether you are talking about an extremely large Australian headquartered firm or a truly global operator like DLA, the difference between those firms and Hive Legal is utterly seismic.”
However, something Monk has in abundance is passion. And it’s passion for a new service model that BigLaw struggles to provide.
“Hive has been created to essentially address a new reality in the marketplace, and it’s been really invigorating for me personally – we are creating a whole new lawyering experience really,” he says.
“The essence is this: if you were going to start with a clean sheet of paper and address the dynamic of the global economic environment, what sort of firm would you create? Would it be of the magnitude and the cost base of a large law firm, which were created to face a different paradigm and different part of the economic cycle?” he asks.
Monk is – obviously - convinced BigLaw is no longer an ideal design.
“We are finding that being able to unchain ourselves from the massive fixed cost base of a giant firm gives you the ability to be innovative and flexible, both from a client and internal staff perspective,” he says.
Monk acknowledges that for servicing large transactions with elements in 25 jurisdictions, it helps to be able to have that under one roof. However, he said those a “few and far between”, and the cost base to be able to service that is being carried on a permanent basis.
“What we are finding is that being unlocked from all that gives us the ability to have more agile and meaningful relationships with clients; we can actually talk to clients around value-based billing and fixed cost billing rather than fixed cost plus structures that exist elsewhere.”
One aspect of any new model is what Monk calls separating “substance from form” – something that’s likely to appeal to just about any lawyer – partner or otherwise – who feels perpetually chained to a desk.
“The reality is in this day and age with technology the way it is, if you can create flexible working arrangements you can be delivering value to a client if you are sitting in that client’s office, in your home office, sitting on a train or in your own CBD space. It’s about delivering value rather than the optics of sitting at your desk at 7:45pm in Martin Place because everyone else sees that as the done thing to do,” he said.
Monk says he misses elements of the BigLaw firm structure periodically, but that the Hive Legal model takes lawyering back to basics, bringing the focus back to delivery and getting up close to clients.
“Because our model is very much value-based and around innovation, and because we are agile and new and have this much more flexible cost base and other modes of operating it gives us the ability to have a different natured discussion with a client; we can talk more broadly around the ways we can deliver value, such as investing with a client collaboratively to deliver completely new solutions, whether that’s commoditised legal work or your rocket-sized deals,” he said.
“We can afford to take the time to invest in those discussions and invest in meaningful outcome creation rather than being a prisoner of time recording, or the time based financial structure of a practice.”