First BSB ABS a ground-breaking collaboration between barristers and football agents

(First published 11 August 2017 on the Thomson Reuters UK & Ireland Blog here)

In conversation with Simon Collingham, Director and Chairman of VII Law, Barrister at 2 Dr Johnson’s Buildings.

In April 2017 the Bar Standards Board (BSB) received authorisation to license Alternative Business Structures (ABSs). Among the first wave of ABSs were very different businesses, including a virtual set and a specialist financial services entity. However, the first ABS, VII Law, is perhaps the most ground-breaking of all.

A unique collaboration between barristers and football agents, VII Law is set up as a BSB-regulated entity to provide a holistic package of litigation and advocacy services for professional footballers, managers, and clubs. Services include agency, intermediary, and representation services, as well as coverage of all legal needs, including sponsorship, IP, family, and criminal law matters. Its three registered intermediaries, George Gros, Jerome Anderson, and Simon Collingham, fuse rich legal and commercial expertise with specialist football knowledge.

The entity is a unique example of ‘Brand Bar’ acting as an imprimatur to provide trust and reassurance to the provision of wider, previously unregulated services.


Simon Collingham (Director and Chairman of VII Law, and barrister at 2 Dr Johnson’s Buildings) told us about the background to the business. In part a creative solution to declining legal aid rates and the imperative to diversify, the business came about through ‘a desire to form a litigation vehicle to keep more work in chambers’ as well as through his long-standing friendship with George Gros, a successful FA-registered intermediary with an extensive track record in the sport industry. The ABS structure enabled football agents and barristers to own the business together.

Collingham, with a successful previous career in the police, had formed a successful practice in chambers, in particular in Road Traffic. But, a mature entrant to the Bar, he was free of the traditional preconceptions of many barristers, and took the opportunity to work with others to forge a practice that represents the best of the creative, modern Bar. VII Law draws on the expertise of others within chambers, as well as Professor Ian Blackshaw, an internationally respected sports lawyer, academic, author, and Consultant to VII Law.

Fit with the traditional chambers model

Unlike many of the first-wave BSB ABSs, VII Law sits within a traditional chambers. This offers the benefit of a prestigious yet cost-efficient address, and of being able to draw on many of its barristers for both litigation and advisory services, while sitting as a separate entity. For 2 Dr Johnson’s Buildings, there is the potential for a new source of work.

Simon Collingham notes that the group were fortunate in being part of ‘a progressive set keen to embrace new initiatives’. 2 Dr Johnson’s Buildings Head of Chambers, Mark Love, is a Non-Executive Director of VII Law, and advises on its development, acting as a liaison point with the chambers.

Collingham notes how the specialist focus was a key selling point to chambers. This meant that ‘VII Law’s litigation services do not compete with chambers’ traditional client base. Likewise the advocacy work adds to and extends rather than cannibalises the work of chambers. Using chambers barristers for litigation and advocacy work aids barristers’ practice diversification.’

Client service

VII Law is not just about diversification. Collingham is keen to emphasise the unique nature of the high-end football client work. VII Law’s regulatory structure and state-of-the-art technology places bespoke, premier quality client service at the heart of the business model.

VII Law’s specialist focus educates the football world about the commonly-misunderstood rules on football transfers at both UK and EU level. VII Law are fast building up a network of relationships with other law firms – in Italy, Uruguay, Brazil, and others – with a similar appetite to bring transparency to the regulation of international transfers. Operating in a high-value world in which multiple parties are involved, and where agents and intermediaries are not subject to the structures and sanctions of other professions, the professional standing and ethical requirements of the Bar provides comfort and security to clients.

VII Law also works with other businesses offering innovative client-focused solutions. The Kohen Rapoport Group’s Legal Cost Finance is popular with VII Law’s high net worth client base.


Supporting VII Law’s unique business model and focus on client experience is technology. Case management software provides anytime, anywhere management of cases, recording of time and transparent billing for clients. Used by both the legal and football arms of the business, it also provides a uniquely transparent paper trail of the work of agents and intermediaries, ensuring clients a clear, professional service. Dictation software translates meetings, providing competitive advantage when dealing with international clients.


Collingham notes that many previous barrister–non-lawyer businesses have been forged with professionals from other regulated professions, such as tax experts or accountants. VII Law’s offering is unique in bringing football agents – whose conduct is largely unregulated – under the Bar’s robust regulatory umbrella.

Although bringing unregulated professionals within the regulatory umbrella creates risks which had to be worked through in the helpful BSB application process, this regulation and the standards of conduct is a real advantage of the ABS structure, with client-winning potential. The high ethical standards of the legal profession enhance the integrity of the process for all clients involved in the transactions. Collingham notes that it was important to ensure this without stifling the creativity of the experienced intermediaries in the best possible arrangements for their clients. The BSB regulatory umbrella facilitates agents’ creativity, acting as a gold seal to a business model which will see VII Law representing its clients all the way through their career, whether the legal issues pertain to contracts and employment, to family law issues, criminal issues, privacy, or building a career in punditry or media after professional football.


VII Law showcases the Bar at its best and most creative. Whereas many of the ventures mooted for ABS status meld barristers’ expertise with that of other regulated professionals, VII is unique in embracing the new regulatory regime to work with professionals from an entirely different world, positioning itself to achieve competitive advantage. It will certainly be exciting to watch VII Law develop. As Collingham notes, VII Law ‘provides a flexible platform to develop in whatever shape or form we want’.

You can access the latest full issue of ‘Innovating the Bar’, featuring this article and more here.


Differentiating the modern small law firm and how cloud-based matter-management technology can help

(Originally published on 25 July 2017 on the Thomson Reuters UK & Ireland Legal Solutions Blog here)

In the increasingly competitive legal services market, everyone is talking about ‘differentiation’. Everyone wants to stand out from the competition. Price, quality, and service are key. Differentiation drives competitive advantage.

It is reductive to state that the result of differentiation is the holy grail of price premiums. Yet successful differentiation reduces the directness of competition. It changes the conversation from that of price competition to one about non-price factors. If clients value your offering, they will be less sensitive to competing offers.

So who is differentiated?

The market for small and medium-sized law firms is increasingly crowded. The sector also has an increasingly homogenous feel. Who can really tell one firm from another? Many firms claim unique market position, but how much of this is internal naval-gazing? Can the client – or potential client – really tell one firm from the next? And do they care? Some factors held out as differentiation – sectoral specialism, timely delivery – are yawn-inducing, nothing but hygiene factors expected by the busy client. Certainly, me-too approaches proliferate. For very small firms, or sole practitioners, you yourself are key: people instruct the firm because of you.

How can you differentiate your firm?

There are many ways in which you can differentiate your firm to enhance its attractiveness to your potential target market. Look at the market context. What are your unique resources that can develop a position uniquely valuable to your client base? What skills and networks do your employees bring? Are you offering a product that differs from that of your competitors? Or delivering it in a new and exciting way? Or providing unrivalled availability? Only after identifying this, is it possible to use sales and marketing to carve out a unique identity.

Technology as a source of differentiation

However you look to position your firm, responsiveness and understanding of your clients’ businesses are overwhelmingly the key factors determining which firms are instructed. (See Standing out from the crowd: What businesses value most from their law firms). So any differentiation strategy has to ensure that these factors are covered.

I recently participated with Sally Azarmi, of Azarmi Legal Services and Head of the Law Society Small Firms Division, in our webinar on how cloud-based matter management can help set small firms apart and deliver enhanced client service. A key theme of this webinar was the importance of technology to standing out. Technology is central to maximising fee earners’ time. For small firms, based on their founders’ reputation, this is critical. Fee-earners do not have the time to wear the multiple hats of IT manager, fee earner, and trouble shooter. Simple cloud-based systems free up crucial time and space. Further, this  technology can also enable a small firm to create the highly professional, cutting-edge impression of a firm that is larger and more established, giving clients the confidence to give them high value work that might otherwise go to much larger organisations.

So technology is increasingly becoming a factor in generating differentiation and competitive advantage. It supports core business processes, acting as a time saving device freeing up fee earners to serve clients better, to focus on the all-important relationships and on providing the personal touch. Matter management solutions such as Firm Central can save each fee earners 15 minutes or more a day, freeing up valuable time to focus on the value add, or on networking and business development. It can also be accessed anywhere, increasingly important in the current age where a fee-earner may be as likely to be at home as in the office.

Technology is not just a supporting tool but can itself differentiate

Technology can also place you ahead of peers. Cloud-based solutions, such as Firm Central, enable you to have access to big firm technology and infrastructure in a way designed for the needs and workflow of small firms, without the hassle of IT infrastructure, servers, backups, and IT staff costs.

And to present modern, client-friendly, collaborative services that exude professionalism. Imagine visiting the offices of a law firm. Is the office awash with paper or the modern digital workplace more impressive? Which would you want to instruct?

Likewise, would you prefer to instruct the firm you have to ring up for updates on your matter, or the one providing real time 24/7 updates, and using collaborative tools such as client portals to work with you to achieve your desired result. Technology such as Firm Central enables firms to differentiate through their improved service offering.

In the recent webinar mentioned above, we discussed this and more, with Sally Azarmi, Chair of Small Firms Division at the Law Society of England and Wales.You can access the full recording of the webinar and the presentation here.

Innovation at the Bar: Who is leading the way?

(Reposted from Thomson Reuters UK & Ireland Legal Solutions Blog, published on 24 May 2017, here. You can also see my full report and profiles there).

The Bar is steeped in tradition. Although often considered a profession hampered by antiquated structures, the strong independent Bar remains fundamental to the rule of law, with a history of dynamic change dating back to its ejection from the City of London under Henry III.

In recent years, the Bar has faced rapid and unprecedented change. Funding cuts, new cost regimes, regulatory changes, increased barriers to entry, and changing client demands are among the changes impacting on the daily work of barristers.

How have barristers responded? How have they innovated? What benefits have they gained? And what is the future for the Bar?

‘We are not just innovating the Bar; we are innovating the entire legal industry.’ (Daniel ShenSmith, ShenSmith Barristers)

This short report from Thomson Reuters will look at the answers to these questions. We have spoken to some of the key players transforming today’s modern Bar – including barristers, Chief Executives, clerks, and other innovators. The report examines key areas of Bar innovation, and includes case studies from those at the forefront of change.

Areas covered:

• Drivers for innovation including changing regulation, client demand, and intensity of competition
• Growth of the superset
• New boutique sets
• New models, ABSs, and regulation
• Public access and international client bases
• Changing ways of getting work and referral structures
• Technology
• Outsourcing and other support
• Practice management and premises strategy
• New business and pricing models
• Cost reduction

‘Innovation is something you do to survive.’ (Stephen Ward, Clerksroom)

The future is bright for the Bar. The best of barrister innovation combines the Bar’s distinctive heritage and unique selling points with a modern dynamic business environment.

Read our full report to find out more.

Growing a successful public access practice: strategies and skills for success

Originally published on the Thomson Reuters Legal Solutions UK & Ireland Blog on 6 December 2017 at

On December 7, Thomson Reuters will host a live webinar, ‘Growing a successful public access practice – strategies and skills for success’. Speakers including Andrew Granville Stafford, Tim Becker, Daniel ShenSmith, Claire Florey and Fraser Wright will help barristers capitalise on the phenomenal opportunities presented by public access. Sign up for the webinar here.

The modern bar faces an ever more competitive environment. Reductions to the scope of legal aid funding, decreased work from traditional sources, and competition from solicitor advocates mean it is more difficult than ever to build a profitable practice.

Yet change remains slow. Dependence on the traditional solicitor referral model and chambers structure has delayed evolution. In response, many barristers are changing the way they work. Public access represents a huge opportunity for the business-savvy barrister to build an enjoyable, varied, and sustainable practice.

Although the client is different, the core work remains the same: advocacy, advice, and drafting

Public access can help individuals and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) access legal services at the point of need in a cost-effective fashion. Anyone can go to a barrister without first engaging a solicitor. And for barristers, although the client is different, the core work remains the same: advocacy, advice, and drafting.

In this changing landscape, it is surprising that more barristers have not embraced public access as a core part of their practice. In 2015, the Bar Council relaunched its Direct Access Portal. But although public access is now a mainstream part of the bar’s offering, it still accounts for a small proportion of revenues.

The April 2016 ‘Research into the public access scheme’ Final Report, commissioned by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and Legal Services Board (LSB), shows that 54 per cent of survey respondents had undertaken between one and five public access cases in the previous 12 months. Only 2 per cent of respondents had undertaken 50 or more cases. And 60 per cent of the respondents claimed that public access accounted for just 1-10 per cent of their fee income.

So how can barristers better capitalise on the opportunities presented by public access, and grow this area as a rewarding source of income?


Lack of awareness of the public access scheme remains a key barrier. Many barristers struggle with how to market themselves to the general market. Some clients remain unaware that they can instruct a barrister, and that there are potential cost benefits from doing so. Others are unsure as to the scope of work barristers can undertake. And some are put off by the chambers set-up, designed with the traditional solicitor client in mind. Yet there are now a number of services that can help the barrister looking to grow their public access practice.


The practicalities of running a direct access practice can be overwhelming. While not all work is suitable for barristers, other work is not taken on because of misconceptions about risk assessment, administrative burdens, and perceived effort. Other potential work may fall victim to difficulties around fee structures.

Barristers also have to consider all the core business concepts: how should they manage documents and telephones? Logistics? Outsourcing? Billing? Not all have chambers structures prepared to take care of these matters, and their service models often remain unsuitable for lay clients.

Barristers need systems and strategies to manage the lay client who doesn’t have knowledge of the legal process and systems, nor the demands on the barrister’s time.

Client service

For some barristers, the level of customer service expected by public access clients can prove off-putting. The dispute is everything to clients: their livelihood or their family may be at stake. The client often doesn’t understand how litigation works, or how barristers operate.

Ongoing contact can be time-consuming, extending beyond core aspects of the case, but ranging into unfamiliar territory. Disagreements can occur when the client did not understand what their counsel meant, and the barrister assumed they knew.

Barristers need to be able to obtain clear instructions and documents from the client. They need to be able quickly to build relationships of trust. Barristers need systems and strategies to manage the lay client who doesn’t have knowledge of the legal process and systems, nor the demands on the barrister’s time.

Yet for barristers prepared to navigate these waters, the rewards can be high. Understanding of public access is increasing, and new businesses and revenue streams are emerging alongside it. Likewise, there is more support for the barrister looking to build a practice than ever, with the Bar Council, BSB, intermediaries and a range of networks emerging to help barristers build success for the future.

Thomson Reuters’ live webinar, ‘Growing a successful public access practice – strategies and skills for success’, will provide barristers with practical tips and insight for successful public access practice. Sign up here.