New scene….new story: Jim Clifford OBE talks about his recent move, after over 30 years in the accounting profession to law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite, one of the latest to move to ABS status

In May this year I moved with the core of my team from Baker Tilly to form two new divisions at Bates Wells Braithwaite (BWB): Advisory and Impact. This significantly broadens Bates Wells Braithwaite’s offering both in its specialist field of charity and social enterprise, but also embraces that for its private sector clients. It also drew it to apply to be an ABS.

Whereas others have taken on the ABS structure to enable non-law firms to enter legal services, and to allow for inward investment from wider capital sources, BWB’s reasons are different; its are about the development of services to clients. Whether this is clients who want an integrated solution to a social investment plan, a strategic development, or a corporate transaction, or who simply needs legal services from lawyers who understand this wider viewpoint, they see the firm being better suited to meet clients’ needs with us around.

It’s quite a change for me. After over 30 years, originally in audit and general practice, with times out in banking, in industry, and in charity management, through insolvency and investigations work in the 1990s, and into corporate finance, I have enjoyed developing new businesses and opportunities. In my role as head of Not for Profit Advisory (for which read strategic planning and mergers and acquisitions) at Baker Tilly, I saw an opportunity and led the development of its work in social impact Measurement, and in social investment. The former embodies social research reports that tell how organisations achieve social change (“outcomes”) through their work within communities, with children and disadvantaged families, or with the homeless, for example.

Social investment is the emerging field, in which BWB is already known, for providing investment capital for organisations delivering social programmes. One project which received great press around its launch last year is It’s All About Me, the Adoption Bond, which was the first social impact bond developed wholly in the charity and social enterprise sector. For this, and for my wider work in the field within the voluntary sector, government, and the European Commission, I was honoured to receive an OBE in 2013.

BWB has long been recognised as innovative. This, and my long-standing working relationship with former senior partner Stephen Lloyd, were what drew me to the business. To work on developing new structures and approaches to transactions hand-in-hand with the people who developed the community interest company, to name but one, meant that we could bring the broad, multi-disciplinary advice that clients need, and the leadership and innovation to make it happen at the beginning, the middle and the end of a transaction, and even before it is conceived. That’s exciting and will help clients to be stronger, more effective, and to achieve more.

It’s taken a lot of thought and planning to get this far. We’ve taken soundings from clients and sector influencers, all of which have been very positive, and thought carefully about what sort of firm we need to be.

We retain a strong relationship, and a range of joint projects, with Baker Tilly. Advisory, Impact, and the Legal Practice of BWB will work independently with other advisors. The BWB ABS will allow us to take a clearer, more active role in sector innovation, standing alongside our clients as they grow and develop.