In January 2020 Karen Bexley and Anna Beaumont launched a new business with a vision to combine the best elements of fee-share and traditional law firms. Nobody could have foreseen then what was coming – nor the success with which they have grown Bexley Beaumont during unprecedented circumstances.
At the beginning of January 2020 British business was breathing a collective sigh of relief that it had another 12 months in which to prepare for what then appeared likely to be the most economically disruptive event in more than a decade – the end of the transition period before the UK would leave the structures of the European Union. Occasional news stories mentioned a new respiratory disease in China but, at the time, the threat appeared distant and confined.
It was against this background that two senior lawyers, Karen Bexley and Anna Beaumont, launched their new venture, Bexley Beaumont. Nobody at that point could have predicted what was about to happen to the global economy – but it would have taken an even wiser head to foresee the success with which Bexley Beaumont would take off despite the unfolding pandemic.
Bexley Beaumont launched in January 2020 and by the time the first coronavirus lockdown was imposed in the UK last March the fee-share firm consisted of five partners, including Bexley and Beaumont themselves. By 1 April 2021 that figure will have risen to 20 partners, most of them recruited and onboarded remotely, with four more partners set to join once they have worked out their notice periods.
A shared vision
Bexley and Beaumont, the firm’s joint chief executives, both have backgrounds in the consultancy and fee-share segment. Bexley, an employment specialist who previously worked at DAC Beachcroft, spent the last decade working on a fee-share basis while Beaumont, a corporate and private equity lawyer, was previously CEO of the fee-share challenger firm gunnercooke.
Bexley Beaumont was founded, Beaumont explains, “to create a boutique law firm of exceptional quality and talent.” Although partners are remunerated on a fee-share basis, the ethos of the firm is very much a hybrid – giving partners the control and flexibility that comes with a fee-share model while also providing the support, culture and sense of shared purpose and values that more usually characterises a traditional firm.
Beaumont says, “One of the most fascinating things, and I’m not sure we had anticipated this to the extent that it has turned out, is that a lot of the lawyers who are joining us are considering us or a traditional law firm, not us or another fee-share firm.”
The intention is not for Bexley Beaumont to become a huge business but, rather, to scale up in a way that maintains the firm’s culture and commitment to quality. In practical terms this means around 100 partners throughout the UK, although Bexley admits this figure is not set in stone.
She explains, “When we recruit a new partner we look at how they would fit with the existing team – we are more like a traditional law firm in that we have vacancies. It is a very strategic approach to recruitment, so that 100 partners number gives us a focus but it’s more about achieving the right balance in and between the teams, to provide each-other with the support that is needed and make the most of the opportunities we are getting and the clients we are attracting.”
The business has an office in Manchester city centre where, when working life begins to return to normal, support services will be based and partners will be able to meet and collaborate. However, although the current hub is based in the North West, the firm has partners all over the country, with 291 miles currently separating the most far-flung.
As the firm grows it will look to open hubs in other areas with a critical mass of partners, probably beginning with London and then the Midlands.
Collaboration, whether in-person or online, is at the core of the Bexley Beaumont culture. Beaumont says, “We want to create a team culture where lawyers will work together, support each other, and feel that it is a safe environment to share clients and work together on joint initiatives, pitches and proposals.
There is absolutely zero silo mentality at Bexley Beaumont, and that has been a huge focus of ours.
This is obviously more difficult in an environment where people are working remotely. However, Bexley Beaumont’s business plan meant this was always a challenge that would need to be addressed.
Bexley says, “We were always going to have to make this work, regardless of the pandemic. Our partners are currently 291 miles apart so we were never going to have those classic water cooler or coffee machine moments.
“So, how we build a team and create a culture with people living hundreds of miles apart has always been at the front of our minds.”
Bexley and Beaumont first met less than a year before establishing their firm. Both had primary school-age children and, when they discovered the similarity of their circumstances, began meeting up with their children and, while talking, Beaumont says, “We realised we could create something a little bit special together.”
One of their biggest motivations for founding Bexley Beaumont was to provide a new choice both for themselves and for other lawyers. Bexley says, “The profession needs to provide choices for people at all stages of their careers and we want to contribute to that. Our offering is unique, providing a different way to work compared to other traditional and fee-share firms and that has certainly helped our growth.”
To add to the choice available and to support innovation in the legal sector, Beaumont and Bexley want to encourage other lawyers to set up their own firms. Beaumont says, “If you’ve got a strong passion and vision then go for it because there is an awful lot of support out there, and we have been so thankful for a lot of people who have been what we call our ambassadors – really good friends, many of whom have been on this journey before.
“My advice to any other founders would be to have a really good, strong network of ambassadors around you that you can bounce ideas off and ask for support. Also, don’t be afraid to tweak your business plan – we were small and agile enough in month three, when Covid hit, to be able to tweak our business plan and that actually made us a stronger business.”
While also encouraging other potential founders to follow their passion, Bexley emphasises the importance of going into it with your eyes open.
She says, “You have to be very open and receptive to challenge, and don’t underestimate the fact that you are setting up a business. Sometimes people think they can just take their client base and put it into a structure and run it but it’s not that simple – you are running a business, and you have to be practical about what that means.”
Bexley Beaumont will shortly announce the onboarding of its first team from a traditional firm. Bexley says, “It is hugely exciting to welcome our first team and hopefully this will lead the way for other teams to join us. It may have been a challenging year to launch and grow the business during a global pandemic but we are still as passionate as ever and we are enjoying the journey creating a different type of law firm, and giving lawyers and clients more choice.”
Visit the Bexley Beaumont website