Disrupting the sector

The high-tech commercial contracts firm, Radiant Law, grew 100 per cent last year and expects the same growth again in 2015. Alex Hamilton, lawyer, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer (as well as CEO), talks to Neasa MacErlean.

Alex Hamilton

If the most dramatic predictions are right, Radiant Law is the kind of firm which will disrupt the professional services sector and help put some of the great old names out of business. The London- and Cape Town-based practice has featured on the Financial Times ‘Innovative Lawyers’ rankings and, in March, picked up the ‘Mould Breaking Firm’ award from MPF.

With a team of only 35 people, it includes Sky and other household names as clients. None of the 25 lawyers, five software specialists and five support staff works to a timesheet. Fees are fixed in advance with clients. The London HQ is backed up by the main delivery centre based in South Africa.

Looking back on the four years since Radiant Law was founded, Alex Hamilton – formerly a Latham & Watkins partner – highlights the firm’s relationships with clients as one of the practice’s main achievements. The firm has built “very close relationships with a number of clients who have really backed and supported us”, he says. “Those relationships have allowed us to really imaginatively work together, rather than being isolated and throwing the work over the wall and hoping it works.”

Part of what creates these close relationships is the common use of pilot projects before the actual work starts. Radiant Law specialises in two niches of commercial contracts – high volume work and big one-off contracts. Running pilots, to work through the processes and technology, will inevitably throw up practical problems and unexpected opportunities even before the real work begins. “The ability to get going where we can immediately add value allows us to understand the environment and it also allows the client to understand how we work,” says the former co-chair of the Latham & Watkins global group on ‘technology transactions’.

In comparison with the traditional, formal client arrangement, Radiant Law contracts are designed to be flexible enough to allow the relationship to evolve. “I am not sure that everyone knows at the start exactly what the final outcome should be,” says Hamilton. He estimates that such changes take place in about half of cases. Fees are reviewed at regular checkpoints and, in those cases where Radiant Law feels the price needs changing, that will be discussed at that stage – but only for work done afterwards. Part of the reason that contracts and circumstances change is that, in a fast-moving world, the client environment can also rapidly change. Speaking of a bank he has worked with for 15 years, Hamilton says: “It’s incredible how regularly they reorganise themselves.” He also gives an example of three clients which operate in the same sector and which give his firm similar kinds of work. However, there are some marked differences – differences which the piloting, regular reviews and close collaboration help show up. “When you see how the businesses are organised internally, you see that they have very different kinds of issues and concerns,” he adds.

At the moment, one in six of the professional staff is a software specialist, rather than a lawyer. “We will end up doing more on software,” says the CMO. “There are increasing opportunities to offer value on software.” Most of the standard legal software products on sale are not “of great interest” to the firm which is much more likely to “build our own” or draw from products aimed at other markets.

If Radiant Law doubles in turnover and in headcount in 2015, it looks quite likely to expand internationally in 2016. “The US is an obvious next step,” says Hamilton, who is also qualified at the New York bar. “It has the market. There is an appetite for change there.” And there is no language barrier. While the high volume work generally needs relatively few meetings with clients once it is up and running, the complicated one-off transactions are more likely to be commissioned in locations where face-to-face discussions can take place. So, although it is at the very high-tech end of the legal industry, Radiant still sees oldfashioned human contact as crucial.

Radiant Law is a boutique practice and Hamilton expects it to stay that way: “I don’t see us going broader than commercial contracts”. Within this area it has some service line specialisms, such as data protection and dispute resolution, but the firm understates one other kind of focus – industry sectors – on its website. Nevertheless, sector specialisation is vital to the firm which has, for example, three active, international investment banks as clients. As Radiant expands, it might decide to highlight such specialisms more actively on the site. Hamilton is certainly focusing on the issue. He says: “Our experience is that, if an industry is regulated, organisations within it will be particularly focused on whether you have experience in that sector.” Its current areas of industry focus include retail, financial services, telcos, travel and logistics.

Asked to predict the future of the legal sector as a whole, Hamilton says that firms which “really succeed” will need to make three decisions. They will have to “incentivise working smarter, not dumber” (by throwing away time sheets); halt the dependence on profit-taking so that investments can be made for the future; and set up management structures that allow effective decision-making. So which law firms does he think are doing well now? Those that are doing “interesting” things include, he says, hesitating for a moment, Seyfarth Shaw (the Chicago-based, top US 100 practice) and Irwin Mitchell (a 10- office firm in the UK).

Now that it has a turnover of £3m, Radiant Law is preparing for another stage of development – with geographical expansion now on the horizon. Last summer, the firm also appointed former Mothercare managing director Greg Tufnell – brother of cricketer Phil – as its chair. “He was the least like a lawyer that I could find,” says Hamilton. “Law is one of those industries that could benefit from the expertise built up in others.”