Access to justice requires law firms to reinvent themselves, say Hodge Jones & Allen
Posted on: 5th November 2014
Firm says it hopes it can be a “beacon of best practice” to others as it lays out plans for aggressive growth.
The changes in the legal market, particularly the ability of ordinary people to access justice, means law firms have to reinvent themselves, says Patrick Allen, senior partner of Hodge Jones & Allen (HJA).
The firm, best known for helping ordinary people deal with extraordinary events for almost four decades, says that the past two years has created a perfect storm for firms like HJA with the Jackson reforms, slashing of legal aid, introduction of fixed costs, costs budgeting and new rules on proportionality meaning it had to rethink the way it did business.
“Just because you do vital work, it does not give you an automatic right to exist. It was clear to us that business as usual was not an option – we had to change, be innovative and reinvent ourselves,” explains Patrick Allen.
Mr Allen was outlining the firm’s Continuous Innovation Programme, which is ensuring it can continue to deliver on its core aim of “using the law to improve people’s lives”. The programme, introduced two years ago, has seen the firm take a bottom-up review of its structure, its management, the type of work it undertakes, the way it recovers fees, the processes it employs and the support fee-earners need.
In doing so it has drawn from the experience of a plethora of sectors and installed a new management board. As well as the partners in charge of the firm’s five legal directorates, the management team features four operational heads: former WPP director, Jonathan Francis (Strategy and Commercial Director); former head of HR for the Olympic Village, Diane Poulter (HR Manager); Alan Geaney (Operations Director) who brings wide ranging experience from a number of professional service environments; and Barry Coombes (Finance Director) who has spent over 30 years working in health and leisure in the UK and US.
This decision, along with many other innovations, is expected to enable the firm to increase its £14m turnover by a third over the next two to three years, with profits expected to double.
“There were no sacred cows. We challenged everything and we continue to do so. Everyone in the business has had to respond to the agenda of innovation. We have innovated on big issues, such as governance, introducing a board of directors with clear roles, responsibilities and decision-making powers, to make the firm fleeter of foot and more responsive to the volatile business environment.
“We have also innovated on the smaller things, recognising that small changes can add up to make a big difference, from rationalising and reviewing precedents, to relationship management initiatives, to the establishment of a new Legal Help Centre for the take-on of clients. Change is hard and we were aware of the pressures this has put our staff under, so we have simultaneously introduced new staff assessment and feedback procedures to ensure we can understand and respond to their needs. This has included adopting the London Living Wage,” explains Patrick.
The firm also places a great deal of importance on technology; it was one of the first in the profession to embrace technology, buying its first computer in 1981 (with a grand total of 10MB of memory). Today, the firm is 70% of the way towards being paperless and expects to have eliminated the need for paper within the next two years. Patrick Allen has also been a member of a working group to improve the use of technology for court users and is looking to see how IT can help to make arbitration schemes attractive as an alternative to the court system in personal injury cases.
Since its creation, HJA has been at the forefront of some of the UK’s most renowned legal cases, particularly in criminal law, medical negligence, housing, civil liberties and human rights. Significant work includes acting for Neville Lawrence, the father of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, in various and ongoing actions against the police; securing compensation for the Bridgewater Four, successfully arguing to the Supreme Court that found British Troops remain within the UK’s jurisdiction when deployed on active service abroad, and so are protected by the Human Rights Act; representing suspects in the on-going LIBOR investigation; and, acting for women in the UK that had been incarcerated in Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries.
Yet, Patrick Allen is quick to point out that a desire to thrive in the new legal world does not mean that HJA has lost its campaigning edge. “We have been at the forefront of the legal sector – changing lives, making headlines and advancing the law – since our inception and we do not see any reason why this should change.”
The firm is also undertaking research, through Ipsos MORI, to understand how other legal firms are responding to the changes the legal sector is being subject to and what they desire for the future. These results are to be shared with the whole legal community in November, through “The HJA Innovation in Law Report”, aiming to stimulate a debate on how the whole legal system cannot just survive, but thrive.
All press enquiries to:
Kerry Jack, Black Letter PR on 020 8736 0442 or 07525 756 599, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors:
Hodge Jones & Allen was founded in 1977 in Camden and has over 200 staff based in Euston NW1. The firm practices personal injury, clinical negligence, civil liberties, family law, wills and probate, housing, dispute resolution, criminal defence and serious fraud.