Janvi Patel, founder of Halebury, is breaking through what she sees as the current "impasse" in the legal profession. She says the changes she is making to the model are essential to the very survival of the legal services market. So what is she doing?
Halebury places lawyers with city training and in-house experience into corporate legal teams on a project basis. The idea, Patel says, is that the corporates get cost-effective, flexible legal help from people who understand how in-house works. In return, the lawyers dodge the old choice of going back to a law firm and being hounded for thousands of billable hours or staying in-house and being stuck with one boring 'client' and the same issues day and day out.
She explains that, 16 years qualified, she still gets the same response when she tells people she is a lawyer. "People either tell me a story about how their lawyer didn't go a good job, didn't understand what they wanted and overcharged them for the privilege. Or people feel sorry for me – a working mum of three has to work in such an aggressive, inflexible, hard working profession".
This is not a woman who sits easily with pity. So she decided to take the industry on and set up Halebury along with her business partner Denise Nurse.
"Both clients and lawyers were unhappy, but everyone wants to work together and actually needs each other, maybe it's the model that is the issue." Patel says that her skills lie in organising, problem solving and fixing things. She turned these skills to breaking the impasse.
She points out that change was already underway with the big rise in the size of in-house legal teams, which she attributes to the failure of the law firms to adapt to the needs of clients. An adaptation that became all the more pressing after the 2008 downturn. The financial crash helped Halebury's business growth as clients were looking to cut costs by finding other options. It made getting an audience slightly easier.
Seven years in and they have 25 lawyers in the team - soon she hopes 30. She counts at least two high street banks among their clients. "We had a plan to work with listed companies from day one. That was our market, but that is the most competitive end of the spectrum and also the hardest to reach. We were starting from scratch, with no platform and no funding. But we were determined and we had the right structure to make a real change."
The lack of funding was their biggest challenge: "No one wanted to fund a start up, an alternative law firm. No banks, no VCs, no angels. Our growth plans were strong and aggressive but we had NO access to finance". It is lucky she is a natural saver, taught by her mother to save up to 50% of her salary each month.
She started the business in London but then moved to LA with her family and now flies between LA and London on a monthly basis. To run the business across the time zones, she gets up at 4am on weekdays and her partner Nurse is the hands-on person in London. They are both "extravert", she says, yet balance each other well and share a close interest in the numbers.
Patel embraces being described as "stubborn", "determined" and "control freaky", dismissing those who think they are negative words with a shrug - "it is how I get things done". She thinks colleagues probably see her as "tough" but suggests she may be less so than they assume.
She then proudly reports that her three-year-old daughter tells her twin brother that she won't play Ninja and Superman unless he plays Princess Anna to her Queen Elsa. Queen Elsa indeed. Be afraid old school lawyers, Patel is a force to be reckoned with.
Christine Armstrong is a contributing editor of Management Today, author of Power Mums (interviews with high-profile mothers) and founder of www.villas4kids.com
She can be found on Twitter at @hannisarmstrong