Cornwall Street adapts for the future (commercial feature)

Many sets are rethinking their space due to the financial and operational impact of COVID-19, and Cornwall Street Barristers has already adapted its business model for the future. By James Farmer

At a time when reliance on physical office space is perhaps becoming less of a requirement, how does a barristers chambers retain the space it occupies, stay relevant, decrease expenditure, and increase income for its service company and members? It might sound like a tall order, but this is exactly the question Cornwall Street Barristers, like many other sets, had been mulling over for a number of years.

Last year, James Farmer, the Chambers Director of Cornwall Street Barristers and Andrew Beedham, an ex-Equity Partner of a national law firm and owner Director of BrightPoint Legal, saw and seized the opportunity provided by the change in Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) rules. These rule changes allow solicitors to now offer unreserved legal activities as independent solicitors. Seeing the opportunity to provide an environment with office support for individuals looking to take advantage of the new regulations, the pair created Forte Independent Solicitors.

Freelance, or independent solicitors are self-employed solicitors who practise on their own and do not employ anyone else in connection with the services they provide; practise in their own name, rather than through a trading name or through a service company; and are engaged directly by clients with fees payable directly to them. The new regulations enable them to work in much the same way as barristers can in this regard.

The SRA talked about such solicitors joining forces in a chambers-style arrangement in its guidance, but James Farmer is keen to stress that Forte doesn’t go as far as that. Rather, it is a service company that gives independent solicitors a base from which to work and provides a wide range of back office services, from desk space in the building shared with Cornwall Street Barristers, an online case management system, IT support and library resources, to help with securing professional indemnity insurance, credit control and marketing facilities. The set-up allows solicitors greater freedom, a better work/life balance and control over their practice.

Forte is able to support solicitors who want to provide reserved legal activities, although freelancers are experiencing some difficulty in securing insurance for reserved legal activities. Forte is therefore also able to accommodate those who want to provide reserved legal activities as registered sole practitioners instead.

Many sets find themselves in the position of rethinking their space in light of the impact COVID-19 has placed on them financially and operationally. Those at Cornwall Street feel they were on the front foot; looking for ways to reduce their expenditure and better utilise the underused space in their building is something they have been looking at for the past couple of years. The association with Forte enables them to pool resources and reduce expenditure while also allowing them to share their building with like-minded professionals.

Forte is keen to attract those solicitors at partner or senior level who are currently rethinking the way they deliver services to their clients and interest has been growing since they launched. It is currently in talks with a number of solicitors who, because they simply want a change or because of the impact COVID-19 has had on their practice, are interested in joining Forte.

It is also keen to open discussions with other sets across the country to see how the model could be replicated to support them as they navigate the tricky waters of COVID-19.

To find out more, please contact Cornwall Street Barristers’ Chambers Director James Farmer on 0121 233 7566 or 07384 463028 or j.farmer@cornwallstreet.co.uk

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James Farmer

James Farmer is Chambers Director of Cornwall Street Barristers.