‘I couldn’t find a service I needed so I decided to offer it myself’, says CEO of Keystone Law

Interview | Legal

James Knight

Meet the CEO

Established in 2002, Keystone Law was created by a group of pioneering lawyers who realised that the legal market was ready for something new.

The firm, headed up by James Knight, uses technology and a modern approach to the way it works, offering lawyers and its clients more freedom, mobility and autonomy in the way they deliver services.

Keystone has grown from a start-up to a leading law firm with over 270 lawyers, 40 support staff and many thousands of clients.

Business Leader Magazine spoke with James about the ideology behind the law firm, the role technology is playing in the sector and Keystone Law’s decision to float on the London Stock Exchange.

What inspired you to go into business in the first place and how was the firm was founded?

When a business starts you get into it because you see a niche in the market and feel you can fill a void which is necessary. For me, I wanted a service, I couldn’t find it, I thought there must have been someone out there providing it – and there wasn’t. So, I decided to offer it myself.

I returned from Hong Kong where I had been working for around eight years, I was a lawyer, looking to start up my own firm. I was working as a consultant for businesses which I had found either because I had advertised or befriended. It was a pleasant way to be working with new small, dynamic businesses and at certain times I thought I needed a little bit more in the way of work.

I thought there needed to be a central organisation, a place to go if you needed more work and this place would help you find it. I also wanted somewhere clients could also find people, as the way I was working with companies was more as a consultant and it was refreshing. There was no business like this at all at the time.

What were your first initial steps to setting up the business?

We were very focused on marketing right from the start. Like a lot of businesses, you start with a website and you advertise. What I was seeking to do was get together a team of suitable lawyers and promote the collective services to clients. Like any business which provides a service, whether it be online or offline, you’ve got to accompany both sides, and realising the supply and demand for what you’re providing.

What do you believe sets apart Keystone Law from the rest of law firms in the UK?

It is a busy marketplace but we’re very different compared with conventional law firms in the fact that we use technology but also have personality and an ethos which has been designed to appeal to lawyers who join us as well as clients.

The technology used allows people to work in a mobile way, with freedom and autonomy, without increasing risk to the business. It allows the clients to get a service which is more tuned to their particular needs.

By giving the lawyers the flexibility that they want they’re able to tap into the nuances of each client and what they need – working with them in a way that is tailored to their requirements.

You recently floated on the London Stock Exchange. How has the growth been for the firm?

In the legal profession we were the first ones to create the concept and model which we run. Now, most law firms are structured and operate in the same way we do, moving away from fixed salaries, central locations where workers need to be.

What organisations like Keystone has done is show that flexibility, freedom, mobile working and autonomy is possible within law firms.

In law, everything is very regulated, it’s ok being mobile and everything like that, but you still have to be professional, and be able to manage risk in terms of loss of data and other aspects.

Are there plans for expansion?

We are growing very quickly. We are expanding, we’ve gained more lawyers and more clients and it’s significant. In terms of the international side of the business, we are very much looking for opportunities, whether they will come to fruition is not necessarily straight forward because of regulations and laws being different.

We’ll see how it goes.

What role has marketing and PR played in the journey of your business?

It plays a massive role for any business in its journey. The look, the feel, the promotion of your business is all down to the marketing and the way you personally promote yourself. You need to be professional and that’s the reason why clients engage with us and the reason why lawyers join us.

How increasingly important is the role that technology plays in law firms?

Law is suited to mobility and flexibility so the way we’re structured makes sense. The profitability of a lawyer is judged on their financial effectiveness and how much they’re billing.

Data security has become an incredibly important aspect, long before GDPR became something people are up to date with.

As we move forward there’s other forms of technology being discussed in the legal space such as artificial intelligence – which could impact law firms in some way.

Plus blockchain, one way or the other, will form a significant part in all businesses in the next five or 10 years.

What can you attribute to the share price rise experienced by Keystone Law since the listing on the stock exchange?

Sometimes the public markets really cannot be predicted and what the share prices will do on any day. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t quite surprised or flattered with the price since we floated in November last year.

It’s been an extraordinary and unprecedented rise and I think it’s been because Keystone has caught the imagination of both individual and institutional investors, they like it. Why? Because it’s profitable and it’s growing very quickly which is unusual and they like it because it’s cash generative and it’s low risk – because it doesn’t have any reliance on any particular lawyer or client.

Keystone is very diverse, we don’t act for 10 massive companies, we act for thousands of small, medium sized businesses plus individuals.

What do you see the future being for the law sector?

There’s a lot of movement from other firms towards the same sort of operation which we run. That’s because it is so viable to provide legal services through technology, and face to face when necessarily, with this in mind, you’ll see a great deal more dispersed law firms coming onto the marketplace.

That’s what we’re seeing now and it will only increase in the future.

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