We’re travelling across the city to meet the businesses in Bristol Pound’s network who are making the most of our Premium Business Services. We want to hear the stories about them and their business, and how being a part of a localised economy helps them.
Author | Tim Oxley Smith | Follow @NaturalOxley on Twitter
We met up with Fergus Thompson, founder of Champion Law. Based in the Regus building opposite Temple Meads, he’s operating Champion Law in the shadows of the mightiest law firms Bristol has to offer. This could be intimidating for some – but not for Fergus.
Before we asked any questions, we could tell Fergus was someone who had a plan. And once he explained how Champion Law works, we saw it was a good plan, at that.
After graduating from university in 2014 with a law degree, Fergus worked in law firms in Oxford and Truro as a paralegal. Having set up Champion Law in Cornwall in May 2018, Fergus moved to Bristol – where he knew his new business idea would be at home.
A paralegal can be anyone, with or without a law degree. They carry out much of the same work as a lawyer in law firms, and can have entirely their own client matters, but they just haven’t yet undertaken assessments to qualify as a lawyer, like a solicitor. They’re often not paid all that well, either.
Owing to the huge surge in law graduates in recent years, the paralegal market has become somewhat saturated, as many are vying for the same limited training spaces to become fully fledged lawyers. This has made the market enormously competitive, with many paralegals accruing 5 or more years of practice experience, and additional qualifications, like the Legal Practice Course (currently a pre-requisite to becoming a solicitor).
On top of that, the trainee selection criteria in firms isn’t always an egalitarian process, sometimes falling down to “not what you know but who you know”, or simply being in the right place at the right time, as different firms have different trainee capacities, which fluctuate. Essentially, a fully-fledged lawyer, like a solicitor, isn’t always better than a paralegal.
Fergus not only wanted to harness the potential of the paralegal workforce in a totally new way, he also wanted to change access to legal services. Being observant of the way colleagues and the general public felt, it became clear that traditional legal services were somewhat overpriced, inflexible, and well, a bit old-fashioned.
Enabling people to access paralegal services directly meant setting up a legitimate and fully insured business that could do just that.
Next, Fergus needed Champion Law to be backed by a regulator. The law firms he had worked for were regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, but Fergus was looking to break away from that traditional model.
When Fergus came across the Professional Paralegal Register (PPR) he remembers it being a “nice surprise”. A bit of an understatement, perhaps? As the PPR enabled Fergus’ business idea to become a reality. But going by Fergus’s ambition, we’re sure he would have figured something out if the Professional Paralegal Register didn’t exist.
In finding the PPR, Fergus was able to realise Champion Law’s exciting USPs, like the insurance backed money-back policy and (much) lower rates. This would allow the business to stand out in the highly competitive legal services market, and substantially differentiate itself from the traditional offering.
Clients of Champion Law quickly realised that they were dealing with the individuals that did a lot of the legwork anyway: the paralegals. They also saw that the quality of work was alarmingly good as well – something Fergus tells us was one of the most important things to nail.
For the paralegals, Fergus had created a working environment based on fairness and respect. Paralegals working for Champion Law were now happier with the rate of pay and thrived upon the newfound appreciation they received. A part of this was allowing paralegals to work from home and dictate their own hours (“within reason”, Fergus added). This tilted the life/work balance dramatically; especially for new mums who needed that flexibility while keeping in touch with their careers. The result: a healthy, happy work ethic.
Within its first year, Champion Law was taking on a wide array of work, such as the terms of business for an international art dealer and a complex company dispute relating to breach of fiduciary duty. Fergus and his troupe of paralegals even earned Champion Law a place in the small finalist line-up for ‘Paralegal Business of the Year’ at this year’s National Paralegal Awards.
Even though Champion Law was now fully up and running, Fergus was already looking at ways to improve its offering: by providing a more complete spectrum of services that clients can access through Champion Law. Fergus explains:
“The business wasn’t where I wanted it to be just yet. While our paralegal services were fast becoming a no-brainer for clients, paralegals can’t do everything: such as conveyancing and representing clients in court. This still had to be done by lawyers, like solicitors and barristers.”
So Fergus had another bright idea. Using his industry knowledge and his ever-growing network of connections, Fergus wanted to be able to build a referral programme of law firms he liked and trusted to be the right fit for the client matters Champion Law was unable to take on. Fergus said that this fitted in perfectly with the businesses’ overriding objective of providing “the right legal professional, at the right price”.
After successfully explaining Champion Law and the legal services market place (fair play, Fergus!), we had already been picking up on parallels in his business model and Bristol Pound’s ideals. When masterminding Champion Law, Fergus always thought it could be a “very Bristol business”.
He says, “The egalitarian culture of this city fits nicely with Champion Law’s ethos of not only affordability and pragmatism for clients but also respect and equality of pay and opportunity for legal professionals working within the business.”
Although new to Bristol Pound, Fergus is already making the most of our Premium Business Services by networking with other affiliated business and letting us speak to him for this Behind the Business blog.
If you’d be interested in joining Bristol Pound’s Premium Business Services, please contact Ian (firstname.lastname@example.org). And if you or your business would be interested in speaking to Champion Law, Fergus (email@example.com) would love to hear from you too.