Pragmatic and straight-talking is how the young Yorkshire law firm Consilia Legal describes itself. And it is down-to-earth terms that director and co-founder Marie Walsh describes how, when she co-founded the firm in 2014, it was initially going to be “a back bedroom job” enabling her to balance her family and professional life. “I wasn’t focused on it becoming a big venture.” A furiously busy first year quickly posed the question: to turn down the extra work or expand the business. It didn’t take long to answer.
Today the firm, which operates solely in the two areas of family and employment law and has a strong focus on the use of mediation, has become a 12-strong firm with its office in Leeds and a satellite presence in Harrogate.
The nascent business received plenty of support from the local business community. Former clients came onto the books. “There has been amazing goodwill from other entrepreneurial people across the city,” she says. The firm regularly receives work from other larger law firms. “As we are not competitive with the bigger practices, they will refer work to us when they can’t take it on themselves,” Walsh explains.
She describes herself as an accidental entrepreneur. But what started with modest ambitions changed when she joined the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses UK programme. “It was full of phenomenal people who were normal people,” she says, “and it provided a very supportive environment. I am not very good at saying that I am proud of our success but the Goldman Sachs programme made me more comfortable about being successful.”
As a result, she set the goal for Consilia Legal to increase its fee revenues in 2020 by more than 40 per cent.
The only reason that it won’t hit that target this year will be Covid. One factor that caused business to slow down was that Royal Mail stopped delivering to Consilia’s office. Although the firm’s IT infrastructure had been established with secure working from home in mind, the analogue world of family law documents meant that court deadlines and judgements were all in the post. “We didn’t get post for four weeks after lockdown, which was one of the most stressful experiences,” she says.
But Covid is driving change in the legal world. Family documents are starting to go online. Witnesses at employment tribunals are now appearing on screens.
And demand for online mediation services is rising, so Consilia has launched an online mediation service. It’s not just a means of overcoming the immediate logistical problems thrown up by Covid; it has highlighted the wider benefits of online mediation, reducing travel time for parties, speeding up the process and taking the potential heat out of face-to-face encounters. “It is leading to better resolutions,” says Walsh. And it’s leading to more business – “our online mediation services have been a brilliant innovation and we are getting inquiries from across the country.”
From the start, finding good affordable premises in the centre of Leeds has been a problem for the firm. “We need to be in the LS1 postcode for the proximity to the courts and to other law firms but also for our online visibility,” she says. However, the impact of Covid may have an upside in this respect.
“We have a nice office that fitted 12 people pre-Covid but it was going to be very costly to find extra space to accommodate our growth. Now, post-Covid, we could double our number of staff using the space that we have. We can invest further in technology rather than property. What was a big headache is less of one.”
With confidence fuelled by her attendance on 10,000 Small Businesses UK, Walsh has secured a Bounce Back Loan for the firm as well made applications for a grant from the Leeds City Region LEP – both will be used to invest in people and technology.
She is optimistic about 2021. “Of course, nothing is predictable and our expectations shift on a monthly basis. But I am confident that we will achieve £1m fee revenues – and if you had told me four years ago that is what we would be heading for, I would have just laughed.”
"It was full of phenomenal people who were normal people, and it provided a very supportive environment. I am not very good at saying that I am proud of our success but the Goldman Sachs programme made me more comfortable about being successful.”
Marie Walsh, Director and Co-founder, Consilia Legal
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