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Legally flexible

Published on Friday, 24 May 2013
John Knox
Photo: Sky Lip

AdventBalance offers companies ‘embedded’ lawyers

Flexibility and cost-effectiveness are terms not readily associated with traditional commercial legal services, but they are options that companies in Asia will be increasingly hankering for, at least according to AdventBalance's projections.

The legal firm, whose credo is "Bringing new life to law", has re-engineered the practice of billable hourly fee by seconding experienced top-tier lawyers in-house with client companies for an agreed duration and fee.

Established in Australia in 2008, the firm opened an office in Singapore at the end of 2011, and has recently opened an office in Hong Kong, where it plans to replicate the same operating model.

"Without any compromise on quality, demand for our services is coming from clients looking for a flexible approach to their consultancy needs and services," says John Knox, AdventBalance founder and Asia managing director.

"We expect to make a significant number of hires in Hong Kong and have something like 20 to 30 lawyers on the ground quite quickly," he adds.

The firm looks for fully qualified professionals with not less than five years' experience.

"We pay top rates and selectively seek to hire top professionals," says Knox, adding that their lawyers have a combination of private practice and in-house experience.

He assures that, whether the work involves transactions, major projects, compliance review or dispute, AdventBalance lawyers can hit the ground running. "We are transparent in everything we do. We tell it how it is, no over-promises and no hidden surprises. That way, we all go home happy," says Singapore-based Knox, who previously worked for international law firms in Australia, the US and Asia, including Hong Kong.

He explains the catalyst for the business model has emerged due to widespread deregulation, which no longer requires owners of law firms to be lawyers or partners, but is subject to approval in different jurisdictions. According to Knox, the business model is similar to those provided by IT, HR and other consultancy firms on a fixed-rate or embedded basis.

Knox says the business model is expanding in the UK and Australia, and is being pioneered by AdventBalance in Asia. "We are not claiming to offer a solution for every situation, but what we are offering is an adaptable, fixed-price alternative that delivers a win-win outcome for both lawyers and clients," says Knox, adding that SMEs are a particular focus as they need to make every dollar count.

In addition to cost-effective solutions, clients benefit by having lawyers working closely with senior partners, Knox adds. Although lawyers are embedded, they still have access to all the other AdventBalance lawyers and expertise if it is needed, at no additional cost to the client.

"Our lawyers can provide solutions rather than advice, because they understand the processes and the operating needs of the businesses they are working with."

Lawyers, Knox says, also benefit because they are close to the action and energised by the work they choose to undertake.

AdventBalance can keep its overheads down, because its lawyers are mainly working in client offices. "We look to manage our overheads, therefore we don't decorate our offices with expensive art work, or fill it with unnecessary fancy gadgets, which clients ultimately end up paying for," Knox says.

Flexibility also extends to the working arrangements AdventBalance offers employees. Lawyers they employ can opt to work full or part-time, on particular projects or for blocks of time, leaving them free to pursue other interests.

"We have one lawyer who works for six months and spends the rest of the time running a charity," says Knox, adding that another lawyer schedules his work so he can train and take part in triathlons, while a third in Singapore combines legal work with making films.

Knox says people with interests outside the law are likely to be well-rounded, and often make better lawyers. He also cites an emerging generation of talented lawyers who are not keen to work long hours to become a partner. "We appreciate that people want to take control over their own work-life balance," Knox says.

Currently, AdventBalance employs about 110 lawyers, but Knox expects that number to increase. "Business is growing between 25 to 30 per cent per year in other locations, and we expect to see good demand in Hong Kong," Knox says.

The firm has been conducting interviews in the city and Knox says multinationals expanding their activities in Asia, and the rise in the number of regional companies expanding into new jurisdictions, are expected to keep up the demand for commercial legal services.

With choice and flexibility a key focus, clients can opt to have either AdventBalance teams or individual lawyers embedded in their organisations for either a few days on a monthly basis, or on a short, medium or long-term project basis.

"There are benefits all round," Knox says. "Clients get the services they want and need at a fixed-fee model, not hourly rates."

He claims the business model can reduce a company's legal costs by as much as 50 per cent. Knox says current clients include Fortune 500 companies, start-up enterprises and SMEs, as well as private and public firms across different industries.


Founder and Asia MD John Knox explains how AdventBalance works

ALTERNATIVE The firm provides an alternative to the existing options of either outsourcing legal work to traditional law firms on hourly rates or directly employing in-house lawyers.

CLIENT RESPONSE The fixed-fee model, where AdventBalance embed lawyers in client companies, is a response to business needs rather than a challenge to hourly-billing models.

FLEXIBLE HIRING Clients can hire individual and teams of lawyers on a fixed-fee structure, by the day, week, month or project basis.

WORK-LIFE BALANCE AdventBalance lawyers can structure their own work-life balance schedules and decide to work full-time or on a flexible part-time or project basis.

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