Updated: May 24, 2020
Hong Kong's newest corporate law firm, Bowers.Law opened for business this month. We speak to Kevin Bowers, founder and leader about this new venture.
When and why did you decide to start your own law firm?
After being acquitted from criminal prosecution in 2019, I discovered that having already been a founding partner of one Hong Kong law firm, I had an irresistible urge to do it all over again. Although the partners at Tanner De Witt provided me and my practice with welcome safe harbour for over a year whilst I was being processed through the gruelling Hong Kong criminal justice system, the pull of starting my own firm was too strong. This time, I want to learn from experience and do it the right way and on my own terms within a collegiate, inclusive and thoughtful working environment, and by applying a new business model. I wanted to find a way to eliminate the traditional law firm approach to billing clients on the basis of anachronistic hourly rates - a billing system which I firmly believe is now out-of-touch with and unsuited to the modern business environment in which we all now live and work. It was definitely time for a change! On your website, it says "A New Way of Thinking" How is your firm thinking differently? Although many law firms with corporate / commercial departments charge on the basis of fixed and staged fees, I don’t know of another Hong Kong law firm that charges clients only fixed, staged or retainer fees for providing dispute resolution legal services. No time sheets - that‘s definitely new and as I’m finding out very quickly, quite popular with job applicants! I want to have a lower cost-base for the new business by utilising and deploying legally qualified consultants in a wide variety of practice areas who are very good at what they do, but who do not necessarily want to live the full-on life of a full-time lawyer in private practice. The new firm offers a much more flexible model to its lawyers without compromising in any way in terms of the quality of legal services that the firm provides to its clients. The new firm also incorporates a separately branded crisis management agency (alinea) which teams-up with its public relations, media and communications partners, as well as forensic accounting / investigation service providers to offer a ‘one-stop-shop’ to the firm’s corporate and individual clients who find themselves in challenging situations. The firm values its lawyers only by the quality of legal work that they produce, not by how many chargeable hours they record on their timesheets. How does your firm add value to your clients?
The firm agrees to fixed, staged or retainer fee arrangements with its clients right at the start of any engagement. Consequently:-
the client agrees a price which is proportionate to the value which it places on a piece of legal work, and which is not determined by the unknown length of time that it may take some lawyers to do the work;
the client has certainty in terms of the price it is paying for the work it has asked to be done - budgeting for legal costs therefore leaves the realm of the unknown and escapes unrealistic fee estimates which are invariably blown out of the water; and
the client and the firm have an element of shared risk as although inevitably almost every piece of legal work has an unknown element, this shouldn’t significantly impact upon the agreed fee arrangement.
The firm’s fee structure means that it is in both its clients’ and its own mutual best interests for its lawyers to advise and work as quickly, efficiently and effectively as possible, which at the end of the day is what every client wants from its legal advisors. How is the legal market in Hong Kong managing with the coronavirus outbreak?
My own view is that the anachronistic business model applied by traditional law firms charging primarily on the basis of hourly rates and measuring the success of their lawyers by how many chargeable hours they churn out makes them more susceptible to the dramatic financial impact of covid-19, especially with such high monthly office rent and wage bills. Bad debts and debtor days are bound to rise and keep on rising for law firms during and for a considerable amount of time after the end of the pandemic. Firms with large corporate / commercial / capital markets teams will inevitably suffer most due to the severely reduced work flows. Firms with strong dispute resolution teams should do better, as my own experience of SARS and the GFC in Hong Kong is that there was an up-tick in work involving shareholder disputes, employment, insurance, fraud, asset tracing and debt recovery. Will technology play a big role in the day to day business of your firm?
Yes - the firm will be implementing pretty much every IT system you would expect, so as to enable its lawyers to work and advise remotely, and to ensure that it has a secure and efficient platform within which to provide legal services to its clients. The absence of a time-based billing system makes all of the firm’s internal case management processes far more straight-forward and easier to control, without the need for expensive, and user-unfriendly time management systems. The new firm is branded bowers.law as even just by itself, the branding tells clients what’s in the tin - a modern, technological and innovative approach to the provision of legal services. What is your message to other aspiring lawyers looking to start their own law firms? Be prepared for a lot of very, very hard work - especially if you take the plunge on your own!
Be very, very, very organised - there is a staggering amount of very tedious new law firm admin! Surround yourself with good, loyal people who share your vision and philosophy for the firm - everyone involved really needs to buy into the business model and the firm culture (yes, there is such a thing)! Make the new office space a welcoming and an inclusive working environment for everyone on the team. You’re all in it together - no more so than in these strange days in which we’re all living. Most of all, buy a big bronze sabre-tooth tiger head for the new meeting room - it looks really cool (although you may well be the only one in the new firm who thinks so)!