The Rise of Alternative Law Firms: Why Setfords is ‘The Platform Firm to Watch’

A report from Codex Edge has revealed Setfords to be the most popular Alternative Law Firm in the UK, with more consultant lawyers than any other firm within the sector.

Last year, Arden predicted that a third of lawyers would be working as consultants by 2026. Despite scepticism from traditional lawyers, the alternative law firm sector (otherwise known as ‘platform law firms’ or ‘ALFs’) has continued to flourish. The data from Codex suggests that at current rates of growth, up to a quarter of lawyers could work at platform law firms within the next three years. So why the popularity of these firms? And why choose Setfords, one of the biggest platform law firms in the UK?

Lawyers are leaving traditional law behind

The Codex report shows that ALFs have grown by headcount at a significantly higher rate than traditional firms. The numbers for consultants at the top 5 hiring platform law firms have a compound annual growth rate (headcount) of 15%. The figure for the top 5 hiring traditional law firms is actually negative at -1%.

As detailed in the Codex report, Setfords has seen the number of joiners far exceed those who choose to leave the firm. Katy O’Dowell, in her article for The Lawyer, notes that

“Setfords is now the platform firm to watch. It broke into The Lawyer Top 100 for the first time in 2021 having doubled revenue in that year to £34m… And when it comes to lawyer headcount, Setfords leads rival Keystone with 419 consultant lawyers to Keystone’s 405”

So, Setfords is one of the biggest platform law firms, outranking most competitors and even many traditional firms. On the other hand, the data for traditional firms shows a starkly different story. Despite high numbers of hires, many traditional firms have experienced an equally high number of exits. Indeed, the Codex report shows that the number of exits is higher than the number of joiners at CMS, DWF and Eversheds.

Why the exodus from traditional law?

Once, many lawyers aimed to climb the hierarchy with the hope of eventually becoming partner. However, this career path entails years of impossibly high targets, ever-increasing billable hours, workplace politics and bureaucracy. Now lawyers are waking up to the fact that there is more to life than partnership. Not only does life in a platform law firm offer greater freedom, flexibility and control, but it can also be incredibly lucrative.

Our residential property consultant Sarah Gillbe says:

“I realised that I could be looking at partnership or head of department in a large firm. I just didn’t want the lifestyle of being under constant pressure with targets, having to worry about what everyone else is doing as well as what I’m doing. I looked at what Setfords was offering as a Consultant Solicitor and what I’d have if I were somewhere else, so I knew I had to make a change.”

Construction law consultant Andrew Thompson adds:

“Financially, Setfords is much better than other traditional firms, and I don’t have to worry about the nightmare that is budgets or billable targets. There’s no pressure from anyone else; it’s all up to you, so there is a lot more freedom, and it’s a lot more relaxed. You also get rewarded for the work you do. Often in big traditional firms, working longer or harder doesn’t actually mean any more money, but at Setfords, it does.”

Women are taking a stand

This desire for flexibility is particularly prevalent amongst female lawyers. The Codex report shows that more women are now working at ALFs than men. Percentage-wise, more women have moved to platform law than to traditional firms since January 2021. 64% of Setfords’ consultant lawyers are women – a figure highlighted by the fact Setfords has one of the highest female-to-male ratios in a UK top 100 Law Firm. Some of Setfords’ female lawyers commented on the results of the report:

“Having spent many years working in traditional models and the last six at Setfords, I genuinely have no idea why anyone still works at a traditional firm, particularly women, who are often juggling a career and childcare responsibilities.” Anne Thomas, Family Law Consultant Solicitor

“I’m not surprised so many lawyers are looking to make the move to consultancy. So many traditional firms undervalue their lawyers and don’t pay them, especially women, what they are worth or deserve.” Rowena Slater-Reay, Consultant Conveyancing Solicitor

It is a sad reality that the burden of care for children and elders falls disproportionately on women, but flexibility is not only “a women’s issue”. At Setfords, many male lawyers also seek flexibility so that they can see more of their families or enjoy hobbies. Setfords Commercial Solicitor Tom Mitchell is one such lawyer:

“I didn’t want to be an absent dad. Now I can collect my daughters and go to the park on the way home or I can go for a bike ride when I choose to. The notion of ‘annual leave’ seems antiquated as now I can work when and where I want, at home or abroad; what is essential is getting the work done, not how and where I get it done. To me, what is important is doing the best for the client, and my life fits around that objective.”

Join one of the biggest platform law firms

The report shows that Setfords has attracted more lawyers than any other comparable firm. We believe that we stand out as one of the biggest platform law firms because of our three things: our support offering, our culture, and our network.

Our support package is the biggest in the industry. We drive more qualified leads to our lawyers than any other alternative law firm, courtesy of our Business Development Department. In addition, our lawyers benefit from services such as marketing, IT, compliance, admin and secretarial, all included within their fee share with no additional charges.

At Setfords, our culture is friendly and supportive. Some alternative law firms still set billing targets, but we don’t. Instead, we believe in supporting each lawyer to do their best work. Internally, we have a wellbeing team who keep in regular contact with our lawyers to ensure they are happy and well looked after. Richard Hiron is a consultant employment law solicitor. On our support, he says:

“I have found the support team at Setfords to be very dedicated. The administrative team get things done to a high level of efficiency. Recently, a member of the support team went out of her way to get a file opened for me on a Sunday, which to me, was a clear example of going above and beyond. The marketing and business development teams are incredibly friendly and very appreciative of each lawyer’s capacity for work. I have also been impressed by the wellbeing team, who are helpful.”

In terms of our network, our lawyers have a minimum of 5 years PQE, and a vast array of experience. We encourage our lawyers to connect with those in and out of their area of expertise. This ensures that all our lawyers can pick up the phone when they have a question or need support on a particular matter. Furthermore, we also arrange regular networking events for our lawyers across the UK and yearly parties that enable our lawyers and support staff to get together.

The Future

For many traditional law firms, this new report may reveal some surprising findings, but at Setfords we feel that it simply proves the obvious: more lawyers are attracted to alternative ways of working than ever before. It is clear to us, and to the lawyers that work with Setfords, that we offer the very best package for consultant lawyers, whether they are looking for freedom and flexibility, high levels of support, or greater earning potential.

Is consultancy for me?

If you want to find out more about becoming a consultant with us, get in touch. We are happy to conduct interviews remotely for suitable, UK-qualified candidates with five or more years’ experience. If you’re a good fit, you’ll be joining a team that was created for lawyers to do their best work.

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