Leading media lawyer Jonathan Coad on his switch from Lewis Silkin equity partner to Keystone Law consultant
“I really can’t think of any downsides,” says highly successful media lawyer, Jonathan Coad, of his recent move to new-model law firm, Keystone Law. There, he works remotely (no more commuting!) and for himself (no more partner meetings!), listening to his beloved jazz and gospel music: “Keystone told me that I would take back three hours of each day of my working life — and they were absolutely right,” he says.
Coad has represented celebrity clients such Geri Halliwell, Paul McKenna and Tulisa Contostavlos (among other famous and infamous names) in libel cases against newspapers, some rather more famous clients in privacy cases and unusually also represents publishers and broadcasters. Earlier this year he moved his practice from City firm Lewis Silkin, where he was an equity partner, to Keystone Law, which he labels “a truly twenty-first century” law firm. It pioneers the use of technology to “set lawyers free” from traditional law firm strictures.
The morning on which Legal Cheek Careers spoke to Coad, he had spent the first few hours of the day drafting papers in a case where he is representing TV personality Noel Edmonds in a multi-million-pound claim over a fraud committed against him by one of the HBOS bank managers who was jailed earlier this year.
After the interview, Coad was taking his cockapoo, Daisy, for a walk, before returning to the Edmonds case. He reflects:
I have gained three hours in my day either to do real law work or as leisure time. Two hours I have gained used to be spent commuting, and the third hour I used to spend at endless sector group meetings, planning meetings and partner meetings etc. Sad though it may sound I actually love the practice of law, and find it absolutely fascinating. I have found at Keystone that you get to do the things you like about being a lawyer, but not the things you don’t.
Indeed, on the Keystone Law website you can fill in the Lifestyle Calculator which will demonstrate to you both how much more leisure time you will have and also how much more money you earn for the work that you do.
Coad made the leap because, he felt, Lewis Silkin, like many other longstanding firms, still holds onto rather “arcane” remuneration structures: “The lockstep system for equity partners means that you have to wait a long, long time to be properly remunerated for all the hard work of winning work and generating profit,” he explains. “It felt as if I was going to be over 100 before I would climb to near the top of the lockstep and be fairly rewarded for my contribution to the firm!”
Keystone Law has, Coad continues, “a marvellously simple remuneration system. For every £1 that I earn in fees, I take 75 pence of that. The firm takes the rest to provide me with all the support and infrastructure I need.”
Keystone can afford to pass on more of the fees to its lawyers because it has set itself up with overheads which are a fraction of the usual law firm ones. “It’s a leaner machine,” comments Coad. Though Keystone does have a smart but modest space with client meeting rooms and facilities to hot desk in Chancery Lane, it does not have to pay for a vast, glassy-flashy office paying London rents. As Coad demonstrates, the vast majority of its consultants work from home, with the client or in the regions, only dipping in and out of a compact London base. He works at home from “from his garden in the summer, his study in the winter.”
Coad believes that the Keystone structure is particularly suited to media lawyers because they have to be available 24/7 for clients, which means he must be able to be 100% operational from his laptop:
If I get a call from a client on a Saturday morning because the Mail on Sunday is threatening to run a piece on them, I have to be able to access my firm’s system there and then to go into action. I can’t wait for Monday morning.
But Coad is a well-known media lawyer of longstanding with a loyal and sustainable client base (which he took to and brought with him from Lewis Silkin). He is in a position to be able to run his own practice. Would Keystone Law work for more junior lawyers who have yet to reach such echelons? Absolutely, say Keystone. There are some more junior folk already at the firm who have joined because they were frustrated with the slow crawl towards partnership and want to find another way to develop their skills and be well-recompensed. Such individuals have helped develop the firm culture. “The social side of the firm is actually very strong,” reports Coad, “I gather some lawyers even go on horse riding and ski holidays together. So far I have just enjoyed the excellent social gatherings.”
“I see Keystone and firms like it as the future of the legal profession,” he continues. “Fewer and fewer lawyers are going to be prepared to spend hard years their way work up through the a partner remuneration structure which rewards longevity more than productivity. The firm has really harnessed the tech side so that they can deliver legal services in a more cost-effective and efficient way. I can open a client file in about 90 seconds, I can issue a bill in about 30 seconds; and all from the comfort of my own garden or study.”
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