Virtual law firm You Legal gunning for $1 million turnover

By David Russell

Most people wouldn’t consider a new law firm a startup. It’s just a small business, right? Sure, it can grow, but can it really scale? Turns out it can, and Adelaide lawyer Sarah Bartholomeusz is the one who figured it out.

Instead of setting up a traditional bricks-and-mortar firm, Sarah took her practice, You Legal, online, providing flexibility to the ‘freelance’ lawyers she works with and addressing some key pain points for clients at the same time. In the first 12 months You Legal grew 400% and locked in its one hundredth client, despite having no office, and no actual staff.

“Our lawyers work for themselves, so they’re sole practitioners, like freelancers, but with very specific experience… they must have at least five years in a top tier or international law firm,” Sarah told Inside South Australia.

“We don’t have the overheads of traditional law firms so we can be more flexible with cost; we charge about 20% less than top tier firms… our rates vary for retainer clients versus one off work, and we like to fix rates as much as we can.”

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Sarah is adamant the lower price point doesn’t mean a compromise in the quality of the work.

“We only use senior lawyers, which means that clients get direct value straight into their business… we don’t use junior lawyers… in the traditional model clients pay to train junior lawyers. We only use senior lawyers, so we don’t (charge for) unproductive time.”

A large portion of You Legal’s clients are businesses that aren’t big enough to have in-house legal council, but prefer to have You Legal act as in-house council on a retainer basis. They also do general commercial legal work.

You Legal’s strong growth was recognised with the Best South Australian Start Up Award in the 2015 Telstra Business Women’s Awards last month. Sarah currently has 15 lawyers and five support staff working with You Legal on a freelance basis. Clients include top 100 companies operating in the tech, manufacturing and agriculture spaces, as well as smaller businesses looking for more accessible legal assistance.

That accessibility is key to the You Legal marketing strategy as well. The bulk of the marketing spend is through Facebook, which is very unusual for a law firm.

“We do online marketing… a thing called You Legal TV, which is like a vlog, and funny memes that poke fun at the legal profession… one of the things I want to change about the legal profession is that it is always viewed so negatively, so we are never negative… (we) poke fun at the stuffy image.”

About 70% of You Legal’s business comes from South Australia, with a great deal of support coming from the established legal community, which is one of the company’s biggest referral streams.

While You Legal has attracted interest from investors, Sarah plans to focus on growth before looking at raising capital. She is hoping to achieve $1 million in turnover this financial year, and believes there is huge potential to take the model into other markets.

“We have registered You Financial, You Account, You Risk… so other markets would be the focus before going global (with You Legal) … because I understand the Australian market.”

Sarah is also an author; she launched How to Avoid a Fall from Grace: Legal Lessons for Directors earlier this month. The book is a “sassy” guide to directors’ duties that aims to be fun rather than put its readers to sleep. It even has cartoons, and is available at legallessons.com.au and on Amazon.