O'Connors and Redbag Consulting advise innovative Unit Chambers on ABS authorisation

Unit Chambers, which opened 3 years ago as the only barristers’ chambers in the North West exclusively undertaking Family Law work, has now obtained an alternative business structure (ABS) licence from the Bar Standards Board [BSB].

Chief Executive Lisa Edmunds founded Unit Chambers with her partner Roger Draper, Executive Chairman of the chambers and former Chief Executive of Sport England and the Lawn Tennis Association. Unit Chambers was set up in the belief that the Bar was being held back by its adherence to tradition and Lisa Edmunds wanted to create a chambers with a modern and innovative business approach. Since its launch in June 2020 Unit Chambers has expanded from one person to a team of 30 people.

Lisa Edmunds and Roger Draper are both directors and owners of the holding company, Unit Law Limited, that provides business support services to Unit Chambers and, to comply with Bar Standards Board rules, Lisa Edmunds owns 51% of the shares. The holding company, Unit Law, has become an ABS regulated by the BSB.

External investment, providing different career paths and employment opportunities as well as delivering services in different ways are all possibilities for Unit Law, Lisa Edmunds said. Another possibility is expanding into ADR. Lisa Edmunds said she had recently qualified as an arbitrator and two of the barristers at the chambers were mediators. ADR could be combined with therapeutic services to create a one-stop shop.

Unit Chambers has three KCs who are part-time Door Tenants, 15 Consultant Barristers and six Pupils, along with five full-time support staff. It was originally based in Liverpool, expanding to Manchester in 2021 and this year to Leeds.

Lisa Edmunds said the term ‘consultant barristers’ was used to emphasise their specialist knowledge to direct access clients – an important source of work for six of the barristers on the team.

After a benchmarking exercise showed that a lot of chambers had complex arrangements for what they charged barristers - with some requiring buy-ins - Unit introduced a simple model of a flat 10% of fees. There are no ‘clerks’ - there is a Practice Manager, a combined Fees Manager and Business Development Manager, a Marketing and Communications Manager and two Client-care Advisers.

Lisa Edmunds said: “The term ‘clerks’ gives the feel of a hierarchy and I’m not convinced young people understand the term.”

Under the corporate structure, she and her co-director make all business decisions, removing the need for chambers committees made up of senior barristers who have often “been there for a long time”.

Lisa Edmunds said she believed the firm’s culture had attracted so many so quickly.

“We removed the hierarchy and became more tribe-like. I want people to be happy working here and sharing our values. If at any point we’re not making someone happy, we have an open discussion to try and find out why not.

“We’re investing in the next generation. There are a lot of young people on the team who share our vision and don’t want to work in a stuffy chambers. People can see the energy coming out of our chambers and are attracted to it.”

Lisa Edmunds said that, in many traditional chambers, senior barristers “felt entitled to behave in certain ways and call the shots”, getting first refusal on certain types of work. “We’re trying to modernise the industry.”

In preparing and submitting the ABS application to the BSB, Unit Law were supported by Joshua Bates at O’Connors Legal Services who provided corporate and legal advice and by Martin Griffiths at Redbag Consulting who provided regulatory advice throughout the process.

"We are immensely grateful to our advisors for their unwavering support and guidance during the ABS regulation journey," Roger Draper said. "Their expertise and experience helped us navigate the complexities of the process, allowing us to focus on our vision of reshaping the Bar and creating an innovative and inclusive environment."