Less than two weeks after the demise of iconic law firm Heenan Blaikie, a new firm is bringing an innovative virtual legal services model to the market in Canada.
"Recent events in the Canadian legal market underscore the need for the kind of significant change many have been calling for," says Andrew Foti, CEO of Avokka LLP. "We've been watching and waiting, and it's just not happening fast enough."
Avokka launched its website (www.avokka.com) late last week. "Initial reaction from the business and legal communities to our concept has been overwhelmingly favourable," says Mr. Foti.
"Clients want outcomes, not hours. Firms are sinking beneath the weight of large overheads for which clients are no longer willing to pay. As a profession, we need to adapt to the changing dynamic with nimble and efficient service models that make high-quality advice accessible and affordable to business."
Unlike traditional bricks-and-mortar law firms with plush offices that rely on a pyramid of junior lawyers, Avokka is a virtual firm that provides only veteran lawyers with 20 or more years' experience, gained both in high-end practice with leading law firms and as legal executives in industry. "We work as an extension of management, serving as outsourced part-time general counsel on a fixed-fee basis."
Lorene Nagata, Managing Director, NagataConnex Executive Legal Search, a legal recruiting firm since 2004, applauds Avokka's offering. "The downturn in the economy and shrinking pool of clients has put a lot of pressure on the traditional law firm model," says Ms. Nagata. "It is evident that clients want something different. The delivery of legal services needs to be re-worked and those organizations like Avokka, who are brave and confident enough to be innovative in servicing their clients, will have the greatest chance of succeeding."
A veteran of both top-tier private law practices and as general counsel to listed companies, Mr. Foti and co-founder Sudha Berry who runs Avokka's Toronto office, saw value in working on a more strategic basis to create a national firm of legal executives available to business.
"We get the ground covered for clients before they crank up the big legal machine and bring clarity to complex issues because of the experience of our professionals," says Mr. Foti. "Avokka will appeal to mid-sized companies who would like the benefits of having a seasoned legal advisor on board, but can't afford comparable full-time in-house counsel or to use law firm partners at rates ranging up to $900 an hour," says Ms. Berry. "We also envisage being able to help general counsel in larger companies who need an extra pair of seasoned hands that can dedicate the time to complex matters like investigations, corporate development and 'bet-the-farm' litigation," added Mr. Foti.
Mr. Foti stresses that there is still a place for large law firms – "an army at the ready." Someone, he adds, has to provide direction to that army effectively. Douglas Clarke, a partner of Therrien Couture Lawyers, a Quebec-based regional law firm agrees. "We see that some companies are not financially able to staff their legal functions adequately. Having an experienced general counsel there to frame and pre-work issues, and provide external counsel with clear instructions, helps law firms work more effectively and can save significantly on overall costs."
Avokka's vision appears to be the right thing at the right time. "We're creative thinkers who can dig into problems and understand what needs to be done," said Mr. Foti. Avokka lawyers regularly spend time on-site with their clients and building relationships. Added Foti, "Our job is to know the companies and people we serve, and combine that with legal knowledge to help deal with legal issues for business people so they can focus on what they do best."