Gunnercooke – a Truly Innovative UK Law Firm

There are many within the legal community who scoff at Twitter saying that “it’s as a useless piece of fluff”. However for those interested in learning about legal innovation and connecting with legal innovators around the globe, Twitter is indispensible. Everything that is happening globally in terms of legal transformation is shared on Twitter. Today I connected with another innovative law firm from the UK – gunnercooke.

Former general counsel Sarah Goulbourne got together over coffee with corporate lawyer Darryl Cooke in mid-2010 to chat about how a different legal model would have huge competitive advantage over existing firms. By the end of that year, gunnercooke was up and running.

gunnercooke took the sensible approach of asking corporate clients what they wanted – experienced advisors and budget certainty – then gave it to them!

There are no junior lawyers or students at the firm. All work is properly scoped and a fee set. The firm never goes back to a client asking for more money – even when a file goes off the rails. As Sarah Goulbourne told me, “clients appreciate that we share the risk, and that we are completely transparent about what our advice will cost. We don’t record time sheets, we set fees based on the value we add. Setting fees is not an exact science; you win some and you lose some. But if you take time to properly scope each file, it should all work out in the end.”

While the firm is set-up as a limited liability partnership, it’s run like a corporation, with a lean executive team that has both the commercial acumen and the courage to make strategic decisions quickly and without wrangling.

The over 30 non-equity partners of the firm work as self-employed consultants. They are set up to be able to operate from the best place to serve the client, be it from home or from client offices, through a cloud-based system, supported by paralegals employed by the firm as well as by a roster of senior, ex-city and national firm lawyers who are happy to work on a project basis (read: gypsy lawyers).

Like Conduit Law and Cognition in Canada, gunnercooke is swamped with applications from senior lawyers across the UK looking to escape the biglaw grind – yet only a few are able to make the jump to this new style of practice. Nonetheless, gunnercooke is aggressively courting more lawyers with a goal to being seen as the premier corporate boutique in the UK – then the world.

Watch this firm!


  1. I’m always excited to see innovative new legal business models. Of course, as a junior lawyer, there would have been no place for me in this business model, which is a little disheartening. They rely on other firms to take on the role of training articling students and junior lawyers.

    Of course, no senior lawyer should be prevented from adopting a business model that works for them and their clients. It just seems like it wouldn’t work if too many people started doing it.

  2. We have a quite similar concept in Finland and have been able to grow the business fast. In five years we went from 1 m€ venue to 10m€ last year. Lawyers love it, we we selected as the best legal workplace in Finland (Great Place to Work For) and 99% of our customers would rercommend us to their friends according to our latest customer satisfacyion survey. And it’s a lot of fun as well. Check out Fondia at

  3. Jorma – send me an email as I am always looking at new models!

    Matt – you are right to be concerned. Most, if not all, new model firms only hire seasoned lawyers and have no training component. That gives them strong competitive advantage over other firms who charge clients for training young lawyers. Eventually this will change if, as you say, lots of other firms adopt this approach. At that time the model will have to morph again to accommodate that reality. But only long after you qualify to work for one of these firms. Sorry about that, it’s just the nature of the legal services industry at this point in time. My advice to young lawyers and students: suck everything you can out the firms you are working at for 5 – 10 years, then leave to create your own firm or join a new model firm.

  4. Thanks Mitch. Sounds like the Law Firm of the Future.

  5. To me, that seems like the non-litigation world version of the traditional UK barristers’ chambers arrangement. That, remarkably, is not new at all. However, as I’m not part of the (so to speak) “in” crowd, perhaps I’ve missed something important.

    Plus ça change, but then that’s not new, either.

  6. We operate a similar model at Setfords Solicitors in that we have over 100 self employed consultant lawyers across the UK and have been growing rapidly with this model. Huge numbers of lawyers from all walks of life are approaching us and many are jumping ship and joining us. We will probably have 200 consultants by the end of this year. It’s not a new model, it’s been done before, but technology now helps businesses like mine do it better. We provide full support to our consultants and in doing so employ trainee solicitors to assist our consultants. In addition to investing something back into the profession it makes good business sense to have people with a range of skills and abilities in a law firm, however, we do not look to make a profit on our trainees. So long as we cover our costs we are happy, our lawyers who benefit from the trainees assistance are happy, our trainees are happy and because there is no pressure to bill excessively for our trainees time, our clients are happy. All the best.

  7. I am always pleased to see new entrants into this market. The legal market lags other sectors considerably, but the next few years will see unprecedented change I predict.
    We set up our firm in 2002 on a consultant model and continue to refine this month by month. We now have 140 non equity partners or consultant lawyers as we call them and a team of 20 administrators in our Central Office. Indeed the UK and the US are leaders in this field. Check out Virtual Law Partners in the US. It is good to hear that the phenomenon is spreading.
    In 2010 the work we and firms like us in the UK were doing lead to the creation of the “dispersed law firm” as a term of art, to describe what we at Keystone Law and what I believe Gunnercooke do (but cant be sure from a distance). There is a real difference between a virtual firm and a dispersed firm and I have written several articles on this including and been in the press a lot, see:
    There is no question that this is the future for a type of law firm is bright and readers from outside the UK might be interested to hear of our recent legal reforms that have thrown legal services open to all comers.
    Interesting times.

  8. I agree William, the label ‘dispersed law firm’ fits perfectly with what we’re doing. Good article in the Gazette, although I may be a little biased. Best.