AFTER eight years working in the Dubai office of prestigious US law firm Weil Gotshal & Manges, University of Glasgow law school graduate Natalie Kirk knew she was ready to head home to Scotland.

There was just one problem: while she had sated her appetite for “sexy international work” during her time in the Middle East she wanted to continue doing top-flight corporate legal work while also living a “flexible and autonomous life”. Not an easy find in the still largely traditional Scottish legal sector.

Her solution? To start her own flexible-resourcing legal business from her home city of Glasgow.

Element Legal Services, which launches this week, aims to help law firms address the changing demands of general counsel who not only want to keep more work in-house but to extract greater value from their external advisers too.

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With this inevitably leading to peaks and troughs in demand for law firms’ services, Ms Kirk believes that Element’s model of supplying freelance lawyers of different levels on a project-by-project basis offers an attractive solution.

“Lots of law firms are looking at their cost structure and are thinking about the way in which they staff matters,” Ms Kirk said.

“Many are looking at hybrid models where they disaggregate the work and apply the right resource.

“Our business is responding to that. I’m inspired by the fact that change is good and will ultimately transform the legal industry into something better.”

The business is being run by Ms Kirk and her husband Robert, an architect who is taking charge of the management side of the operation.

“I was looking for that expertise and I finally realised that it was sitting across the desk from me,” Ms Kirk said.

“I’ve set the business up with my husband, who is an architect but also has significant operational and financial management experience and has an MBA.

“It took me a while to evolve my thinking to that stage - I was thinking I’d partner with a clever lawyer and we’d be clever lawyers together.”

Initially, Element is focusing on offering corporate, commercial and intellectual property services to a mainly Scottish audience, although the intention is to expand into the City of London, where Ms Kirk spent time working for both Scottish corporate heavyweight Dickson Minto and Weil Gotshal prior to moving to the Middle East.

“We’ve started to speak to potential clients in the Scottish legal market and have been well received so far,” she said. “We’re looking at London as well but more on an opportunistic basis because we have existing contacts in the market.

“The London market is fast growing with numerous providers but the Scottish market doesn’t have that many options.

“Lawyers are notoriously conservative and risk-averse people but everyone accepts that transformation is coming.

“Law firms that see the opportunity to do things better are going to be the ones that succeed.”

While Element will have service agreements in place with the law firms its lawyers will do work for, the lawyers themselves will be self-employed and will work for the business on a freelance basis.

Ms Kirk believes this will appeal to the growing number of people who value the opportunity to work on large complex deals but who equally do not want to spend all their time doing that.

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“There’s an increasing pool of people like me who have worked at top-tier firms but don’t want to be part of big law anymore,” Ms Kirk said.

“They want to do other things like develop their own business, or they have had children and they want to be able to wake them up in the morning and bath them and put them to bed every night, or they might want to do great legal work for three months then head off to see South America for the rest of the year.”

While this set-up is likely to appeal to a broad cross-section of people working in the legal sector, Ms Kirk said she will have strict selection criteria, with lawyers only likely to be added to Element’s roster if they are at the very top of their professional game.

“All we ask for is that they are exceptional because one of the things that will distinguish us is the quality of the people,” she said.