Back in November 2015, two Edinburgh-based lawyers started to consider a major change: What did they need to do to set up their own law firm? Having worked together at both large and small Edinburgh firms and having built a strong and long-standing working relationship, they were confident they had the right experience and skills to branch out on their own. A few short months later, in January 2016, Emma Reid and Cathy Donald did it. Ergo Law, a boutique employment law firm was born.
Although they were initially based out of an office space in Emma’s home, just five years later, their team has grown to include five fee-earners as well as a paralegal/ business manager and a law graduate who provides administrative support on a part-time basis. They’ve also moved out of Emma’s home office into comfortable offices in Edinburgh’s lively West End. Every year has brought them new success.
“The business has grown substantially and consistently, year-on-year,” Cathy says. “Even in the very uncertain business climate of 2020, Ergo’s turnover increased 42% on the previous year.”
So how did they achieve so much so soon? Along with a lot of hard work, a pivot to finding a good balance of employer and employee clients, and (of course) excellent employment law skills, technology played a big part in growing their firm. Previously, Emma and Cathy had worked both at firms that used case management software and at firms that didn’t. The two agreed that when starting their own firm, they needed a solid technology solution from the outset.
Clio, which is an approved supplier to the Law Society of Scotland, is a cloud-based legal practice management software. Its functionality and the fact that it can be used to work from anywhere—whether that be from a home office, a West End premises, or a client’s workplace—meant that it was perfect for a start-up business.
“It was great in those early days,” Cathy says. “Clio is very flexible and simple to use, and the support from the Clio team has been excellent—they are very good at responding to queries, and it’s always easy to speak with a real person on the phone.” It’s still a major boon to their firm five years later, too.
Tools That Worked
Clio offers a variety of features that have proven useful to Emma and Cathy in Ergo Law over the past five years. Initially, Clio’s billing and time recording feature was a big part of the software’s appeal.
The two solicitors found it much easier to record all of their billable time with Clio than at firms with manual recording only. The Time and Expense Recording function meant that they could record their time on every case with just a click of a button. That functionality also meant that, right from the beginning, Ergo Law had a clear picture of where time was being spent, making it easy to give clients a transparent view into their processes. It’s still an important part of their day-to-day operations now.
When it comes time to bill, their business manager Laura appreciates how easy Clio makes it to bill accurately and efficiently. While the firm uses an accountant for the overall firm accounting, using the Clio and Xero integration makes billing smooth, Cathy says.
Additionally, as the firm continues to grow and target new clients, some of Clio’s other functionality has become increasingly important. “We are often involved in projects involving a significant number of individual clients in, for example, a large-scale redundancy,” Cathy says.
Finally, when it comes to accessing information about billing and work in progress, Clio’s reporting features make that simple. “It is a big advantage to be able to go into Clio to hit ‘reports’ for real-time information available by client, matter, fee-earner, or time period, or any combination of the above” Cathy, who acknowledges she is a bit tech-shy, says. “That is all easily doable even for the likes of me.”
So what’s next for Ergo Law, especially in the era following the pandemic? “I think we’re probably in a world where we’re not all going to be in the office every day. For now, we plan to just rotate it so that there’ll always be some people in the office and others working from home. That makes it more important to be seamless in terms of your IT and in terms of practice management.”
Case in point: When one of their solicitors, who is English-qualified, decided to move back down south to England in May of last year, she was able to continue working just as effectively as she had been previously. It’s not just helpful for big moves either; for daily work-life balance, Cathy says, it’s just as useful.
That ability to be flexible, and to provide a strong work-life balance where staff are valued and accommodated, is important to Ergo Law’s founders.
“Pre-pandemic, post-pandemic, I think any of our staff would say we offer a genuinely flexible working environment, and I think all of our staff appreciate that. Provided the work gets done and the clients are happy, we really don’t mind too much where or when you work. Clio has been good for that.”
To anyone who is thinking of striking out on their own or finding new solutions to how they work, the duo say to go for it. They hope that their story will inspire lawyers and others to think about how they can adjust their working patterns and practices to better fit the firm and its staff’s circumstances and needs.