Lawyer of the Month: Brian Inkster
Plug and Play. It’s a catchy little phrase when it comes to running a law firm, but Brian Inkster isn’t overly concerned with preserving tradition and the approach he has developed over the past 25 years has seen Inksters Solicitors grow from a practice primarily specialising in crofting law in some of Scotland’s more remote areas to a full service firm with 13 bases throughout the country from its HQ at 142 St Vincent Street in Glasgow to Shetland, including an estate agency on the Isle of Skye and a solicitor on Eigg.
Mr Inkster may not have coined the ‘maverick’ label for himself but it’s certainly not one he objects to as he gears up to develop his system further in 2024, with a drive to start recruiting new people to a model he believes is unique, employed by no other law firm in Scotland on the same scale and with a similar geographic reach. “We’re currently looking for senior solicitors in all areas of practice to join us,” he adds.
He explains his approach: “Coming from Shetland, an island community, we developed a presence over the years in the Highlands and Islands and I saw the need to go to places where there aren’t many solicitors with a local presence. In fact, when I set up Inksters in 1999 all my clients were based in Shetland and I was serving them from Glasgow. “Historically we specialised in crofting law – though we now cover a wide range of areas but that meant that I was being approached by people in all of the crofting counties looking for expertise in that specific field.”
Still operating in that area, he’s the author of A Practical Guide to Crofting Law published in 2019 and accepts that some people may have thought it somewhat idiosyncratic to have a lawyer specialising in the needs of the crofting community based in Glasgow.
“But if you have the willingness and ability to go wherever you’re needed you don’t need to be based in that place. Some of the connections to the islands from Glasgow were probably better than those from other parts of Scotland and I see no obstacles to serving people in various far-flung locations,” he says.
Inkster started the transition to the Plug & Play model 11 years ago. Beginning with a couple of consultants, the firm was something of a hybrid, also directly employing solicitors but some two and a half years ago it moved fully across to a fee sharing model.
On the firm’s plugplaylaw.com website Inkster explains that Plug & Play is a term coined by Mitch Kowalski in his book The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field describing firms at which senior lawyers can work as a collective, with enhanced technology and back-office support.
This entails a hub-and-spoke model with a back-office hub (Inksters has that in the ‘Inksterplex’ at its Glasgow HQ) and spokes elsewhere, established in towns or areas where new consultant solicitors are geographically based.
Mr Inkster saw the fee share law firm develop in England & Wales out of the Legal Services Act 2007.
“Although we don’t have ABS (Alternative Business Structure) firms in Scotland yet, I decided to create a forum like those, which though tend to be more virtual as they don’t provide bricks and mortar and especially lack back office and secretarial support.
“I decided to create a firm that was similar but a bit different as while these were predominantly ‘virtual’ firms they weren’t providing bricks and mortar beyond perhaps a meeting room in a serviced office.
“The lawyers at Inksters are self-employed and operate under an umbrella where the firm provides support such as back-office services and professional indemnity insurance, technology and cash room support and the solicitors have their own client bank that they have built up themselves. Everything, in fact, that you would expect in a traditional law firm.”
“Plus, there is the advantage that rather having them sit in offices in rural Scotland as general practitioners we have specialists who, if someone comes to them with a requirement that they don’t specialise in, can refer them to someone else in the network who is more of an authority in that particular area of law the client needs,” he says.
He explains: If you’re in a small town or village somewhere in Scotland, there might only be one or two other solicitors – if that – in the vicinity. Perhaps you don’t want to work for the firm you’re currently in but don’t want to go and work for its direct competitor.
“Setting up your own business inevitably involves a lot of administration, red tape, and bureaucracy so someone in that position can come to us and suddenly have access to everything they need to set up a law firm but without a lot of the effort. Using our model, all they need to do is concentrate on doing the law; we take care of the rest for them.”
The private clients that Inksters is dealing with are individuals and small to medium-sized businesses with solicitors specialising in a wide range of legal matters and the firm’s approach is also underpinned by recent global events and the evolution of the demographic and employment landscape.
It had been the first Scottish law firm to use Twitter (now X) and to have a YouTube Channel and while the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed Mr Inkster’s ability to travel freely to destinations as disparate as Aberdeen, Forfar and Renfrew, online meeting facilities now allow solicitors to have face-to-face meetings whenever required and the relaxation of travel restrictions have allowed him to resume speaking engagements on entrepreneurship, marketing, technology and corporate social responsibility.
Which is a role he clearly enjoys, having tutored then lectured for several years in business, ethics, finance and practice awareness at the University of Glasgow and on the law of servitudes at the University of Strathclyde.
He’s also an energetic contributor to the thetimeblawg.com, a site he founded and on which he discusses the past, present and future practice of law (recently mostly about AI or Legal Services Regulation Reform in Scotland).
Despite being a frequent visitor to Shetland where he attended Anderson High School, it’s unsurprising that life in Glasgow better allows him to pursue his interest in theatre, the arts and cinema.
This an integral part of family as well as leisure life as his wife, Nicola Walls, is head of arts and culture at Page\Park Architects, whose projects have included the redevelopment of Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, Scottish Opera’s Theatre Royal in Glasgow, Leeds Playhouse and new foyers for Birmingham’s Symphony Hall.
Mr Inkster cites an entrepreneurial spirit and progressive attitude at the heart of the firm as well as its willingness to tackle niche areas such as crofting and parking law as the reason for its gathering awards in specialist and innovative fields as well as serially attracting senior lawyers in diverse legal areas and geographical locations.
He believes 2024 will be one of opportunity for the firm. “The days of someone joining a traditional practice and staying for life seem to be disappearing.
“People now have different aspirations; new types of firms are emerging, and solicitors are finding the type of support that we offer increasingly valuable in helping them to spread their wings.”