keystone foty 21

The Cup of Dreams.

Keystone Law is the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2021, making it the happiest firm in the UK.

Out of 54 qualifying firms, Keystone Law boasted by some margin the most satisfied staff in the UK, with dozens of its people telling RollOnFriday they were overwhelmingly satisfied with their pay, career development and work/life balance, and with their firm's management, culture and Covid-19 response. It scored a barnstorming 94% overall.

Reacting to his firm's victory, CEO James Knight told RollOnFriday, “94% of anything is a lot, so if that number represents a level of satisfaction experienced by Keystone personnel, then that is simply wonderful. We often describe ourselves as the happiest law firm in the country; that has always been a rather subjective and immodest boast, but not anymore. Thank you RollOnFriday for running this most unusual of awards and, in particular, for keeping us so far away from the dreaded Golden Turd”.

The reason Keystone triumphed is rooted in its unorthodox model. Founded in 2002 by Knight, who qualified at Trowers & Hamlins, its partners and senior consultants keep 60% of what they bill, plus an additional 15% if they introduce the client.

Unlike most firms, around two thirds of Keystone's 350 solicitors are classed as partners and its lawyers are overwhelmingly lateral hires with a number of years of PQE under their belts. Crucially, Keystone's lawyers can also work as much or as little as they like, from where they like. 

As such, Keystone found itself perfectly positioned for the (end) times of 2020/21, with staff barely noticing the effect of lockdowns while other firms were forced to make swingeing changes to their working practices. Keystone respondents to the survey said its uber-flexible structure meant it could hardly have been better prepared for the disruption wreaked on business by the coronavirus.

"Keystone was miles ahead of all the other firms when it came to remote working", said a Keystone partner. "I would not have wanted to be making an emergency change to my working arrangements in the midst of a busy practice".

"Keystone's model was built on remote working", said a trainee. "Before COVID-19, I could work from home when I wanted (within reason of course), and it was nice to have the option".

That meant, said a senior solicitor, "there was literally zero adjustment required. I noticed no difference to my workflows (other than the sad pausing of the regular in person CPD and social events)".

But it wasn't just Covid that showed up the firm in a good light. Keystone's lawyers kept coming back to the control they had over their working lives.

"I get paid directly according to what I earn" said a senior solicitor. "I control the work that I take on, when I work, and how I work. If I need time off for personal reasons, I can have it". 

"We set our own rates, we are in charge of what we invoice and we get 75% of that (slightly less if it's work referred from someone in the firm, and a cut if we have referred work to someone else)", said a partner. 

"It's refreshing getting paid in accordance with what you bring in, instead of shoring up all the overinflated drawings of overpromoted Partners as is common in the 'traditional' law firms", said the solicitor. "The beauty of life at Keystone is that there are no 'Partners' in the true sense of the word- so no pointless Partners' Meetings, no committees, no politics. It's just me, my clients and getting back to why I wanted to be a solicitor in the first place. All the 'noise' has gone away. It's liberating. Liberating!"    

Junior lawyers were also happy. "Keystone offers an unbeatable range of work for trainees", said one of the few trainees the firm has. "Because the firm draws partner-level lawyers from top-tier firms, they bring with them an excellent range of clients and work, which they involve trainees in at a high level in part because the firm has a low trainee intake".

Lawyers described taking the leap to their home office before everyone else was forced to jump as "a life-changing experience after years in the City".

Keystone may become a fixture towards the top of the rankings. It appears to have successfully supercharged the quality of life improvements that lawyers who move from the City to regional superstars like Burges Salmon and Osborne Clarke have reported.

"Then: 4 hours' commute a day, 2000+ hour expectations, zero life outside the office, probably on the fast track to a divorce and a heart attack", said one emigrée. "Now: complete control over my practice, an actual family life and time for outside interests".

Congratulations to Keystone Law.

Don't forget to check out the unhappiest firm of the year and the overall rankings.

Tip Off ROF


Anon 29 January 21 08:10

As a junior partner at a large firm, with my hard slog paying for the inbred, face-fitting pool of sanctimonious EP know-it-alls who bring in no work at all and have no idea how to innovate; I struggle to see how Keystone hasn’t taken over the world yet. 

Anonymous 29 January 21 08:10

Is any firm a firm in the sense you mean this year, when everyone is at home?

I think what constitutes a firm is changing. Traditional firms will increasingly cannibalise aspects of this model. They will have to.

Anonymous 29 January 21 08:22

Amazon has probably got a permanent covid bump because the pandemic has accelerated the rate of consumer migration from the high street to online. Is that Keystone, or is it more like zoom stock, and its appeal will plummet once normality returns?

Sumoking 29 January 21 08:33

Employment lawyer 29 January 21 08:07

Good for them - but is it really a firm at all in any meaningful sense?



is a partnership or partners a law firm?


Anonymous 29 January 21 08:34

You don't work for Keystone and it doesn't have any employees who are front-line lawyers, so no, it's not a firm. Keystone is more like a franchise - it provides the compliance, marketing services, back-office etc. and licenses its brand to your service company (the actual law firms) in return for 25% of your fees.

It may be a great franchise, but a law firm it is not.

Anonymous 29 January 21 08:47

Stop being so prescriptive you old dinosaurs.


I'm looking forward to 2022's award for top firm being awarded to a job-share of 3 New Square and the Practical Law Company, feat. Asda's in-house compliance team on backing vocals.

All of you need to learn to innovate more.

Spotty Lizard 29 January 21 08:48

@anonymous 08:34 it plainly is a law firm, your weird qualification criteria notwithstanding. 

gamestopper 29 January 21 08:50

Is there a fixed definition of a law firm, 08:34?

Sounds a bit like hedge funds telling us there's only one type of legitimate speculator.

Anonymous 29 January 21 08:51

Just checked their rate card. Charging London rates for work delivered from garden sheds (or beaches or wherever). Great for the lawyers if they can sustain their following. A bit odd from the client's perspective, when other outfits might take advantage of the lower overheads and remote set-up to offer more competitive rates and/or emphasise some whizz-bang legal technology. Client-side this just looks like a traditional firm (lots of greyhairs in reassuringly dull suits) in a different box. I'd also be less than enthused about the incentivised internal referral scheme: doesn't exactly inspire trust and nobody really "knows" the people to whom they're referring work. BAH. MEH.

Anonymous 29 January 21 08:51

Swiss verein firms aren't a firm, then? Or floated firms, where you work for the shareholders?

Anonymous 29 January 21 09:13

I've been at Keystone for several years and I can confirm that it very much feels like a firm, with excellent support and colleagues I'm genuinely happy to see and to refer work to. 

Not things I could say about my last firm, where I was one of many, many partners, with whom I had very little in common.  That definitely was a firm.

If being at a "law firm" means having a grim time, being underpaid so that there is money to go to EPs who don't deserve it, unnecessary numbers of unsupportive support staff and working in a building that - as the last year has shown - is just a great big cost (with an in house chef for God's sake)...well, okay, then, fine, Keystone isn't a law firm.  More of the same, please.

WorkyTicket 29 January 21 09:16

Well done Keystone.

Whenever I’ve dealt with your lawyers they’ve been lovely. So I don’t begrudge this win. Maybe I’ll even join Keystone in the coming years...

Anonymous 29 January 21 09:32

@08:50 - no there is not!

Which is why the Holloway branch of Morrisons is a strong contender for the Best Marine Insurance Firm 2021.

Fixed definitions of what is and isn't a law firm are just so, reactionary.

Spotty Lizard 29 January 21 09:35

Anon @08:51 - perhaps you've not been keeping up with current events, boy, but "London rates for work done in garden sheds is the current fashion, irrespective of how much rent the firm pays for its empty City offices. 

As for your comments about incentivised referrals, coneptually how is that different from a partner in one department of a large firm referring work to another partner?

I work at one of Keystone's competitor profit-share firms. I tend to refer work to the partners I know and trust, and where there is no-one in the firm who can adequately cover something I am entirely free to refer it out, in the interests of keeping my client competently served and happy with me. Unlike in a traditional firm, there is no central pressure to keep as much work as possible in-house. 

Nick 29 January 21 09:54

Of course keystone is a firm - 

saying anything else is like saying that Amazon is not a retailer because it doesn’t have a shop

well done - we need more innovation in law not less

ESCW 29 January 21 10:23

In a good way, it sounds more like a chambers set up with clerking and admin provided centrally covered by chambers rent and clerks fees, returns managed in house but in control of whoever got the brief and the rest is income


Well done to Keystone though!

Food for thought 29 January 21 10:40

Anonymous 9:13 - you make some very good points but, whoah, don’t knock the in-house chef for crying out loud...

Big shed, little shed, cardboard box 29 January 21 10:44

@Anonymous 29 January 21 08:51

"Charging London rates for work delivered from garden sheds"  if they keep 75% of everything they bill I bet they are bloody nice sheds.  We're all working from home at the moment but these guys seem to have it right 

🚀 29 January 21 10:54

What’s changed during lockdown is how promotion works. 

Now if you’re a promising Senior Associate or Director in a regional firm like DLA Piper, Eversheds or DWF your options are considerably greater.  

After all, if you can be in your garden shed successfully working for a firm in a different city during lockdown then you surely do the same afterwards?  More competition for talent. Alternatives like Keystone will thrive, but so will the firms which adapt to this new environment very quickly. 

Anonymous 29 January 21 11:33

[email protected] again. I've expressed myself poorly.

1) The EP pyramid model deserves to have a lemon shoved in its mouth and a stake driven through its heart at a crossroads at midnight. Keystone, Gunnercooke and every other profit-share outfit should be applauded for challenging that model and giving lawyers better working lives, and more power to anyone who works in a garden shed and keeps their billings for themselves (full disclosure - that's what I do, most of my clients being in-house legal teams, and it's a nice garden shed. The squirrels are extremely fat this year as I've been leaving them peanuts). Not working in traditional firms is bloody great and more people should do it.

2) The rates charged by Keystone appear are comparable to a City firm despite the low overhead. That seems odd from a buyer side, as you can get the same offering (a 10-20 year PQE specialist, directly accessible and accountable, without the duplication of trainees, etc.) much more cheaply by just going to a boutique. Keystone would seem to sit on the panel alongside traditional firms rather than being distinct from them. My clients who have used Keystone (only a sample of two) found them...fine. 

3) I think there's a qualitative difference between the usual incentive to refer work internally ("it'll look good on your appraisal") and a direct financial incentive ("the more Dave bills this client, the more goes in your pocket"). If you trust your advisor then you'd expect them to refer work out rather than dump it with someone unqualified or untrustworthy internally (like SpottyLizard above), but even having a mechanism for direct incentives compromises that relationship of trust, even if only by an increment.

TL:DR - hurray for Keystone, and anyone else giving lawyers more of a share of their sweat, but the model seems at first glance more about attracting lawyers with their own existing following happy to keep paying for the person they like ("people buy people") than attracting new clients, and I'm not sure I see why Keystone would be a more attractive proposition to a GC than either a traditional firm for big-ticket stuff, a boutique for specialist stuff, or some cheaper dispersed challenger for run-of-the-mill stuff.  

tuscan 29 January 21 12:15

So my fees are regularly assessed against my direct competitors and while my hourly charge out matches the partners at 'proper' firms, the total billed to client is nearly always less.


b/c i am not motivated by recorded hours so i do the job and then stop the clock. If i dont have heaps of work to do, i would rather be somewhere other than at my desk, making jobs up that dont need doing just so i can charge them to the client.

b/c i am not forced to 'hand down' work to more junior solicitors and put my energy into developing new clients. the consequence of that is a more genuine relationship which sees the client as a person not a bill paying entity.

b/c my junior lawyers never ever have their hours assessed, only the quality of their output.

b/c i think it is wrong to charge clients for two solicitors time, so i very rarely charge juniors for attendance on calls when i am present or at conferences etc

b/c i take a view about bills and what the client has received (or generated) and whether it is fair. every single time.

and this is all b/c i am completely free to do what i like. 

costs are not about headline rates, but about quality and value.

Anonymous 29 January 21 12:24

"if you’re a promising Senior Associate or Director in a regional firm like DLA Piper, Eversheds or DWF your options are considerably greater"


Very funny.

From the same school of comedy as "if you are an ambitious Dodo living on an island like Mauritius, then global warming has made your options considerably greater!"

Anonymous 29 January 21 13:41

Anon 12.24 - your options (elsewhere) are obviously improved by having more of them. Pretty simple stuff. 

Old-Ben 29 January 21 18:01

Large law firms regularly cull their senior, non-entrepreneurial, deadwood lawyers (who either still have mortgages to pay - or those whose partners don't want them home all day( - Those who lack the gumption (or ability) to be able to run their own solicitors' practice.

There's a fair few who would never get professional indemnity insurance in their own name = Trust me, the insurers ask me to write the reports (= clueless / bad risk - Let the gig economy have them).

The poor schmucks then have to 'hand over their cut to the man who controls the computer' = UBER Law.

It suits some - But the quote about lack of politics at 'The Keystone Kops' = Priceless!

Ben72 30 January 21 19:58

Old-Ben’s comment makes no sense and misses the point.  I have worked through an entity such as Keystone for 7 years now having been a partner at a medium size city firm for a few years.  I have after the firm’s cut averaged £450k in pay per year.  My former colleagues who were further up the partnership ladder make less.  It was because I was entrepreneurial that I left.  I have looked into going alone but quite frankly I have not got the time or the inclination to do all the admin and set up all the systems/precedent access etc.  Yes I could employ people to do it and no doubt come out a bit ahead but I can’t be bothered with the stress.  There is no politics (certainly among the lawyers) at such entities by the way.  Why would there be?

Buzz. 31 January 21 22:08

There are a lot of jealous unimaginative salaried doc blozzers lacking the confidence to back themselves on here aren't there?

Anonymous 03 February 21 20:23

Um, hang on - if the Keystone lawyers all operate through their own service companies, aren't they just saying "I love running my own law firm"? Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.

Anonymous 04 February 21 09:32

I’m sure this “but is that really a law firm” question was buzzing around when LLPs were introduced. Now look out there - virtually no traditional partnerships left.

This debate may look silly to everyone in 20 years’ time. 

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