Martin Vander Weyer

A very different kind of law firm

Also: Buybacks are becoming more popular with British companies — but at what cost?

A very different kind of law firm
Text settings

The closing date for The Spectator’s Economic Disruptor of the Year Awards 2019, sponsored by Julius Baer, is Friday 7 June. We’re eager to hear from innovators in every part of the UK who are disrupting their marketplace in terms of price, choice and accessibility and have the potential to scale up, nationally and internationally.

Meanwhile, in the latest in our series of inspirational personal stories behind 2018’s Disruptor finalists, Martin Vander Weyer talks to Gary Gallen, founder of Rradar, a Hull-based law firm that offers digital solutions to reduce legal risks for smaller companies.

Gary Gallen’s entrepreneurial journey began in grittier circumstances than most. His father was an Irish immigrant who laboured in Scunthorpe’s steelworks before starting a building business; but when he died, it turned out other people had taken financial advantage of him and Gary’s mother was in danger of losing the family home.

Gary stepped in to help her — ‘I always liked a good argument’ — and the seeds of his legal career were sewn. After studies at Coventry University, he joined a small firm in Scunthorpe then built a criminal law practice of his own that became one of the biggest in the region, undertaking legal aid work touching on every area of crime from drugs and people trafficking to serious fraud.

He also became increasingly aware of perils that face small and medium-sized businesses in terms of changing health and safety rules, and new laws in areas such as corporate manslaughter and money laundering. He began to develop insurance-based solutions, working particularly with the French insurance giant Axa, to help cap company costs. ‘There was an untapped need for better navigation in the regulation and compliance field… Traditional law firms have always been hoarders of knowledge, rather than educators. I was able to show [companies] how to minimise risk by being smarter and better prepared.’

In 1999 Gallen joined forces with Leeds-based DLA which grew into the transatlantic law firm DLA Piper, of which he became an equity partner. He continued building his disruptive business model — but that led to tensions within a firm whose prosperity depended on traditional fee streams. Gallen also had domestic anxieties at that time, with a disabled son to care for, and felt an urge to be his own boss. So in 2011 he remortgaged his house and set out to build a new firm from scratch. ‘It takes longer than you think,’ he says. ‘At one stage I had £1 million-plus of my own money invested in the project and the bank was twitching. But setting up on my own came as a tremendous relief.’

Using in-house developers, he began building Rradar’s unique digital platform that gives clients low-cost access to a database of routine legal advice. His connection to Axa — now secured by a ten-year contract — gave him the base he needed for growth. In the course of scaling up, Gallen and his team ceded majority control to private equity investors, but have since been able to buy them out again. Rradar today has ‘two dozen multi-year contracts’ with insurance partners and is on course for £10 million of annual revenues, with plans to open new offices in Birmingham and London and to take the model to France and the US. It’s also the first law practice to be listed in the Sunday Times Tech Track 100 league table.

As for Gary Gallen himself, at 51 he’s ‘not looking to the exit’. What’s his personal goal? ‘I just want to build a fantastic business, bigger and more international. Nobody else has a full holistic model like ours: what we’re doing has real social impact, enabling companies to grow and perform better by managing their legal risks better. It’s democratising the law.’

The entry form for The Spectator Economic Disruptor of the Year Awards 2019 is at