While serving as Axiom’s chief legal officer, Catherine Kemnitz played a key role in helping the flexible legal talent provider secure regulatory approval in 2022 to operate a law firm in Arizona.
Kemnitz, who became CLO in 2020, also played an instrumental part in the formal launch of the firm called Axiom Advice & Counsel early this year.
She will now get to focus even more on Axiom’s attempts to grow its reach through innovative business approaches after recently stepping into the newly created position of chief strategy and development officer.
Her C-suite role will also include carrying out the alternative legal services provider’s global expansion efforts through possible acquisitions.
“I've always gravitated in a way towards challenges and opportunities where I can have the most impact,” Kemnitz told Legal Dive. “I think we came to realize that today at Axiom where I can have a greater impact is in tackling strategy and its deployment.”
Serving more companies
It was last spring when the Arizona Supreme Court approved Axiom’s application to operate a law firm as an alternative business structure as part of the state’s opening of its marketplace to nontraditional legal services providers.
A major focus for Kemnitz in her new post will be making sure the firm, which will initially focus on handling corporate legal matters, gets off to a strong start this year.
She said she’s particularly excited that Axiom Advice & Counsel (AA&C) will be able to assist companies who do not yet have in-house counsel, which tend to be small and mid-sized businesses.
Axiom’s talent platform business cannot currently serve companies without legal departments because its flexible talent lawyers must have attorney supervision under legal ethics rules that apply to Axiom.
As for AA&C, Matthew Levine and Jeffrey Harris, former colleagues at the Titus Brueckner & Levine law firm in Arizona, were recently named the firm’s managing partner and partner, respectively.
Kemnitz, AA&C’s designated principal, said the firm is actively recruiting to grow its ranks. This includes ongoing efforts to hire lawyers who have previous in-house experience and understand the legal and business needs legal departments have.
“One of the things we want to think about is how the law department can be delivered through the law firm,” she said.
U.K. alternative business
Kemnitz said Axiom’s innovation in the legal industry will extend to other locations as well.
The company has been approved to operate an alternative business structure in the United Kingdom, which has allowed nontraditional legal service providers for more than a decade.
Kemnitz said Axiom plans to launch a U.K. law firm similar to the one in Arizona in the near future.
“While we are still considering the best way to proceed with launching under an ABS structure in the U.K., our strategic goals and priorities for reimagining the archetype of the modern law firm to the benefit of both clients and lawyers will remain the same,” she said.
The company is also considering future launches of alternative business structures in other locations where they are allowed, such as Australia and Singapore.
Additionally, Axiom is watching closely to see if additional states in the U.S. beyond Arizona and Utah overhaul their regulations about law firm ownership.
“We're hoping that more states will eventually change the rules so that we can benefit from having partners in different states, and clients can benefit from more options for quality, cost-effective legal counsel,” Kemnitz said.
Kemnitz said another way Axiom may pursue geographic expansion is through mergers and acquisitions.
Along those lines, Axiom announced last year that it had acquired Plexus Engage, an Australian company that similarly provides flexible lawyers to in-house legal departments to support projects or enhance internal capacity.
The purchase allowed Axiom to enter the Australian market, operating as Axiom Global Australia, and extend its footprint in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region.
Axiom plans to continue to examine further expansion in APAC, Kemnitz said, as well as Europe.
“There may be adjacent business models that we want to explore,” she said.
Leveraging past experience
Kemnitz said her prior experiences at both Axiom and Thomson Reuters Legal in corporate development-focused positions should serve her well in the M&A component of her new C-suite position.
She said her work to build a legal team that could address the many issues on her plate as Axiom’s CLO, a role she will maintain until a successor is chosen, should also position for success as chief strategy and development officer.
Kemnitz highlighted that her small in-house legal team has utilized flexible legal talent from Axiom’s platform for help in a wide array of areas, including commercial, privacy and labor/employment work.
This usage of outside legal talent as a legal chief, she said, provided her a first-hand understanding of how Axiom currently serves its in-house legal department clients and potential ways to enhance its offerings.
“Growth is driven by meeting clients’ needs and meeting them where they are,” Kemnitz said. “So having that intimate knowledge of what it is like to be in this [CLO] seat, I think will be very, very helpful.”