How a collective approach to law is changing small practices
Whether you’re just starting out, or have reached a critical growth milestone in your business, there will come a time when you’ll think ‘there must be a better way to manage this.’
Tony Jansz, Director of Clarence, Workplaces for Professionals, knows there is. And it’s as simple as coming together with like-minded firms in a collective, collaborative space – dedicated to the specific requirements of the legal profession.
With two locations in Sydney and new offices in Melbourne and Brisbane on the horizon, Clarence is already the largest independent solicitor’s chambers in Australia – with over 200 solicitors and 20 barristers.
“There are tens of thousands of small law firms in Australia – with one to five people – all with their own area of specialty,” says Jansz. “That hasn't changed over the years. What has changed is the way we can use technology and support systems to create more effective ways of practicing law.”
Co-working spaces are certainly on the rise, and not just for freelancers and start-ups. In the US, major corporates such as GE and KPMG have moved small teams of workers into WeWork spaces to benefit from the entrepreneurial energy and networks.1
Harvard Business Review research also indicates workers in shared office spaces thrive – they feel a greater sense of purpose and feel more empowered. They also tend to be more productive.2
Clarence is not another generic (albeit well-designed) serviced office space. It also offers an extensive range of specialist services that effectively support nearly all functional areas of a law firm.
From bookkeeping and onsite reception and secretarial services to subsidised in-house CPD (continuing professional development), conference facilities, an in-house IT team and even marketing, Clarence covers all essential practice support areas. This means lawyers can focus on their core practice areas.
“Many of these small firms begin when an experienced lawyer or partner leaves the big or mid-sized firm to set up their own practice. They know how to incorporate a company, but they aren’t necessarily experienced in actually running a business.” explains Jansz.
With the help of a dedicated in-house Clarence Legal Counsel, these lawyers are freed up to focus on what they do best – provide legal services – while someone else answers their phone, sets up their practice management software, sorts out their marketing and makes sure cash flow keeps coming in with efficient invoicing and bookkeeping.
Important as these advantages are the benefits that flow from a chambers working model are more than administrative.
Many small firms begin when an experienced lawyer or partner leaves the big or mid-sized firm to set up their own practice. They know how to incorporate a company, but they aren’t necessarily experienced in actually running a business.
A supportive community
“Law can be a lonely business,” comments Jansz. “Our members tell us that being part of Clarence provides a valuable, trusted network. They’re even able to take holidays because they can allocate clients to another lawyer for that time which is a real luxury for most sole and small practitioners – it’s incredibly liberating, and really important for their wellbeing.”
Workers in other co-working spaces report feeling healthier, and they also enjoy expanding their personal and professional network. Informal mentoring, advice sharing and skill development all help to keep individuals motivated and disciplined.3
Winning more clients
There is also a significant amount of referrals between the Clarence member solicitors, as well as collaborating across cases.
Rather than competing for business, Clarence’s lawyers have a self-policed code of conduct. “They’ll usually bring their own client base in, so there are rules to protect that. But if they’re a patent attorney and their client needs help with conveyancing, for example, they know who to recommend,” explains Jansz.
For clients, it’s also reassuring to know they can get expert help with a range of legal transactions. “Many of our members are leaders in their field,” notes Jansz.
And of course, a good first impression for those clients starts the minute they enter the building.
“We want this workspace to be something our members can be proud of, so we provide facilities they’d never be able to afford as a standalone tenant.”
Cost-effective access to technology
Another major advantage is collective buying power for technology and other essential overheads.
“We give our members all the benefits of working for a big firm, without any of the problems,” says Jansz. “We’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in technology, including IP telephony and exciting new digital devices that hook directly into our platform and other services like LexisNexis, as well as the unique tools for each member, like their address book.”
Subscriptions to precedents directories and digital libraries are part of the package – saving a solo practice as much as $24,000, according to Jansz. Clarence is also working with Macquarie to make invoicing, reconciliation and accounts receivable as painless as possible.
“It’s all about making sure every business within the whole is as efficiently run as possible,” explains Jansz.
The next iteration of NewLaw
While there will always be a place for top tier law firms, Jansz believes that finding tier one legal advice outside those firms is increasingly possible – and accepted by clients.
“We already cover every aspect of law under one roof – from immigration to IP and conveyancing to commercial litigation,” he says. Jansz believes this model could also encourage other lawyers to make the leap into their own practice.
“Many times, the fear of the unknown and the risks will prevent a lawyer from jumping from a large firm, so we often start by introducing lawyers to current members who share their honest experience, the pitfalls and benefits.”
From a client perspective, it’s one collective law practice with everything they need, in a professional environment with efficient processes. And for each of the Clarence’s members, it is a new way to take out the hidden costs and risks of running their own business – without losing flexibility and control.