Clarence Professional Group
With the rapidly changing environment of Australian legal services, lawyers are changing the way they provide services to their clients. There’s some confusion around these changes, mixed with excitement about the opportunities such changes can provide. One business at the heart of this shifting climate is Clarence – a shared workspace in several city locations that provides specialist services to the legal industry.
While the traditional model of barristers’ chambers remains unchanged, a growing number of lawyers – mostly solicitors but increasingly barristers as well – are embracing membership at Clarence. Clarence provides a modern chambers environment. It offers the suite of services required to practice law, but with greater flexibility. The Clarence business model offers a viable and attractive alternative to the traditional partnership or sole practitioner office model for solicitors.
Who does Clarence cater to?
The typical Clarence member, according to its General Manager, Jennifer Miller, is "a partner at a large law firm. He or she has worked in a traditional firm, been promoted to partner and has an established client base. At some stage they feel they would be better on their own but don’t want to be alone and seek out Clarence because they know they need the network, resources, facilities and financial savings that Clarence provides."
From its inception in 1993, Clarence’s philosophy has been to enable lawyers to practise independently, but not alone. At the Clarence hub at 133 Castlereagh Street, Sydney – one of three locations in Sydney – each business within Clarence is advertised on the name board at ground level. The reception area itself carries no signage and reception staff are on hand to greet all members’ clients. There’s a range of meeting spaces available on the floor, for any occasion. Boardrooms with movable walls allow for a larger conference-style set-up as well as more intimate meetings, and lockable offices are available, as well as individual desks in shared areas, various breakout spaces, and a communal kitchen, café and bar area with city views.
But the office space locations – three in Sydney, one in Brisbane, and a recently opened office in Melbourne– offer a lot more than shared physical working environments. Although the collaborative element of the shared workspace is a vital value proposition for members, the practice of law in Australia requires access to various resources, including research materials, document storage and marketing support. With its current membership of more than 350 solicitors, Clarence can offer members these resources at greatly reduced rates. Clarence also offers regular seminars designed to enable lawyers to fulfil their Continuous Professional Development (CPD) obligations, to retain their practising certificate. “It’s a unique situation because they’re all individual businesses. We’re providing the benefits of a larger firm with the flexibility of self-employment,” says Miller.
As the climate of legal practice within Australia transforms, this bespoke system suits an increasing number of lawyers’ career aspirations. “Similar to the opportunities other industries have with technology, it feels like the legal industry will undergo significant change,” Miller says. “Technology can remove the redundant, repetitive tasks that consume billable hours, allowing for lawyers to provide specialised legal advice that gives them a competitive advantage and makes a real difference for their clients.” This extends to billing practices, which are migrating from time on the clock to value billing, a change driven by clients.
A Clarence success story
Sarah Cappello, partner at Cappello Rowe Lawyers, has had a relationship with Clarence since moving to Sydney from Griffith, where the business was launched several years ago. Cappello Rowe’s use of the shared work space has seamlessly accommodated Sarah’s personal circumstances, providing office space when she needed a client-facing environment, and shifting to a virtual office when she took maternity leave. As her business has scaled, Clarence has smoothed each transition.
It’s the flexibility and one-stop-shop aspects of Clarence’s support of the business that have suited Cappello Rowe over the course of a years-long relationship. “Clarence provides furniture, internet, and someone to come in and support all your tech,” Sarah explains.
When Cappello Rowe acquired another small law firm of 10 lawyers in 2016, Clarence accommodated the expanded business while they searched for a standalone address. The consistent mailing address and phone number provided stability for the newly-expanded team and their clients. Now with a staff of 20 and in their own premises, Cappello Rowe has maintained a relationship with Clarence. “As virtual members, we have access to Clarence’s facilities, if we ever need a large boardroom,” she says. Cappello Rowe lawyers also regularly take advantage of Clarence’s Continued Professional Development program.
While Clarence was originally established to serve solicitors and barristers, Miller has found that people working in other professional services are becoming members of Clarence, servicing lawyers and their clients in a mutually beneficial work environment. In the dynamic reality of today’s working world, with technology changing the way business gets done, the Clarence model is answering the increased need for flexibility.