A digest of lawyers who are killing it
[Photo - Joshua Earle] The lawyers mentioned in this post are leaping over status quo ideas like it ain't no thing, not unlike the subject of this photo leaps over mountains.
A digest of lawyers who are killing it
When you're running a law firm (and its website) it's a bit taboo to talk about other lawyers who are doing great things. Actually it's a bit taboo to talk about other lawyers at all. The idea seems to be that if we all close our eyes and pretend no other lawyers exist then maybe they'll all go away and we can have all the clients for ourselves.
I don't like that, because it means I don't get the chance to shine spotlights on lawyers who are absolutely killing it, innovation and service style: lawyers whom I admire and draw inspiration from. Also, without some spotlight-shining we are all at risk of some outdated and, well, bad practices/ideas/norms enduring far longer than they need to. Better to see what is being done and dream how to get more of it, I say.
I have been reading Adam Grant's treatise Givers and Takers, about the plight of givers and takers in business. Giving away the central premise, Grant found that although givers can lose in the short term, they invariably win in the long term. I would argue that we all do too. All the lawyers I'm highlighting in this digest are categorical givers, and I am so grateful for their generous example.
Marque is my spirit firm. If I lived in Sydney I would have been repeat-applying for a job with them rather than starting Symphony (so it's good I'm not!). They are a full service commercial and litigation firm but they have a radically different culture from your average firm. They don't bill by the hour (high five, sirs), and they let their personality shine through their work (there are hundreds of jokes on their website, guys, jokes!).
If I didn't have other lawyers to get to I would reproduce their whole website in this post, but for now here's a randomly chosen text sample, taken from the "about us" description of partner Kristy Dixon:
"Currently the blondest member of the partnership, and importantly responsible for returning our gender mix to 50/50 as it should be,* Kristy clings to her youth by hanging out at live music gigs and asking the bouncers to check her ID."
Marque is living proof that lawyers can be themselves and still be crazy successful in corporate law. This is a lesson worth broadcasting.
Clearpoint is another law firm that's thrown out much of the status quo in favour of client service and lawyer wellbeing: they are a commercial and IP firm that offer long term and project-based retainers, kind of like an in-house counsel. That means no hourly billing (high fives for you too, sirs) and a lot of flexible working arrangements. I spoke with their founding partner Joel Cranshaw when I was developing the model for Symphony and he could not have been more generous with his time or ideas. He and I agree that hourly billing is bad for lawyers and clients. His lawyers are happy because instead of focusing on budgets and fitting in with a traditional practice, they get to focus on developing strong relationships with clients for long periods, meaning they really serve and get enmeshed in their clients' pursuits. His clients and their lawyers love this.
The other big thing about Clearpoint is that they focus on businesses who are doing good. That's right, they specifically choose clients who have a social or environmental impact as part of their business model. They put their service where their mouth is by maintaining certification as Australia's first B Corporation law firm, and they specialise in assisting other companies get/maintain their B Corp certification.** What champs.
Simmonds Stewart is a boutique technology firm with lawyers in Wellington and Auckland who have just released a bundle of commercial template agreements for startups to use for free. I love this so much for two reasons. First, they are giving start ups the chance to set up properly, with excellent legal documentation to protect them as they grow. And second, they are tapping into an essential truth of lawyerdom (denied by many), which is that clients mostly do not buy our services for the documents we produce, but for our advice and insight on those documents.
They are not alone in that. My friend Rochelle Furneaux over at Enspiral Legal is especially passionate about the need for precedent documents to be more freely available as she agrees that it is the relationship and views of the particular lawyer a client buys, and not the documents. I am just really taken by how brazenly they are putting their own work, no doubt developed over countless hours, out there for use by the startup community, without fear that it will have an impact on their bottom line.
Finally, an example not like the others. Justly is online software designed to make creating a will easier for lawyer and client, and as far as I can tell at this stage (beta testing), it's free. Even if it's not free, it seems to have made the process of creating and maintaining a will much much easier for lay people. I don't know much about the people behind it but I'm still excited. The easier we can make important work like this for people, the better.
Incidentally, if you don't have a will, please make one. Dying without a will creates so much extra grief for your loved ones.
I want to make this a regular feature so that all the lawyers bravely stepping out and trying to make things better can be seen and appropriate applause given. When you set out to write a post like this it is difficult to limit the focus to just a handful of firms, so please don't think that these are the only lawyers doing great stuff in Australasia.
If nothing else, do yourself a favour and spend the afternoon reading Marque's website in its entirety. You won't be disappointed.
* Marque also deserves a mention for maintaining a proper gender split at partnership level. In New Zealand only 15 to 20% of partners are women.
** For the uninitiated, B Corps in the US are companies that comply with a formal structure for companies with a social or environmental impact goal and they receive tax and other benefits. Outside the US the certification is more of a mark of what the company stands for as unfortunately we (Australia and New Zealand) don't yet have legal recognition for social enterprise-style companies. Read more about B Certification here.