Clarissa Rayward, Director of the Brisbane Family Law Centre aka the Happy Family Lawyer, is chatting with law firm owners at the top of their fields to find out what makes them tick, what challenges they face, and why they do what they do. The lawyers spotlighted in Smokeball’s inaugural 2022 Law Firm Leadership Interview Series are helping to shape the legal profession for those who work in and around it.
During this episode, we are thrilled to chat with Laura Vickers, Principal Lawyer and Founding Director of Nest Legal. After years of working in top commercial and government firms, Laura founded Nest Legal in 2013 to help busy parents obtain legal peace of mind for their families. She's been hailed an 'industry game-changer' through her innovative approach to client service that perfectly services its target market.
Pull up a seat as Laura speaks candidly and collaboratively, sharing their top practical tips and technology tools for running a successful and progressive legal practice.
We started as a purely digital law firm. I'm not sure the world was ready for a 100% digital law firm in 2013 because opening a bricks-and-mortar office was the secret sauce that made Nest Legal go boom. We now have 24 staff based across Victoria, NSW and New Zealand.
We do wills, conveyancing, and family law – all the legal needs that spring up as you start to build a nest for your family. I started Nest Legal after I had my son and realised what a headache it was for working parents to see a lawyer. I brainstormed all the things that annoyed people about traditional lawyers (inaccessibility outside business hours, unclear pricing, poor communication) and designed a service that I would want to use. That ethos has stuck with the firm even today.
One of the things I love about Smokeball is the tasks management feature as it speaks to our firm's core values. For example, I can log on and see that Clarissa has eight tasks left for today; Jeremy's only got two; I've cleared mine so I'll say, ‘Jeremy, you take two, I'll take two, and we will all leave the office at the same time.' That's in line with our firm's values — no one person has to stay back because one of their client matters has blown out.
Another feature I love is Communicate because it reduces the burden of email. As lawyers, we get so many emails already that we don't need to add emails between team members. Its messaging and file sharing platform is built directly into Smokeball; you can send and receive secure messages and files with your clients or third parties and quickly locate messages without searching through numerous emails.
We'll often think of new ways of doing things, and I love how open Smokeball is to hearing from us. We wanted to be able to use emojis in the Communicate app. The support team said, 'Even if other law firms might not be open to having emojis in their Communicate, if it's really important to Nest Legal, we will look into adding smiley faces in the messaging system.' And they did.
The activity tracking function is really valuable to us too. We don't record time because we are a fixed fee practice, but it's helpful to see where you spend your time. You can get an indication that you spent four hours on that Letter of Advice, so next time you scope it, you'll take that into account. I don't want to waste everyone's time by asking them to manually record everything, so it's useful having this function ticking away in the background.
You need entirely different skills to run a business of 24 people than you do for four people. The structure that we put in place to manage our team is that we now have three Directors. One of them is in charge of one half of the firm, and one is in charge of the other half of the firm, and as I don't have any direct reports, I float around and fill in the gaps and spot where things can be done better. That plays to their strengths because they are excellent people managers, and it plays to my strengths as I'm good at fixing systems and plugging gaps.
The advice I would give to my 20-year-old self is to put the textbook down, leave the law library and have fun. I don't think that you understand when you're in university that it's about the relationships and the experiences, not just the knowledge and the marks. Looking back, the number of great (mostly female) connections I made at uni not only supported me during that time but since encouraged me to go out on a limb to start Nest Legal. I don't think I fully appreciated that at the time. If I did it all again, I would go to the barbecue, go to the drinks, and have more fun!
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