Current deputy managing partner Dean Hely will succeed Greg Gaunt in the role of managing partner on 1 February.
“It gives [me] the opportunity to put in place some of [my] own thoughts rather than being led by someone else,” he said, adding that he is excited to step into the role in the firm he helped found.
He will pass on his role as lead partner of the firm’s insolvency and reconstruction team to partner Alison Robinson, whom he has worked with for more than 10 years.
During his time as deputy managing partner, Hely also headed up Lavan’s litigation practice, which makes up 50 per cent of the firm’s work.
“Our corporate and resources area is smaller than most so there’s a real focus on growing that given WA is a resources area. We’ve got some good expertise in Caroline Brown and Simon Adams in the energy sector for gas and electricity and we need to leverage off their expertise,” said Hely.
Tony Chong, Lavan’s corporate group leader, is vice-president of the WA Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Hely plans to leverage off his reputation and relationships with clients in Singapore and China to increase Lavan’s client base there.
But Hely added that the firm has no plans to expand outside of WA in the next five years.
“We’re just coming up to our seventh anniversary as a standalone firm so we want to solidify our name in this marketplace before we start to expand into markets that are pretty saturated,” he said.
The arrival of global firms and the rise of the so-called ‘upper-mid tier’ does not scare Hely. The only risk, he said, is if Lavan tries to be “all things to all people” and copy what other firms are doing.
“For us it’s about finding areas where we become recognised and building our practice around those areas,” he said, adding that the movement among global firms has provided opportunities for Lavan to get on panels of organisations wanting a local perspective.
“We don’t necessarily have the deep conflict issues that global and national firms have,” he said.
Hely has been a partner, of first Phillips Fox and then Lavan Legal, for 13 years and deputy managing partner for 10 years. He joined Phillips Fox (as the firm was then known) in 1999 when it merged with the insolvency, reconstruction and commercial litigation practice Hely Edgar.
“You sort of think of [the firm] as your own baby; you’ve been part of bringing this thing up and watching it change and you make mistakes, you have wins and being part of that has been exciting,” he said.
Greg Gaunt, who began with the firm as an articled clerk in 1979 and never left, will move to the new role of executive chairman.
“Greg’s a really balanced person. He takes time to think about things, to look at problems, to deal with people, and I think that’s been a really good lesson just watching how he’ll deal with things in a very balanced, calm manner,” said Hely.
“There’s a very deep level of respect for him, not only as a practitioner or a managing partner but as a person, so it gives [me] something to aspire to."
Gaunt helped to transform Lavan from a national franchise back to an independent WA firm and it’s that independence, Hely said, that drives the firm’s culture.
Through his lead role in marketing the firm, Hely said he tried to distinguish it from other mid-level practices in WA.
“I thought the branding or business development by law firms was pretty stale and saw it as an opportunity to have a bit of fun with it,” he said.
One look at Lavan’s website and this becomes clear; it features videos with various partners, not only touting their legal solutions but showing off their passions for cross-fit training, aboriginal art collecting, surfing, motor biking and more.
There’s signage on the roof of the firm and an emphasis on community involvement with a number of organisations.
The firm raised around $8000 in food for Salvos Christmas Hampers last year by manning a Lavan Legal branded combi-van outside shopping centres. The previous two years it donated a van at the request of Salvos.
“I got sick of seeing those emails from people saying ‘we’re not sending out Christmas cards but we’re donating money to a charity’. You never knew how much and I was always suspicious of it so we went out and said ‘let’s get something of substance’ … it gives off a deeper relationship with that organisation and our staff love it,” said Hely.
Lavan consists of 21 partners and more than 200 staff.