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What boutiques can learn from BigLaw

Whilst many boutique firm owners who leave BigLaw aim to create different working environments, there are a number of positive lessons from BigLaw that this principal solicitor has brought to his firm.

user iconLauren Croft 14 July 2022 Big Law
Keith Redenbach
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Keith Redenbach is the principal solicitor of Redenbach Legal, as well as a finalist in three categories for our upcoming Partner of the Year Awards. Speaking recently on the Boutique Lawyer Show, Mr Redenbach revealed what he’s learnt from working at BigLaw firms — and what he’s brought with him to his own firm.

Before starting his own boutique firm seven years ago, Mr Redenbach worked in BigLaw for over 20 years; at firms including MinterEllison, Norton Rose Fulbright and Maddocks — and said that a number of things have changed in the world of BigLaw since then.

“There used to not be so many global practices in Australia. We were very much an island, literally and figuratively in the strategic sense where you had either state-based firms and then newly formed national confederations. They weren’t necessarily integrated in the way that the big shops that I’ve worked in have become. And that meant that you would need to really be part of an international network, which then started to take hold,” he explained.

 
 

“And for instance, I was a part of the Deacons firm, which became Norton Rose Fulbright, which ultimately leveraged that network to then reach out and take another step on its journey. I would say, though, these days, that advantage is probably waned a little bit in terms of the global firms requiring people to work there.”

In terms of some of the negative aspects of BigLaw he’s left behind, Mr Redenbach said the politics in larger firms could sometimes mean decisions are slower.

“I try to take a zero politics aspect to decision making. And that, to me, I think is one of the downsides in being in larger organisations where there’s going to be a decision made, oh, that can’t be made because it might not be agreed to by that person or whatever. And often the organisations, I guess, grander plans get sort of suppressed and then stymied. So, I’ve opted for a very client-driven and outcome-focused decision-making process from my point of view. That tends to focus around making decisions based on what’s best for our client base,” he added.

“What’s best for the staff who service that client base. And that I think can resonate much more openly and transparently with staff, for instance, who could be impacted by decisions that are made, that we won’t do a particular kind of work, we’ll do that other sort of work because that’s what our clients require. And I think that’s a much easier way to explain a decision than having to sort of try to dress it up and cloak it up in a political discussion around whether somebody’s not going to like it or not.”

However, there were also a number of positive learning experiences Mr Redenbach was able to draw from BigLaw, including the “face-to-face aspect” of being in a larger working environment.

“For me, part of the contribution that collaboration makes is making better decisions. Making decisions where people have an opportunity to contribute, but also you get the benefit of receiving contributions that you may not otherwise have initially looked at. So, making decisions that are rich decisions, decisions that are gained from the wealth of the firm and the knowledge of the firm really does for me become very important in organisations, and that’s what I learned quite a lot, working in collaborative teams,” he explained.

“And to me, that was a very big lesson. And as I said, I try to bring that now through to my organisation, by having regular meetings, even with people who aren’t necessarily involved in a matter or a decision-making pathway, bring them in and let them listen to, and then ask them what they think and see if they have anything that from an outside standpoint might actually give you a little bit of an edge. And that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

In addition, Mr Redenbach found that investing in tech early on has had a very positive impact on Redenbach Legal, particularly during the pandemic.

“For me, whilst it’s been an incredibly challenging time for humanity, actually my practice has really thrived due to the fact that I was a bit of an early mover on tech. Another quick anecdote in June 2019, I actually sent the entire firm, there were about 30 people, to work from home for the week. And so, I got a range of reactions like what’s going on and you shutting the phone down or what, this is very unusual behaviour back in June 2019,” he added.

“But actually, it turned out to be quite a winner. People loved the idea of a bit of flexibility. They were able to come to work in their pyjamas and do things that we now just take for granted, having gone through this awful, but transformative process, over the last few years. So, I suppose I was very open to the idea of work from home. I was very open to the idea of making sure that people had a flexibility where they could work and use technology to the point where my firm became a Microsoft ISV partner just off the back of the development that we did in the investment that we made in that technology.”

But one of the most important lessons Mr Redenbach has learnt is to trust his own intuition — something he concluded has made a “significant” impact on his firm and the way he practices.

“I’d encourage people to make the decisions based on what’s the right decision, what’s the outcome that’s best either for them, either for their client, or for their staff. For me, that’s been a really important revelation since leaving those bigger firms to not be shackled by the political decision making, to actually make the decision based on what’s the right core decision based on integrity, based on honesty, based on transparency,” he said.

“And that’s made a significant difference to me in the way I give even advice. I’ve been so happy to have clients reappoint me. I’ve had one client even in the seven-year period that I’ve had the firm going to reappoint me three times. Their significant appointments, which to me, demonstrate the advantages of a boutique operator and potentially the beginning of a very big shift, a tectonic shift, even in the way that bigger firms operate. So, I’d encourage individual decision making on justice. And I’d encourage backing yourself because I know that was something that I had.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Keith Redenbach, click below: