Tyler Tipping & Woods has not lagged behind its city counterparts in deciding to shift into an incorporated model, after being established from a number of mergers over the last 120 years.
Director Mark Woods says the decision to incorporate was made in 2003, and has resulted in ongoing negotiations with its 40 employees, including six solicitors, three legal executives (paralegals) and support staff.
"It gave the best option for younger lawyers to join and obtain equity in the firm, together with the best opportunity for non-legally qualified staff to become involved in the equity of the firm," he says.
The firm's staff is spread over two offices, the main one based in Traralgon, in the central La Trobe area, while another office in Morwell houses a third of the staff. There is also an office in Melbourne, but with no solicitor permanently stationed there, it is attended on a needs basis. The firm is a general practice concentrating on commercial, corporate, family and criminal and property law and wills and estates.
The region is a hub of activity, says Woods, with the mining of brown coal for electricity in the Victoria's Ruhr District, which provides power for Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. There is also a significant logging industry of plantation and natural forest timber, a large papermaking plant, mining for oil and natural gas in the Bass Strait and an agricultural industry, principally in wool and dairy products, as well as vegetable growing. As a result, the current economic downturn has not affected the firm greatly, says Woods.
"Most of what is produced here is not reliant on discretionary spending and so the region is likely to be insulated from significant job losses. The agricultural sector is subject to seasonal variations and the drought is obviously significant, as is the shortage of water, particularly for irrigation, but it's not something that has had a significant impact on the local economy," he says.
"The domestic product of the regional economy is likely to continue to grow in the foreseeable future. The only thing that we notice is that the restricted credit policies as a result of the global crisis are likely to see some small businesses fail. Somebody has to handle the insolvencies [though, so] we help set them up and we help dismantle them."
Woods says working in a regional area gives him both work and leisure benefits, with access to ski fields in winter, surfing in summer as well as bushwalking and camping in national parks.
"A lot of my city colleagues still have the view that country lawyers sit on the verandah of their offices in a check shirt with a piece of straw hanging out of their mouth, just swatting the flies away for most of the day. When, in reality, the practice of the law is exactly the same as it is the city, but without the traffic jams, without any difficulty finding a car park and with a consequent greater amount of time to oneself, after finishing our 10-hour days," he says.
"Although I have a rural property which is 25 kilometres from the office, it still only takes me less than 15 minutes door to door, so even though I never finish work much before 7.30 or 8pm I can still get home a lot more quickly than some of my city colleagues who finish at 6.30pm."
- Sarah Sharples