For a firm that is based in Wollongong, winning a national award in 2008 for best practice in knowledge management is quite an achievement.
Established in 1954 by sole practitioner JD Kobin, and later merging to become Kells the Lawyers, the firm won the award for their "know-how centre", which is a searchable, web-based storehouse of information. It allows the firm's 70 staff members spread across offices in Wollongong, Shellharbour, Dapto and Sydney, to access accounting and document production systems, the intranet and the "knowledge bank", which includes online legal service providers content, opinions and barristers' advices.
Chairman of partners Roger Downs says the "know-how centre" allows the firm to remain at the technological forefront and provides several benefits, including efficient delivery of services to clients, improving risk management and a central store for all technology and intelligence.
The range of information contained within the central storehouse is also beneficial in ensuring research is not doubled up, says Downs.
"It may well be that in the not too distant past someone else in the firm has researched exactly the same thing, or might have gotten a barrister's opinion at some stage on that point, or there may be a practice paper that has been done. By having a single repository with everybody having access to it, it makes it far more efficient. You're not charging a client for doing something that has already been done before," he says.
The firm employs eight partners, one senior associate, three associates and six accredited specialists, as well as a non-legal CEO, knowledge manager, financial controller and marketing manager.
Downs says the firm believes that a non-legal CEO (of which there have been two so far) with broader management skills, who does not know anything about the law, has suited the growth and needs of the business.
"The traditional practice in law firms is that you have a managing partner or one of the partners runs that operational side of the business. Our view is that lawyers are not necessarily trained to be good business managers and there are terrific skill-sets that have nothing to do with law that you need to manage a good business and we felt that [a non-legal CEO] gave more to our business," he says.
The firm's hiring strategy also aims to "develop quality people from the ground up," says Downs, in part through its relationship with the University of Wollongong. Law students can work at the firm on a rotational basis to develop professionally while also completing their studies.
A student can gain exposure to either the commercial side of the firm's practice areas, including structuring, business transactions, workplace relations and local government planning and environment; or personal services such as family, property and criminal law, wills and estates, insurance and employment. The firm's office in Wollongong is also a local representative of the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).
Downs adds that it is an exciting time to be doing business in the region. "Illawarra has moved from a steel-based region to one providing world-class education, services and tourism sectors that support a wide variety of businesses, institutions and organisations requiring local, high-quality and diverse legal services," he says.
"The physical attractiveness of the region and the quality of infrastructure means Illawarra is also a desirable lifestyle location."
- Sarah Sharples