BOUTIQUE FIRM mergers and job-based billing will become increasingly popular in the Sydney property industry according to one advocate of both initiatives.
Chris Shaw, who merged his firm Shaw Reynolds with Bowen & Gerathy at the beginning of the month, sees the move as a necessary way of providing all the talent required by current and future clients.
“Particularly in the property industry, they are looking for lawyers with expertise who have looked at projects like the projects they’re doing, and can do them efficiently,” Shaw told Lawyers Weekly.
“That really requires then, a level of expertise. And the smaller boutique firms in my opinion are recognising this, and collecting together lawyers with complimentary skills, to be able to service their client base — and a growing client base — within the property industry.”
In an ongoing effort to properly service clients, Shaw expects more boutique firms will join forces in the immediate future, although this is not necessarily due to pressure being applied from large-scale firms.
“A lot of the very large players in the property industry, who have traditionally used the larger firms, are now recognising that there are very experienced lawyers in the smaller boutique firms,” he said.
“And in fact, so many of them have come from the larger firms and decided that there is a different way of doing things, and in that light they are engaging the boutique firms to do a lot of their projects.”
A prime example of a different approach to servicing property clients is the boutique firm’s flexibility when it comes to time-based billing.
“One of the main things that I believe in is trying to ensure that clients have some certainty in their projects, and that goes down to being able to budget for legal fees,” Shaw said.
“A number of my clients in the property industry … would say to me: ‘We know exactly what it costs to do a 10 storey building. But when we go through the legal process … we find that all lawyers are charging us on an hourly rate. We want the same certainty that we get from all of our other contractors on a job’.”
Shaw has found that a boutique firm can more easily provide this certainty, as opposed to larger firms he has worked with in the past, such as DLA Phillips Fox, Anderson Legal and Allen, Allen & Hemsley.
“I see no difficulties in doing that, particularly where the lawyer is experienced, has done many of the projects before, knows what to expect, and can properly scope out what it is going to cost.”
And to date, Shaw’s clients have been thrilled with an alternative to time-based billing. “They’re able to go to their financiers and say, ‘These are the unknowns, and these are the knowns, and as much as possible, legal fees can be scoped out and known’. So they’ve been very, very receptive.
“It’s something that, in the large firms, I can see there are great difficulties in actually doing that. [It] was … one of the main reasons why I thought, ‘let me give this a go, and see whether it really works. Clients are asking for it, let me deliver it to them and see how it goes’,” he said. “And it’s gone very well.”