While law firm Bell Dixon Butler might not act for BHP Billiton or the big four banks, its employees work on a variety of interesting matters, that, combined with the lifestyle in Hervey Bay, are rewarding, says partner Derek Butler.
"If most silly practitioners only knew, they would be kicking themselves because it is very rewarding. The days when people would think of regional practitioners as being a little bit backward or behind the times are long over," he says.
"With new technology it is quite possible to keep up to date with all the latest developments and all the latest practices of running the law firm so you're really at no disadvantage anymore," he says.
"The lifestyle benefits are enormous. I go back to see my friends from university and from my early law days in Brisbane regularly, most of whom are working in big firms, and I just shake my head. There is certainly no temptation to go back to practising in a big city, because their lives revolve around the culture of larger law firms which are not necessarily conducive, in my opinion, to happy, stable and healthy lifestyle patterns."
Butler, who is the only original partner remaining from the firm's title after recent retirements, says the firm's office is a one-minute walk from the beach.
"When I need to clear my head I can get up from my desk and in one minute I'm standing overlooking the tranquil waters of Hervey Bay and looking at Fraser Island - it's very good for de-stressing and clearing the thoughts," he says.
The firm, established in 1983, practices in criminal, family and common law claims, commercial and business law, as well as estates and conveyancing. It employs three partners, three solicitors, a book-keeper, conveyancing clerk and support staff.
But, as with most regional practices, Butler says attracting quality lawyers is always a problem.
"There seems to be a shortage of young lawyers wanting to make a career in country and regional areas. They all seem to think the bright lights of Dubai, New York, Toyko, Frankfurt [and] London are where it's got to be and I can understand that. It would be facetious of me to say 'I didn't try that myself when I was a young lawyer' but what a lot can't get their heads around is you can make a very good life for yourself and have a lot of fun in a regional town, particularly one on the coast - it's a very good lifestyle," he says.
The firm's staff numbers have dropped from 50 employees at the top of the economic cycle in 2005, says Butler.
"There is no longer the demand to justify that number of people working in the business so we are now down to about 25 and it works very well - but that's as small as we'll go, we won't go any smaller," he says.
"The current economic climate affects all the law firms and anyone that says otherwise is probably being less than completely honest.
"That said, I have been around in the law long enough - for about 25 years - to know and understand what the downswing and the economic cycle does and how you survive it and so you just adjust your business practices accordingly and keep a very close eye on your overheads and look after your clients."
About Bell Dixon Butler
Travel by staff
Airline: Qantaslink to Brisbane and Hervey Bay only serviced by Virgin (Jetstar recently announced winding back its services to the region)
Destination: Brisbane for Family Court and Supreme Court appearances, travel for continuing legal education for seminars and conferences to Brisbane Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast
DX: No DX service in Hervey Bay
Physical storage: On site for client documents and then moved to an adjoining property where there is a secured facility. Securities room for wills is also on premises. Family law and litigation files are paperless and one partner is trying to keep commercial files paperless.
Electronic storage: Locus Affinity
Technology used: Locus Affinity, Thomson Legal, CCH, LexisNexis. Solicitors at the firm are studying a masters and a specialist accreditation in family law which gives access through education providers to latest resources
Payroll system: Quicken
Accounting software: Locus Affinity
HR management: Three partners share this responsibility
IT system hardware: Server upgrade project is currently being implemented
Accounting services: Local chartered accountant provides management accounting services, big picture issues, future direction and troubleshooting, and a qualified accountant to do partners' tax work
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