Situated in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, around 250 km north of Sydney, Muswellbrook is an important resources centre with eight major coalmines in the district. We talk to local firm Halletts Solictors, which operates in several niche areas for a regional firm.
Muswellbrook-based Halletts Solicitors practises in some areas that are not traditionally associated with regional firms. A niche market has been developed by the firm for diverse clients in the thoroughbred, vignerons and hotels industries and contractors in the mining industry, says partner Daniel Morgan.
With the expansion of the mining industry in the Upper Hunter, the firm also deals with a client base that requires planning and development advice and guidance in respect of environmental law issues, he adds.
Established in 1989, Halletts Solicitors traditionally dealt with commercial property transactions, water rights and general conveyancing, but has experienced rapid expansion, with an office now also in Scone. The firm is made up of four partners, four lawyers and 13 support staff and deals with clients on a face-to-face basis, says Morgan.
"We are able to attend to their business whether it's their farm, their industrial site or their vineyard and see how their business operates. So I think we have an integral understanding of what the client needs from their lawyer through the profile of their business, and that's especially so, being in the heart of the thoroughbred breeding industry in the Upper Hunter," he says.
"In relation to the thoroughbred horse industry, we deal with formation of syndicates, joint ventures, cross-hemisphere agreements, we assist our clients through the minefield of standing a stallion in the Northern hemisphere and then sending them down to the Southern hemisphere in the other part of the year.
"We provide advice in relation to employment and health and safety issues for our rural clients. And we assist them in their credit control and debt management and provide taxation advice."
Halletts has also developed a website where clients can download questionnaires and instruction sheets and forward them via email to the firms' lawyers for a full appraisal of a legal problem, says Morgan.
"We find that means we are across those issues at the first conference, so it is a time saving, but also a cost-effective way of taking instructions, especially if your clients are in an isolated area. We've found that to be very popular and have had very positive feedback from the clients who can go on the website and find out what they need to do before they have to come to their first appointment. They can be prepared," he says.
Morgan says the firm hasn't encountered trouble attracting young lawyers because Muswellbrook doesn't suffer from the "tyranny of distance" due to its close proximity to Sydney and Newcastle. The firm has sporting and social activities in place to encourage younger members of the firm to get involved, he adds.
"We have a charity swim night where we raise money for the Youth Off the Streets and for the local halfway house in the district and we also get the staff involved in Business House Relay which is, again, an event to support one of the local swimming clubs. We encourage sporting participation within the firm structure and attending the gym in order to brush away the cobwebs," he says.
Morgan says that when the country was more isolated people used to go to the city for recreation and professional advice but this has now changed.
"We can offer advice on the basis that it is given to them in a speedy fashion, it is a quick turnaround, we have all of the same technological tools as a city firm, we have the flexibility of staff that are able to be called upon at short notice or work from outside the office - so we can deal with a fluctuating work flow," he says.
About Halletts Solicitors
Travel by staff
Airline: Jetstar and Virgin
Destination: Sydney and Newcastle for court appearances and to
meet with clients and other rural areas to see clients
DX: 7348 (Muswellbrook) 4021 (Scone)
Physical storage: Onsite storage and a secured deed safe and
Electronic storage: Affinity
Technology used: Affinity, own firm-based precedent systems
for conveyancing, litigation and personal injury
Librarian: Online sources
Researcher: Paralegals and lawyers conduct own research
Payroll system: MYOB
Accounting software: MYOB
Accounting services: Rose and Partners (Scone)
IT services: Web design conducted by Knife Fork and Spoon (Sydney)