A NEW BREED of law firm is emerging. Champion Legal is ready to take the next step after incorporating in 2003, opening a new Sydney office in addition to its Parramatta base.
The firm has embraced the rapid pace of change, and is actively pursuing opportunities created by incorporation and the flexibility it offers their business and management.
Chairman of the practice, Geoffrey Roberson, has a long history in legal practice and public life. He was president of the Law Society of New South Wales between 1989—90, and a councillor on the Parramatta City Council from 1999—2004.
The administration and support staff of the firm will remain at the Parramatta office, with the lawyers at the CBD practice using technology such as digital dictation to operate remotely.
Roberson said the gravitational pull to the city had been growing along with the business as it takes on more corporate and commercial work in fields such as defamation law.
The shift in location is also an attractive bonus for young graduates coming to the firm, Roberson said.
“We do a fair bit of work for a couple of the state departments like the Office of State Revenue and their recovery work. A lot of that work while being based in Parramatta we end up at the Federal Court, based in Sydney, so that was one of the drivers for coming into the CBD,” Roberson said.
“Also, we’ve seen over the last few years Sydney CBD growing, whereas Parramatta has not grown as a court precinct.”
Increasing competition from interstate firms was also on the board of directors’ minds. “The fact is we see a lot of interstate firms coming [into the Sydney market] as well. We know this is where the action is.”
According to Roberson, an incorporated business structure can deliver enormous benefits for management. “We all became employees of the company. And what I found as managing director of the company is I can impose more recognised management tools, like key performance indicators, on the employees rather than the partners.”
The firm has eight shareholders and of those, seven are directors. “We have one non-lawyer director and two non-lawyer shareholders,” Roberson explained.
He admits that the change to the partnership culture isn’t as simple as changing the partnership title to director. It required a deeper shift in the culture of the firm. “I think the old partnership model is a difficult beast. You’ve heard the expression: managing partners is like herding cats. The partners were a little immune to management,” Roberson said.
“Lawyers are [adept at] sitting behind euphemism’s, like ‘we’re all fiercely independent’, and we’re good a defending status quo and even defending not performing appropriately.”
Incorporation has also enabled the firm to integrate two other arms of professional services into its repertoire. “Our other associated businesses — Champion Financial Ltd, providing financial services largely to investors and developers, and Champion Pathfinder, a human resources management consultancy — will also operate from Sydney as well as retaining their Parramatta presence,” Roberson said.
Looking forward, the firm is pursuing an acquisitions strategy, albeit a modest one when compared with the scale of Slater & Gordon’s recent activities.
“The fellow we’re currently negotiating with is an accredited business law specialist with a good sports law practice. We’ll probably formalise that agreement from 1 July, when he’ll either become a director and shareholder or some other arrangements — but he’ll go under the umbrella of Champion Legal,” Roberson said.