A BOUTIQUE South Australian law firm that started out in 2004 as one lawyer with a laptop working out of the back of an accountant’s office, has recorded average annual revenue growth of almost 100 per cent over the last three years.
Kain Corporate + Commercial Lawyers, which now employs 12 lawyers, specialises in commercial disputes and transactions and advisory work.
The firm uses flat fees for most work it does for clients, and allows employees to purchase shares in the firm for a nominal amount. But whatever its methods, the firm has seen an impressive doubling of its yearly growth figures.
According to Kain, the biggest challenges to developing the firm from scratch were having very limited resources and “only 24 hours in the day”. He said “it’s been a lot of hard work but we’re really seeing the fruits of it now”.
Kain attributes the firm’s rapid growth to some of the more innovative policies the firm has implemented.
In particular, the firm has chosen not to embrace the traditional partnership structure. In Kain’s view it is unrealistic to believe that an experienced and technically excellent lawyer will necessarily be suited to, or desire, being a partner.
“The perfect partner is someone who’s technically brilliant, who’s able to manage a team, who’s able to attract and bring in work and be the rainmaker, and be able to commit to contribute positively to other business development and strategic issues. There aren’t many people who can tick all those boxes.”
Instead, the firm focuses on getting all its lawyers to a base level of technical ability and then giving them the option as to whether they want to pursue a more managerial role “depending on the particular skill set of the individual”.
For example, the firm’s commercial disputes practice group ranges from a lawyer in her first year of practice to a lawyer with 35 years experience. The group’s ‘coordinator’, however, is a lawyer with six years’ experience. As Kain explains, “the two senior lawyers [are] technically brilliant. The sixth-year lawyer is technically very good but he’s also a great manager”.
In addition, rather than charging clients by the hour, Kain estimates that about 85 per cent of the firm’s work is done on a flat fee basis. It’s a policy that has received mixed responses from clients. According to Kain, most clients like it because it gives them greater certainty “and that’s only reasonable. They’ve got to make a commercial decision about it”. He admits however that “we’ve lost a number of jobs because we’ve quoted [the flat fee] and the client has said ‘that’s too much’.”
The firm has also instituted a quasi-corporate structure whereby its employees can purchase shares in the firm for a nominal amount and thereby directly share in the firm’s profits.
In Kain’s opinion, there are increasing opportunities for smaller, boutique firms in South Australia. He believes that the problem in some of the bigger firms which also have offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane is that “the Adelaide operations and their teams and their clients end up suffering from being required to perform financially or otherwise to, say for example, Sydney standards”
In other words, “the eastern focus of some of the Adelaide firms has led them to neglect their own backyard”. As a result, he said, the firm has been able to pick up a number of very good, profitable clients who were formally clients of larger firms.
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