A new boutique law firm is challenging the traditional barrister-solicitor model by providing a unique consultancy service to other law firms.
Solicitor Justeen Dormer and former barrister Stephanie Fendekian opened Dormers Commercial Lawyers & Consultants in Sydney last month with a vision to provide a commercially attractive alternative to law firms for advocacy and related expertise.
In addition to working with clients of Dormers Commercial, Fendekian will provide specialist litigation and dispute resolution services to other law firms who retain her.
“Law firms can engage me as a consultant on terms that are not only aimed at being commercially attractive for the client, but also for the law firm," said Fendekian.
Fendekian will provide essentially the same services which she provided at the bar, but said there will be a lot more flexibility as to the terms of the retainer. This will allow firms an opportunity to gain some leverage in their practice - something she said is a "non-option" on the conventional solicitor-barrister disbursement model.
"I can be engaged in different ways, for example I could work a day a week at a law firm on a variety of different matters as an alternative to engaging a particular barrister on a particular matter," said Fendekian.
Fendekian, who has 10 years experience at the Bar in Sydney, said she wanted to explore what she saw as a "niche opportunity" to provide this service after listening to her solicitors over many years.
“I have heard solicitors express concern about having to explain to clients the need to brief barristers. Many clients don't understand why their law firm is unable to provide a full litigation service and many don't understand why they are receiving a solicitor’s invoice and a barrister’s invoice," she said.
By engaging her services, law firms will be able to market themselves to their clients as providing advocacy and specialist litigation expertise in-house, as a way of distinguishing themselves from competitors, said Fendekian.
Under the new model, clients will also be able to contact Fendekian directly (if the law firm want this), something she said is another break with convention, where clients rarely see or talk to their barrister without their solicitor.
"It annoys clients, because the rates are so high now as it is, when they perceive that they are basically paying a solicitor to pass on a message and have the same conversation they could have personally themselves at half the price. They just don't get it, and I understand that," said Dormer.
Fendekian also hopes to aid in early dispute resolution by providing an independent opinion about the merits of cases, especially as this is now required before proceedings can commence in the Federal Court, and from October in the State Courts.
“Hopefully law firms will have a bigger incentive to get me involved sooner rather than later. This will enable me to offer some stewardship early in a dispute rather than, as often happens when you’re at the Bar, getting the brief once the matter has considerably progressed,” said Fendekian.