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Flying solo (but as part of a national firm)

Victoria Bell has worked in Darwin for almost four years, following a move from Adelaide. What might appear to be a solo practice is, in fact, an arm of a national firm she herself pushed for.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 28 January 2021 SME Law
Victoria Bell
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When national plaintiff firm Tindall Gask Bentley was approached by a Darwin-based company to do fly-in, fly-out work for them, partner Ms Bell put up her hand to get involved. Having travelled frequently between her hometown of Adelaide and Perth, when the firm had opened its western office, she felt well placed to handle such remote work.

By 2014, she said, the workload in Darwin was snowballing, which eventually led to her relocating to the Northern Territory to run the firm’s newest national office. “It just got busier and busier; not just for that organisation that we were doing work for, but – as is always the case – the more you are somewhere, and the more people get to know you, the more work that walks through the door”.

“It got to the point that I said to my bosses that I thought there was a need to have an office there, and I think there’d be merit to having someone on the ground full-time. That conversation developed over time and led to the move full-time for me in early 2017,” she said.

 
 

Speaking recently on The Lawyers Weekly Show, Ms Bell said that any good lawyer should always be looking for opportunities – as an individual and for one’s employer – to grow.

“I saw chances for both up here in Darwin, and that’s certainly what motivated me to move. As with any jurisdiction, I think that if the market’s right, there’s always opportunities for a variety of work across a number of different practice areas, and we’re a firm that, on a national level, offer a lot of different legal skills across a lot of different areas. I saw that Darwin would be able to use those types of services that we offer,” she outlined.

“From a personal level, I think certainly moving to a new jurisdiction has its own challenges. There are certain intricacies that you have to learn from the local courts and dealing with other practitioners and I find that challenge quite rewarding. And, there’s certainly something to be said about striving out on your own and spreading your wings a little bit, and having that opportunity is great. Also, having a firm that’s willing to support that and take that chance on you also is fantastic. I think I’ve been very blessed in that regard.”

This isn’t to say, of course, that Ms Bell’s version of sole practice hasn’t come with its own hurdles, namely that – as the firm’s only lawyer in the territory – she has to work out the nuances of that particular jurisdiction by herself.

“Although, I can certainly get that guidance and support from my inter-state colleagues who have a wealth of knowledge,” she noted.

“Many of them have been practicing for as long as Ive been alive, so theres not much stuff that my colleagues dont have an answer for. But I think this led to me, in terms of addressing the particular issues of the jurisdiction here, branching out and forcing myself to get out and meet local practitioners and picking their brains and developing those networks to be able to access, both that day-to-day support as well as the advice that I might need on how to manage a particular action at court or what forms to fill out and those types of more basic questions.”

Moreover, Ms Bell added, there is the additional challenge of getting the firm name known across town outside of the already-existing referral base.

“As is often the case in smaller jurisdictions, theres some very well-established and very well-respected law firms here already, and youre the new kid on the block. It takes a while for people to get to know you and to trust you and know the standard of work that you perform,” she recalled.

“So, I think thats been an interesting journey, but I certainly found the local practitioners who have been here quite some time extremely supportive and welcoming, particularly once they see that Im not that person that flies backwards and forwards, but that Im actually just in the office down the road from them and you become a bit more part of not only the professional community, but also the local community as well.”

Such hospitality only comes, Ms Bell qualified, if one makes an effort to show that they are part of the local professional community – something Tindall Gask Bentley has learned from setting up its now 12 offices around Australia.

“There might be different types of venues that you go to and different events that you might catch up with people here that might be a bit different in Darwin than it is to Adelaide. I might wear my thongs or flats probably a little more often than I would in Adelaide, but the general principle is the same,” she mused.

“Its really just getting out there, getting people to know you both professionally and personally, and hoping that that, combined with the quality of the work, brings people through the door.”

Ultimately, while Ms Bell said she misses having her firm colleagues and Adelaide-based clients nearby, moving to Darwin to operate as a pseudo-sole practitioner has been a hugely rewarding experience.

“Being able to explore my own opportunities personally and professionally and having the support of a great firm to do that has been fantastic, so I definitely have no regrets,” she said.

To listen to the full conversation with Victoria Bell, click below: