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‘We need that authenticity and transparency to make us relatable’

For boutique firms and sole practitioners, becoming more relatable and authentic when dealing with clients will help build a sticky, long-lasting client base, according to this award-winning sole practitioner.

user iconLauren Croft 10 February 2022 SME Law
‘We need that authenticity and transparency to make us relatable’
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Sarah Stoddart is the director of Vitality Law Australia based in Brisbane. She’s also an adjunct lecturer at the College of Law in Queensland and the winner of the Sole Practitioner of the Year category at the 2021 Women in Law Awards.

Speaking recently on The Boutique Lawyer Show, Ms Stoddart reflected on her journey from lawyer to business owner and the importance of being transparent and authentic as a sole practitioner.

Ms Stoddart started her firm in November 2020, not long after the onset of the pandemic. Not only did she have a five-month-old son at the time, she was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis – but she said she hopes this inspires others to achieve their goals “despite adversity”.


“It’s definitely worked out for the best, and I’m very grateful for my clients and the referrers that I have that had the faith in me to follow me into my new firm and stick with me on the journey, I suppose,” she said.

“I’m very open about my diagnosis and having a young family, but I do think that probably as a practitioner makes you more personable. And I think the pandemic has helped with that as well. We’re seeing into people’s homes; we’re getting to know them on a different level. So definitely launching the firm has been fabulous for me. It’s enabled me to be a bit creative in how I do law.”

There were a number of adjustments and challenges for Ms Stoddart after leaving her previous boutique firm to start Vitality Law – including getting used to running her own business, building a strong referral base and navigating working from home.

“There is a part of your day where you do have to work on the business rather than in the business. And as a lawyer, we are trained to hit the clock and get billing and see what our billable hours are at the end of the day. So, I sort of had to break that habit and accept that there’s time that you will spend on the business that is still valuable to the business.

“When a new firm hits the market, people don’t know who it is. So, you’ve really got to communicate that it’s you, you’re back, you’re ready to help. And despite being a sole practitioner and working in your home office, you do still have the same knowledge and ability to assist clients,” she said.

“[When working from home], you also need that time out of the business and time to reflect and break to actually give your best self to the business. So yes, it involves a lot of work and long hours, but you need the separation from it in order to achieve the success that you’re looking for.”

In terms of being open about her diagnosis and being honest with her clients, Ms Stoddart said that being “authentic and transparent” can benefit firms greatly.

“I do think we need that authenticity, transparency to make us relatable and personable and more human. And I do think clients like that. Perhaps not your large corporate clients, but certainly I’m dealing with small-business owners as well. They’re my clients in the healthcare space. And they want to know that you understand them and you relate to their life.

“And similarly, they want to see a little bit into your life to get to know you. We need to let people in a little bit. Now, I’m not saying you need to deep dive into your secrets, but letting people know that you’re human and that you understand them and you have your challenges as well definitely makes you more relatable,” she added.

“It gives a point of conversation, a point of discussion and builds rapport ultimately, I think. Because you’re not just having those transactional discussions, you’re actually getting to know people. And I think that’s where relationships are built.”

Moreover, establishing authenticity and rapport with clients is particularly important for sole practitioners post-pandemic, argued Ms Stoddart.

“There is so much choice for clients out there in terms of law firms to pick and particularly in smaller firms. Clients have a lot of choice. They have a lot of information available to them, thanks to Google. Gone are the days where you sign on the street, and the suburban strip shop is what brings your client in,” she said.

“Clients aren’t these days, I’m excluding BigLaw from this, they’re not going to the firm name, they’re going to the person. And they want to know that that person is there for them, supports them, that they like them though. Trust them once again. So, I do think in terms of success, you’re looking to build a client base that’s sticky and that stays with you over time.

“One of my catchphrases in my firm is that I help my clients grow in business and in life. And that’s because I want to stay with them when they buy their first pharmacy, when they bring a partner in and when they buy their second pharmacy. You’re only going to achieve that if you have that rapport and authenticity, otherwise they’re just going to go elsewhere.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Sarah Stoddart, click below: