The importance of expanding internationally
Whilst expanding internationally may seem impossible post-pandemic, there’s a global marketplace ready for investment, according to this law firm founder.
Cynthia Dearin is the founder of law firm Dearin & Associates, as well as the author of the newly published book Business Beyond Borders: Take Your Company Global.
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Ms Dearin’s new book provides a step-by-step guide for business owners to start to have an international impact – something which she told Lawyers Weekly she’s been motivated by for a long time.
“I am an Australian-qualified lawyer who spent many years living and working outside Australia. This has given me a unique perspective both on the quality of the Australian legal services and products (we do some very innovative stuff, especially in the law tech and reg tech space) and on the scale of the opportunities in international markets,” she said.
“I’m keen to see Australian lawyers leveraging their expertise and taking advantage of the enormous opportunities on the global stage. If you want to really scale up, you need to think much bigger than just Australia which is, relatively speaking, a small market.”
Ms Dearin has worked in the UK, US, Europe and the Middle East, as an Australian diplomat and as a management consultant – and said that through these experiences, she learnt to “never assume anything”.
“Many business owners, including lawyers, assume that working abroad is pretty much like working at home, but just in a different language. Nothing could be further from the truth,” she added.
“When you work across national borders, you’re not just working in a different jurisdiction, you’re also crossing a cultural border. That means that even if the law is substantially the same and the language is the same, people’s values, attitudes and expectations are likely to be different, and you have to account for this as you work overseas.”
When it comes to expanding internationally in the current market and climate, different working models will experience different challenges – but there are also a number of opportunities business owners can benefit from.
“It really depends on what your model is. Evidently, COVID-19 put a huge handbrake on the movement of people over the last two years, so sending staff overseas has been an issue until very recently. But if you were planning to scale a lawtech solution into other markets, that wouldn’t be as big a consideration. For traditional private practices, all the traditional hurdles apply: how to find staff who know the new jurisdiction and its legal framework, how to find people who share the firm’s value, how to acquire clients in a new country and how to ensure that the firm’s culture remains cohesive and representative of the core team,” Ms Dearin added.
“Expanding into new markets can provide a range of opportunities depending on what you’re trying to achieve and how you go about it. More clients is the obvious one, but you might also be looking at higher margins via geo-arbitrage – for example by having European or US-qualified lawyers consulting at European or US rates, but being paid Australian rates using the UAD. Or perhaps you’re trying to build the brand’s international credibility by having clients located around the world.”
And in turn, having an international strategy can have other flow-on benefits for firms, added Ms Dearin.
“The research suggests that companies that become international earn more, are more innovative and are better places to work. Those all seem like desirable outcomes to me,” she said.
“As a law firm or business in the legal space starts to go global, everything should be done on the basis of data. Data can help you figure out which market or markets you should be targeting, who your ideal clients are and what they want, whether what you are offering fits with what potential clients in your target market want ... and a bunch of other things. I also suggest that firms de-risk going global by treating it as a series of small steps, rather than one gigantic, irreversible decision.”