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The astronomical ‘accidental growth’ of TSP

From half a dozen people to over 50 staff in less than five years, this boutique firm has experienced both unplanned and rapid growth — all of which have afforded its managing partner and founder many valuable lessons.

user iconLauren Croft 18 August 2022 SME Law
The astronomical ‘accidental growth’ of TSP
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Travis Schultz is the founder and managing partner of Travis Schultz & Partners in Queensland. Speaking recently on The Boutique Lawyer Show, he revealed how he grew his firm into a bigger player and some of the lessons other boutique firms can take from his experience.

Travis Schultz & Partners specialises in personal injury — and Mr Schultz said his original vision for the firm lay in being “outcome-focused, but values-driven”.

“When I kicked off, it was myself and just a few others who I’d sort of kept in close contact with, colleagues, people who’d worked for me, but who I was very friendly with, had a lot of mutual respect for and with, and just decided that we’d aim to set up something small, boutique, something which would be sustainable, something entirely consistent with our values,” he said.

 
 

“Really, it came down to always obviously putting the clients’ interests first, but trying to make sure that we served the community that supported us. We had a philosophy of wanting to be a part of the wider community. We wanted to be not just a good corporate citizen, but we wanted to give back in a range of ways to the extent that we could, not just through charity but through professional organisations, sporting. We felt that we had a responsibility to support the neighbourhood that supported us.”

Looking back on those early days of launching his firm, Mr Schultz had a number of reflections and takeaways on just what made the firm so successful.

“We looked for a gap in the market. Being in compensation law was probably the most competitive area of law at the time. It probably still is, to be frank. And so, we had to look at where the gaps were in the market. How could we create something that was going to be sustainable [and] achievable; and where were the gaps that we could carve a niche? We were mindful that we couldn’t compete head on with the majors, the corporates with their massive advertising budgets that we could never hope to compete with and the established firms who were out there,” he explained.

“And to us, we decided that realistically, the best gap for us to aim for was to really focus on where we thought we had an advantage, and that was probably keeping it small, focusing on expertise, having a high level of expertise and trying to do our darndest to be industry-leading in all that we did. And then a lower fee structure. If we could get by with a low-fee structure compared to our peers, it made the value proposition irresistible, if clients could feel that they could get the industry-leading expertise without having to pay the higher rates.”

As these strategies have evolved and changed slightly as TSP has grown, Mr Schultz said firm culture had been one of the more difficult elements to manage.

“There’s no doubt that culture is the biggest risk as you grow. As has been famously said, culture eats strategy for breakfast. And as you bring on new people, new personalities, there’s risk, and it can be difficult to manage at times, particularly when you are growing rapidly.

“We started out planning to be sort of six, seven or eight people. It had been the plan to keep the firm small, boutique and very familial in our kind of approach to [the] practice of law and the culture. But now, not even four and a half years in, we’re about 50 people these days, and it’s a very different organisation, particularly when you’ve had to bring on so many new people and new faces, new personalities, in such a short period of time,” he said.

“It’s been a constant increase in our size and scale. Sadly, I can’t say much of it has been planned. On the contrary, most of it has been accidental growth. And there have been so many mistakes made along the way in a journey that I was never anticipating being on in the first place.”

However, unexpected and unplanned growth can often present a myriad of challenges, Mr Schultz added.

“Rapid and unplanned growth can very much lead you chasing your tail somewhat. One of the difficulties for us was that we didn’t have systems in place to cope with the scale that we were achieving. We didn’t have documented training and systems and practice management support. We had software that would help, but it was underutilised because we didn’t really know or understand its capacity and how it could work for us,” he said.

“And obviously, as you’re growing, there’s a strain on cash flow, there’s a strain on your internal resources, there’s risk to culture. It gets worse when you add in multiple sites. If you’re going to decide that you’re not going to be just in one location, but in two, three, or in our case, four, the risks just increase exponentially, particularly when you’re talking about cultural risks.”

To combat these challenges, TSP has placed an increased focus on strategy — something the firm has found tremendous value in.

“Avoid the temptation to go running off to the newest, bright, shiny thing that some marketeer throws in your direction. If you’ve got a strategy, stick with it, be true to it. Balance your growth with your strategy.

“For us, it has meant that through the pandemic, through the growth and all the challenges that have come with unexpectedly and perhaps inexplicably being thrown from a boutique firm into something medium-sized, throughout that period, we’ve had to keep looking back on our strategy and going, ‘No. Focus on our professional development. Focus on expertise.’ Rather than spending money on systems, on manuals, on procedures, on business development, on marketing and all those other things, when there has been a set of competing considerations, we’ve always gone back to our strategy, which was, very simple, trying to have industry-leading expertise and balance that with a lower fee structure than normal,” Mr Schultz added.

“So, we’ve had to keep investing and reinvesting and then investing some more in professional development for our people. So that has been a focus. I think that’s the one thing we have done well throughout this period of time. We’ve made an awful lot of mistakes, but the one thing that I think has worked for us is just being alert to our strategy, being true to it, focusing on it, resourcing ourselves as best we could, but making sure that at all times all of our decisions were made looking through the lens of the strategic vision that we started with.”

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