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Boutique firms need to be ‘sustainable culturally and financially’

After experiencing growth amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, this firm founder said maintaining this growth all comes down to sustainability and strategic planning.

user iconLauren Croft 25 August 2022 SME Law
Boutique firms need to be ‘sustainable culturally and financially’
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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 against the backdrop of the last couple of years amidst turbulence and uncertainty.

Mr Schultz said there were a number of lessons he learnt going through a global pandemic whilst sustaining “accidental” growth.

“COVID really taught us all that we can be agile and that we need to be agile. And has been said that COVID replaced Darwinism with, rather than it being survival of the fittest, survival of the most agile. And I guess we were the same. You just had to find new ways to cope, to keep productivity flowing, to meet and exceed client expectations, new ways to find the glue that would hold the team together culturally, to keep them engaged on the journey and what we had set out to achieve,” he said.  


“It certainly hasn’t been easy for anyone during what is now more than two years into a global pandemic, but we’ve certainly learned a lot along the way about how you can work remotely, you can allow greater flexibility, and in fact, you need to. And, of course, the current challenge is around your human resources. It’s a completely different market for human resources to where it was three years ago.”

After being able to thrive during uncertain times — particularly as the pandemic continues — Mr Schultz said that his business has to be sustainable moving forward, which involves a number of things.

“Obviously, whatever you are creating needs to endure; it needs to be sustainable culturally and financially. But obviously, another aspect of sustainability is succession planning. And when you have one lawyer start up a firm using their own moniker as the basis of your branding, there are a lot of issues that come with that as you grow. It’s all well and good to use your name when you create something new at the outset, but the difficulty, of course, is that you then have these legacy issues around founder dependence.

“And so, it’s not just in terms of risk management, what if something happens to the founder, but also in terms of client acceptability. If clients think that it’s a small firm boutique and there’s a person whose name is on the door, that’s the person they want to see, [it] can be more difficult to have them accept that there [are] other very highly qualified and entirely appropriate professionals in the organisation who can capably handle whatever is that they wanted to throw at the firm. So, that’s another issue,” he explained.

“And then, of course, as you grow, the enterprise just can’t be effectively led by one person. It’s all well and good when you’re a small firm to think that leadership can just happen innately through having one or two people leading the team. As you get bigger, you certainly need more people in those positions of influence to try and keep the team on track, engaged, enthused, and to keep morale high. And so that to me is the other part of sustainability, is bringing on people at an early stage and giving them a part in that journey.”

In terms of boutique firms bringing on more staff and thinking about adding more leaders or changing the firm name, different firms will adopt different growth strategies, Mr Schultz explained.

“I personally think that, depending on the type of practice and the need to manage capital, that will be one thing which influences the timing of when you need to think about your succession planning and sharing around the equity in the organisation,” he mused. 

“But for me, in compensation law, we’re an enterprise that’s quite capital-intensive, because we don’t use litigation funders at this stage because we’re trying to get the costs down and so we’re having to self-fund for all of our clients, which means that the amount of capital required keeps increasing as you go. It becomes challenging because we’re not charging any interest.

“So, we’re having to carry that expense for clients as well. And it’s all part of trying to have the second part of our strategic offering, which is to have a lower-fee structure, lower-cost structure. It becomes more difficult. And one person trying to manage all of that requirement for capital can be straining. It can be stressful. So, by bringing other people in, it obviously helps to spread that around, but more importantly, there’s emotional support in having other people with skin in the game who are working with you as a team. You’re sharing the journey. You’re sharing the highs. You’re enjoying the lows together.”

And in addition to the highs and the lows, Mr Schultz said owning his own firm has been an incredible opportunity to offer a career path to all types of practitioners and see them through to partnership level at the firm.

“It has been terrific to see what it has meant for the young practitioners, the talented ones who clearly want to go on that path, and be in a position to offer them a trajectory towards business or practice ownership, which is different to those who are sort of in the corporate environment,” he said.

“Those corporate environments can’t really offer the same pathway. As much as it is a challenge and a threat, it’s an opportunity just to do the right thing by your loyal and long-suffering team, people who you grow to really like and respect, and regard as friends rather than necessarily as employees.

“I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to create a boutique firm and see it grow rapidly into something medium-sized, and it’s been a privilege. So, I’m certainly not going to complain about it. We’ve had great support from our community, not just the neighbourhoods in which we draw our clientele from, but the profession as a whole has been really good to us. And for that, I’m very, very grateful, and I’m respectful of the relationships that have made that possible and hopefully will make it endure.”

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