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‘There is a big, wide world outside big city corporate law’

After spending most of her life living in big cities, this boutique firm founder and director moved out to a regional area — something she never previously considered.

user iconLauren Croft 27 October 2022 SME Law
‘There is a big, wide world outside big city corporate law’
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Jane Bowes, principal lawyer, director and founder at Bowes Legal, left the city two years ago to move to Rockhampton, Queensland — and was a mature-age law student before working in BigLaw.

In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Ms Bowes said that her decision to leave BigLaw was a result of wanting a lifestyle change — as well as being able to bring her private practice expertise to regional Queensland.

“Prior to becoming a lawyer, I was a professionally trained dancer, which took me all over the world. So being a lawyer at a large law firm that had global reach just seemed like the natural progression for me. I loved the pace of BigLaw, the sophistication of the clients, and the complexity and depth of the work. It gave me good, solid, foundational skills that have set me up for success,” she said.  


“My decision to leave BigLaw was born from an innate desire for freedom. By that, I mean not just in the way, and for whom, I practised law but also physically, from a lifestyle perspective, to give me the space to raise my young family.”

After graduating from law school as a mature-age student, Ms Bowes said that becoming a regional lawyer “never” crossed her mind.

“As a mature-age law student, I was laser-focused, almost to a fault, on climbing the corporate ladder as fast and as high as I could. However, with each step, it became apparent that it actually wasn’t what I wanted and that the trade-off for all that BigLaw had to offer wasn’t enough. I longed for the countryside, better working conditions, to spend time with my husband and kids and to have a healthier, more balanced lifestyle,” she said.

“Regional Queensland has everything we need. High-quality legal work (I might be biased, but I do believe it is the best PI work in the state); supportive local community; the ability to be self-employed; affordable housing and living conditions; excellent schools; close networks of friends and referral sources; and most importantly, a better lifestyle.”

Whilst Ms Bowes had always envisioned herself as a partner at a large, BigLaw firm, the closer she got, the more she realised she didn’t want to be “tamed or caged by the corporate structures and politics” that often come with making partner.

“The higher I climbed, the further misaligned my personal values were becoming with big firms and corporates. The misalignment was loud against my purpose and desire to advocate for those without a voice. Injured Australians in regional towns are vulnerable and can easily be taken advantage of. They need a strong, confident person in their corner, and they want someone they can trust. They want someone they can physically see who is working and living in their community, who understands their situation and someone they can relate to,” she said.   

“My ambition was no longer allowing me to sit back and let others decide on my future — that is, other partners voting on whether I would make it to partnership and then eventually into equity. I am not one to follow suit. I wanted to create my own destiny and be a role model, not just for my kids (particularly my daughter) but also for other women in law. I am fortunate enough to have unwavering support from my husband, who has never doubted my ability and always backed my decisions, whether it be to move to the regions or go out on my own.”

Consequently, Ms Bowes decided to move away from BigLaw and open up her own firm — a decision she said wasn’t taken lightly.

“Deciding to open a law firm is a massive decision and comes at a huge financial cost to the family, particularly when my practice area of personal injuries litigation means that I may not recover any fees for up to two years — which means no income for up to two years. When you go from being a high-income breadwinner to [having] no income, that decision impacts the family in so many ways. In addition, there is the added risk that some cases may not be successful, which again is a further financial burden,” she added.

“As lawyers, we are trained that perfection is the standard and no one ever wants to fail. But what is failure? Failure is not having a go. Failure is sitting back and playing it safe. Failure is staying where you are because you are afraid of what might happen.”

There were a number of challenges along the way, but Bowes Legal was able to gain traction in the community.  

“The main challenge is the larger firms have million-dollar marketing budgets and advertising campaigns, so they tend to get a lot of the work in the first instance. Thankfully, Central Queensland is a tight-knit community, and word of mouth is the most powerful currency. Since opening my practice, I have been fortunate to receive a steady flow of referrals and new work. I am so humbled by the level of support I have received from the community, and it has really satiated that burning desire to help client’s the way I have always wanted — as people first,” Ms Bowes added.

“Being in a regional town, my clients can sometimes be over four hours away, so I have invested in the best technology for the firm, which came at a cost to me personally, to enable us to respond and act as the client needs us to. I have streamlined some really clunky business processes, so we work efficiently, and the clients get better value for money in our service with no discount on expertise.”

However, Ms Bowes also had to change a number of elements of her practice, becoming more general to fit the needs of the wider community.

“For me, as a personal injury lawyer, I am advising clients across a broad spectrum of injuries ranging from workers’ compensation claims generally to catastrophic workplace accidents; all types of motor vehicle, motorbike and quad bike accidents; mining injuries and deaths; heavy machinery accidents; factory injuries; farming incidents to psychiatric injuries, which really doesn’t tend to happen in the big city,” she said.

“The beauty of city firms is that you can truly specialise in one area or type of area, for example, medical negligence, or you will tend to focus on motor vehicle or cycling claims and be quite successful in doing so, but in the regions, you really can’t because the work is so diverse and it’s coming from the area, so it won’t all be motor vehicle accidents, or trip and falls, it will be — well — everything. Since relocating to regional Queensland, I have been exposed to what I would view as the most complex and diverse liability claims that are also high-value quantum claims, making the personal injury work not only extremely challenging but also rewarding and fulfilling.”

In addition to being rewarding and fulfilling, the culture in the regions is “collegiate and supportive”, according to Ms Bowes — who said that she would do it all over again given the chance.

“The culture in the regions is, everyone wants to see the work stay local, and so the legal community is tight-knit, and referrals are fiercely guarded within the ‘regional perimeter’. There is a real sense of trust and camaraderie in the regions. As a local lawyer, my clients trust me with what may well be the most important and impactful matter in their life. There are no allures of big city promises that could come close to the value of that,” she added.

“There is a big wide world outside big city corporate law. The practice of law has changed; it’s not like it used to be. Lawyers can truly practise law their own way, on their own terms, wherever they want. I don’t think that being a BigLaw lawyer is the pinnacle or beacon of success. To me, success as a lawyer is about finding purpose and passion in how you represent your clients and balancing that with a healthy lifestyle.  

“The way I see it, you can either take a risk or lose the chance. I took a risk, and whilst Bowes Legal is still in its infancy, I know that with me at the helm, my firm can make a difference in the lives of my injured clients.”

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