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‘We were wearing too many hats’: Why this firm expanded its senior leadership team

When deciding how and when to expand your firm’s directorship, this principal said that having a clear vision of where your firm is headed should be of high priority.

user iconLauren Croft 23 March 2023 SME Law
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Meg Caines is a principal and director at Polaris Lawyers based in Melbourne. Speaking on The Boutique Lawyer Show, she reflected on knowing how and when to expand the directorship of a smaller firm, as well as what is involved in stepping up to the director level.

Ms Caines started working at Polaris in 2017, after being in BigLaw and working out in the south-east suburbs of Melbourne when the firm was only made up of two people: founder Nick Mann and lawyer Becky Bass.

“In 2021, after lots of discussion and lots of analysis and soul-searching, I took the plunge to become a director of Polaris at that time, [and] so did Becky. So, there were three of us as directors of Polaris from 2021 on which really formalised the leadership team and the leadership culture that we developed at the firm since its inception in 2017. And by that stage, we had grown to, I think, 12 staff in 2021,” she explained.


“[In 2017] I didn’t have much of an idea of what being a director involved at that point of time. It was more a general ambition that was driving that, and those years helping set up Polaris really provided an education and a grounding in what a director looks like and watching Nick build and develop the firm and realising just how broad that role actually is has been a really great background.”

Despite not realising what was involved with being at that level of leadership, Ms Caines said that the role has been “incredibly rewarding”.

“It is challenging, and it is dynamic. Every day is different, and it is difficult; like a lot of lawyers, I personally found a lot of comfort in the routine of practising the area that I knew and knew well and was an expert in. Being a director makes me lift my eyes a bit, and I can’t just sit in the comfort of that practice area that I know so well doing the file work that I’m so comfortable with,” she added.

“But watching the team grow and being able to deliver excellent results to more clients and to really try and help Polaris drive towards its vision of being the most client-centric personal injury law firm in Australia for more than just achieving legal outcomes, but on so many different levels … It’s very rewarding, but it’s challenging, and it is different every day.”

For smaller firms, bringing on directors is an important decision, especially for any other directors at the firm, as teams are quite close-knit.

“It’s really important personally for the other directors because we all work so closely together. We knew, given the growth trajectory that we were on, that we couldn’t maintain the leadership at the level that we wanted to with just the three of us anymore. So, in 2021, we doubled our 2020 revenue, and then in 2022, we went on to double it again, and we’d increased our staffing numbers by 2021 to 15, and our new client inquiries had risen from 300 to 550,” Ms Caines outlined.

“We had three times the organic visitors at our website than we had started off with, and we were servicing over 250 Victorians injured in workplace accidents or on the road or in medical negligence situations. So, we had a young team, and we were committed to providing them opportunities to develop. And we had a growing firm, and we knew that between the three of us, we couldn’t cover all of those bases anymore.”

In terms of actually recruiting people for those senior leadership roles, Polaris decided to look externally.

“We were wearing too many hats, and we needed to look at providing greater leadership support. We would like to be a firm where our lawyers can grow and develop into future leaders. But in 2021, when we were having these conversations, we knew we didn’t have the right staff internally yet, although we’re very confident that we will in the future, grow in that manner. And we knew that we couldn’t do it anymore. So, we began the process of looking for senior lawyers with a view that there would be equity in a directorship as part of that recruitment process.

“And the personal injury space in Victoria isn’t huge and isn’t huge at that senior level. So, when we started really thinking about the list of attributes and the experience that we wanted those staff members to have, names pretty quickly started coming to mind, and we were able to proactively seek out people that we thought would be a good fit for the firm. The real things that we looked at were values alignment, experience gaps that we had, and also the ability to work together long term,” Ms Caines explained.

“When you are running a small firm with a small leadership group, you’re working together very closely. So, we needed to be able to be confident that we would be a cohesive team able to lead Polaris into the next chapter. So, what we did when we recruited two senior lawyers was, they worked with us for six months before we began the process and the discussion about joining the directorship.”

Having this feel for where the firm stood meant that the recruitment process for new directors was clear, as the current senior leaders at the firm were able to reflect on the firm’s progress in order to look forward.

“Because we have such a clear vision of what we want the firm to achieve, we were able to sit back and reflect and really analyse whether we were going to be able to continue to achieve that and push forward in getting closer to reaching that vision on our own. We’ve been really committed to reflecting upon what the firm set out to do initially at regular intervals,” Ms Caines added.

“By having that, it then stops at being a meandering conversation about whether the time is right because you are right, there’s no science to it, there’s no exact number of inquiries that you get, and you say, well, now’s the time we have to do it. It’s always going to be in the grey.

“But I think we felt really confident in the decision being able to stop, reflect on what we wanted to achieve, and then really analyse whether or not we were best trying to do that on our own or whether we needed an injection of leadership, enthusiasm, and energy to go forward.”

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