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How this boutique avoided growing beyond its purpose

When deciding to start his own law firm, this founder vowed to stay true to his purpose and values; something that he has found has benefited both the firm and its staff in the long run.

user iconLauren Croft 18 May 2023 SME Law
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Nick Mann is the founder and one of the directors at Polaris Lawyers. Speaking on a recent episode of The Boutique Lawyer Show, Mr Mann discussed creating and growing a purpose-driven law firm and why it’s so important for boutique firm owners to have a purposeful practice.

Mr Mann worked in BigLaw at Slater & Gordon for 12 years before starting Polaris Lawyers in 2017 — a decision he said came from never doubting if he could, only if he should.

“If I was going to create a law firm, if I was going to create a legal practice, what did it look like and why did it exist? What was the thing that made it necessary in the marketplace in Victoria, which is, it’s a well-serviced marketplace. There are lots of law firms out there practising in personal injury in Victoria already. So what’s your purpose and place? I think perhaps that naivety about the practical considerations in terms of creating a firm allowed me to think a bit more philosophically about why I should or should not create a firm and what it might look like,” he said.


“In Victoria, in personal injury, there are so many good, bad, and other examples of personal injury practices that it was easy for me to identify the things that I wanted the firm to become and why and the things that I wanted to avoid and why. I think that sense of purpose was something that was in the DNA of the firm from its outfit, and that meant that we could bring on great staff from very early on, and we’ve been able to continue because the vision of the thing is very, very clear.”

In terms of what he wanted his firm to look like, Mr Mann said he wanted Polaris to remain small and to stay focused on its vision and what the firm was trying to create.

“What I really wanted to have was a firm [that] concentrated on its strengths. It remained a boutique that was client-centric and was nimble, lateral thinking about how it got the best outcomes for its clients. And so really those became the component part of our vision. I want Polaris to be a boutique. I frankly think that there are a lot of small firms out there who’ve grown by having good staff, good quality work, good connection with their clients. They’ve grown beyond their purpose.

“So, if we open an office in Wagga doing wills and a bit of crime and a bit of family law as well as our bread and butter in personal injury, then we have utterly failed. Now, that might not be a failure for others. Others might want to grow and become Australia’s biggest law firm, but that’s not our vision. And so, for me, that question, the very question about what it was that we were trying to create and why meant that we had to get our vision and our values down in print. They are now compact for all of our staff,” he said.

Having these values set up clearly meant that particularly during the pandemic, there was a “really strong sense of purpose” within the firm, which Mr Mann said he was particularly proud of.

“That’s seen us through the most difficult times and also avoided some pitfalls for us too. We had an opportunity to buy a law firm, another firm that was about the same size as us, and it would’ve been a great opportunity in terms of revenue and picking up some extra staff. So quite a few extra clients. [But] we just noted down our vision in print maybe 12 months before, and we paused and said to each other, ‘Well, how are we going to explain this to our staff?’,” he explained.

“And so, we had this opportunity, it would’ve been very financially sound, I think, but there was no way to put that through as a good idea if you looked at the decision through the prism of our vision. So, what do we say to our clients and our staff about the reason that we’ve just doubled in size aside from we’ll make more money?

“I think it’s easy to say we’ve got a vision, that we’re client-centric, but the difficult part is to turn down opportunities because they don’t align with your vision. And the difficult part is to challenge yourselves and to be accountable to the thing you said you were going to be. We don’t get that right all the time, but that’s the start; that’s the thing that guides us and tells us if we’re on the right track.”

And while Mr Mann added that it could be “incredibly difficult” to stay on the right track, Polaris staff have reconnected to the firm’s vision and values year after year, helping the firm directors continue to be accountable.

“I think your staff are actually the hidden gems in terms of unifying their mission and making sure you’re on the track. So, I say to team members who are joining us on day one, ‘We want to treat our clients with empathy. That’s part of our vision. I want you, maybe not on day one, but as early as possible, if you hear a lawyer or a legal assistant or me bad-mouthing a client, venting, whatever, I want you to call it out.’ So that kind of communitarian accountability, I think, is what keeps us on track,” he explained.

“When we go to set our targets of goals for the year, everything is put through the sieve of the vision, and if it doesn’t work, then it goes. If there are a bunch of projects, as there always are, five or 10 projects that need attention and things that we can do better because the job is never finished, then the things that get priority are the things that align most closely for us.”

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