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Embracing innovation in a ‘conservative’ practice area

An award-winning boutique firm owner has revealed how he’s able to maintain an edge over the competition, despite operating in a traditionally conservative practice area.

user iconEmma Musgrave 31 August 2023 SME Law
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Speaking on a recent episode of The Boutique Lawyer Show, Aldermane’s Rory Alexander shed light on his approach to innovation, which saw him take out the Innovator of the Year category at the 2023 Partner of the Year Awards.

Mr Alexander, who operates as Aldermane’s director and principal, says forming an effective growth and innovation strategy starts with developing a roadmap that drives it from the get-go.

“What I set out to do initially was to structure our business model [a little differently] compared to mid or large firms. Effectively, what that means is to try to reduce the overheads that we incur so that on two fronts, we can offer better salaries to our people to attract higher quality talent; and then on the client side, to offer them values-based pricing. And what you get out of that, I think, is as good or better-quality lawyers for better value without compromising on the quality of it,” he explained.


“Secondly, the one thing that I really wanted to do in starting my own firm was to focus on the client to make it more people-centric, I suppose. So, the way that we do that is we work directly with them. We’re not fussy in terms of how they engage us. If they want to work directly with us or work with us externally, we’re happy to do that.

“[The third thing I wanted to] focus on [was the] team. A big lesson that I had coming out of a large firm environment was that there wasn’t a huge amount of collegiality on a cross team basis … I wanted to do something where everyone felt like they were working together towards a common goal.”

A key lesson Mr Alexander took with him from his early days of practice was to not get caught up in the way other firms operate. He credits this to the firm’s ability to maintain its innovative mindset.

One thing in starting the firm I wanted to [do was have] more flexibility to implement initiatives that perhaps you wouldn’t be able to do, or at least you’d need five layers of approvals to do in a larger firm environment,” he said.

“There are all sorts of things that we could offer to our clients and that form part of our strategy into the future. So, leveraging technology is a big one, and I think a lot of people talk about that. There’s a huge amount of technology out there which could be leveraged ... You’ve got things like artificial intelligence, but there’s [also] simpler technologies out there: document generation tools and templates that will mean that you don’t need to sit around typing things in for five hours; you can get it done with the click of a button.

“By being a smaller firm, you don’t have the resources, I suppose, that a larger firm may have in terms of sort of the retained earnings and whatnot to invest in some of these initiatives. But you do have the agility to get in and just have a crack and roll something out at pretty short notice, and that’s a big part of why I wanted to do it.

“I think there’s, especially in a government environment where we work, a tendency to be sort of slower moving, and perhaps a little bit conservative on some of these things in terms of the adoption of technology to try and encourage them in that direction. But I should say technology has always been a part of our practice … It’s nothing new; it’s just that we need to keep adapting, being mindful of some of the technologies which we can use to our benefit and to effectively service our clients in a more efficient and effective way.”

Mr Alexander said too often larger firms tend to over-engineer innovation and, as such, miss the boat on technologies that’ll make their business run better.

“You have more cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, in a larger firm in terms of rolling some initiatives out. There may be a tendency to misunderstand the role of some of these technologies and in some cases perhaps they’re not rolled out by the people who end up using them,” he said.

“What I mean by that is, take AI for example. I see it as a productivity and efficiency tool as opposed to something which will replace a lawyer. I think it will in some cases, in sort of those low-level tasks, but things like AI, document generation tools and templates, establishing workflows to push through documents for approvals processes and those sorts of things, I think there’s a huge amount of opportunity there.

“Large firms, I’m sure, would be rolling these things out and in fact they’d be implementing them as tools in the back end and I think that’s how they should be used. It’s a question though, I suppose pushing it through that large firm environment and whether they can get that done in that context or whether it takes them 12 months to do it, and perhaps then the technology is already out of date.”

Reflecting on his firm’s success and win at the recent Partner of the Year Awards, Mr Alexander said employing like-minded people has been of utmost importance, with building a culture of innovation a collective team effort.

“I think as sort of a founder or a leader or whatever you want to call it, director of the firm, my job is to communicate my vision to the people that work with us. And not everyone will want that or agree with that, and that’s fine. But my approach generally is to try to convey the passion I have for these things, the vision that I have, what we can do and what the firm will be in the future,” he explained.

“We all put our heads together and implement some of these initiatives and then ultimately leave it up to the people to take that in whatever direction that they want to take that in. So, I tend to be a relatively hands off boss but with the sort of setting, that vision, communicating my passion – hopefully that rubs off on people and they can take that into their career.”

The transcript from this podcast episode has been edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full episode with Rory Alexander, click below:

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