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The importance of ‘relatability’ for firm owners

Building trust and rapport with clients has helped this principal build up her network and start her own firm.

user iconLauren Croft 14 September 2023 SME Law
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Michelle Dawson is the managing principal of Emplawyer and recently won the employment category at the 2023 Partner of the Year Awards.

Speaking on a recent episode of The Boutique Lawyer Show, she reflected on starting her own firm 12 months ago and the importance of having a strong network and strong connections to build a business.

Ms Dawson has been practising in employment law since 2003 and worked for a number of mid-sized commercial law firms before starting Emplawyer, which is a fully remote law firm.


“It’s really important to make those connections with those people that are your colleagues. I didn’t recognise the importance of it when I was in the moment quite as much as I do now. But I can say with utter confidence that at least 30 per cent of the work that marches through the door here comes from referral work from former colleagues [and] people who I’ve worked with previously, whether that comes off the back of conflict referrals from other employment lawyers or from commercial corporate lawyers or people in other disciplines of the law. So that is a critically important thing, I think, forging really strong connections and relationships,” she said.

“And trust with colleagues is really important. And I always found it particularly important in building my network because my network coming into law was a little bit smaller or perhaps even a lot smaller than that of many others. But that, to me, is a critical must-do; I think if you don’t do that, you are not helping yourself to position yourself as best you can should your desire be to go out and set up your own firm. That, for me, has been critical.”

In addition to this, Ms Dawson said that staying connected with her network has also been extremely beneficial to her firm, whether that’s colleagues, clients, or different industries across the country.

“All of those things, I think, are incredibly important. And whilst you can maintain, in my view, really close network relationships with people over means such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, you really can’t establish them in the same way that you can in front of people. And for me, I spent years just trying to get in front of people,” she explained.

“Instead of clients coming to me all the time, I would go to them. I would make it my business to go to their business and learn and understand what it was that they do in their world and demonstrate to them that I was somebody that they could connect with. And, of course, from connection comes rapport. From rapport grows trust. And from trust, frankly, grows a client.”

As such, Ms Dawson has learnt a number of lessons from operating in this way.

“I think the one thing that I’ve been able to do, and to do well, is to identify the differences that exist between me and other people. And in turn, [with someone] who’s become a lawyer and others as people who have become lawyers and travelled on a different journey, perhaps without the barriers that I have had. Understand those differences, embrace those differences and look at how I can bridge the gap,” she added.

“So, for me, it was about ensuring that I could connect with people in a better way than they could. And as I say, that, for me, was all about getting in front of people and demonstrating to them that I was down on Earth just like them. I talk like them; I grew up like many of them. And not being shy to share that with clients and people because relatability is such an important element of any professional services relationship that one must forge in order to underpin success.”

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