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How this founder ‘redesigned’ her firm

This award-winning firm founder has implemented an alternative working and billing model for her firm. Here, she explains what has worked and what’s been challenging along the way.

user iconLauren Croft 05 October 2023 SME Law
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Danny King is a previous winner of the Managing Partner of the Year award at the Lawyers Weekly Australian Law Awards and founder of Danny King Legal, which won Employment Team of the Year at the most recent Australian Law Awards.

Speaking recently on an episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show, she discussed the value of allowing her staff to choose their own adventure and her firm’s step away from traditional working models.

Ms King established her firm 13 years ago at 27 years old and is a self-described “employment law nerd”. Within Danny King Legal, Ms King has implemented a “choose your own adventure” model, which she said came from not wanting to do things the normal way.


“I am so grateful for every single day that I’ve got with my incredible people, and I don’t want to take for granted that they like their jobs and they want to turn up every day like you’ve got to work at it. You can’t just assume that the prestige of working in a law firm is enough and there’s been a lot of talk about work/life balance. It’s like the catchphrase of the decade, and I think it’s broken. I think if you have those two concepts, work and life, as distinct things, then you’re devaluing the experience you have when you’re at work, and we’re at work all the time, the amount of time we’ve actually got outside of work and consciousness is not very much,” she explained.

“We’ve all been learning from each other the whole way through, and as you start with us, you get mentored by everybody else in the firm, and as soon as you’ve got a bit of that kind of experience and understanding, then the next layer comes in underneath you and you’re expected also to mentor and pay it forward. And there’s a sense of sharing and genuine excitement in the achievements of your colleagues that makes that journey so much better. So, it’s not about the profit even though there is profit; it’s about the experience that you have showing up and making sure that you’re positively influencing the experiences that others have.”

As such, Danny King Legal doesn’t “leverage people” as normal firms do – and has a three-hour target for staff.

“Your three-hour target goes across all of the time that you’re here, and the journey that you choose to take is whatever happens after that budget is met, and that budget could be met in the first month. You can have your head down, bum up and really punch out the billables. And as long as you’re complying with the values that we have as a firm, then there’s no need to take annual leave for the balance of the time. You’ve done what the firm has asked you to do. You’ve earned your salary, and the rest is up to you. And if you do more billable, then we pay a very fair split of that,” Ms King explained.

“If you have an interest in marketing or accounting or any of the other operational functions of a law firm, then you can have accountability for those things too, and we will pay you for them and support you in building the skills in being able to do a good job. So, the model itself requires the diligence to make sure that people are hitting the three hours because we pay a very high portion out as salary. We pay a third of your target as salary, but that target is set on three hours. So, everybody knows that it’s easy to hit. I just want to be in a context of celebration.”

To make this model successful, Ms King ran numerous financial models on historical data to establish a working model that could not only support work/life balance but also pay staff competitively and retain them.

“Monitoring people’s performance and requiring them to make up the gaps here and there, it’s a lot of effort. So, I redesigned how we pay people and the model itself, even if people only do three hours, covers all of our operational costs and bits and bobs and still has a 20 per cent net profit rate where people exceed their targets. And most do. We share 10 per cent, we also share 10 per cent of anything that people bring in. Then we’re just turbocharging profit on top of the baseline three-hour recoverable,” she added.

“So, in generating the financial backing for all of this, I thought I’ve got to be a grown-up here, and I’ve got to consult with a bunch of people to make sure that I’m not just making this up. So, I’ve spent lots of time with accountants and business strategy people, and we tried to break it and it didn’t break. So, then we rolled it out, and we built some tech to support it because our practice management system didn’t give me the kind of visibility that I needed to be able to make sure that individuals are not falling through the cracks.”

However, the practice is still a work in progress, Ms King digressed. In fact, in the early stages of implementing this working model, she said she built “too much complexity”, making it hard for employees to properly understand.

“We pay a third of your target, and the target is at three hours. And if you’re going to look at comparable salaries for that, if you go to a firm that has a five-hour recoverable, then that means whatever salary you get with us for three hours, you got to boost it up by a factor of five over three. And so, I thought that that was really clear, and we could help people who were really financially motivated to make extreme amounts of money. But the level of complexity was just overwhelming.

“And the other thing was that for our solicitors, they’re much more interested in stable income than bonus income. And our older people were cool with getting big bonuses all the time instead of having the higher base, although all of our bases went up, too. So, I’ve been calling the new REM model 2.0, and now we’ve got 2.1 for the solicitors, which has different metrics and the process of consultation and honing the model has resulted in much more clarity and understanding for everybody and a lot of joy that’s come out of a successful consultation,” she added.

“Because it’s scary when you’re a solicitor in a firm and your founder comes up and thinks that she’s solved the problems of the universe, and you think, you know what? That doesn’t work for me. So being able to have the voice and interact meaningfully and have that change reflected back in new arrangements has really helped in really deepening our relationship of trust and connection as well.”

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

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