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Smaller firms need to build ‘a long-term relationship’ with junior lawyers

While young lawyers and grads need to say yes to any opportunity they can and gain more practical experience early on, SME firms need to provide new practitioners with those opportunities, this director emphasised.

user iconLauren Croft 07 December 2023 SME Law
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Chloe Kopilovic is the director of FC Lawyers and the president of the Queensland Law Society (QLS).

Speaking on a recent episode of The Boutique Lawyer Show, she discussed some of the challenges young and emerging practitioners might face entering the SME space, as well as some things both grads and firms can work on to overcome these challenges.

While Ms Kopilovic worked her way up through the ranks in FC Lawyers from being a paralegal, she said there are now a number of key challenges for grads looking to jump straight into a smaller firm – and that they “just don’t have enough experience once they hit the ground in a firm”.


In terms of practical steps for firms to accelerate this process and overcome skills gap challenges, Ms Kopilovic outlined three elements younger lawyers can work on in order to hit the ground running.

“First of all, start working straight away, just to get your foot in a law firm. So, whether it’s filing a couple of days a week, making briefs, [or] some very basic paralegal work, that would be my first recommendation for young lawyers or even business owners wanting to sort of take on someone [who’s] prepared to go on a longer journey, that would be the first thing.

“The second thing I would say is don’t say no to anything. I think I went through the first five years of working and working in a law firm where I basically didn’t say no to anything. I said yes to everything. And there were probably heaps of occasions that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. And in hindsight, there might have been some that I should have said no to, but it was a case of, well, what have I got to lose? I’ll just say yes, I’ll go to that function, I’ll go to that different event, I’ll get involved in that committee.”

This not only exposed Ms Kopilovic to a variety of different organisations and people, but she was also able to network with people who ended up being business colleagues or clients or referrals 10 years later.

“I think the third element is definitely to find a mentor. I think there’s no hard or fast rule to finding a mentor, but when you’re drawn to someone and you really like the way they operate, or you really like the way they’re doing business, you like the way that they’re presenting themselves, I think that’s your natural instinct, being drawn to someone,” she added.

“There is a bit of a disconnect between the Gen Y and the Gen X, and then obviously the Millennials, and there are so many good qualities that travel in that Gen X generation, they were very good at doing business together. They’re very good at networking. And I think a lot of those qualities and a lot of those elements of their business ownership and how they worked haven’t necessarily translated into that next generation. So, I think seeking out a mentor and starting to sort of delve into that way of doing business and learning helps you become a more mature and smoother operator effectively in your own practice.”

These elements also apply to SME firms looking to take on younger lawyers and grads – and Ms Kopilovic said that those who want to ensure they’ve got good quality, long-term employees “need to be in it for the long game”.

“If a business really wants to make sure they’re harnessing long-term staff, they should be taking them on earlier in their career, being a little bit more flexible with having them in the office. Really developing those relationships with students very early on so that there’s a long-term relationship because there are a lot of people wanting to get into firms. But ultimately, I think a firm has to be minded to take on a student early on. So that they can go on that journey with them,” she explained.

“I think providing our younger people with an opportunity to get involved in different organisations or different networking functions, even though they may be a more junior staff member, they might just be a filing clerk or a clerk of the office. I know that when I was a student and I was working, I jumped at those opportunities because it gave me an opportunity to make friends, gave me an opportunity to hang out and meet some really cool, key business people in our community.”

Moreover, leaders in smaller firms should impart wisdom to young lawyers as much as they can, which will benefit both them, the lawyer and the firm, according to Ms Kopilovic.

“It’s important for our more mature practitioners in practice and our business owners and our business leaders to make sure they’re passing their knowledge on. As a mentor of a practice, I know that I have a mentor, and ultimately, he was the managing director of the firm, and now he’s my business partner, Glenn Ferguson.

“Glenn is my sounding board for everything, but I think it works both ways. A mentor wants to have someone they can pass on all of that knowledge to, and if they’re seeing that knowledge being used and harnessed in the right way, for them, it’s an ethos, and it lives on in that next generation,” she concluded.

“The practice and delivery of law is such an integral part of our community as a whole. It’s been something that has existed in our community for millennia. So, I think it’s a beautiful thing to be a lawyer, and I’m very proud to be a lawyer. And I think that in order to maintain that standard and that integrity and the tradition of the role, we have to make sure that we’re constantly trying to improve it in any way we can to ensure that it stays like that for, ultimately, the community and the public.”

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

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