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How partnering with larger firms can benefit boutiques

The Northern Territory’s geographical remoteness and small population pose challenges for many legal firms in meeting client needs and managing business demands. Here, Vanessa Farmer demonstrated how partnering with a nationwide law firm has improved her firm’s operational efficiency.

user iconGrace Robbie 20 June 2024 SME Law
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Speaking on a recent episode of The Boutique Lawyer Show, Vanessa Farmer, the AFL Withnalls managing partner and head of family law in Darwin, discussed how advantageous partnering with national law firm Australia Family Lawyers has been. She explained how this collaboration has greatly benefited her practice by providing her substantial support and access to resources that would otherwise be unavailable.

The partnership between Australian Family Lawyers and Farmer’s firm, Withnalls Lawyers, occurred in early 2022 when the national law firm acquired a majority ownership of the Darwin-based family law firm.

Finding legal professionals to join law firms in the NT was already difficult even before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Famer emphasised how the onset of the pandemic exacerbated this challenge to an unprecedented level.


“The challenge is exponential post-COVID. And I’ve said, since 2020, where have the lawyers gone? They’re surfing or on a beach somewhere because they are not back.

“And it’s not just limited to family law. So, that labour market pressure is considerable, and I’m not sure why. I know people have had a lifestyle change as a result of the pandemic, but it’s incredibly difficult. It has been incredibly difficult for a long time,” she said.

Through a partnership with AFL, Farmer discussed how she was able to effectively navigate and overcome this particular challenge by expressing how they provided her with support and access to various recruitment opportunities.

“That’s really a large reason that I’ve joined a national ASX[-listed firm] with AFL. They provide support, [and] they provide opportunities to me through recruitment agents and [the like],” she said.

Years after the onset of COVID-19, Farmer underscored how AFL continues to provide support and services to assist her recruitment for the law firm.

Farmer provided a recent example, saying: “In fact, it’s them that’s given rise to. I’ve offered only this week employment to a lady from South Africa. So we will have her migrate within a short period of time, and she’ll come here and hopefully love it.”

Farmer highlighted the importance of having access to such support and assistance by illustrating the firm laws operating in the NT are somewhat outdated in their approach to how they engage with their clients.

“We were very fortunate as a result of that. We are still in that mindset that might be a little bit backward when we see our clients; they come to us, they don’t want telephone appointments, [and] we don’t do the team meetings. We see each other. We engage with each other.

“So that’s certainly limited in terms of what you can then have in support externally with clients when they would prefer to see, touch, meet and engage directly,” she said.

Thanks to this partnership, Farmer has also successfully expanded her network beyond her immediate area, which is a critical complement for her firm to thrive and effectively serve her clients with a broader range of services.

“The benefit of joining them is the significant resources. I mean, I get the ability to access and engage with people from Watts McCray regional issues out of Brisbane,” she said.

She further said: “Family law, as you know, is a national Commonwealth piece of legislation. You’ve got clients moving around, and I now support regionally those clients who relocate wherever they go as a result of a transfer and work or something.

“So you continue to manage the file, but you’ve got the support interstate, and we have officers around the country, which means the support is everywhere.”