In this ALPMA Member Q&A, Kerri Borg, CEO of McKays Solicitors based in Mackay, Queensland, shares her insights into life leading a regional law firm with the editor of ALPMA's blog, A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers.
Q. How did you become the CEO at McKays Solicitors?
I’ve had a very long history with McKays, commencing as litigation secretary in 1988 when the firm was founded through the merger of two small Mackay firms. I left the firm to travel overseas in the early 1990s and, when I returned, spent some time in real estate and accounting as well as owning and operating a small retail business. But the lure of working in the legal industry was too strong and I returned to McKays in 1998 in an administrative role. Since then, I’ve been exposed to all facets of practice management and watched the firm grow from four partners and about 10 staff in one regional office to around 120 staff across offices in four locations throughout Queensland, including the Brisbane CBD.
I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to grow and develop my own skills as the practice has expanded and grown. The practice became incorporated in 2011 and, since that time, our business model has gradually evolved to a much more corporatised model. Part of that transition has involved the appointment of an external director to the board, as well as the creation of Managing Director and CEO roles. I definitely think that having worked in so many different roles within the business and having a detailed knowledge of the practice’s history is a strength that I bring to the role of CEO but I’m also mindful that I need to look outside our business to see what we can do differently and what we can learn from other industries.
Q. What motivates you?
Learning about something new, seeing new ideas and thinking about how they could be applied in our practice to add value. I get inspired by working with people who think outside the box.
One of my favourite quotes is by Nelson Mandela - “It always seems impossible until it is done”.
It’s an exciting time to be involved in the industry and it will be interesting to see how quickly we all adapt (or not) to the new legal landscape.
Q. What are the biggest challenges facing regional law firms?
From a staffing perspective, attracting and retaining practitioners is always a challenge in regional centres. People who have never lived outside a major city can have reservations about whether the quality of work, professional development and career opportunities will be more limited in a regional area. In actual fact, the opposite is often the case – they will often have the chance to do more interesting, complex work earlier in their careers and also have more variety in the type of work they do, as opposed to practising in a very narrow area. McKays is fortunate to have offices in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Surat Basin which can provide opportunities for staff to relocate for personal or family reasons when we otherwise might have lost them to another firm and had to bear the cost of replacing the staff member.
Another challenge for regional firms is overcoming the perception of some that you need to engage a top tier firm for large, complex legal matters and only use local law firms for less complex or transactional matters. Regional firms can and do have many talented practitioners who choose to live and work where they do for a variety of reasons, including lifestyle and family. For example, one of our principals, who was born and bred in Mackay, has recently topped the state in the QLS Business Law Specialist Accreditation assessment. Part of the solution to this challenge lies in the way in which regional firms position and market themselves and their capabilities.
On the flipside, there are advantages for regional practices, such as fewer competitors, which makes it easier to differentiate and position a practice as a big fish in a small pond, provided you have the right people in place. This relates back to the first point I made about the challenge of attracting and retaining quality people. So if you do well with your people strategy, it puts you in a good position to succeed in terms of your positioning in the local law firm market.
Technology has also provided some remarkable opportunities for small or regional practices to compete on an almost-even playing field with much larger CBD firms, for example by creating a strong online presence on a small budget. This is in stark contrast to the days when a small firm couldn’t possibly hope to compete with large firms with equally large marketing budgets.
Being small also makes you more nimble – you can see an opportunity and just run with it. That’s much harder for larger firms to do because there will normally be a lot more consultation needed and the project itself will likely be a much larger scale.
Q. How has your membership of ALPMA helped you address these issues?
Definitely having access to the educational resources ALPMA provides is a tremendous benefit for regional firms. The Leading Your Firm Program
, which was developed specifically for smaller and regional practices, has really hit the mark in terms of enabling us regional members to enjoy the same educational programs offered to capital city members, on a diverse range of topics by expert speakers from all over the country.
I often encourage our managers or practitioners to view a recorded lunchtime session
on a topic I think may be of particular interest to them and this is a great way to provide professional development for our staff as well as maximise the value of my membership.
I find the weekly blog posts
from ALPMA another great way to keep my finger on the pulse with topical issues and hear what other firms are doing in response. When law firm management and administration staff have access to information that is practical and relevant in a way that is convenient for them it’s a win:win for the staff member and the practice.
Becoming a member of the Qld ALPMA Committee has been a wonderful opportunity to network with and learn from my peers. The annual ALPMA Summit is another excellent educational and networking opportunity and the quality of topics and speakers at Summit seem to just keep getting better and better every year.
Q. What advice would you offer those considering working at a regional law firm?
Be prepared for and embrace a working environment that is likely to be culturally different to a big city firm – one that is very warm and welcoming and where work colleagues seek out each other’s company outside of business hours.
Understand that the local community and relationships are very important – reputation is everything.
Appreciate that resources and talent are often tight and there is an expectation to utilise the resources you have rather than outsource.
Recognise the opportunities to cross-skill yourself and others and to “raise the bar” in terms of the way the business is managed and truly make a difference.
And lastly, make the most of the networking opportunities ALPMA offers by forming a regional hub if there isn’t already one established in the area.
Now is a great time to join ALPMA.
Membership offers great benefits to you and your firm and is tremendous value. Membership to June 30, 2015 is now only $192.50 (incl GST) for regional members and $255.75 (incl GST) for those working in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth - less if your firm already supports multiple ALPMA members.
About our Guest Blogger
Kerri Borg is the recently-appointed CEO of McKays Solicitors
, based in Mackay, Queensland (although she regularly commutes to Brisbane). Prior to taking on this newly created role, Kerri was McKays' General Manager for five
She is passionate about importance of organisational culture in achieving firm objectives and the joys of regional-city living.