A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Q and A with Jodie Baker, Managing Director, Hive Legal

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Start-up virtual law firm, Hive Legal were crowned the 2014 ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Award winner in recognition of their innovative business model at the 2014 ALPMA Summit Gala dinner last week, over finalists  AdventBalance, PD Law and Swaab Attorneys

In this ALPMA Member Q&A, Jodie Baker, Hive Legal's Managing Director, provides insight into how Hive Legal's innovative, virtual business model works.

Pictured (left to right)

Jodie Baker, Managing Director, Hive Legal; Will Irving, Group Managing Director, Telstra Business; Jamie Prell, Legal Director, AdventBalance; Bronwyn Pott, Chief Executive Officer, Swaab Attorneys; Mel Cox, Director and Chief Executive Officer, PD Law; and Lisa Sikorski, ALPMA Victoria Chair and General Manager, Septimus Jones & Lee.

Q: Why did you decide to set up Hive Legal?

Two years ago I was working remotely from the U.S. for a progressive Australian company; I came to appreciate how technology could be leveraged to change the way professional services firms work, and realised that other markets were significantly ahead of Australia. I saw an opportunity to bring true innovation to Australia and the Australian legal industry, and to really change the way that lawyers work and engage with their clients, each other and even themselves.

The founding principals of Hive Legal had the advantage of starting with a clean slate – we were able to re-imagine the provision of legal services without the weight of legacy infrastructure, procedures or costs.

Our business is driven by clients who want a more cost-effective outcome, without compromising the quality of advice. Clients are demanding greater efficiency and turnaround times and we believe that the principals and senior lawyers who service the clients directly are best placed to determine how this can be done.

Q: How does your ‘virtual law firm’ model work?

Hive Legal is founded on collaboration (like bees in the hive), so this is not a silo model where practitioners work independently without co-ordination with other team members.  We work very closely as a team to deliver outcomes to clients. 

While we have a central hub, Hive Legal lawyers can choose when and where they would like to work. We believe that it really doesn’t matter if you produce the work at home or in the office or where you’re located as long as the quality is consistently delivered. 

However, we also recognise that there are a diverse range of demands on the time of all employees, and enabling an employee to accommodate to some extent those demands in a time shift capacity, or by working in different locations, will ensure that high quality staff are happier and more likely to stay with the firm. Our enormous output since the launch of the firm has been derived from hard work and, at times, longer hours - but staff are able to accommodate other demands by shifting their time without compromising deliverables to clients.

Many firms allow their staff to "work from home" or enable mobile working.  However, a corporate firm servicing blue chip companies (which requires significant collaboration between large teams) built on the assumption that this will occur for all staff has a fundamentally different vibe.

Making virtual work involves a number of technology and cultural priorities. 

We use technology to its maximum capability, so our employees can work collaboratively on client projects from any location at any time and reduce costs. 

This involves two elements: first; logistics – we partnered with a high security and highly reliable cloud platform provider and made a commitment to be paperless. Second; collaboration – our corporate clients require a team approach to complex matters, so our staff utilise multi-party video conferencing, collaborative software and a sensitivity to communication with each other to make this work.  And it really does! We have weekly meetings in the office to ensure regular face to face time, but otherwise we find that all employees are embracing the opportunity to work anywhere, any time, but not everywhere all of the time.

The end result is that we are able to have principals and senior associates in an efficient infrastructure for effective client solutions.  

We have adopted value pricing for all of our work.  The scope and value of each project is discussed with clients. A resourcing plan and timeline is developed, fees and billing milestones are agreed upfront with the client and the budget is then locked in. This works comfortably and consistently with the virtual model, by valuing the deliverables our staff generate, not the time they put into it.

Where necessary, we also collaborate with larger traditional firms on specific projects.  A client will unbundle their legal services and expect the firms to collaborate. We’re keen to progress these partnerships and believe there is absolutely no reason that we can’t work together with conventional firms to deliver solutions for clients. 

Q: How is this effort paying off? 

Winning the ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Award is fantastic industry recognition of the value of our approach, and caps off a tremendous and very busy year for Hive Legal!  

Clients are embracing the technology and innovation forward model of Hive Legal at many levels. We have only been operating for eight months, and in that time we successfully attracted some great clients including large blue-chip household names in health, transport and energy and have grown from three to 11 employees. 

Our intention is to keep growing as the client demand dictates and people of the right cultural fit become available. 

Editor’s Note:

Interested readers can hear Jodie Baker and the ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Awards finalists from Swaab Attorneys, PD Law and AdventBalance, talk about law firm innovation in this online discussion panel “Legal Innovation: If It Was Easy, Everyone Would!”

Read the media releases and news coverage of the ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Awards.

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