Hall & Wilcox is a leading independent Australian law firm that’s been in business for more than 100 years. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, the firm’s Managing Partner, Tony Macvean, outlines the unique ways the firm has adapted to the changing legal services landscape.
How would you define Hall & Wilcox and what makes it unique among Australia’s law firms?
Hall & Wilcox is a leading independent Australian law firm. We have been in business for more than 100 years. Over the past decade, Hall & Wilcox has transformed from a boutique Melbourne firm to a leading national firm of more than 750 people, including 87 partners. We are a firm on the up and going places.
Hall & Wilcox’s purpose is to enable our clients, our people and our communities to thrive. Our purpose drives the firm and is central to all we do.
We think that what makes us unique is our purpose, our culture and our Smarter Law strategy.
Perhaps our greatest differentiator is our culture. Our culture is built on our Hallmarks (values): Stay True; Be Remarkable; Evolve Always; Respect Respect; and Better Together. All our people commit to and are accountable for living our Hallmarks. They are part of the conversation.
As part of our Smarter Law strategy, we invest heavily in technology and promote agile, flexible and remote working practices. When COVID-19 hit, we had the infrastructure and the culture to enable us to seamlessly transition to full remote working. Our client service during the COVID-19 lockdown period has been seamless.
Relevant attributes and accolades include:
- We were recently recognised as the Best Provider to Financial & Services Industry in the Beaton Client Choice Awards 2020. We have also been shortlisted for numerous client and industry awards in recent years.
- Over recent years we have significantly grown and improved our client base. Our client base is increasingly corporate and institutional.
- We have a great commitment to our clients and providing an outstanding client experience. Our NPS (net promoter score) is approximately 75 – well above all relevant benchmarks.
- We are committed to our people and being a great place to work. Our people engagement is above 80%. We are recognised by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality.
- We have a commitment to our community, including a substantial pro bono and community program, and provide almost 11,000 hours of pro bono work each year.
You drive the firm’s focus on innovation and delivering ‘Smarter Law’. How would you describe these efforts?
Our Smarter Law strategy is our response to disruption in the market for legal services and our drive to provide better value to our clients.
Smarter Law is core to all that we do. We encourage everyone in the firm to have an open mindset, and we give our people the resources and permission to experiment and build their capabilities and work on becoming more effective and efficient. We support this with a significant investment in technology, learning business improvement and service design skills and innovation project support. A key part of this is integrating lawyers and other professionals into the way we solve clients’ problems and how we manage the firm. We make real client connections, understand our clients’ legal and business challenges and then creatively collaborate on a solution. We are continuously developing our capabilities in the growing discipline of Legal Operations and we often offer this knowledge and experience to our clients.
Our approach enables us to provide lower cost, higher value services to our clients. Our clients often remark at how they get a different experience working with us. Examples of recent innovations are:
- Our launch of a new Migration Service where we handle all of the visa sponsoring application processes for companies as a managed service. The client can instruct us online, see the status of their visa applications at any time and we provide engaging useful forms to collect information from applicants quickly and easily. It provides a low cost, tailored service experience, enhanced by the use of technology.
- Our COVID-19 Stimulus Assistance app, where we have codified our knowledge around the Australian and state government stimulus packages to help our clients quickly assess what help they can get from the stimulus packages. We published this application in days of the information becoming available and it is constantly updated. We are extending it shortly to commercial tenants to help them assess if they can benefit from the government code of conduct provisions for landlord/tenant negotiations.
- We worked with our self insurer clients to co-create a new application that assesses common law potential for workplace incidents, then guides employers on what information they should capture at the time of the incident in order to defend against a potential claim. This application has the potential to reduce the legal cost of defending these claims for our clients and dramatically reduce the time to settle a claim.
The firm maintains an initiative called Frank — a dedicated start-up practice which supports entrepreneurs with practical, responsive business solutions. Tell us more about this.
Frank is Hall & Wilcox’s dedicated startup practice. Frank supports entrepreneurs with practical, responsive business solutions. The startup practice includes Frank Lab, a six-month accelerator program that offers free legal support, networking opportunities and other assistance to selected startups.
We launched our second Frank Lab cohort in early March, just before the full ramifications of COVID-19 disruption hit. We are looking at ways to ensure these startup businesses are supported during a time when startups and SMEs are most vulnerable.
Our Frank program also has a focus on female founders. When we first put a call out for applicants to our inaugural Frank Lab program, we were surprised to discover that 95% of our initial applicants were from male-led startups. This prompted us to ask ‘Why aren’t there more women involved in the startup sector?’ We spoke to members of the startup ecosystem and reached out to our firm’s broader network to understand the reasons for the gender gap and how to address this. Our findings were published in our report, ‘Spotlight on women in startups’, launched in late 2019.
The firm maintains international desks focused on China, Europe, Germany, Korea, Spain and Malaysia. Tell us about this initiative.
While we are an Australian firm, we seek to service international clients in Australia and support Australian clients do business overseas.
While many Australian firms merged to become global, we have remained an independent firm. This gives us the flexibility to work with clients and other quality independent firms with fewer restrictions.
We have international desks that cover China, Europe, Germany, Spain, Malaysia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States. The desks are led by partners and senior lawyers who are native speakers and understand first hand the commercial and legal issues of doing business in that country. Many also have dual qualifications, so have an intimate knowledge of the legal environment in both jurisdictions.
As Managing Partner of the firm since 2007 – what changes in legal services sector competition have been the most significant for Hall & Wilcox since then — and how have you navigated them?
Since 2007 there have been many changes in the legal services sector.
For the past decade, there has been a great focus on driving efficiency in the provision of legal services and ‘more for less’. This includes growth and consolidation of corporate legal teams, technological disruption, automation and the increasing presence of new providers. This continues today, and may be further accelerated post the COVID-19 crisis. Our Smarter Law strategy has been how we have driven innovation and increased value in how we service clients. We are consistently challenging ourselves to improve and reinvent how we service and create value for our clients.
There has been a continued focus on firms seeking to have a global footprint. Many Australian firms have joined with or become associated with global firms. Our focus has been growing with our clients nationally, and building strong relationships with high-quality independent firms globally. We think that there may be a shift away from globalisation post COVID-19 and if so we are well placed to capitalise on this.