Today is the five-year anniversary of my law firm, You Legal. FIVE YEARS!!!!!! It’s older than my youngest child!
I started running my own firm on 1 October 2013 when I was 7 months pregnant with our daughter, Nicola. I was made redundant from my corporate role and I saw starting my own firm as less risky than getting back into the workforce after the baby was born. If only I had known what I was embarking on.
Here I am on 30 August 2013 with a cheque for $43 MIL following the sale of the business that lead to my redundancy:
Learning to Crawl: Year One (1 October 2013 to 30 September 2014)
I started my firm with one client, who gave me the flexibility to grow into being a business owner, Futuris Automotive. Futuris’s then CFO, Dexter Clarke has been pivotal in my business life so far, he is also the person who named me the Goddess of Governance!
I do remember that rush of excitement, the future hopes and the amazing feeling of starting – there was SO much to learn. I named it SJB Legal, because that is what lawyers tend to do, name the firm after themselves! I had a logo designed and designed my first website on Wix, doing all of it myself. Here’s what the SJB Legal Logo looked like:
Nicola was born in late November, here she is then, totally adorable!
After Nicola was born I took 6 weeks’ off and came back to the “office” (at the time our home office), working while she slept. Luckily, my husband, Dave works from home and was able to assist as and when required (bringing me lots and lots of unsolicited cups of tea).
Six weeks later, in January 2014 when I had just come back to work I had a lot of people asking me if I could also do their legal work, knowing that I was working with Futuris. I knew this was a great opportunity to start to grow a business and I was eager to help people, so I did have a hard time saying no to people at this stage (despite the sleep deprivation of having a new born).
I thought I was winning because I had such low overheads, but soon became very overwhelmed with the amount of work I had – I was trying to have flexibility to have time with my family, how could I do that with so much to do?! I needed help.
I loved the flexibility of working from home, and I knew that there were other lawyers out there working from home, because they were eager to have the same freedom and flexibility that I had felt by not having to go into an office every day, so I set about finding them.
I was sure that I could design a way to have senior top tier lawyers work together to help corporate clients, but not have to have the overhead of a central office hub; “after all”, I thought; “most of the lawyers I worked with in my corporate roles never met with me in person.”
I started doing a weekly newsletter, after being encouraged to do so by Nicholas Heard from Heard Financial as part of the Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator Program. I would send the blog in a newsletter to subscribers, and it would be about common questions I would receive, including fascinating topics like – ‘What is the Difference between an Agreement and Deed?’
I knew I did not want the business to be about me (a trap that many professionals run into when operating a business). Kate Hannemann (of Communikate) a great source of inspiration for me when I was starting out warned me against using my name as the name of the firm.
I explored what the name of the business COULD be, and I worked out that I wanted to name the firm to reflect the people we served, not me – and I came up with the name You Legal – I registered the business name, domain name and everything else I could think of to lock it in.
The Importance of the first follower:
On 1 July 2014 we rebranded to You Legal. Sheena Jackson, You Legal’s first consulting lawyer came on board in line with my vision. The importance of a first follower in business should never be underestimated and if you have not seen it, watch this YouTube link to understand why.
Sheena helped give me belief in the vision and has been an incredible advocate for You Legal. Sheena was quickly followed by a number of other senior lawyers, many of who are still on our team, Fiona Tillmann being one of those. We also had some wonderful administrative team members join, we found them through UpWork – a job site that is part of the “gig economy” and where we have met many of our team members over the years.
At this time I felt completely unable to keep up with all of the demands, and UpWork seemed like a miracle to me. Someone who came on board via UpWork at around this time was Jade Kookier, an Australian lawyer who lives in the Netherlands, we are grateful to still have her working in our team today!
I mentioned when speaking at a breakfast recently that I probably had some PTSD from this time, I hadn’t really thought about it too much until I said it, but with the demands of a new baby and a new business that was growing quickly there was not much ‘me time’ in this second year. I found I was working 15 hour days, crashing and waking up super early to feed the baby and get started working again.
Fast growth can seem glamorous from the outside but it is chaotic, with lots of worries, especially cash flow and client satisfaction fueling spikes of adrenaline and stress as well.
I was still working from home, and three days a week we would head to our river house at Monteith (near Murray Bridge) and I would work looking over the river Murray, one of the natural wonders of the world and time there was something I never took for granted.
We celebrated You Legal’s first birthday with a breakfast at Chianti, a fancy Italian restaurant on Hutt Street in Adelaide. I gave a speech in which I recounted sending my first engagement letter to Dexter in September 2013 and staring at my computer screen waiting anxiously for the signed PDF to be returned. It was a memorable celebration. I was able to add creative flair to the day, and the decorations (live butterflies from Queensland) surprised most of our guests.
Snapshot: Our Foundation Client
Futuris Automotive Interiors at the end of 2013/2014 was a global manufacturer of car interiors, owned at that time by a US private equity firm. With an incredibly effective executive team lead by Mark De Wit (now the COO of Visy Industries) with the global head office in Melbourne, the business made interiors globally for iconic and emerging car brands. The business was purchased in 2017 by Adient, a US public company and closed in Australia at the end of December 2017.
Forming to Storming: Year Two (1 October 2014 – 30 September 2015)
During this year I developed the You Legal values. They have been tweaked slightly since the early days but they remain the same in spirit.
Passionate about providing leaders of growing companies with outstanding service and giving them the confidence they need to make bold decisions in their businesses.
Our collaborative approach provides a different coloured lens for our clients and colleagues to view the profession.
We aim to inspire our clients to live a life they love through our energy and passion.
We listen to our clients, colleagues and the community to understand what they want and what they need.
Our values are alive in the business. We hire for values match over skill set and they are loudly presented in our head office and in my home office as well.
In our second year revenue grew over 400% on the first year and we went from one client to over 100. Camilla Jeffries, a law and marketing graduate joined this year and was such a delight to have in the team. We were nominated for a Telstra Business Award and became finalists, although we didn’t win it was our first taste of an Award program.
And of course we had a team dinner to celebrate!
Tim Swaine, Zinta Docherty, Kirrily Mitchell, Daniel Roach, Fiona Tillmann, Camilla Jeffries, Billie Hocking, Martine Welfare, Tanya Ashworth and Andrew Hawking all came along to celebrate. Fiona has been a fantastic resource for our clients since these very early days. She even flew to Melbourne to conduct a Federal Court trial, which she won on behalf of our client!
We started using social media more and in different ways, we posted memes on Mondays that were lawyer jokes which, unlike most lawyer jokes, were not degrading to lawyers.
Passion For Writing:
We kept writing the blog, which continues today, for our subscribers and after being asked by Brian Thiele (who then worked for Futuris) I did a series of blogs on the duties and obligations of director’s in Australia.
He wanted a simple 2 page memo, but in fact, this series of blogs became the starting point for my first book, ‘How to Avoid a Fall from Grace: Legal Lessons for Directors’. The book itself was an idea seed that was planted by David Chuter as well, after he went to a Business Growth Conference and gave me a book by Daniel Priestly called ‘Key Person of Influence’.
To this day, some of our most popular blogs were part of that original series, our #1 blog of all time, with over 5,000 hits, explains director’s duty to avoid conflict of interest.
Our number of blog subscribers grew consistently and continues to do so all these years later. You can subscribe by following this link.
The blog morphed into You Legal TV, which for a long time I starred in, then other team members also gave being ‘on camera’ a go – most notably Kasia Jaruzelska was up to the challenge!
Episodes are still created on a regular basis where we upload a new video or one that is back of popular demand. You can check them out via our Facebook page.
By the good graces of Vicky Allinson of Allinson Accountants, You Legal moved into a co-working office in Angas Street, Adelaide, and every day we felt more and more like we were working in a ‘real’ business.
Having been a dispute resolution lawyer, I saw the benefit of setting up businesses correctly in the first place, rather than fighting with a business partner or customer because something wasn’t done.
We really wanted to give our clients the opportunity to think clearly about compliance early in their business journey.We knew it was not the sexiest thing to think about, but knew it was a great business investment. We came up with the phrase ‘Future-Proofing’.
Tara Adams joined You Legal around this time and has been a central team member ever since, she lives in Melbourne and is such a hard worker, I remember her daughter once asking her “What do you do for fun, Mum?” Tara told me she thought it was nice of her to ask!
Snapshot of a Fave Client – Buddy Platform Ltd
These guys are awesome! We’ve worked with them as they have grown from a Seattle based IoT start up to an ASX listed public company. It’s so exciting to see them going from strength to strength and continue to build their Aussie team in Adelaide.
Taste of Success: Year Three (1 October 2015 – 30 September 2016)
In the last part of 2015 a LOT happened at You Legal, in October we were announced as the winner of the Start Up category for South Australia of the Telstra Business Women’s Awards. It was an overwhelmingly incredible opportunity. Here I am accepting the Award that night:
Photos that had been taken by Nick Klau a couple of weeks before the Awards started getting a lot of press (with thanks to Jenny Hassam and the team at Rhetoric Communications) – here are a few of the articles we had published in the wake of the award:
Two weeks later came the launch of ‘How to Avoid a Fall from Grace: Legal Lessons for Directors’. The book was launched on my birthday in Times Square.
The Right Honourable Martin Haese was kind enough to officially launch the book in Adelaide as a well-attending evening at the Stamford Plaza, looking over Parliament House. Kelly Nestor was the fabulous MC.
And more press followed:
‘How to Avoid a Fall from Grace: Legal Lessons for Directors’ has been updated for 2018 with a foreword by Kelly Jamieson of Edible Blooms fame – it’s in stock, hot off the press here.
Then, I had the opportunity to meet an inspirational business woman: Oprah. During our chat, I asked her how she managed to grow her team so well. She explained that she learned to always trust her gut, she said “People always show you who they are.”
In the new year, we kept up with the blog and everything we had been doing before, and many opportunities to give back to the community, especially as a keynote speaker, came my way. In February I joined the board of the Catalyst Foundation as its Chair and in March I joined the South Australian Government’s Education Standards Board.
I also joined the Entrepreneurs Organization, which has set me on the path of learning and leadership both here in Australia, and through the EO program Asia Bridge Forum.
Around this time I was also asked to speak at TEDx in the Whitsundays. Deloitte recently interviewed me about my road to TEDx. Here is the link to the interview.
And here is the link to my TEDx talk.
It was an incredible opportunity and I am so grateful to have done it! Also speaking at TEDx, the Dame of Drones and Telstra Business Women’s Award Alumni, Dr Catherine Ball and super star chefs from The Three Blue Ducks, Mark LaBrooy and Darren Robertson.
The next day I flew with the kids (who at this point looked like this) to Thailand: So adorable!
What do drug dealers and business owners have in common?
While we were in Hua Hin in Thailand I got a tuk tuk to the shops, and while I was on the tuk tuk I got to thinking about how my first book, ‘How to Avoid a Fall From Grace’ appealed to people who already care about compliance, I am fortunate to sell the book in bulk to some accounting firms who hand the book out to their clients when they incorporate a company.
But I wanted to educate people who were in business, but may not be as compliance focused as the accountants.
So, I started thinking, what ARE people interested in when it comes to risk? I remember looking at the road, thinking hard, and I then thought, DRUG DEALERS!
Having been a huge fan of the Sopranos and the Underbelly Series, I knew a little bit about them and their commercial appeal as well as the fact they managed to grow very large businesses, despite the huge risks that they took.
When I got back to the hotel from shopping I told my husband Dave my idea, and we sketched out the premise of the book, it would cover both the highs and lows of seven of the most notorious drug dealers of all time, and the lessons that regular businesses could learn from them – ‘Kingpin: Legal Lessons from the Underworld’ was born.
From that moment, I KNEW the book had to be done, and I wanted it done before Christmas. I touched base with Michael Hanrahan Publishing who said that they needed the manuscript in around 6 weeks if that was going to happen. So, I got to researching on the internet and the book was done in the 6 weeks, as well as keeping up to date with all our regular client work!
The media interest in ‘Kingpin’ was intense, once the word got out about it, which happened to be around the same time that the second season of ‘Narcos’ was released on Netflix. My first television appearance happened thanks to ‘Kingpin’. Here I am with the morning team on Channel 10’s program Studio 10:
If you haven’t seen the click you can check it out here.
While we were still growing the top line, the growth was manageable now, we had served over 200 clients in the year. We chose to focus on understanding what the magic was between us and our favorite clients, and only bringing on clients that matched our values, rather than trying to help everyone like we had in the first few years.
In August, Elise McMahon, who had worked for my mentor, Donny Walford before moving to Hong Kong, joined our growing team, it was a great test of our vision to produce top tier service by collaborating across the globe. We were lucky to have her come on board, and still luckier for the fact that she still works with us today.
Snapshot of a Fave Client & Partner – Magnetic Alliance
Mark Lim and Jack Gleeson started Magnetic Alliance around the same time that You Legal started, they work with Business Owners, CEO’s and Managers who want to grow their business. Magnetic Alliance has similar goals to You Legal, they want to help clients who:
- Have a big dream,
- Who are looking for help to get to their goal; and
- They are strong at implementing.
Time to Take Stock: Year Four (1 October 2016 – 30 September 2017)
It was in October 2016, at the Australian Microcap Investment Conference at the Sofitel in Melbourne, that my second book, Kingpin was launched by Megan Farquhar, an Australian model who now lives in Hollywood, she was the model for Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider video game series.
Kingpin: Legal Lessons from the Underworld is in stock and available for purchase here! We are almost out of ‘Kingpin’, for its second print run I want to add a new chapter on Ross Ulbricht – founder of Silk Road, the first modern darknet market, a modern day Kingpin!
A few weeks later I would be back at the Sofitel in Melbourne accepting the Lawyers Weekly, Women in Law Awards – Thought Leader of the Year, which was a great honour. The highlight was spending time with Clarissa Rayward, the Happy Family Lawyer also the winner of the Award from the previous year.
It was this year that we started working on a big M&A deal that took most of the next year, and kept a lot of our team busy day and night for months. When it was over we were totally exhausted. We chose to re-group at this time:
- Who did we want to work with?
- Who did we love helping? and
- What impact did we want to make on the world?
Roxanne Hart joined our team this year, she has been a breath of fresh air and taught us a lot in the year we have been working together.
Snapshot of a Fave Client – Lightforce Australia
We love working with Lightforce, they’re an Adelaide based specialist manufacturer and exporter of high performance and durable lighting systems, founded by Dr Ray Dennis. Lightforce was the first lighting company to patent polycarbonate driving lights, and now deals with some of the largest vehicles manufacturers globally in providing aftermarket lighting products.
It’s been a pleasure to see Lightforce go from strength to strength – they also now design, manufacture and supply optics and small arms solutions to elite allied Military, they export to more than 50 countries and recently have diversified into sustainable food production.
Lawyers Who Take Care of Doctors: Year Five (1 October 2017 – 30 September 2018)
I met Dr April Armstrong at the national finals of the Telstra Business Women’s Awards in 2015.
We won the same category of the Award in different states. I learned about her incredible medical practice in Kalgoorlie and over the years she has become a wonderful friend and client.
You Legal had been contributing to her online community of doctors, Business for Doctors since the end of 2015. We love working with people who help people, and it was at the start of this year that we chose to be the Lawyers who take care of Doctors. In December, I wrote a book by creating 1000 wise words a day for 30 days. With editing in the early part of 2018 the book came to around 38,000 words, my longest yet.
To compliment my new book and being the Lawyers who take care of Doctors, we started a Doctors Newsletter and a You Legal for Doctors Facebook Group. We love seeing new subscribers and having new members join our growing community. There is so much knowledge to be shared.
It was in late 2017 that we moved into our present offices in Flinders Street, working along-side the established accounting firm, Nexia Edwards Marshall. We love being a part of their family, and since we have moved in we have been growing our in-house team.
In March 2018 we partnered with B1G1 – Business for Good, a social enterprise and non-profit organisation with a mission to create a world full of giving by helping people make a positive impact for others. We are now part of a global network of purpose-driven businesses.
For every book purchased, file opened, matter referred to us, person to thank and one every birthday of someone in our community, we contribute to a cause that holds special significance to every member of our team. This comes at no extra cost to our clients, and allows everyone in You Legal’s community to have a direct positive impact on the world around them by working with us.
Every time we give to B1G1, we help a young person living in a remote indigenous community to develop IT and English literacy skills by providing a safe space for one day for enhanced learning and capacity building. The provision of a hub for community engagement helps its members to overcome barriers of learning and develops the ability of individuals to participate in the social and working life of the community.
We wanted to make sure that the B1G1 partnership was bedded down before the launch of the new book, ‘Growing a Medical Practice’.
The launch was planned for the first day of the Business For Doctors Conference, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney in June. I felt very honoured to have Dr April launch the book. This is my favourite shot from that day.
I signed a LOT of books over that weekend, as well as doing the keynote on Saturday morning. Copies of Growing A Medical Practice are available here.
Proving That Remote Teams Do Work
Daniela Cecere-Palazzo joined our ‘in the office’ team a few days later, after working with us for many years as a consulting lawyer. This marked the beginning of a new structure for our firm.
Focusing on flexibility, we have started to build an employee base. These photos of our team were taken for the Telstra Business Awards in 2018 at the Adelaide head office. It was great to celebrate being finalists of these prestigious Awards again.
Our team members Andrea McDonald and Kim Hug work remotely from the Gold Coast and Sydney respectively and provide marketing assistance to us, we have been working together this way for a few years now and each week we have a huddle to ensure that we all know what we are focusing on for the week ahead. We all get value from this process and it keeps us in alignment.
Snapshot of a Fave Client
We have worked with Koala since they were a baby start up, they’re based in Sydney and make furniture for the digital age, so they are a great values match with us, we do law for the digital age! They recently turned 3 and have made such incredible strides forward in that time, it’s been a privilege to watch them grow!
In June I was very honoured to be one of the inaugural InDaily 40 Under 40 Business Leaders in South Australia, it has been a vibrant network of South Australians to spend time with.
Speaking of Awards, Dr April Armstrong nominated You Legal for the Telstra Business Award in 2018, and she came to Adelaide to join me at the Awards dinner. It was wonderful to be there together to celebrate the achievement of being a finalist in the TBA again. Here’s a photo of us both on the night:
Lenka Dunn has recently joined our in-office admin team. Lenka and I worked together at my very first legal job at Alderman Redman a family law firm where I clerked as a law student, and recently Gay Wallace, an incredibly talented commercial lawyer has also joined the in-office team, working from Flinders Street along-side us. She is very experienced, and we are so fortunate to have her in the team.
There are team members who have worked with us for many years in support roles like book-keeping and IT, thanks in particular to Pauline Wheatley and Jeremy Lawson for your continued support of You Legal.
So…. What’s the announcement?
In November I am starting as an Expert in Residence at the University of Adelaide’s ThincLab where I am also a mentor for the innovative businesses based there. It will be a great opportunity to continue to give back to a community that means a lot to me and I am so excited for my first day there.
Each morning I write in my Gratitude Journal. I often start by writing how grateful I am to live here in Australia, and how grateful I am to be running a business here. I recognise each day that I have won a lottery of birth to simply live here and to have access to my roles in the community.
In this journal, I regularly mention how grateful I am for my incredible team, who bring our values to life in support of our clients.
I also write about how grateful I am that our business can be used as a vehicle for social change, and that my reason for being and passion can coincide at the intersection of equality and justice.
How grateful I am for my children and my husband, Dave for making meaning in each day, and for my wider family and the support they give to me and to the You Legal team.
But of all the things that I write in this gratitude journal, the thing that I am most grateful for is the opportunity to be of service to our clients and to the community.
To wake in the morning knowing that I can impact social justice TODAY, and that our team can work together into the future to make our world fairer and kinder for those who need it most is an opportunity that I never take for granted, even for a minute.
5 Lessons I have Learned about Being in Business:
1.Bias Towards Action
You are never going to feel like you are ready, so start taking steps towards a goal TODAY, whatever it is, to start a business, write a book, or run 5 KM. You won’t get there by thinking about it, strategising or reading about or watching videos of other people who have done it. You need to take action, no matter how small. You make a start. Regular small actions create results.
I am not the same person that started You Legal in 2013. This time next year I will have built new skill sets that I am only dimly aware of today. For me, learning is continuous. Opening to new ideas and new ways of doing things is of deep importance. The business landscape changes very quickly. When you run a business; so must you.
By finding your tribe, you will find commonality with people who have started a business around the same time as you or are in the same stage of growth, and you will learn so much from each other. If you discover among your journey-mates a match with your values, magic often ensues.
4.Celebrate the WINS
Winning the long game of business feels deeply uncomfortable most of the time. We must take risks, try new ways of doing things and be willing to fall on our faces to find a better way. Celebrating small wins and setting rewards for goals achieved is a practice that should be worked in to every single day.
5.Business is a Roller Coaster and not a Train Ride
Being in business is not smooth like a train ride, it’s not a journey to a known destination. It’s a rollercoaster ride to somewhere that we can scarcely imagine when we step into the cart. There are so many ups and downs. You can get giddy when there is a down patch and forget that you’re likely to be on the way up again soon, only to be followed by another down, and another up. There is no brake on our business. It goes. We hold on. We must learn to lean in to the curves and keep calm so that we can enjoy the ride for what it is.
If you are still here with me, thanks for reading, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!