Future Ready: The established law firm – CG Law

“We can’t claim to be Nostradamus! Neither COVID nor the floods were predicted but we had the capability to deal with both because of our strategic use of technology.”

CG Law began as a Toowoomba law firm, and now has a national presence.

It has a track record of more than 15 years investing in strategic business planning with an emphasis on client care and culture.

Strategic use of technology, specialist legal practice expertise and controlled growth of the firm are deeply embedded as ‘business as usual’. But what about the future?

CG Law Director Dan Clifford, above, shared the business philosophy, identifying three key elements that keep the firm ‘Future Ready’, especially in these current challenging (and unpredictable) times which law firm leadership must confront. Dan’s insights into Future Ready focused are on:

  • keeping the workplace responsive to staff and client needs
  • proactively investigating future legal practice areas
  • fostering a culture that nurtures individual and professional growth amongst staff.

“The recent flooding events will have people thinking about the impacts of the climate on legal practice,” Dan said. “The floods have been just as much an impact as COVID, in fact possibly more so because it has impacted directly on their homes! COVID didn’t do that.”

So what actions has CG Law implemented?

#1 Designing and implementing a workplace that is ‘future ready’

“We have three offices spread geographically – including across regional and metropolitan locations – so we had to take a whole-of-firm approach with COVID.

“For us, the impact was minimal. We did regular check-ins with people about any symptoms being experienced, and always advised them to stay home. We already had systems in place for working remotely.

“We have been in the process of designing and implementing a workplace that is ‘future ready’. During 2021 we had work teams that were split, so that we could rotate them on a week-by-week basis so that everyone got the chance for interaction in the office.

“We make sure that everyone is more than 1.5 metres apart. We’ve been putting in barriers. This means we don’t have teams away. The reasoning is that people will be happier when there is interaction, and they are more productive. Having said that, people can still work remotely. In 2019, prior to COVID, we invested significantly in our computer systems. This was fortuitous and it meant that when COVID hit, we had a seamless transition. So, productivity has been up, and downtime, reduced.”

“We have allocated strategic resources to develop the concept of flexibility for the firm. The approach is to expand our footprint geographically in a way that matches our client base. While technology was the solution for that functionality, its impetus is driven by clients.

“I would also add that a solid relationship with your IT providers is also critical. We expect them to bring new options and ideas to the table so that we are at the leading edge of technology used across all business operations – not just in legal practice.

“Everyone already had a laptop prior to COVID – it was just fortuitous. We can’t claim to be Nostradamus! Neither COVID nor the floods were predicted, but we had the capability to deal with both because of our strategic use of technology. We heard of other law firms having to race out and buy laptops – when COVID hit. We were in a position where the impact was hours, not days.”

What about the impact of the recent flood situation experienced across Queensland?

“The biggest impact was in our Brisbane office – there was no power! What can you do for a solution there? Other lawyers couldn’t call us back. There wasn’t much we could do. We are looking at multiple locations with the same expertise within each location so that we can move the work out to any location. That way if one location is affected, then we can utilise another one.”

#2 Focusing on learning and adapting to challenges

“We’re in a constant state of learning and exploring possibilities so that we can make informed decisions. For example, I’ve been investigating how people dealt with the post-war business environment, looking at what areas of law thrive during high inflation, or during an economic downturn. For example, what areas boom and what areas suffer.

“We take that information and apply it to our own circumstances. It’s about being reflective, keeping on learning, and using my own time to make those inquiries. That curiosity is important – indeed necessary – for self-preservation through adaptation.”

#3 Building a culture that nurtures and fosters talent

What about intergenerational change within the profession?

“This is one of the most challenging topics. For many young lawyers there’s this ‘disappointing’ window of time that occurs around two to five years post-admission. They can get disengaged and want to leave the profession. It’s hard for them to sift the wheat from the chaff. They have their head down every day and can’t see any opportunity to do different things. They can feel ‘stuck in file work’.

“As a firm, we try to manage that disengagement. It’s the ‘Grinding Years’. As part of our approach, we have a conversation about that, to talk through it so that they can see what’s beyond. We try to align people individually with key targets for those targets we have set for the firm. We do this to foster engagement, and to keep them motivated and a sense that they feel ‘ownership’ in the firm.

“We have also found that you can’t not encourage young lawyers to do what they want to do. In other words – you must encourage! For example, we had a solicitor who wanted to develop their mediation skills. It meant that they were out of the firm accessing learning and teaching. We allowed them to develop those ideas.

“So, it’s about being open to those opportunities to the solicitor; allow people to remain engaged with what interests them. To quote Dolly Parton: ‘Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.’ It can be difficult in that two to five years PAE for young lawyers. It can feel like a grind. It can’t be ignored, but we can help them find a pathway through that.”

How is practice different now, to when you were a young lawyer?

“There’s been a significant shift. When I was coming through as a young lawyer, the partner was always right! The expectation was that you did the hours to get the job done and stayed until it was done.

“There has been a significant shift from this. We focus on having more transparent communication channels with our young lawyers. We recognise that sometimes what the client wants simply may not be achievable. Obviously, there are also times when that has to happen.

“But I think there has also been a shift in the client’s expectations. We try to manage those expectations. And we encourage the solicitors to manage a client’s expectations themselves – with our support – for example, in communications we get copied in so that a client understands that we are supportive of a solicitor’s judgment on that decision.

“For me, it has been about the level of communication that has changed from my time as a young lawyer.”

Final insight: At the centre of Dan’s leadership is his attention to prioritising people and relationships and his deep understanding that it is the capabilities and talents – often hidden – within people, that is the law firms most valuable asset, and worthy of protection. Revealing that ‘hidden’ talent requires patience and understanding.

Survey: Be part of Future Ready

A new research project sponsored by Queensland Law Society is investigating how smaller law firms can better survive and thrive in today’s climate of dynamic change.

The survey focuses on a wide range of factors influencing the industry, including COVID, technology, weather events and intergenerational impacts. Be part of Future Ready and complete the survey.

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