Game Changers: Ben Gouldson, Clifford Gouldson Law/Bolter

Game Changers is a short series of conversations with innovators in Queensland legal practice. It is an initiative of the Queensland Law Society Innovation Committee.

Ben Gouldson is a Director of Clifford Gouldson Lawyers, and a well-known and trusted advisor to many Toowoomba, Queensland and national businesses over his more than two decades in the legal industry.

Ben was announced as Queensland’s Regional Practitioner of the Year at the 2022 Queensland Law Society Excellence in Law Awards Gala (pictured).

Tell me about your practice or innovation and how it operates?

Our innovation is Bolter, an offshoot of our main business, which focuses on delivering legal services to startups.

Clifford Gouldson Law (CGLaw) is a traditional law firm with offices in Toowoomba, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. Our focus is to do business from the client’s perspective, with long-term relationships in mind and we see clients in person, as a preference, whenever we can. Within CGLaw we had an existing traditional style IP practice which had local, national and international clients.

In contrast, when we established Bolter in April 2020 it was as an Australia-wide online law firm, powered by CGLaw, using digital solutions to offer easy onboarding and service delivery via technology rather than in person. It’s allowed us to trial different technology and approaches, to experiment and play, and to then adopt what might also be useful to CGLaw.

When we launched it was in the early stages of COVID, so we had to convert the planned physical launch event to a virtual event. It was all a bit weird at first, but we learned a lot! We went on to have some virtual boardroom briefings, which we’d planned to do in person with stakeholders.

Was there a particular problem you were trying to solve?

We observed that prospective entrepreneurial clients didn’t ‘plug in’ seamlessly to our existing CGlaw approach.

With things like finding suitable appointment times and the way we were receiving instructions it was obvious that there were barriers to them engaging us. To address this lower level of conversion with these clients, we wanted to make it easier for these clients to access our services.

We wanted to deliver legal advice differently with client perspectives in mind. Within Bolter we offer availability which suits the side hustle or working entrepreneur. This gave us an opportunity to retain a lot of legal work which previously drifted to Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne, and by approaching our legal service delivery with a mentality of capital quality using country care, we believe we have helped retain substantial work previously lost to the regions we serve.

Ben Gouldson

What is the most innovative aspect? How different is it from the traditional legal service model?

The most innovative aspect is that it’s a virtual firm. We do have a physical presence, but we exist virtually. Our connection points with clients are entirely virtual. I don’t think I’ve seen a Bolter client face to face for any first engagement. Many I have met for coffee or at an event later on.

The way we receive instructions is virtual. We use the Microsoft 365 suite of tools to help receive instructions and set up meetings. This means our reach is wider, so means we have been able to help clients in Hobart, Western Australia, Singapore and Johannesburg.

For example, we use Microsoft Forms to help receive instructions – our clients can complete the form, which includes conditional logic to get the information we need, which then feeds into templates to create documents like privacy policies, leases etc and saves a lot of double entry of data.

Clients can access our calendars via Bookings to arrange meetings and we use as a tool for structure diagrams and charts. Internally we use PowerBI for data analytics and to assist with decision making.

Having seen the efficiencies these tools provide, we also now use some of this in CGLaw.

How did you go about implementing your ideas? What was the most important step in making it happen?

The most important step was dedicating a budget and a resource to fund and action Bolter’s creation. We had to allocate a budget and commit to it, and also had to say to one of our practitioners “50% of your time over the next six to nine months is to build this”.

Investing with both hard cash and time cash was key. We knew if we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t get there or what we did would be substandard and not suited to the start-up space.

What advice would you give to others about implementing innovation in their business?

Innovation needs to become a part of the culture of the business. Striving for continuous improvement and believing the current way we do things won’t be the best is essential.

Within CGLaw, we have a quarterly strategy execution plan, which is developed and refreshed each quarter by our management team and our most senior team members at an external full-day strategic planning session that I facilitate.

This process identifies the 90-day strategic initiatives/goals that fit within our five ways to win that will produce the most benefit to the firm in the next quarter.

To ensure every member of our team is able to contribute to new strategies and initiatives that relate to their roles, each section or team of our organisation then completes their own, smaller quarterly strategy plan. This includes a process by which we identify two or three very focused initiatives for each of our teams across our office locations.

The compilation and follow-up of the strategic initiatives is centralised and accountable individuals report every 30 days on progress as it occurs.

We have found this approach gives us a top-to-bottom, back-to-top planning and improvement model that we believe is exemplary within the business community. Every team member is engaged in a way that interests and influences them, and improvements are identified from the big picture down to the detailed processes.

How did you judge success and what business impact have you had?

We had several metrics to measure success, including things like the number of files opened, the number of enquiries and conversion percentages, the usual metrics around fees billed and received, some metrics around lowering the cost of production, as well as social media touchpoints. Not everything went to plan, but we revised and iterated along the way.

Has it been worth it?

Absolutely – we’ve won clients we would never have won without Bolter. It has also produced efficiencies for CGLaw that we’d never have unlocked if we hadn’t had the tech focus for Bolter.

What did you learn from your experience?

Iterating and iterating again is essential. You need precise strategic goals, with clear impact assessment tools to measure success so you know when to push on and when to cut and run. You don’t have to get it right the first time. Losing now is actually winning later.

As a legal innovator, what are some of the biggest challenges you see for the legal profession in developing innovative new ways to provide legal services?

The time it takes to practise law these days is a barrier to innovation. Billable targets, day after day, means we rarely have the opportunity to step back from what we do to see if the way we do it could be improved, or if some new innovative solution (technology based or otherwise) might be around the corner.

What’s next?

To continue to strive for continuous improvement, growing our CGLaw and Bolter brands throughout Australia and overseas. To serve the communities in which we operate, giving back where we can and providing pathways for our clients as we help clients on their journeys. We’ll also look at using other tools in the Microsoft stack that we haven’t tried yet, such as Project and Planner.

Jemima Harris is an experienced lawyer, Legal and Strategic Projects Director at Megaport (an ASX-listed global tech company) and a founder of Invia Legal Operations. She is recognised as an expert in legal operations, strategy, transformation and continuous improvement. She is a member of the Queensland Law Society Innovation Committee.

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