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Innovating the bar: how to create and grow a successful practice
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Innovating the bar: how to create and grow a successful practice

by Daniel ShenSmith

This post is part of a series on innovating the bar. Read the full collection here.

Many of the technologies and advancements we take for granted today all have similar stories of origin and many of them are innovations brought to us by the creative minds of entrepreneurs. I did not consciously categorise myself as an entrepreneur until it dawned on me that I had spent many years creating new business opportunities, innovating different industries, and had never worked for anyone else in my life. I am frequently asked the best way to go about making additional income, creating a business or “becoming an entrepreneur”; but in my view this kind of goal is almost always futile because I believe that one cannot simply decide to be an entrepreneur — we are either born an entrepreneur or become one as a result of a life-changing experience or struggle. It is from within this furnace of innate passion or desperation that creative ideas are born, and, more importantly, that one derives the courage and determination to make a new idea work.

I believe that one cannot simply decide to be an entrepreneur — we are either born an entrepreneur or become one as a result of a life changing experience or struggle

As I read the biographies of the great businessmen of our time, it becomes clear that the most successful ideas and businesses are those that innovate existing industries and create solutions that help people. One of my businesses of more than 10 years began by innovating the home interiors industry by turning a traditional timber merchant industry into an online digital catalogue for customers across the country via www.skirtingboards.com. The process of creating this business was no different in many ways than creating ShenSmith Barristers; there, too, I had to convince many traditional companies to work with me in new and different ways to adapt to modern times.

Passion

If you passionately engage with the client’s needs and interests you will rarely lose an instruction

The single most valuable asset in making a business or new venture successful is to inject passion into every aspect of the operation. As a barrister you will already be trained and experienced in the art of persuasion, but do you reserve this highly refined skill to the courtroom? If you run an independent practice do you feel comfortable persuading your clients to buy your services? There is seldom doubt that you are adequately experienced to provide top levels of service or to persuade a tribunal of a legal argument, but the missing link when converting a client is almost always going to be the passion with which you encourage your clients to instruct you. This is not to say that you should engage in advanced selling techniques or boiler room salesmanship, no!  It simply means that if you passionately engage with the client’s needs and interests you will rarely lose an instruction.

Collaboration

The second most important aspect of making a business or practice successful is forging collaborations with those that can help you in the areas that you do not have the time or resources to handle yourself. While some chambers embrace direct access and provide adequate support, for others it is simply not a priority and you will need to seek out the range of innovative services that have become available to support your practice and help it to grow. This can be anything from marketing, accounting, digital services and administration; unless you wish to become an expert in web development, marketing and accounting, you are better to collaborate with those that can take care of these elements for you.

Innovate to grow

BSB Licensed Bodies are the latest innovation for the Bar and I am very pleased to have been one of the first to be authorised by the Bar Standards Board with our new entity: ShenSmith Law. Following the increased client uptake of indirect access services, ShenSmith Law will focus on providing cost-effective solutions to business clients by making the direct access route even easier. The new entities allow business and legal minds to come together to create a ‘best of both worlds’ solution for clients and to truly innovate the industry.

Bootstrapping and positive cash flow

We do not see a need for aged debt or large financial commitments in order to grow the business organically

One aspect of new businesses that is often overlooked or misunderstood is that it need not cost a fortune to set up or start out with a negative cash flow. Skirtingboards.com was just beginning to grow as the financial crisis of 2008 was looming and at that time many banks were reluctant to provide card processing services, let alone any form of lending facility for start-ups. Therefore, from day one the business model was to only provide goods upon receipt of full payment; we extended the same model to ShenSmith Barristers and now to ShenSmith Law. We do not see a need for aged debt or large financial commitments in order to grow the business organically. Even keeping costs down can take passion and innovation but it is always possible!

I am very excited to see the positive effects the new ABS scheme will have on the Bar and access to justice, and I welcome collaboration from all members of the Bar.

 

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