Interview | Nicole Billett (Teddington Legal)

Nicole Billett is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Teddington Legal.  It is Nicole’s desire to develop and lead a diverse network of talented lawyers to provide commercially sound, outcome-focused legal solutions to businesses and their owners.  Nicole’s purpose is to create an environment where entrepreneurial lawyers can provide great value, pragmatic, commercial legal solutions to the small and medium-size enterprise sector.

Michael Bidwell (TLF) was very fortunate to ask Nicole some questions about her amazing career so far!

What do you think are some of the positives and negatives of running a virtual legal practice?

The positives are that the model services both the needs of lawyers and clients.  We have found that lawyers, and particularly younger lawyers, want much more flexibility around how they drive their careers.  They don’t want to be boxed in and be one dimensional, they are multi-faceted and want to be free enough to explore other sides of themselves and what it means to be a lawyer.  I met a fascinating young lawyer who works 3 days a week for a major bank in compliance and then 2 days a week with a manufacturing business as an industrial designer.  How wild is that?  What excited me was because he has this whole other interest and skill set in industrial design, he comes at legal problems with a design thinking mentality.  So rather than splitting his focus, I believe it actually improves his legal abilities and he gets variety and fulfilment in his professional life.

For clients, they are much more sophisticated and informed today and know what parts of the value chain can be automated, outsourced or done more cost effectively and don’t want to pay for highly educated humans to perform tasks they know don’t add value.  By having a virtual practice with a network of lawyers working to their strengths and providing value-added client outcomes, means both sides benefit and personally I love the win win aspect of that.

Hmmmmm negatives…….well the legal industry is still quite conservative and sometimes the idea of utilising technology and pushing the envelope with the style of delivery for legal services, does not sit well with the more traditional members of the fraternity.  And difference or change can be really confronting for some folk who fear and maybe question the future because they can’t see how they fit into the new environment.  I see it as our responsibility to help them understand how they can be part of new law and delivery legal services in the currently business environment.

How did you get into your current position at Teddington Legal and what has really prompted you to stay for nearly six years so far?

I own Teddington with my husband Mark Gardiner who is the Legal Director.  I’m not a lawyer, my career has been in strategy and marketing; together we come at solving legal problems from two different perspectives.  Whilst we have different skills sets we have the same philosophy of being customer centric.  When you put the customer in the centre of the solution you’re providing, you are half way to meeting your goal.  So, you could say I got my position as CEO of who I knew…… but when we decided that we really wanted to grow the business, it seemed logical as I couldn’t give the legal advice, that I would take the CEO position.  Seeing the business grow, developing the clear client proposition and brand and watching our network lawyers thrive, has kept me interested for the past 6 years.

I see on your website that clients can choose the level of involvement with their lawyer up to essentially having their own in-house legal counsel.  How does this work from your end ensuring you have enough staff to advise clients who request lower involvement?

 We’re very responsive to client needs, one of the benefits of the model.  Another benefit of the model is that the network lawyers are not employed, we revenue share, so we can resource up in accordance with client needs.  These clients would not be 100% of any lawyers’ client group so we can balance the workload that way.

You were a Non Executive Director of DV NSW from 2013-2015 advocating for improved responses to domestic and family violence.  I want to firstly thank you for being part of a fantastic organisation and also ask what the most rewarding experience was for you?

 Thank you.  It was quite an honour sitting on the board of DVSM NSW.  What I loved about it was that when the organisation was separating from the Peak Body and was going to focus purely on the service delivery, it went out and sourced corporate women to sit on the board to complement the existing team of professionals navigate a turbulent landscape of funding changes.  This organisation has been run by tireless women committed to creating safe retreats for families suffering with domestic violence.  So to be able to bring my area of experience that I had gained over my career, into a new environment in order to help them achieve their goals was very rewarding.

What is your ‘legal forecast’ for the rest of 2018?  How will the practise of law continue to change?

Law will continue to evolve, more and more lawyers will make the choice to do things differently, less and less will see the only path to satisfaction is that of 100-hour work weeks and a myopic focus of partnership.  I think the Partnership model will continue to come under stress with the requirement to trim costs, outsource repetitive non-value elements, and provide greater value to clients.  Clients will continue to drive towards frictionless relationships with their lawyers.

What advice would you give to graduates and early career professionals?

My advice would be to really challenge why they want a career in law.  If they think it’s for the glamour and see themselves as the next Harvey Spectre or Alicia Florrick, they may need to rethink it.  But if they enjoy problem solving and looking for creative solutions that are actually going to help someone make better decisions then I would recommend they get experience and learn as much as they can about their potential client’s environments.  In our case, we deal with businesses and their owners, so all of our lawyers need to have an interest in business, be interested in what the client is trying to achieve, understand the language and the landscape and be inspired to use their legal skills to add value to the client’s business.

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au

Interview | Dr Emily Verstege

Dr Emily Verstege is an expert at capturing and integrating consumer voice into strategy and governance frameworks. As a (reformed) research academic, tech start up survivor and public policy analyst, she has more than 15 years experience working within the professional and healthcare sectors to put people first.

Michael Bidwell (TLF) saw Emily speak at Convergence 2.0 and was very grateful to ask her some more questions!

 

When I saw you speak at Convergence 2.0, I really resonated with your comment that technology is changing exponentially but people are not. What does this mean for business?

It means we are suffering from a lack of connection. We are obsessed with and surgically connected to our devices and to a constant stream of content, but studies show Australians are sadder, sicker and lonelier than ever. Rapidly changing technology means we are disconnected from ourselves and from other humans.

The evidence of this is everywhere. Volume is rewarded and value is lost. The professional services sector works with clients who are stressed or vulnerable, and often because we bill by the hour and need to get through a volume of work, we miss clients’ emotional needs. And of course, people in the professional services sector work long hours and, thanks to their devices, are constantly available. It means their personal needs are sacrificed. Again, volume rewarded and value lost.

Your client list is remarkable – who has been your favourite to work with and why?

I am always fired up by working with businesses that understand nothing can stay the same, who are willing to look at what they do and start turning the status quo on its head. I love organisations that invest in people’s experience: their own people, their clients and the broader community. In doing so, their impact is magnified.

I see you have received a Bachelor of Biomedical Science, Bachelor of Science (Hons) and Doctor of Philosophy (Epidemiology). You were then part of the first wholly electronic longitudinal survey in public health research. Please share what these surveys were about and why they were so important.

The studies looked at the health of nurses, midwives and doctors in several countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada. We know that the Australian healthcare system is in crisis: there is an increasing demand for healthcare, but the way it is funded rewards volume and not value. There is a very real toll on the health and wellbeing of nurses, midwives and doctors, many of whom suffer poor mental or physical health. These two studies collected important health data—which is still being analysed—to inform workforce planning.

You also spent time researching and evaluation projects in the human services sector, including housing and homelessness, health, disability and young people.  I volunteer with the Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic advocating for the impacts of poverty to be decriminalised.  In your experience, how could the laws and legal industry change to improve the response to homelessness?

Homelessness is a really tricky problem, as you know. It’s often tied up with mental or physical ill health and disability, lack of education or income. In my experience, our human services systems don’t ‘see’ the entirety of a person’s journey into or out of homelessness. Approaches to preventing homelessness tend to be siloed, which makes them one-dimensional and inappropriate for many people. We could do better by connecting data systems, which would require some pragmatic changes to data linkage laws and information systems across government departments.

What advice would you give to anyone reading this?

When we connect with people, we do better. Get into the habit of seeking insights—not just big data, but deep insight from a range of sources—to understand what’s important to people. Integrate those insights into your strategy, business processes and governance. When we deeply understand people we can magnify our impact through exceptional experiences.

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au

Don’t Blake A Smile | Mental health

As the Editor in Chief of The Legal Forecast, I have the pleasure of working with some brilliant authors sharing their ideas and perception of how the legal industry will adapt in the future due to technology and innovation.

I noticed a Facebook page had recently shared the wonderful article by Eloise Dibden.  As I reviewed the posts by “Don’t Blake A Smile“, I immediately felt the pain, loss and confusion in the writer.  I reached out and spoke with Gemma Wilson, the creator of the page.

My motto is for everyone to ‘live out loud’ and Gemma is doing exactly that.  She is sharing her pain and healing in honour of her brother to advocate for a better society – a society that genuinely discusses mental health.

I do not need to remind anyone of the staggering statistics of mental health concerns in the legal industry.  I do want to remind you that you are never alone.  I do want to remind you that you are so valued.  I do want to remind you to “speak, even when your voice shakes”.

If this post causes you any discomfort, or if you would just like to speak to someone, please never hesitate to reach out to:

Gemma’s story is below and you will probably need some tissues.  It is people like Gemma who remind us what true bravery looks like.  It is people like Gemma whose stories will hopefully help others share theirs.  It is people like Gemma who give me hope that our society will continue to embrace those who are open about their mental health.  Gemma, keep fighting the good fight.  I am with you.

Regards

Michael Bidwell

Don’t Blake A Smile

June 4th 2017,

The day my eldest brother Blake committed suicide.

Blake was my hero.  I looked up to him so much!  I remember thinking “If I can be more like Blake I’ll be happy.”

He was a carefree tradie by day and an energetic, bubbly shop assistant by night.  Blake had a smile that lit up any room and the ability to make anyone and everyone feel very special.

Those traits explain why there were over 400 broken hearts at his funeral and why so many generous people from our community donated over $22,000 to our family to pay for funeral expenses. Blake was known by everyone around town so I was inundated with messages about how “strong” and “well” I was doing since Blake took his own life.  That was not the case.  I was not doing well.  On the inside I was crumbling.

I would wake up (that is if I had even slept at all) in the morning asking myself all the who’s, what’s, where’s, how’s and the whys which are by far the worst.  Mentally I was not doing well.  It was then that I realised I was doing the same thing as Blake… I was hiding my true emotions from everyone.  I was smiling through the hole in my chest and the weight in my legs, which is why I created the Facebook page “Don’t Blake A Smile.”

I was so ignorant when it came to mental health and suicide before Blake.  It was never taught to me in school and it certainly is not mentioned in general conversation in our society today.  I had heard of suicide and depression but never in my wildest dreams thought that it would affect someone who I adored.  I guess that is the issue, we do not talk about mental health and people suffer in silence.

With an abundance of ways to communicate with someone, it almost seems impossible that you cannot talk about the things that make you unhappy or tell someone that you are struggling.  I cannot stand that there are people who wake up every day feeling the same way that Blake did and face the world with that painful smile.  I was not going to hide my emotions and my opinions anymore because I know it can be so hard to function some days.

I know how hard it is to try to walk when it feels like your knees and ankles are cable tied together.  I know the feeling of that large hole in your chest and golf ball in your throat making it almost unbearable to breathe.  I was done with this public facade.

Mental health is not discriminatory and it certainly is not a one size fits all.  Mental illness is not something you are necessarily born with and you certainly cannot see it but it does not mean it cannot creep up on you or that it isn’t there.

By creating the “Don’t Blake A Smile” page, I want people to realise that they are not alone and that there is help out there for everyone.  I want people to be aware of what makes them unhappy or emotional and speak up, say no and feel good mentally.  I want people to pay more attention to others and if you notice that someone is not happy, offer help or speak up on their behalf.  It’s true.. everyone is fighting their own battles but I read something a while back that always stuck with me, “If we replace the “I” in illness with “we” we get wellness.   #Don’tBlakeASmile

Community Legal Centres Queensland | Conference

From 8-9 March 2018, Community Legal Centres Queensland hosted their annual conference at the Oakwood Hotel & Apartments in Brisbane.  The conference was a fantastic opportunity to meet with a diverse range of people from across the state involved in community legal centres including centre directors and lawyers, social workers, volunteers and decision makers.  There was a wide variety of panel discussions, presentations and workshops relevant to both the community legal sector and the wider legal community.

Laura Spalding and Richard Gifford from TLF represented us well contributing to the conference program.

Key points from the panel included:

  • Importance of private sector getting behind what Community Legal Centres practise so well: un-bundling and legal coaching.
  • Discussed the role TLF events like Disrupting Law play in using technology to solve legal and access to justice problems.
  • Discussed the role the private sector (ie incubators) and crowd-funding initiatives can play in realising access to justice dreams that may otherwise be difficult to finance.
  • Responding to a question regarding the role of AI in the app ‘Divvito’ (one of the panelist Wendy Oxenham’s app on divorce communication): it has in fact used AI to demonstrate empathy; usually an argument mounted by lawyers to justify our relevance, but it’s done better in this case by a chatbot.

 

Laura and Richard had a brilliant time and we look forward to assisting our Community Legal Centres in future.

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au