Interview | Emma Heuston (Tracksuit Economy)

Emma Heuston is a flexible work guru, remote work expert, author and lawyer. Michael Bidwell was fortunate to receive some great insight into the infamous “work life balance”!

1) What is The Tracksuit Economy and why did you start it?

The Tracksuit Economy is my book and business name. I can only take credit for coining the phrase (with the help of my colleague Nicole Wilson) rather than inventing the movement.

It [‘the Tracksuit Economy’] describes any type of work that does not fit into the traditional 9 to 5 corporate world or falls outside the definition of “traditional work arrangements”. Examples of work that fall within the Tracksuit Economy are remote work (either work from home or co-working spaces), flexible work, freelancing etc.
I have been part of the Tracksuit Economy since 2014 when I began working for both Lexis Nexis as a precedent writer from home and LegalVision as a remote lawyer and subsequent Practice Leader (Partner Equivalent). The reason for me looking for flexible work was the fact that, as a Mum with a young child at that time, I found the traditional corporate style of work did not fit in with me and my family commitments. Rather than continue to make myself miserable by trying to fit into a corporate world that wasn’t flexible enough to accommodate me, I made like Gloria Steinem and thought, “why change myself to fit the world, when I can change the world to fit me?”

Fast forward to May 2018 and flexible work had only become more of a passion of mine due to the fact that I was working in a flexible and remote role and could see other parents and people wanting to work flexibly struggling with the same problems. It was against this that I released my book, The Tracksuit Economy: How to work productively and effectively from home” (link here)

My book details my experiences as a remote worker at LegalVision, including my experiences of working remotely in an industry (the legal industry) where it is not common, managing a team remotely and providing tips for others who also either want to work remotely or those that do and want to be more productive. I also spoke with 15 other remote and flexible workers and include their case studies in the book. The book is essentially about how we can do things differently and that you don’t need to be “seen to succeed” in law, provided you have appropriate benchmarks to measure performance in place and adequate technology.

2) As a Practice Leader at LegalVision Australia, what did your work day usually consist of? What does 2019 hold for you?

I have been a Practice Leader in the Leasing and Real Estate team at LegalVision for around 4 years, during which time my average day has not been terribly different to the usual lawyer’s day – lots of advices, reviews, drafting and conferences plus managing staff and working on projects. The main differences being that my conferences were via phone or video link and that my commute was down stairs at my house rather than the 45 minute commute each way I used to make in Sydney.

I also made sure I negotiated the ability to structure my day around my son’s school routine in my contract and work hours. This meant that I worked part time 3 or 4 days a week during school hours (which I called my “hours of power”) and though I was available during business hours outside of 9am – 3pm, it was more for emails and short jobs, rather than complex drafting etc. I have found this worked well for me.

However, in 2019, I am making a change. I am stepping down from my Practice Leader role to launch my employment consulting business which will help candidates to build business cases for flexible work arrangements (The Tracksuit Economy) and also help organisations onboard and retain engagement with remote employees (The Remote Economy). The Tracksuit Economy is up and running (link here) and the Remote Economy will be up and running by April. However, despite my steps toward entrepreneurship, I have much affection for LegalVision and will be staying on in a consultant role.

3) What would you say is essential to being a flexible work guru?

An understanding of the issues that employees and employers face is crucial. I am fortunate to have had experience in both facets as a remote Practice Leader who has also managed staff.

The other essential ingredient is the ability to be a voice for those who are struggling away at their desk, fighting the sobs back as they battle peak hour traffic to get their baby home to feed and bathe the baby, only to get up the next day (after a sleepless night) to do it all again. Things will only change if we speak up and show how much benefit there is to organisations and employees for a change in our system to occur.

After I published my book I hit the publicity circuit and managed to get on the TODAY show with Georgie Gardner and Mark McCrindle to discuss work / life balance and also the Daily Edition on Channel 7. The response has been so heartening and I love seeing that I can make a difference to the way both employees and employers think about work arrangements. In November 2018, I was honoured to receive the Lawyers Weekly Australian Women in Law Thought Leader of the Year Award 2018 for my work in the flexible work space. The recognition within the legal industry has been amazing as I see more Newlaw firms opening up and more flexible and remote work happening.

4) Who is someone that inspires you?

Brene’ Brown is an inspiration to me. She is authentic and that is so important in this day and age. The flexible work discussion I am part of is also about authenticity and about being vulnerable. Brene’s recent book, “Dare to Lead” shows how you can be a leader within a space like flexible work by finding your voice to speak up and say something different.

5) What is your legal forecast? Where will the legal industry be in five years?

At LegalVision I have been involved in tech projects such as automating documents and artificial intelligence (AI) first hand. The future is exciting and I see much more disruption in the industry over the next 5 years in this area. It is not necessarily bad news for lawyers in terms of job scarcity, but I believe it will require lawyers to broaden their experience (such as developing business management skills) to work alongside the technology developments.

6) What advice would you give to a law student or early career lawyer?

Be open to learning about many areas of law. Don’t pigeon hole yourself too early, the more knowledge the better. As an example, in my personal circumstances it saw me practice family law and litigation for 8 years before transitioning to corporate law and estate planning 10 years ago. Without a broad general base this transition would have been much harder for me.
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.

Interview | Reece Ramsden (Ramsden Lawyers)

From the Gold Coast to Sydney, Reece Ramsden shares his thoughts and experiences with our very own Michael Bidwell. Reece is a Partner at Ramsden Lawyers.

1) Why do you love being a lawyer?

To be honest with you, I never wanted to be a lawyer in the beginning. I had a far bigger passion for mental health and counselling disadvantaged youth. However, once I finished my studies in that field, I recall my brother telling me I would make a fantastic family lawyer as my other skills would come in handy. He was correct, they did and paired perfectly. I love being a lawyer (in particular, a family lawyer) due to that fact that I am able to represent so many people who genuinely need the representation so they are not walked all over and so they get an outcome they are legally entitled to. I am not the type of lawyer to straight away litigate, but I definitely can get passionate about reaching fair and amicable resolutions. I am also in a position where I offer a lot of clients (who are usually the weaker party in the relationship financially) an option where they can pay me at the end. This option gives some of my clients the ability to have representation when they do not have the means to hire a lawyer at the outset. From my experience in Legal Aid right through to being Partner in a private practice firm, I know going through a separation is one of the most emotional times in a person’s life, and knowing I can help people through that to become stronger and happier in the end is why I do it.

2) We understand you have just opened a Sydney office. What have been some of the challenges and rewards so far?

I would have to say the biggest challenge for me so far would be adjusting to the fast paced corporate lifestyle the Sydney CBD provides. It is also very obvious that to make it in a city like this, you must be very good at what you do as there is a lot of competition. Coming from the Gold Coast, the general pace of the city is much slower and relaxed. Furthermore, like any new business venture, building up a new client base down here will definitely keep me challenged and busy.

One of the biggest rewards for me is my personal life down here, I absolutely love Sydney as it is such a beautiful city with amazing restaurants, bars, shops, and natural scenery. Living in the eastern suburbs is a must to all new Sydneysiders haha. Although I think the fast paced Sydney lifestyle is a challenge, it is also a reward in the sense that I am meeting so many impressive professionals from all different industries. I believe centering myself around other professionals will keep me motivated to keep on succeeding as a lawyer. 

With the Sydney office in its infancy stage, I am sure I have a lot of challenges and rewards to come!

3) What has pushed you to practice all aspects of family law?

Although some family lawyers choose to practice very specific parts of family law, I love how absolutely diverse it is and it keeps me continually interested. Family law encompasses things such as property settlements, parenting disputes, private agreements, spousal / child support, domestic violence, grandparent rights, surrogacy and adoption. Each day I will be focusing on something different from this wide scope and you would be amazed at the different people I deal with through these different sub practice areas. 

In addition, with my tertiary background and experience in counselling, almost all of my meetings with new clients is a mixture of counselling and law. I love that my clients are able to feel comfortable enough with me to open up about some of their most private issues. 

4) You promote a focus on LGBTI+ clients. Why do you think this is important?

When dealing with any family law issue, sometimes clients can get a little bit nervous to see a lawyer knowing they are usually going to have to be open about their sexuality with them. Although practically every lawyer I know is supportive of all sexualities, there still remains some lawyers who may not necessarily know how to handle a situation professionally when a client has a family system / sexuality that falls within the LGBTI+ scope. I promote a completely non-judgemental confidential service where anyone can be themselves with me. In the last few years I have seen a rise in relationship breakdowns due to one party to the relationship changing sexuality and knowing my clients feel safe and comfortable to discuss this with me, makes me know I am doing the right thing as a progressive family lawyer. 

5) What are some ways you think Ramsden Lawyers really uses technology to its advantage?

As Ramsden Lawyers is only approximately 15 years old and the Managing Partner in his early 40’s, the firm utilises all new technology platforms possible.

Some examples are:

  • All sections are paperless;
  • All lawyers have surface pros for court and meetings;
  • We have payment portals online and automated billing processes;
  • The website uses portals to upload documents;
  • Our boardrooms are all set up with amazing video conferencing systems for interstate employees and clients;
  • We use the legal software ‘Practice Evolve’ which was designed uniquely for the firm over 6 months and it reduces the need for support staff with features such as auto brief compiling etc.;
  • All clients forms are filled out electronically prior to or at the appointment and all clients are provided iPad’s in reception;
  • Faxes are a thing of the past (lol);
  • We use cloud servers;
  • Our lawyers can all log in remotely to their desktop on any device and it will be as though they are at their work desk.

6) What is your legal forecast? Where will the legal industry be in 5 years?

I think in the future there may be a shift toward the development of automated online lawyers and / or seeing as it is a big ‘sharing economy’ these days, hiring a lawyer in your suburb through an app where the client and lawyer rate each other. Law is becoming more and more competitive every day so I know law firms are regularly trying to find ways to use technology to their advantage to be cost effective. Even the Family Courts are taking a proactive approach with technology, with almost all applications now filed online, and all divorces are now completed through an online portal. It will be interesting to see what becomes in the coming years.  

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.

Interview | Fiona McLay (Rankin Business Lawyers)

Fiona McLay was interviewed by our very own Michael Bidwell recently! Fiona is a Special Counsel at Rankin Business Lawyers.

1) Why do you love being a lawyer?

It gives me the privilege of being able to see up close an enormous spectrum of human endeavour and the personalities involved.   I find it interesting that, once a dispute has arisen,  I get to learn how all sorts of things work and to unravel what went wrong.  I get to help people who have been treated unfairly work out what their options are and help them navigate the best way to resolve it.  

2) We understand our good friend Clarissa Rayward’s Happy Lawyer Happy Life program has assisted you.  Please share more about this experience.

I came to the Happy Lawyer Happy Life club after finding the podcast.  On the podcast senior lawyers shared their diverse career paths and how they had managed long successful careers.  I had found that many of my friends and colleagues were a bit worn down and disillusioned by the challenges of legal practice and the tyranny of the billable hour.  It was really refreshing that the Club members were talking about positive changes they were using to manage the challenges. They were looking at businesses outside the legal industry and copying what worked there.  They were setting goals, working hard and hitting their targets.  It was fantastic to see all these different people running profitable legal practices in a sustainable way without being self centred or miserable.

3) What has pushed you to undertake further study in a Masters of Legal Business?

I believe that today, and in the future, successful lawyers must be more customer-centric and able to work collaboratively.  Other professional services have undergone enormous change as a result of digitalisation. I want to be a part of improving the way lawyers operate in a digital enabled world. I did some short courses with the Centre of Legal Innovation and was impressed by how practical the content was. It was really useful to meet people who were innovating legal practice.  Some of those people are involved with the MLB.  So I jumped at the chance to do a longer course with a similar practical approach.

4) As a lawyer who works remotely, what are some of the benefits and challenges?

The main benefit is definitely cutting out the daily peak hour commute – that instantly made me happier.  I can use that time to swim laps or have a morning walk.  I enjoy working paperless – it cuts out a lot of wasted admin.  I am able to meet my clients where ever it suits them without asking them to come into the city and pay for expensive parking.  I’ve been able to enjoy a change of scene while working including travelling interstate for a long weekend.

The challenge is to make the time to get to know the team member – it involves more conscious effort to reach out and have the casual conversations that are part of getting to know and trust your colleagues.  You need to make sure you get out of the house and talk to people.   You also have to be organised about logistics because you cannot just stick your head out of your office door to find help to meet a last minute deadline.  

I haven’t found any of those challenges a problem and I am really enjoying working remotely.

5) We are delighted to hear that this year you will marry Veronica after 11 years of being together.  What advice would you give to couples who are just starting out?

Make time to have the difficult conversations – otherwise bottled up disappointment or resentment can explode at some terrible time – when you are stuck in horrendous traffic on a stinking hot day or over dinner with friends – and it will be a thousand times harder to have a constructive discussion about what you need and expect from each other.

6) What is your legal forecast?  Where will the legal industry be in 5 years?

Lawyers will increasingly get more flexibility to chose how and where they work.  I think legal project management will be an integral part of lawyers delivering the level of service the client wants, on time and on budget.  I think we will see vastly improved online DIY legal products (targeted to a specific niche).  I think that lawyers will be able to extract valuable insights from BigData to improve the advice they provide to their clients.   

7) What advice would you give to law students and junior professionals?

I think that younger lawyers have got a much better handle on presenting information visually, building a personal profile online, working collaboratively and being open to adopting new technology or ways of working – all of that will be very useful as law undergoes digital transformation.

Understand your own strengths and look for opportunities to use them.  That is going to involve risking failure and rejection.   Repeatedly.  Having a good support squad is invaluable and groups like the Legal Forecast are a great place to start looking for your squad.  There is an offshoot of the Happy Lawyer Club for “Newbies to Law Land” which is wonderful  https://www.facebook.com/events/325427614732876/ .  By all means use social media to find like minded souls but really try to meet up IRL to help build lasting and meaningful connections.  We don’t need to have lots of friends but we do need to have good friends.

 

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.