Updated: Nov 17, 2020
We started chatting with our clients Balance Family Law a couple of weeks ago about their nomination as a finalist for a Lawyers Weekly Award - Boutique Law Firm of the Year 2020. Since then they have (over the weekend) won that award, which is exciting and a well-deserved acknowledgement of their innovative approach.
Janis - Congratulations on being a finalist in the Boutique Law Firm of the Year Awards. I have certainly noticed a lot of colleagues striking out and starting their own specialist firms over this last year. Why do you think your firm got attention in this tough category?
Jono – Thank you, it certainly was a surprise to be a finalist, especially as we’ve only been running for 15 months. I think Balance Family Law has received attention because we are noticeably different in how we look and operate to other firms. Firstly, we have turned what a lawyer “looks like” on its head, adopting a more “casual” approach to how we present to clients to make them feel more comfortable – you could probably count the number of times Pepe and I have worn a suit over since opening on one hand.
Also, we’ve attempted to change the way we practice in approaching everything in a collaborative and interest-focused way, working holistically with clients and other professionals (such as financial planners and mortgage brokers) so that the end result aligns with their needs and goals for themselves and their families in the future.
Pepe – As Jono, says, you won’t find us in suits, and I think this represents how we work. We are a down to earth, “what you see is what you get” team. We’ve stripped back the corporate aspect and a lot of the traditional lawyering and we focus on working with our clients (and colleagues) to build real connections.
We are ourselves first and foremost and how we lawyer fits into that mould, and not the other way around. It’s been so very liberating to lawyer this way and definitely easier to build real trust with our clients. It feels very natural. After all, we are real people, just like them.
Janis - What made you so sure that you only wanted to do these two areas of law (Family Law and Estate Planning)? There are so many areas you could do, were you worried the particular stressors of these areas would become too much? Were you worried you would want more variety?
Jono – Family Law was a given, as Pepe has an incredible amount of experience in the field, practising it almost exclusively since 2010 and working for the ACT Child Protection agency in a number of roles beforehand, and when I started as a paralegal working with Pepe, I was working almost exclusively in Family Law as well. In terms of Estate Planning, it is definitely a practice area that compliments Family Law quite well – everyone needs a will, and post-separation and divorce it is always important that they, and other EP documents like Powers of Attorney, be updated to reflect their current circumstances. Also, I enjoy Estate Planning, helping structure wills and estates so that they work as best as possible for clients and their families in the future.
Pepe – We niche even further by working primarily with clients who want to commit to a peaceful resolution and stay out of Court. Whether that be by ADR (collaborative law, interest-based negotiations, arbitration etc) and those clients who need assistance drafting agreements (consents and BFAs including prenups)
I was never worried to limit our practice areas. By focusing on what we enjoy and do best, we are able to master these areas and spend our time refining our services and products.
Janis - so there are lots of legal tech options, what do you like about FamilyProperty?
Pepe - So one thing that I’ve really noticed about FamilyProperty, particularly comparing it to other similar programs, is just how accessible, clear and easy to use it is. I think a big part of that is because it was actually created by another family lawyer Fiona Kirkman, who has practised as a family lawyer and mediator for awhile, and you just see it all over the program. Somebody who knows the family law system has created it to make it really workable and usable.
Jono - Yeah definitely, and the best features about FamilyProperty are the client intake questionnaire and the dashboard. The intake questionnaire can either be filled out by the client or by the lawyer on their behalf and it is really intuitive as Pepe said, it allows the client or the person filling out the interview to see exactly what type of questions they are going to be and where the questions are going. Then on the other side of that when you go into the dashboard view it allows you to see and manipulate figures visually to show what a settlement proposal looks like, what it means for both of the parties. It allows both parties to sort of coming and have different asset tables and work out what different figures look like based on different values that each of them has. Then at the end of it the program is using smart forms and chatbots and that sort of thing to put together the start of settlement documents which we can then use and personalise.
Pepe - So yeah it is a great program, we think it makes our lives so much easier, makes things easier for our clients.
Janis - What other tech are you guys using, (along with FamilyProperty), to help automate your boutique firm?
As a new and (we like to think) innovative firm, we are always exploring new technologies and ways of doing things. That being said, we are presently only using Actionstep as our practice management software, have recently started using FamilyProperty for our consent order matters, and Law Switch for our chatbots (and looking forward, potentially smart documents).
Janis - What is the next big project you are looking forward to, for work or just in life?
Jono – When Balance started, we hit the ground running, and it has been non-stop ever since (not that we’re complaining about that at all). Now that we have a number of matters behind us and on the go, it is definitely the time to properly sort through our systems and make our business much more streamlined. Personally, I am furthering my studies to build our Estate Planning practice, through studying a Masters through The College of Law, which I am enjoying. Oh, and moving towards a 4-day work week would be nice (but we need our systems and processes sorted first).
Pepe – I am delighted to say I’ve been working with a number of other local legends (from Canberra and surrounding regions) to build a wonderful and truly collaborative little network. While we can all do well as individuals, it's as a collective that we can have a true impact and improve the family law experience for our clients.
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