Bron O'Loan, Family Lawyer, Author, and Principal & Founder of O'Loan Family Law, wasn't always a family lawyer. Before coming to the law, Bron led many different lives including as a primary school teacher, and trainer for a large IT firm which has paved the way for her interest in legal tech and innovation.
Since commencing her journey to become a lawyer in 2012 and obtaining her Masters in Family Law in 2016, Bron has gone from strength to strength as she has continued to hone her skills. Through founding her own practice, and publishing her book The Splits - How to help your kids navigate separation and divorce in 2021, Bron has become known for her ability to inspire, energise, and collaborate, and is a well respected member of the legal community.
Read on for Bron's insights into her practice of family law, why she views change management as an integral part of running her firm, and why she considers FamilyProperty and Smokeball as essentials in her arsenal of must-have tech tools.
We interviewed you a little while ago when you were just starting your law firm! Can you tell us what you have been doing since then? What new projects are you working on?
Back then there would have been two or three of us - now there are 10 of us in the firm, including a couple of paralegals and seven lawyers. We’ve grown a lot, it's a big change! We’ve continued to use FamilyProperty, we have come onboard with Smokeball and have been able to keep growing using both of these platforms. The projects that we have been working on recently have included pulling together all of our precedents, processes and procedures into an internal ‘Wiki’ using Sharepoint to have everything in one place. This will allow us to update it regularly, and have all our information locked down but accessible depending on what your role is within the firm.
What is it about FamilyProperty that makes your life easier and what do you think is the best part of FamilyProperty for family lawyers?
We had a new practitioner start with us recently who has 30 years of experience in the industry. When she walked in, we asked her ‘Have you used FamilyProperty before?’ and she said ’Ýes, it’s my life!’ (laughs). You can say it is firmly built into our firm processes! We send the questionnaire to people who have made an enquiry, and if they are coming in for an initial consultation it helps with auto-populating the Balance Sheet, and we go through the Questionnaire answers thoroughly before we meet with the client. We then sit down and plug into a TV screen and use the interactive Balance Sheet with the client in the room. It blows people’s minds, they love it! It gives us something tangible to be able to hand to the client and think about at the end of their consultation,and really helps us give them advice they can understand. We can also update the Balance Sheet throughout the entire matter; as well as help with document drafting.
One of the key points we like to make at our firm is we try to contain legal costs as much as possible. I always say we’re far better off getting clients settled and out the door, rather than keeping them here and charging them exorbitant fees. Using FamilyProperty helps us keep the costs down for the client.
How do you feel FamilyProperty has helped your admin processes?
With disclosure we have come across clients who struggle with using tech, so that has been a bit of a challenge in that we are conscious of guiding them to how to use the client portal, and have them understand it’s ok for them to use it. We find that using tech can depend on the age of the client; however, the majority of clients have the expectation that using FamilyProperty will make things faster, and that there’s going to be less mistakes with the Balance Sheet. With the Other Side, if they also use FamilyProperty, having the ability to share disclosure and balance sheets makes life so much easier.
There is an expectation that solicitors have some technology involved in the processes they are using, including platforms like ChatGPT, though there can be some resistance in letting go of the old processes. We’re all for using tech in the firm, we’ve been doing this for such a long time with FamilyProperty that it has gone beyond a tool that is ‘nice-to-have’ but rather a ‘must-have’.
How do you handle change within O’Loan Family Law? Do you have any advice for other law firms wanting to implement new technology or new processes or ways of working but are unsure how to get buy-in from their staff?
My experience in leading a group of humans is that you’ve all got to be on the same bus heading in the same direction (laughs). Otherwise, you're going to be stopping all the time with people jumping on and off the bus and there's no clear road ahead or joint decisions that people are making. When it comes to change around technology and processes, it’s important to start socialising any new ideas or changes early, even before you get them off the ground. I lead with a lot of transparency so that is part of socialising; I slowly start to talk about and bring new ideas or changes to the table. I then usually grab one of my senior leaders and then ask them to help me to roll out the changes to the rest of the team. It’s so important with anything in relation to change that you give your staff an opportunity to raise concerns and talk about their fears. Because there is usually an answer that you can provide to alleviate both of these things. What’s the worst thing that can happen? It’s important to try things and just see what happens.
Culture is also very important. Just a couple of months ago, we worked together as a group to come up with our core values. And it was interesting to see how technology flowed through that discussion as well. One of our core values is that we’re transparent, and that we think of others. We are encouraged to bring our ‘true self’ to work. And part of this is being able to say ‘I’m a bit nervous about trying that new piece of tech, but I’m going to give it a go anyway’.
What is it about Smokeball that has been a game changer for your firm?
We have literally built our firm on Smokeball (laughs). It’s about the processes, precedents, and our workflows; how even something as simple as invoicing is made seamless is fantastic. And the FamilyProperty and Smokeball integration has made things really easy for us. It’s all there within the one system which is fantastic as we’re very busy. At the core of it, our firm sells time so efficiency is absolutely key to everything we do. Efficiency is also key to work-life balance, which is one of our values and is super important to us. I loved using FamilyProperty before the integration but the integration itself is a game changer; it’s coming back to that efficiency. It also means not having too many systems. Part of running a business is making sure that you can scale and keep it as simple as possible.
How do you think technology will revolutionise the practice of law in the next five years?
There’s no doubt that technology is moving so fast. Where technology is currently at and where it will be in five years time with applications like ChatGPT is mind blowing. Everyone is using it. And I think it sets a precedent in people’s minds that they will be using a lot more technology in the future. It will be interesting to see how tech companies keep up and evolve their products alongside new developments in tech. This evolution will be so exciting to keep an eye on. I hold an expectation that Smokeball will, at some stage in the not so distant future, integrate a version of ChatGPT into the platform. I envisage being able to generate letters of advice, affidavits and other legal documents based on the information that we feed into Smokeball and FamilyProperty. And our team will be ready for that because we’re focussed on growth solutions and ways to retain a healthy work and life balance. Technology is the way we can do that.
What are you looking forward to in the next year, both personally and professionally?
2024 is going to be a big year for O’Loan Family Law. We are currently planning on opening a third and fourth office location to complement our head office at North Sydney and our secondary office in the Sydney CBD. With this growth we will also be looking to employ another one or two solicitors during the year. It will be even more crucial for us to ensure that our systems and processes are solid and that there are minimal breaks in the chain of work.
On a personal note, my youngest (of three children) will be tackling her Higher School Certificate and getting through her final year of high school. I plan to make sure I am around as much as possible for her. I might even make a hot brekkie for her on occasion and bake a cake or two! There’s that ‘work/life balance’ piece coming back again … which is one of the reasons why I founded O’Loan Family Law.
And…the million-dollar question: Do you have plans to write another book?
I’m not certain about writing another book in the short term, although I do have some great ideas for the next book. But for next year I am certainly looking into creating an educational series based on my book, The Splits - How to help your kids navigate separation and divorce. I am planning to create an online course for parents with a supporting community forum. Watch this space!
To get your own copy of The Splits – How to help your kids navigate separation and divorce, visit www.bronoloan.com.
Our friends at Smokeball are holding their Smokeball Spark Conference in February 2024! Whether you’re focused on growing your firm, future-proofing, technology integration, financial management or the latest trends, Smokeball Spark is the place you need to be to take your legal practice to the next level. Learn more about Smokeball Spark.
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