Danielle Snell launched with her former colleague Robert McGirr a new law firm in Australia, having to face the pandemic at an early stage of her project.
She launched Elit Lawyers by McGirr & Snell when she was 30 weeks pregnant and what started as a small dream promoted by two people, in a few months became a robust firm with ten employees. The Impact Lawyers interviews Danielle Snell where she explains the challenges she faced and the successes she achieved in the long and beautiful journey of launching her own law firm.
1. What is it like to set up a legal project in the middle of a pandemic?
I was working at a large national law firm when the pandemic began and very quickly had to pivot my practice to run multi-million dollar litigation in the confines of my dining room. I realised that the law industry was undergoing a radical shift – I was closer to my clients than ever before and technology was facilitating increased collaboration between clients, barristers and the courts. The pandemic affirmed to me that it was possible to work in a way which was progressive, aligned with your values and empowered your clients.
It is ingrained within many industries, not just the law, that women of childbearing age put their careers on hold until their children are at school. So when I announced that I starting my own law firm at 30 weeks pregnant I was met with scepticism – but also a lot of support. Support is key and I am surrounded by mentors, supporters and staff with similar work ethic, values and desire to challenge the status quo.
There were many challenges in getting the firm off the ground, from choosing a name to designing bespoke technology solutions. What surprised me the most though was how hard it was to launch a website!
The last year have been fraught with challenges, learnings and tremendous successes. We very quickly established ourselves within a boutique niche and our progressive way of working has been very attractive to prospective employees. We grew incredibly quickly – starting with a team of two and by 8 months we had a team of 10.
2. What advice would you give to lawyers who are thinking of starting their own project in the legal sector?
If you can dream it, you can do it. Every vision and every aspiration will face challenges as you get it off the ground. I have been there and understand first-hand how a knock to your confidence can start a downward spiral. But it is within each of us to break down those mental barriers to success. Now that I’m on the other side I can see that the challenges were worth it. I have never felt more fulfilled in my legal career.
By backing yourself, surrounding yourself mentors and supporters, having the conversations, writing the lists – each step is leading to change. You too can achieve professional fulfillment beyond your wildest dreams.
3. Do you work with technological automation tools?
The pandemic highlighted many of the archaic processes still in place within a “traditional” law firm model. Gone are the days where clients should be waiting for their lawyer to provide them with information which should be accessible instantaneously.
Before we launched Elit Lawyers by McGirr & Snell I engaged leading IT consultants to design bespoke technology solutions which promotes transparency, accountability and client empowerment. Our 24/7 web-enabled client portal creates an environment where clients are part of the team and journey rather than removed from it. This not only offers clients personalised support but enables increased efficiency to save cost and time and enhance quality outcomes.
4. How are you promoting your firm’s services?
With our peers and clients online more than ever, we initially focussed our attention on brand building through online platforms. We have a strong presence on social media (Instagram and LinkedIn) and unbelievably are going through a second website project.
We are also regularly featured in the media, widely recognised for challenging the traditional law firm model and commitment to diversity and inclusion within the law industry. Our firm has also been involved in many public interest and high profile cases. Our involvement in the media and being recipients of awards and accolades by prestigious industry bodies, we have seen our client base diversify and file load increase in unexpected ways.
As we exit the lockdown era of the pandemic we are looking to more traditional styles of marketing. Although we are quite close with our client base, there is nothing like catching up face to face. We are excited to return to connecting with our clients in person and meeting new connections.
5. In what way does your firm manage to connect with the needs of your clients?
During the pandemic I connected with clients in a deeper and more meaningful way than ever before. Through these conversations and understanding of industry trends, I felt empowered and equipped to design a firm which truly aligned with client ethos’ of diversity and inclusion and progressive technology practices. Our firm’s premise is to be accountable, transparent and accessible to our clients.
Litigation is inherently stressful and clients should be able to access their lawyer and their legal documents – that they rightfully own – at any moment of the day.
Part of the service at Elit is that clients they can call their lawyer at any time. We are on the journey with them.
6. In a new project, which is better: office-based, remote work or a hybrid model?
Starting a firm amidst a pandemic has meant that our firm hasn’t experienced a lot of office-time. Although my team and I have maintained (and sometimes established) connections remotely, it does not compare to seeing them in person. Working within in an office environment can lead to great things. Something I particularly miss is in-person collaboration and brainstorming sessions – it is difficult to recreate the feeling or excitement of being onto a really great idea remotely.
In saying that, Elit strongly advocate the benefits of remote working. We employ a diverse team of highly experienced individuals and empower them to elect when and where they work. This model enables for lawyers and legal teams to achieve greater personal and professional fulfillment, without compromising on the delivery of excellent client service.
Republished from The Impact Lawyers