Nicole is the CEO and Managing Director of Teddington Legal, a Legal Virtual Practice and Chambers that provides legal solutions for corporate and commercial law lawyers. I sat down with Nicole to get her take on creating and directing a business from scratch in a competitive industry, and what it takes to manage and foster a successful working environment.
So, how did Teddington Legal come about?
My husband, the co-founder of Teddington Legal, was a sole practitioner. I started to notice how much of his day was taken up with performing administrative tasks. We considered this a bit further and realised that around 35% of his time was dedicated to these very time-consuming essential administrative tasks, that could easily be performed by someone else, better suited. I started to think about how many other sole-practicing professionals would be experiencing the same problem. We wanted to create an innovative and dynamic space for independent legal practitioners to control how they operate. This allows them to run their own practice in a sense, but use the resources and systems we’ve created to give them back that 35% of their day to do what they do best, create legal solutions for clients.
A very real problem, and one that I’m sure all small businesses face at times. And notably, the legal profession can be particularly archaic in its systems! What motivated you to start your own business?
Freedom. Freedom to create something in line with our own values and how we believed things should be done. Big organisations and companies provide excellent training and can be a great place to work, but there comes a point when you start to question the way things are done, and how things could be done differently. If we as individuals feel that way, and want a little bit more control, more flexibility, then others must feel that way too. It’s only natural for people to want to be able to contribute, control and add value to ideas and processes they feel strongly about. Gone are the days of people who are happy to be told, “this is the way we’ve always done it, so this is the way we’ll do it”. I wanted to be part of that change.
As a Director of a business, what’s been your biggest challenge?
A big challenge is that everything takes longer than you think it will. You are in control of your own destiny and in shaping the way you want things to go, but at the same time, you’ve got to manage the small things. You’re meeting with clients, managing employees, and networking with connections. But you’re also coming in and emptying bins and vacuuming the floor on a Saturday – you do everything, to begin with! Cash is an issue to start with – in fact – always, but particularly when you’re starting out on your own. How do you balance the need to generate cash with staying true to the service proposition that you want to deliver to clients? How do you focus on the growth and development of the business and bring in the money at the same time? It’s a constant challenge.
People want to be rewarded for the work that they do, but they don’t always see the relationship as a mutually beneficial one that requires both parties to participate and invest in. Developing relationships and networking to grow your business is just as important as the actual advice that you’re giving. When people are skilled in one particular area, it’s not always that easy for them to juggle all the other aspects that need to be managed.
Mmmm, that’s a challenge all right. Have you had to fight bravely in the face of adversity?
Being someone from a non-legal background, communicating my proposition to lawyers and sole practitioners has been challenging from a credibility perspective, gaining their trust and being able to establish the value I bring from a business background as opposed to a legal practitioner background – is a challenge I combat every day. Many lawyers are quite enamored with wanting their “name on the door”, which is an emotional motivator. Our message and how Teddington can help them is very much a pragmatic, fact-based, numbers-based proposition, so combatting the emotion is sometimes challenging.
What’s a fundamental lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Business is about solving problems or meeting marketing needs, so always be clear on the problem you’re trying to solve and how you plan to solve that problem better than anyone else.
What’s going to make people want to come to you for advice or for your service? It’s about being clear on what you’re offering and that your values align with your potential client/customer base. Once you know what your value proposition is, then you can build all your processes that will run your business, around your central focus idea. Everything from that just flows; your recruitment process, your marketing – everything. Having that core concept of knowing what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and where you’re going with it – is key.
Having a point of difference and truly understanding what you can offer, is essential, and consistently communicate that point. Your business is not about appealing to the masses, you’ve got to do things your way. I notice a lot of new business owners take everything that comes through the door, but that doesn’t help you to grow – it just confuses your idea.
Sensible – yet we don’t always see it in practice. As they say, Jack of all trades, master of none! On a different note, what is the greatest challenge you believe young professionals have in the workplace?
Having to establish oneself with a certain level of credibility in order to be respected. Coming out of university with a degree and a lot of knowledge is great, but it’s how that knowledge ultimately gets applied in a commercial sense that will be the true test of how valuable that knowledge is. Clients don’t care how smart you are or if you got a distinction average, they want to know you can help them solve their problems.
Very true, what assists in overcoming this challenge? Do you think it’s a gender issue?
Working in an environment where the corporate values align with your own values and they value your contribution helps.
It’s also crucial to be authentic – you don’t have to be in the top position to do that. Every individual – male or female has the power to be authentic, to add a different voice to the conversation. Take the gender issue away, by focusing on what the industry is trying to achieve. We make it into a gender issue when it should be about the individual’s ability and achieving goals. What can that person achieve? What can they bring? What skills do they have? How does having them on the team, make the team stronger?
You’re right, overcoming judgement and natural bias is really the greater challenge. Women are equally as guilty of it as men – I have clients that won’t treat a female solicitor with the same respect they’ll treat a male.
What strategies have you found to be effective when dealing with workplace conflict?
When issue starts to arise, address it immediately. We need to go back to a place where if something is not correct or is uncomfortable, we raise it instantly. Creating a culture of open dialogue, and making it clear that it’s ok to challenge the status quo is important. As well as this, creating a process that enables colleagues to air their problems so it can be dealt with is an environment that harnesses dispute resolution. Although that being said, whilst everyone’s opinion does need to be heard, it doesn’t mean they’ll get there own way.
What advice would you give to young professionals who feel stagnant within their careers?
Develop connections with as many people who are different from them as possible, Linked In is a great non-threatening way to do that. Understand what it’s like to live life as an architect, a sales person, an industrial designer. Go beyond the comfortable zone of what and who you know. Read, get involved in different groups, study, explore a passion. You never know where inspiration comes from of what circles those people travel in. A job requiring legal skills may be lurking in an industry or company that you didn’t even know existed.
To change track slightly… Imagine it’s 2039, and the world has frozen over. Fortunately, you were in hibernation during this period, and blissfully unaware that an ice age had occurred. As the lone survivor of the corporate world, you have the opportunity to deliver a speech from the top of the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben to the remaining citizens of England and France (for the purposes of this question, ignore the geographical challenges of traveling over solid ice between the two landmarks). What would your speech topic be, and what message would you deliver?
When you have knowledge, you’ll always eat. When you have a skill or a profession you’ll always be able to make money, build businesses, develop technologies, change your world, so invest in knowledge.
On a final note, what would be your recommended read to gain good workplace focus?
Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers, by Lois P. Frankel is a great read for all young professional women hungry for career progression.
If you’d like to find out more about Teddington Legal, visit http://teddingtonlegal.com.au/