Working long hours and accounting for every minute, lawyers can literally feel their lives ticking away, hour by billable hour.
One local lawyer not only realised there had to be a better way – she went ahead and built it.
Claudia King remembers working 90 hour weeks as a law firm owner. Her career took off fast, and she was a partner at Dennis King Law by the time she turned 27. It was a rare achievement, but it was exhausting.
“It takes years to build a strong client base. I was working long hours doing networking and relationship building work, legal work and running the firm, and I burned out. I was miserable, and I decided there must be a better way.”
So Claudia and her dad Dennis pioneered Legal Beagle, a first of its kind online legal service in New Zealand for first home buyers. They developed their own software and put it on their website so clients from all over New Zealand could access it. It took off – they helped more than 4,000 clients in just three years.
“It made legal services clearer and more empowering and convenient. Online legal services are scalable, so they don’t rely on the lawyer delivering all the service. Lawyers can use automation, systems and other team members to deliver a legal service to a client without having to be constantly involved.
“It turned into an exciting new opportunity to build our software for other law firms, because no one else in the legal space in New Zealand was doing anything to challenge the traditional law firm model. So I sold the firm and launched Automio in July 2017.”
Automio is a software and coaching business for law firms, with real benefits for law firms’ clients as well. People can get their legal work done online through their law firm’s website and don’t have to go to their lawyer’s office.
“Legal services are often delivered in a way that isn’t particularly client focused. The experience could be a lot better by proactively explaining things to clients in plain language so they actually understand what’s going on.”
Claudia took another major step on her journey last month, rebranding Automio to become Firmsy.
“The company has changed a lot since we started four and a half years ago. We’re less New Zealand focused than we used to be, with 70% of our customers being based in Australia. Our customer base is also 70% female and we’ve niched down to focus on small firms whose partners and directors are ambitious and innovative.
“The Firmsy brand really appeals to them better; it’s fun and vibrant and it does things differently.”
To get the company to where it is now, Claudia has raised capital from investors, many of which are from Taranaki.
“Taking a software product to the world is super challenging and expensive, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without the support of our investors, including a good number of Taranaki-based investors who continue to support our journey”.
Claudia believes sharing her bold ambitions keeps her accountable to them. Firmsy’s mission is “to help 1 million lawyers build their dream law firm, so together we can revolutionise the legal industry.”
Software and technology plays a key role, but it’s not just about that. Claudia believes digital marketing, people and processes are all critical.
“My vision is to create a world where lawyers love their work, clients love their lawyers and lawyers love to collaborate with each other.”
“Lawyers can feel miserable and overwhelmed, because most legal work is still done in a traditional, hands-on way and it just stresses them out. For clients, we’ve all heard cliché lawyer jokes about them being ambulance chasers and sending big bills…these jokes exist because lawyers often aren’t that well liked. But how can we create a new world where lawyers are really well respected and loved because they add so much value to their clients’ lives?
“Then with collaboration, for some reason lawyers don’t like to share intellectual property, and as a result client care suffers. Access to justice suffers because there isn’t more of an environment of sharing and learning from each other to do things better.”
It’s a radical change to the status quo, but it’s gaining traction. Firmsy is working with hundreds of law firms, mostly in New Zealand and Australia, but others in places like Canada and Saudi Arabia. The Covid pandemic hasn’t been kind to many people, but Claudia says it’s helped her.
“Before, it was like trying to tell millionaires their business model was broken. But once lawyers couldn’t sit in their office anymore, they started to see that delivering a legal service online is beneficial. The conversation has changed a lot.”
Claudia believes it takes bold, ambitious and entrepreneurial lawyers to challenge the centuries-old legal patriarchy and drive the systemic revolution it needs. Firmsy itself displays that boldness with vibrant shocks of pink and orange colours. The website talks about being juicy, fierce and free.
She knows putting yourself out there won’t always be for everyone, but believes it’s what it takes to build a successful, thriving brand.
“It can be really scary to go against the grain, but when I look at our most successful law firm customers, it’s because they have the courage to stand up and tell people about what they’re doing online with a strong message.”
For her, Firmsy is the perfect vehicle for that message.