In such a traditional industry like the law, it’s often an uphill battle to think outside the square. But when Managing Partner Michael Bradley and colleagues decided to build their own firm in 2008, they knew exactly which rules to break.
There’s a distinct difference in the way Sydney firm Marque Lawyers do business. For one, their website is unlike the average law firm site – there’s a blog section where staff spin articles about subjects like Kanye West’s personalised shoes and the implications of that for copyright law. There’s also the page for new hires that insists applicants for a clerkship should replace their real name with a “non de plume, which is the name of a real or fictional person who you’d like to have over for dinner”. They’ve even asked for applications by way of diorama.
This all works to affirm just how different Marque is and examples of that are a lot broader than an amusing approach to recruitment – it’s a carefully disruptive approach to an archaic industry that Michael points out, was in desperate need of an overhaul.
The decision to create his own firm was born out of frustrations he shared with friends in the same field about the traditional way law firms seemed to be operating.
“We’d all had the same experience, we’d all come from bigger firms and so we shared the same frustrations and causes of unhappiness,” Michael explains to Collective Hub about his decision to start his own business. “We had identified what we thought was wrong with it and what we thought we could do about it.”
They created Marque Lawyers – a place where they would do three fundamental things differently.
“The first is, the way they charge, which is typically by the hour,” Michael explains, “We don’t do hourly charging, we don’t have timesheets and we don’t value we do in time terms. We price the value and internally we don’t work to timesheets or measure performance that way.
“[The] second part is, law firms traditionally run on an internally competitive model so each person’s value is measured in financial terms and they’re basically pitted against each other in competition for progression and status. That’s a very destructive way to run a business.”
So, Michael and his team decided to structure their new firm around the collective good of the business, specifically rewarding the team outlook rather than an interest in individual gain.
“The third, is really how lawyers see themselves and the way they communicate with the outside world which is again, a very traditionally alienating and inaccessible way, in terms of how they talk [and] the experience they create for clients. We chose to shift that around and expose ourselves as normal people, so in terms of how our website looks, how our office is fitted out, how we write, how we talk. Obviously, that enables us to create more real relationships with clients and with each other and it’s just a better way to be because it’s authentic.”
Authenticity was one thing Michael and his colleagues had locked down when they decided to open Marque – though admittedly, they had little else.
“You start with nothing – a client had some spare open plan office space and we were subletting off them and they sold us some really dodgy second hand computers. We plugged into their PABX and their Internet connection and dodgied up a letterhead,” Michael laughs. “I remember on the first day, proudly announcing to everyone that I’d printed our very first letter on our new letterhead and then realised I’d need an envelope and a stamp. I had to go to the stationery shop to buy some.”
With stationery supply issues solved, Michael and the Marque team now focus on frying bigger fish – dismantling traditional systems whenever they can. And it’s not just the legal industry that Michael thinks is behind the times.
Michael is also the Chairman of Conscious Capitalism Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that supports businesses to understand the advantage of wins in both the profit and social consciousness sectors and how to put them into practice in their own organisations.
“I got involved on the board and ended up chairing Conscious Capitalism because it’s completely aligned with the way we think. Our philosophical approach is completely aligned. It was really good to connect with it to start finding a network of other businesses and other people who think the same way. I think it’s a really important movement in the business world, I think there is a really desperate need to rethink capitalism and Conscious Capitalism is one platform of many for engaging that conversation and for pushing that agenda.”
Michael explains that for businesses looking to push a more socially conscious agenda, there’s two things that ultimately matter.
“[One]: until you’ve answered the question ‘why’, none of the other questions matter. The other is that, you will be told, in many different ways and by many different people why what you want to do can’t work and what I’d say about that is that the only thing there is to learn from conventional wisdom is nothing. It’s like that saying, ‘the people who change the world are the people who are crazy enough to think they can.’”