30/10/2013 - 14:49

Hotchkin Hanly works old school

30/10/2013 - 14:49

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The former chief executive of law firm Talbot Olivier has questioned the corporatised business model adopted by his old employer, after taking up a new role at Hotchkin Hanly.

Hotchkin Hanly works old school
NEW MODEL: New colleagues Mark Hemery (left) and Michael Hotchkin are critics of corporatised law firms. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The former chief executive of law firm Talbot Olivier has questioned the corporatised business model adopted by his old employer, after taking up a new role at Hotchkin Hanly.

Mark Hemery was among three principals and a dozen staff who left Talbot Olivier in the middle of the year, soon after it changed its name to Rockwell Olivier.

He starts his new role next week at a firm that is determined to differentiate its key practices from those of its competitors.

“We don’t have budgets and none of our staff have targets,” Hotchkin Hanly co-founder Michael Hotchkin told Business News.

“We just take the view that you do the work as quickly and efficiently as you can to achieve what the clients need, and the rest will follow.”

Mr Hemery said he was uncomfortable with the changes at Rockwell Olivier, which is owned by ASX-listed company ILH Group Holdings.

“The changing business structure that the old firm went through affected the culture of the place, and ultimately in a way that I wasn’t comfortable with,” he said.

“The business model does change the imperatives.”

Mr Hemery said the original expectation, when the partners at Talbot Olivier voted to join ILH, was that the firm would retain its branding and autonomy.

It was also anticipated that ILH would make further acquisitions to bolster the scale of its business.

“Ultimately the commercial reality was that the opportunity for acquisitions was much less than had been expected,” Mr Hemery said.

That led to the change of strategy last year, when it was decided to co-brand Talbot Olivier along with Sydney-based Argyle Lawyers and Melbourne-based Rockwell Bates.

He believes one of the fundamental issues at corporatised law firms is their focus on quantitative performance metrics, which leaves little room for subjective, qualitative assessments.

“The role of partners is to build positive relationships with their fellow partners and clients and nurture junior lawyers,” Mr Hemery told Business News.

“Those three things were achieved more often under the traditional model.”

Other departures from Rockwell Olivier this year included its insurance principal Roger Sands, who moved with his team to Sparke Helmore.

In addition, Jarrod Ryan has recently been appointed partner of Murfett Legal’s hospitality and liquor licensing practice and Rob Durey is now running Murfett’s estate planning group.

ILH chief executive Graeme Fowler, who announced in July that the company was diversifying into wealth management, said the rash of exits didn’t overly concern him.

For his part, Mr Hemery said he was looking forward to being part of a traditional legal practice such as Hotchkin Hanly.

He moved to Talbot Olivier after leaving Mallesons Stephen Jaques (now King & Wood Mallesons), where he had been a partner in the Melbourne office.

“I decided at that time I wanted to get out of the big corporate machine.”

Mr Hemery will be one of six equity partners at Hotchkin Hanly, whose founding partners (including Mr Hotchkin) left national firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

“I didn’t like the corporatised model then … I didn’t want to be told what to do, or competing with my colleagues for the pie,” Mr Hotchkin said.

Rather, he preferred the collegiate style of Corrs’ predecessor firm, Keall Brinsden.

“That was what I tried to recreate in setting up my own firm,” Mr Hotchkin said, adding that he believes the corporatised model adopted by most of the bigger law firms is deeply flawed.

“The problem with a corporatised model … is that the incentive becomes a personal need to compete with everyone else in the firm.

“Instead of working together with a client, you are now competing with everyone else in the firm.”

He believes the focus on billing leads to a lot of ‘wheel spinning’, creating the incentive for people to look for things to do, rather than doing things that need to be done.

“That’s the fundamental disconnect and why the profession can be undermined by a corporatised model,” Mr Hotchkin said.

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