Today we are going to be talking with Chris Thompson from Law Essentials in Hervey Bay.
Chris shares a wealth of experience in this interview ranging from his victories, to specific advice regarding staff management, morale and business systems. He also gives three golden pieces of advice for starting your own business.
In the interview, Chris mentions the design of the office, so I thought I would include a photo so you can see what it is like. it certainly is an open, inviting space!
If you have any questions or would like to comment on this episode, please use the comment form below.
Luke: Hello and welcome to Fraser Coast Insights, today I’m going to be interviewing Chris Thompson. Welcome to the show Chris!
Chris: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Tell me about your business, what is it that you do?
Chris: Well, we’re a law firm, been in operation in Hervey Bay since 2008 as Law Essentials, I’ve been a lawyer since 1997. Law Essentials practices in all areas of law except personal injuries so we can literally cover almost every problem that…or outcome that a person wants in law. We have a particular niche with Fisheries Law as well which is quite interesting itself, but certainly cover all aspects of law.
Is this your only career or is there something else that you’ve done in the past?
Chris: I did a commerce degree as well as law and I started off in commerce before taking on an actual law job, the only reason being I just wanted to give commerce a go first, I think it’s a great background to law and then I just really fell into the law and that’s been it ever since.
How did you get started in Law?
Chris: Ahh my older brother did law, so as far as that…gave me some interest at the start, I wasn’t smart enough to be a doctor… I wasn’t any good at maths, so law was it.
What is it that you enjoy most about law?
Chris: Oh I just enjoy the people contact, it’s always great to be able to get an outcome for somebody, or at least just help them along with a problem that they’re facing, it’s a real reward at the end of the day that you’ve made some sort of contribution and hopefully to sort it out…whatever a person wants.
What is your biggest challenge in this business?
Chris: The challenge is making sure that…that you do live up to your clients’ expectations, it’s quite a hard thing to manage at times. The art is to just constantly keep a client updated on where a particular matter is going and not assume that they know exactly what’s going on, you must keep reminding them because at the end of the…at the end of the day if you’re doing something like hitting a client up for a big bill where they thought initially it was going to be a really simple task and you haven’t explained why it’s extended out or whatever along the way then you’re going to have one unhappy client.
Have there been any mistakes that you’ve made that you’d be willing to share?
Chris: Probably on … well just on the cost issue. At times where you think you’ve adequately explained exactly what you’re going to do for a client, and it might be just in that first week or first couple of days it becomes apparent to you that you have to actually do a few more steps along the way to get that result that…that they’re wanting, and then there’s been times in the past where if you haven’t properly explained that and why let’s say it’s going to cost an extra few hundred dollars or whatever it might be, that that will always burn you because you’ll think back then when there is a complaint about “Why is this costing me this?” or “Why have you done this, that or the other?” that you just think back and think that “Well, I just didn’t educate the client well enough at the start.”
Are there any successes that you’re particularly proud of?
Chris: Oh plenty. I mentioned off air that we did a lot of Fisheries Law, so act for charter boats and all that sort of thing but are also commercial fishing, when they brought in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park re-zoning in 2004 our little firm acted for most of the participants that were claiming compensation. There was a payout by the Government in that Compensational Restructure Assistance, it was called, of just over 200 million dollars and our clients accounted for just over 100 million of that.
Luke: That’s enormous!
Chris: Yeah, so for a little firm in Hervey Bay and our Gympie office, that’s pretty big, obviously.
If you were to start your career all over again. is there anything that you would do differently?
Chris: I would have started something like Law Essentials a lot earlier rather than working for various people that I did, and, yeah, I would have liked to have started something like Law Essentials a lot earlier.
Why did you choose this area, the Fraser Coast as the base for your business?
Chris: Well, grew up in Rockhampton, I went to uni down the Gold Coast, my wife grew up in Brisbane, when we were…we didn’t want to work in or live in Brisbane, we didn’t want to live or work in Rockhampton, so it was either Hervey Bay or the Sunshine Coast, and just had great memories of Harvey Bay sort of growing up and we just said oh, it’s really going places as a city, and so we thought we’d get in here. So we’ve been here since 2002, and just havn’t looked back it’s a real growth area and going to be a fantastic place to be going forward.
What are the qualities in [local] businesses that really impress you?
Chris: Well I like the regional businesses and business owners are a lot… in a very general sense… a lot different to the big city people particularly I find with lawyers, it’s always often better dealing with the regional lawyers than with the big-city lawyers, it’s just often a perception thing with clients thinking that maybe a city lawyer is better than a country lawyer, but I don’t see how, cause they all done the same degree, they’re just paying more rent, but…but just that regional atmosphere with clients through the other professionals, you really see it in a small town like this, it’s very friendly and people are very accommodating.
Staff management and business experience
Luke: So just regarding a lot of the skills that you need to work and own and operate a business like this, there’s lots of other facets that come into it, not just law, for example there’s staff and office morale and other issues like that. How do you handle the staff for example…how do you handle keeping the staff motivated and selecting the right ones and managing them?
Chris: Well we’ve always worked off a…like a model of having proper vision and values for the firm and also incorporating basically communication skills, and really what’s that’s designed to be, rather than just oh, “Here’s a pro forma…” vision and values and whatever, it’s something that we really make sure we adhere to and anyone that works for us has to get on board with that sort of thing. And just to give you an example…it’s just really like a…it’s a no-brainer, it’s just people who want to work for us have to share our values, have to want to pitch in and help others, treat everyone with respect, all that sort of thing. With the communication-type rules, it’s just all about the classic, don’t criticize people via email, always say hello to people, always say goodbye to people, just very simple, but it works. And our attitude is that everyone no doubt would rather be doing something else everyday of the week, for example, I’ve been talking to you now, which is obviously fantastic, I’d rather be out fishing somewhere…
Luke: I don’t blame you.
Chris: …but I need to…need to come to work, so the same this applies on with the general staff that our view is that if we can have people driving into work thinking “Oh gee, I’d rather be doing something else but hey, I’ll have a good time while I’m at work”, then that’s the perfect thing to happen, and I think we’ve got that with our staff, everyone enjoys it, you see it in their performance that they’re just going that extra mile sort of thing to do good work for us, and that’s really appreciated. It doesn’t go unnoticed and we reward people for doing things like that. Just a simple case of just don’t take people for granted.
Do you have any advice for other businesses when they’re putting their systems in place?
Chris: Yeah, without a doubt, we run, as I mentioned…we have a kinky office in Hervey Bay, so that’s a classic case of you don’t really want to be reinventing the wheel at both sides. I started in the Hervey Bay office with Law Essentials or with its previous name for Law Essentials, just myself and a computer, I’d literally type out my own letters, print them, take the paper off and post it myself, so with a good system on a computer like a document-management type system, it allows you to just to…you don’t need the traditional typing pool and you don’t need the…just all these other things that are really…if you think about it, often just a waste of money. If you can be as self-sufficient as you can through using a system, that sort of thing, well it just cuts your costs just immensely then you can just run…basically running on a shoe-string, and that’s the way to do it. So if I just got someone…and I’ve got someone new out there right now…that when I started and they’re pretty green and need to learn a few things, but once they learn a computer system already with the systems in place, they can generate legal documents, do them up, all that sort of thing and then I’ll check them and what not, but they’re not just starting from scratch, it’s just inefficient to be doing any of that sort of thing.
Do you have any advice to other businesses that are looking to start up on the Fraser Coast?
Chris: Yeah the advice to other businesses starting up, just really if you need to hire staff or whatever, just don’t be desperate with your hiring of staff, you have to go through a process and make sure that you have got good staff, particularly the fact that one bad staff member employed might actually destroy what you’ve built with your existing staff members. So my view is if you need to make the call on somebody, whether they’re going to live happily ever after with your business that you need to make that call very early in the piece. Also there are plenty of people out there that will offer assistance or advice so don’t be afraid to ask for help, is a key thing, and the final thing is don’t be afraid to basically do it differently. I know from my own experience with Law Essentials that we’re not interested in just being just the typical same old law firm…cause the same with our design of the office here, and it’s not just that, it’s just the personalities, the way we dress…not the traditional way that a law firm might …operate, but who cares? Who said it had to be that way? We do it our way and we like it, we have fun, we’re good at what we do, so…back yourself and just do it the way you want to do it.
Luke: Well thank you very much, it’s been an excellent and insightful interview and I’m sure there’ll be a lot of people that will get a lot out of it. So thank you for being on the show.
Well I hope you enjoyed that edition of Fraser Coast Insights, if you enjoyed Chris’ interview, please share it with your friends via social media and also if you don’t want to miss the next interview be sure to subscribe in the sidebar. Have a great day and I look forward to seeing you next time.