Hi Sarah, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember. At school, reading and books and learning and arguing were my sustenance!  After attending the University of Adelaide Law School I started working for a boutique commercial law firm prior to being headhunted by (at the time) Thomson Playford Lawyers. Subsequently I moved into various in-house roles with some of South Australia’s biggest companies.  You could say everything was going to plan. Then, when I was 7 months pregnant with my second child, the plan was seriously derailed.  I was made redundant.

With perhaps a slight lack of conviction, but no loss of enthusiasm I started looking for another job in an economic climate that was less than favourable. However, in the meantime I started working for one client as a consulting lawyer. The hours were flexible to meet their fluctuating demand but the work was still engaging, satisfyingly challenging and fulfilling. It was a defining moment, I realised that I wanted to create a law firm that lawyers loved working for AND clients loved working with.

There is a huge number of talented lawyers out there who, for one reason or another, do not want to work in the traditional model but also don’t want to sacrifice quality of work. I wanted to tap into that potential by creating a new model that would also be beneficial to clients. You Legal was born on 1 July 2014.  Since then, it has grown exponentially.

 

What makes You Legal unique?

After over a decade in private law firms and in-house roles I had front row exposure to the shortcomings inherent to the traditional model. Firstly, they are stifled by massive overheads, especially when it comes to rent and staff. Secondly, or maybe consequently, this heavy burden limited their ability to respond promptly to changes in the market, in technology or even in client demand.

With You Legal, I wanted to transform, for the better, the way legal services were delivered to clients, by removing or at least minimising these two components. For lawyers, I wanted to transform their experience of being a lawyer for a quality law firm with interesting clients.

So at You Legal, there is no fancy offices, no employees, no budgets, and no costs of training junior lawyers.  This means more cost effective services for clients and greater flexibility and work life balance.

 

 

Do you outsource at You Legal?

Our lawyers work remotely, and while all are top tier trained in Australia, they are scattered around the globe; we have lawyers all around Australia, in the Netherlands, in Oman, we even had one who was in Poland for a while – but now she’s back in Australia.  While for lawyers this is part of the beauty of You Legal, there’s also a benefit to clients because we essentially have a night shift. This means faster turn-around times and better service.

For non-legal work we frequently check out freelancing sites for talented people with the skills to assist us on our journey.

 

You recently won the 2015 Telstra Business Women’s Award in the Start Up Category. What did you attribute your success to?

Growth and Innovation. We just grew so quickly. Within our first two years we have grown from just me to a team of nearly 20 that helped over 200 clients.

 

Trust your gut and back yourself.  Making decisions as an entrepreneur can be difficult but only you know the best way forward.  There is no time for self-doubt.

 

Law firms, by the very nature of the work, are convention and tradition bound. While there are some new business models slowly emerging, I think it’s still exciting and intriguing to see something different in the legal space.

Additionally, it was a good story, and we shouldn’t forget the power of storytelling in business.  Everyone encounters adversity in their lives, and a story of not only overcoming it, but ending somewhere better is timelessly compelling.

What does the future hold for You Legal?

More growth. The model is proving very successful and we’re considering rolling it out to other services such as financial services or maybe migration.

Productising services to make them more efficient and cost effective for our clients is important to us, we have already done so with one service, Growth Shield, and are looking for more.

 

What inspired you to start your business?

Necessity is the mother of invention. I had too much work to do myself and I saw an opportunity to get other people working in a way that would work for their lives as well as our clients.

What are some of the most important things one has to focus on in order to run a successful business?

Sometimes entrepreneurs forget the basics, if you’re not selling anything, you are not running a business. Work out if you have something that people want to buy and if you do, and people buy it, then you have a business.  I’m really passionate about this topic because I think a lot of people waste a lot of time trying to sell a product that people don’t need.

 

Does one need to develop a product or service before asking for feedback?

Traditionally, lawyers have liked to talk and to tell. What I have learned through working in-house at some of Australia’s largest corporations is that we add far more value when we listen. Through You Legal I have been able to invest in and build out a listening infrastructure that allows us to learn more about the needs of our clients in a week than most traditional firms know after many years. Expert advice from our top tier team comes from combining their world class knowledge with our company’s culture and systems of world class listening.

 

When you don’t have the product or service, does it hinder your selling ability?

It depends on what it is. When pitching a service or product that you don’t yet have  you should know that you can deliver it, your capability to do it within specific time frames and be able to modify expectations as you go along. If you do this well, you can sell it before it is developed.

Recently you spoke at TEDx in the Whitsundays about ‘Possibilizing’, what does this term mean?

I was asked to speak at TEDx in May – the team asked me to speak about ‘How to turn a no into a yes’ – so I came up with a new concept – ‘Possibilizing!’  It means taking that which is considered impossible and making it possible.  I’ll send you a link to the talk when it’s available on the TED website.

Briefly, there are 3 steps to Possibilizing.

The first step is to understand what your idea is like. For example, You Legal is like Apple’s genius bar but for businesses that need a lawyer.  Airbnb is like lastminute.com but for people who want to stay in homes, not hotel rooms.

Step 2 is to create a language for your idea.  It is getting people to used to that language because it make them feel that your idea is real and possible.  The name of my firm,  You Legal is unique because my firm isn’t named after me (like many other law firms) – its named after our clients!

The final step is to engage others; an idea on its own is just an idea, but an idea shared by others is a movement.  With You Legal I wanted lawyers to be able to work in a certain way – so I needed to engage lawyers to see if they wanted to work that way and for clients, I wanted them to see the value in that proposition.

If you’re not selling anything, you are not running a business. Work out if you have something that people want to buy and if you do, and they buy it, then you have a business.

When a new idea is being introduced to a market that is resistant to change, what should be done?

This is exactly what I covered in the final step of my TEDx talk, engaging others in the most important part of this change process and in fact, any transformative process.

Have you seen the You Tube video called “Leadership from a Dancing Guy”?  It starts with a crazy guy dancing on his own, then someone else joins him, then someone else and then someone else and soon there is a whole dance floor, with everyone dancing together.

That is also how people engage with ideas.

Initially slowly and then it’s like an avalanche.

Essentially it is perseverance, if you have a good idea and have done your research well, just keep going and engage the community you need to engage.

 

For people wanting to start a business at a very young age, what advice would you give to them?

So much of being successful in business is in your mind. What I have learned in the past few years is that you can do anything you set your mind to, and that setting your mind to something is a considerable task that requires daily focus.  In November 2015 I published my first book my first book “How to Avoid a Fall from Grace: Legal Lessons for Directors,” a guide for Australian company directors at all stages of their career.  After its release it was ranked as a #1 best seller on Amazon, before this happened I would have seen me writing a book while running a fast growth company and being a great mum as IMPOSSIBLE. I am in the process of writing my second book, “Kingpin: Legal Lessons from the Underworld,” which will release before the close of 2016.

By thinking objectively, planning to achieve specific goals and taking immediate action I am able to make the impossible seem effortless.

Make no mistake. I’m working hard. But so are lots of people.

But every single action I take moves me directly toward my goal. That is what makes the difference.

If you can travel back in time, let’s say 10 years back, what advice would you give your former self?

Trust your gut and back yourself.  Making decisions as an entrepreneur can be difficult but only you know the best way forward.  There is no time for self-doubt.

 

What else do you do besides running your own business?

I am an author. Back when I started my firm, a lot of my commercial clients asked me what their duties were as company or not for profit director. The answer is  not as easy as shooting off a  2 page memo so I wrote a 30,000 word book titled ‘How to Avoid a Fall from Grace: Legal Lessons for Directors‘, and published it in November last year.

I’m pretty sure I swore “never again” after it was finished, but here I am, somehow writing a second book that I am extremely excited about.  It is about drug dealers and the legal lessons that we can learn from them, or more specifically the way they ran their businesses.

 

To find out more about Sarah’s start up You Legal, visit the website at http://youlegal.com.au/