Even though she has been mentored for just a short time, Auckland lawyer Tracey Edmonds has found the initial stage of the process has been “fantastic”.
Ms Edmonds linked up with her mentor through Business Mentors New Zealand, as part of the New Zealand Law Society’s Practising Well initiative.
She had done a lot of research on the modern practice of law, and what she was interested in was a new model for a law firm. She wanted a practice with a point of difference. Ms Edmonds says she wanted to set up a firm that was truly client centric, not just paying lip service to that objective.
However, she found she was “in a little bit of unchartered territory businesswise”.
When she went into sole practice, she was “over the top of the law”, she says. But she wasn’t over the top of how to run a business “and a legal firm is a business like all others. I was interested in how to get the balance right.”
What she wanted was someone with completely practical business experience to look over her business plan and model, to provide an overview and to be a sounding board. That business experience is what a lot of new sole practitioners are missing and, after just a month and a half into the mentoring, she has found it invaluable.
“It is really about the business of law and that is something that is seriously missing from law school and even from continuing legal education,” she says.
“We all need to do the business on our business. I think there is a real gap in the market for that.”
In a bid to increase her knowledge of how to run a business, Ms Edmonds has attended generic business seminars through a number of professional associations. But because she wanted to get her business model right moving forward, she sought a mentor through Business Mentors New Zealand.
At first, Business Mentors gave her the name of a lawyer mentor. However, there were some reasons why she did not make that choice, including possible confidentiality issues.
The next referral was to Ken Williams, a retired Chartered Accountant. He is the mentor Ms Edmonds is now working with. He has had wide experience in both governance and management roles as well as owning and running different types of businesses. This includes working very early in his career in major firms such as NZI Trust, Fisher and Paykel Engineering. Mr Williams then spent over 30 years in public practice, both in medium size accounting firms and as a sole practitioner. He has owned and run commercial businesses and has been a board member of a number of entities with commercial activities.
“Initially I thought [my mentor] would have to be a lawyer. Even though it’s early in the process, I’ve found that in fact it’s probably better if they are not a lawyer.
“That way the focus is on the business side. After all being a sole practitioner is a business like anything else, except we sell the law and not wingnuts,” Ms Edmonds says.
After deciding on a possible mentor, “he came in and gave me an interview. We agreed what the limits and what the benefits of the relationship might be.
“What I like about working with Ken is that he’s so experienced and business savvy. He’s seen it all. I want to learn from his experience and preferably avoid mistakes on the way.
“It’s a really great system.
“I was able to say to Ken, here is my plan, here is my model. Is it going to be workable? Is it going to be sustainable? Because you have to get the structure right before you go too far.”
What her mentor contributed was “invaluable”, both for providing input based on his extensive business experience, and for her energy levels. “It has buoyed me a lot,” she says.
Even though it is only early days in the mentoring, so far it has been “a very positive experience,” she says. “I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes me.
“It is really reasonable too. There is, I think, a $150 registration fee [for up to two years of mentoring] and you can’t lose for that. It is a completely impartial voice that comes from experience. That is what new practitioners are missing and it’s invaluable. I think you need that objectivity,” Ms Edmonds says.
Lawyers who are interested in becoming a mentor or by being mentored can do so by registering their interest online at the Business Mentors New Zealand website, www.businessmentors.org.nz. Lawyers who have business clients may also, if their business clients may want or benefit from a mentor, refer their clients to the service Business Mentors provides.