Sarah Bartholomeusz is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in South Australia, an author and founder and CEO of You Legal, a concierge legal service providing tailored legal support to established and growing companies including ASX-listed companies, private equity owned multi-nationals and government organizations. We asked Sarah what inspired her unique take on providing legal services. Here's what she shared.
It's fascinating to learn why and how entrepreneurs are inspired with great ideas to start their businesses. Some see a problem they want to solve, others are struck with a eureka moment while washing the dishes, and still others classify themselves as accidental entrepreneurs who never saw their business success coming. I fall somewhere in the middle of those three. When I first started my own firm in 2013, there was just one lawyer―me―and one foundation client.
A few months before, I stood on the 34th floor of an office building overlooking Sydney Harbor holding a multi-million-dollar check. It wasn't mine; I had been tasked with selling one of my employer's non-core assets, and this was the result. As I handed it over, I realized two things: I was out of a job, and I needed to find a new way of working.
At the time, I was seven months pregnant with my second child, and my father had just been diagnosed with cancer. It wasn't an ideal time to be out of work, but it was the push I needed to create something that would address my need for work-life balance and also the needs that I perceived in corporate law. The traditional model of law meant working extremely long hours: At any given time, one in three lawyers are suffering from stress, high anxiety or depression. At the same time, clients don't always feel as though they've received a good value for the legal services they purchase.
With these problems in mind, I founded my firm with the purpose of creating the law firm of the future, one that clients loved to work with and lawyers loved to work for. A bonus? I could work from home!
At the core of it, I didn't want to just survive this period of stress and uncertainty; I wanted to thrive because of it.
The Virtual Difference
I had taken note of how technology could drive efficiency and could reduce costs. So from the start, we functioned as a virtual law firm―clients can access our services wherever and whenever they want.
Without the overhead of a brick-and-mortar practice, time and money go toward hiring qualified staff across a huge range of specialties. Our model attracts clients who seek:
- in-house counsel experience without the full-time lawyer price;
- a lawyer with a specific skill set; or
- additional support for in-house teams and project-based work
Building a Community
This futuristic model proved successful. We've experienced growth of over 400% since we opened, and anticipate further growth of 200% in 2017. I believe that a huge part of our success is having built a strong team of dreamers and doers who share and contribute to the firm's vision and values.
When I think of how people engage with an idea, I'm reminded of a family stopover in Dubai on the way home from a friend's wedding in Europe. Though it was 40°C (104°F) at 11 p.m., everyone in the airport was dressed for autumn weather in coats and scarves. We were all tired, hot and listless.
All of a sudden, on the quiet bus, a voice started singing, If You're Happy and You Know It. It was my son, Alex, three years old and bored. Within moments, someone else joined in and the two of them were singing and clapping together. Then another, and another. By the time he reached the last chorus, the whole bus was singing and clapping along. The mood was transformed.
In a similar way, my company found its niche for both lawyers and clients. Now operating as a team of more than 20 experts across Australia and five other countries, we grew from one person singing to a whole busload of people singing and clapping along.
Adaptation and Growth
The firm grew out of a need to address personal adversity, but it has developed into a way of working that provides both professional and personal freedom. In the process, I've been constantly inspired by the entrepreneurs around me to seek new ways to exchange ideas.
Last year, for example, what started as an innocent interest in the business models of drug lords turned into my second book, exploring what mainstream businesses can learn about risk and policy from the illegal, deviant businesses of Pablo Escobar, Frank Lucas and other kingpins. Deviance―a concept that many entrepreneurs are familiar with―is the concept upon which I founded my company.
Four years ago, I was faced with a situation that didn't seem to have a solution, and I found that I had the ability to create my own. The mindset of creation, change and deviance empowered me to propel myself―and the legal community―into a bright, bright future!
So, what deviation will you leverage to transform your industry?