July 18 2022

A Conversation With... Simon and Paul Nunan

Why don't we start with how two brothers became lawyers and why they decided to start their own firm? Simon:  While Paul was studying, he would do summer clerks...

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LawMaster Marketing

Why don't we start with how two brothers became lawyers and why they decided to start their own firm?

Simon:  While Paul was studying, he would do summer clerkships with me. When he was admitted I said, "Well, half of this is yours now!" That was the best business decision I made because it meant I got a fantastic partner. We have been able to do much more together than we would have been able to do separately.

 

What's the story behind the name Eastern Bridge?

Simon: I had a lot of experience with New South Wales property law, particularly New South Wales property litigation, so we thought we would market ourselves as a firm in Melbourne offering Victorian and New South Wales property law services. And so Eastern Bridge is a name that has some themes around it, and the central theme was that connection to New South Wales.

Paul: We knew we didn't want a business name that that used our name. We know we won’t be around forever and don’t want to build goodwill in a brand that is tied with our name.

 

Your team has grown substantially. 

Paul: Well there's 18 of us now. So, it has grown but we are still a small team.

 

You have worked together for so many years now. How do you separate your business and personal life? Or is it all intertwined?

Simon: We don't really. It's never really been an issue. It is quite common if we're together on the weekend, we will talk about work if that's necessary, if there's something pressing or worrying us.

Paul: Or if there is something interesting to discuss. 

 

What sort of marketing tools do you use for your firm, aside from your website?

Simon: The articles on our website primarily relate to leasing. Most of them are written by Paul, who is one of only a handful of accredited specialist commercial leasing lawyers in the state. There's been a lot of change over the last couple of years in terms of our leasing rules and regulations. Our articles relating to, for example, the commercial tenancy relief scheme were published as soon as the scheme was announced. So, the website might not be the flashiest of websites, but it does have a decent following.

Paul: When we started, our website was really just an online business card. The website was basically a black screen with our name, address, and phone number. We did put our details in the Yellow Pages, but then somebody called us and said, "I found your Yellow Pages ad,". We called the Yellow Pages that same day and removed our listing because we've always wanted our clients to come to us because someone has referred us to them, not because they've found us online.

 

So 'word of mouth referrals' is your preferred marketing strategy?

Simon: It's very much our preference to work with clients who have been referred to us by people we know and trust. Whereas if somebody's just contacted you out of the Yellow Pages, or they've come in off the street, you don't know anything about that person.

 

You started your firm in 2009. Is that when you began using LawMaster at Eastern Bridge? What was your decision-making process at that time?

Simon: At that time, we had the luxury of starting fresh. We reviewed, as best we could, all of the legal practice management software available to us within the Australian market, and we selected LawMaster as the best. 

Paul: We were determined to be paperless, which is a bit of a misnomer because we do often print contracts and documents to make them easier to work with, but our use of paper is enormously reduced from old-fashioned systems. We don't retain paper files. And we were determined to choose a system that would allow us to grow and that provided a comprehensive set of solutions in office accounting, trust accounting, file management, document preparation, time recording and all that.

 

How do you initiate ideas and rollout change within your firm?

Paul: We are always talking and planning but we have formal meetings with our business manager each Friday morning. At the moment there are a few ideas that we're pursuing. It's been a busy year so far. 

When an opportunity arises or an idea crystallises it's added to the management agenda and the discipline of working with our business manager provides structure to our process.

 

We've just been through two years of COVID. Did it fast track or derail any plans that you had for the firm? 

Paul: In January 2020, we leased premises in the city with the idea that that would be an excellent way to expand and attract staff and potentially attract clients by having a CBD presence, then two months later, of course, we shut that down when Covid hit.

But this was an extremely valuable exercise for us. For 13 years we have operated in a remote terminal computing environment, so we've always been able to work from wherever we are. Simon and I would often work from home, particularly in the evenings. But we had not physically equipped our team to work from home. Setting up the CBD office required us to equip everyone for remote working. In March 2020 we shut down our main office ahead of any government mandate. 

Simon: At that stage we were in a good spot with our systems.

Paul: On COVID the timing also worked well, from my perspective, because I was accredited as a specialist in leasing in October 2019. Then, all of a sudden, leasing became interesting for the first time in history, because of all the new COVID rules. I was able to help with that.

Simon: We were lucky we were able to trade through Covid. But we were very worried for our team at the outset, like everybody else was.

 

How has LawMaster helped the firm over the last few years?

Simon: It's helped enormously. We couldn't do what we do without excellent practice management software.

 

Do you have any other strategies for growth?

Simon: We've been growing because we're busy. We're not motivated by growth. And in fact, there's some hesitancy around it.

We acquired a firm in 2016 and we will again this year, but in these cases the vendors were approaching retirement age, and we have been motivated by wanting to help them, as much as anything else. From the retiring practitioners’ point of view, they want to know their clients will be looked after. So, it's not all about growth, but we don't mind a challenge. 

Paul:  A little while ago, neither of us could take a holiday because there just weren't enough people to get things done. So, there has been a desire to get growth to a point that would let us have a break occasionally. 

 

Do you have any advice for firms that are looking to grow their practice?

Simon: LawMaster!

Paul: It's more difficult to go from two heads to four heads than it has been going from ten to twenty. Much more difficult. Because you don't have any margin for error when you're small, when you hire somebody, when it's just the two of you, and it doesn't work out, it's a real setback. It takes a lot of time in terms of training and money. Once you've got a good team around you, it takes the pressure off. We can all help with the training, and there's more resources available if things go wrong. I think people shouldn't undervalue specialist recruitment services, they are expensive, but you need to recognise that you can't be good at everything and recruitment is a skill. There's a firm we use for our professional recruitment, and there's a firm that we use for our administrative recruitment. And that's been a big help to us.

 

What would you like to do more of or less of in the next 12 to 24 months? 

Simon: More time off! After the two years we've had, I think that's all we would say on that front. 

 

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