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The chambers practice that just keeps growing

Davie Beattie
Solicitor David Beattie had an ulterior motive for setting up the Clarence Professional Group some 20 + years ago. He was going from a big firm to sole practice but he didn’t think he would cope well with the downsides of life in a small firm: things like the lack of colleagues to bounce ideas off, the inability to take a day off and even the downright loneliness.

David’s solution was to take the concept of barristers’ chambers and apply it to the world of solicitors, giving small firm lawyers the chance to share costs and information and work in a collegiate atmosphere. We asked him some questions.

Why did you start the Clarence Professional Group, now known as Clarence?

For many years I was a partner in a large city firm. When I retired from that firm, I wanted to practise as a sole practitioner, not in a small office on my own but in a larger office environment in the company of other lawyers and professionals.

The Clarence Professional Group started in 1993 with two solicitors, one financial planner and one business consultant. Now we have over 120 solicitors, 10 financial planners, seven accountants and 100 other Professionals. About a third of those practise in serviced offices and the remainder practice from home as “Virtuals”.

How does it work?

Members who take out a serviced office pay a licence fee which covers shared costs including receptionists, furniture, kitchen facilities, electricity, cleaning and air conditioning. This keeps the administration costs of running a small practice to a minimum. In addition, solicitors can also share the costs of DX facilities, a Lexis Nexis subscription and CLE seminars.

We also offer meeting rooms, photocopiers, secretarial services, bookkeeping and IT services at reasonable rates.

Is this a trend that has already taken off in other parts of the world?

Not that I’m aware of. There are several online legal service businesses which provide legal advice through lawyers, as well as precedents. Also, there are several businesses which provide lawyers to work in-house.

Are non-legal businesses welcome?

Absolutely, any professional entity is welcome. We have 5 floors in Sydney and the majority of Solicitors congregate on levels 8 and 10 with the others being a mix of Professionals, including lawyers, financial consultants, executive search, stockbrokers and property consultants.

Lawyers often tend to treat other lawyers as competitors. Do you find that this competitive outlook evaporates or intensifies when solicitors are working in close proximity?

There is no competition between the lawyers in our chambers. On the contrary, there is a collegiate atmosphere where we all try to help each other with advice and precedents. There is a lot of referral of matters between solicitors and also from non-solicitors to solicitors. Informal arrangements are often made between solicitors, where the solicitor may be absent from the office on holidays or on sick leave.

Do you find that you get a good mix of lawyers, specialising in different areas? Or is it like some barristers’ chambers where a floor can become known for specialising in one or two areas?

We have a good mix and have lawyers who practice in property law, commercial law, family law, employment law, commercial and civil litigation, liquor licensing, probate and wills, environmental law and criminal law.

What has the take up rate been like?

The take up rate has been quite steady over the years. Most solicitors who have joined our chambers practice have stayed on until retirement.
We believe that a chambers practice provides all the benefits of a large legal firm with none of the disadvantages. There is no office politics as each solicitor has their own practice and is only concerned with looking after the needs of their own clients.

Is this a model that would only suit sole practitioners? Do you find that multi-partner firms are also moving into chambers practices also?

Working in a chambers practice is best for one- or two-partner firms. However, we have had demand for space and services with10 or more people, which we can also accommodate.

Contact Jennifer Miller on 02 8215 1537 for further information about Clarence Serviced Office, Virtual Office or Clarence Chambers.

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