Funtime law firm retains staff

Being artsy and flexible

By Chris Merritt

When Curwoods Lawyers asked its staff what they thought of the business, someone replied that it was not like working at a law firm.

Managing partner Scott Kennedy took that as a compliment.

It was proof Mr Kennedy and his team had succeeded in creating a firm that was family-friendly, artsy, heavily female, flexible and just a little eccentric.

Instead of cracking the whip over their lawyers, Mr Kennedy said his firm decided five years ago it wanted to be different.

In percentage terms, this Sydney insurance practice is now the fastest-growing employer among the nation’s 35 leading firms.

But the bottom line, while still important, is not the main game at Curwoods.

"We are definitely efficient, but it’s an interesting practice," Mr Kennedy said.

"We have fun with it. We are not focused on maximising return.

"It gets back to a question of culture. You can have a culture where you flog your staff to death to maximise revenues, but we formed a view that that would not be a sustainable approach in the long term."

The goal was to achieve a culture in which lawyers would actually enjoy coming to work. The firm’s very high staff retention rate of 87 per cent suggests this goal might have been achieved.

In order to keep its lawyers stimulated, Curwoods has an artist in residence program in which it provides studio space for an artist, conducts an exhibition of the artist’s work and — as a byproduct — also runs kids’ days in which lawyers’ children come in and learn how to paint.

"It sounds a bit trite, but we created a culture in which people want to work and don’t want to leave," Mr Kennedy said.

The firm has just spent eight months upgrading its computer hardware to make it easier for staff to work remotely from home.

"This really applies to our female staff who go off on maternity leave, then usually come back a couple of days a week and are happy to work from home a couple of days a week as well," Mr Kennedy said.

"We also accommodate eccentricities — that is probably putting it too high. But we do have a number of people who are excellent lawyers but would not get on in a big firm. We see them as having huge value for our practice.

"Their eccentricities add to the character of the place."

On the business side of things, Mr Kennedy said most of the firm’s growth was coming from its insurance practice.

"That’s our core business and when a lot of other firms got rid of their insurance practices, we saw that as an opportunity," he said.

Curwoods’ key indicators

2009 financial year: 11%
2010 financial year: 22%

Commercial and Property: 20%
Construction and professional indemnity: 42%
Compulsory third party: 24%
Employers liability and latent diseases: 21.5%
Public Liability: 16%

Females total: 72%
Professional females: 52%
Part-time professionals: 19%
Part time support staff: 35%
Total part-time staff: 27%

Article from The Australian, July 2, 2010.

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