Latest graduate lawyer statistics – yay!

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article summarising some of the statistics around law graduates’ opportunities to get into private practice.

Some updated figures have just been released as part of the Australian Financial Review’s semi-annual survey of law firms, and the results show some positive signs for those who graduated in 2015.

To quote the AFR’s article:

‘The number of graduate positions at the top law firms increased by a robust 8 per cent in the year ended June 2015’.

Calling an 8 per cent increase ‘robust’ shows just how bad things have been lately!

However, as I outlined in my last article on this issue, over-supply is still an issue as even an 8 per cent increase in the uptake of graduates will still mean that there are many more out there that still are unable to secure a role.

Oh, hey look, they have statistics on Senior Associates now, which was something that I couldn’t find in the last article I wrote on these results. Now, let’s see what is going on in the Senior Associate / Passed Over for Partnership group of lawyers.

The AFR results show that there was 2,731 Senior Associates in the 50 law firms surveyed in July 2015, and a 5% or so decline to 2,592 in January 2016.

Those that ceased being Senior Associates didn’t all get put up to partnership either, as the same AFR results show that there was 2,929 partners in the 50 law firms surveyed in July 2015, and a 1% or so decline to 2,887 partners in January 2016.

I should note that the above numbers are skewed as some firms that reported in July 2015 did not report in January 2016 – makes it hard to make meaningful conclusions. Apples with apples and all that jazz. More data required sorry.

HOWEVER, my thought is that some of the Senior Associates have moved into positions in their firms at the start of 2016 that are above the Senior Associate level, but not at the Partnership level. I know some firms have introduced roles such as ‘Directors’, or ‘Executive Counsel’, to go along with that weirdest of legal roles, the ‘Special Counsel’. I haven’t seen any data that suggests a huge exodus of Senior Associates to sole practice or in-house but will continue to look for data into this.

And to end, here is a photograph of a cute pug from behind, just to try and cheer everyone up a bit. Pugs always make me happier:

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Source for this article: http://www.afr.com/business/legal/the-secret-to-getting-a-graduate-job-at-a-top-tier-law-firm-20160126-gme3g7

 

 

 

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How a trip for milk gave me my legal mission for 2016

Thanks to a recent trip for some milk, I now know what I want to achieve professionally in 2016.

Some background.

I needed milk. Therefore, I decided to go to the store to get some. The store is approximately 2 and a half blocks from my home, along a main road and then a small plaza type area with some shops. Exciting stuff, isn’t it?

Then it happened. I am sure it has happened to you too. It has happened to everyone that lives near a shopping area, or works in a high pedestrian traffic area.

I ran into this guy.

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And then, just one block later, I saw these guys.

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AND THEN, perhaps 200 metres further along the road, this specimen decided to get right into my face. It is not clear in this photo, but she was actually chasing this guy for a good 100 metres.

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And guess what? Not one of them would take ‘no thanks’ for an answer when they asked if I wanted to hear about their particular cause or charity. Instead, they each launched into remarkably similar scripts. I was first asked how my day was going. The person would then proffer their hand for me to shake, as if we were old friends or business associates.

I had no idea where each of these peoples’ hands have been, or what else they have shaken, stroked or rubbed that day, so I did my best to politely decline each approach and move on with my quest for the milk.

But no, it wasn’t going to be that simple. As I continued to try and walk past these iPad-clasping, smiling, enthusiastic wastes of space, I was accused of ‘not caring about the children in Africa’, of not being smart enough to figure out on my own that $30 a month was ‘just a dollar a day, mate’, and being ‘too selfish to care about anyone else’.

Now, to be clear, I do care about all children regardless of their background, my maths isn’t the best but I can still do division if I have a pen and paper handy, and as for being selfish… well, that’s true but I don’t feel it was the place of these particular individuals to judge me on it.

I’ll put you out of your misery and tell you that yes, I did survive each encounter and yes, I did get milk. But then, on my way back, one of these zealots (my stalker mate above in the black shirt) tried to stop me again. Same exact person, same exact approach. I was in equal parts amazed at her persistence, and incredibly enraged down to the core of my soul by having my personal space invaded for a second time in 10 minutes.

I am sick of being hassled by these sorts of people in the street, of having to constantly keep an eye out for them in the Pitt Street Mall, of trying to dodge them or steer some poor person into their path to take one for the team.

This sort of in-your-face charitable soliciting must end, or at least there needs to be some sort of control or limits placed on it. I plan to spend a good part of 2016 trying to get something done so that I can safely walk to the store for milk without the frustration, interruption and criticism of street-based charity workers.

The first part of my mission is to get some background on this sort of fundraising, and the laws around it that are currently in place.

Street soliciting for charitable donations has a couple of different names. To stick to the generally used names, the people that do this stuff are:

  • face-to-face collectors;
  • F2F (face-to-face) charitable workers;
  • street solicitors (so many different ways to construe this one, each of which is correct); or
  • ‘chuggers’, which are charity muggers. I don’t mind this one. I think I’ll use it excessively in this post.

The law around charities and fundraising is governed by State and Territory law, rather than Federal or Commonwealth law, so for those of us in New South Wales we have to turn to the Charitable Fundraising Act 2001 (NSW) and the associated regulations.

This area of law is now overseen by the New South Wales Department of Fair Trading, although they don’t really seem to have that much to do given how weak and loose our law is in this area.

I had hoped that there would be something in the law that prevented chuggers from going too far, or being too demanding or pushy in their dealings with the public. At the very least, I was hoping there would be something in the law that said they can’t take advantage of those that might not understand what they are signing up for (like the very young or very old), or include regulations that prohibit behaviour like chasing people down the street or abusing them if they refuse to sign up to the charity.

Nope, nothing in the law about any of this. In fact, there is only one requirement for face-to-face charitable workers, in order for them to comply with the law.

Name badges.

Yes, they have to wear a name badge, and even this was seen as controversial when it was introduced to the regulations under the Act. Charities tried to argue that introducing a name badge requirement had the potential to impose an unfair financial burden on them, given all the printing and laminating costs.

I’m calling moo poo on that argument. How much does it cost to make a name badge?

Other than the name badge law, there is no express laws that set out what face-to-face charitable workers can and cannot do. Oh, sure, if they hit someone they are going to be charged with assault or battery, or if they steal money they’ll be charged with theft. I presume they could be done for fraud if they act all fraudy.

However, in terms of actual binding enforceable law, the current position is that so long as they are wearing their little name badge, they comply with the charity laws of New South Wales.

Pretty poor result, in my view. These workers are at their best annoying, and at their worst very confronting. They make me feel like my personal walking world has been invaded by a virus that has a clipboard or iPad, a poster of either a child or a small, helpless animal, and a level of enthusiasm for their task that would rival that shown by a puppy chasing another puppy and then the puppies getting into a wrestle and then sniffing each others’ nether regions.

Except the chuggers are much less adorable.

In the United Kingdom, they actually did something about chugging, as a direct response to the type of issues I’ve raised above (although the action groups that made submissions to the UK Government put their positions much more eloquently than I have).

The Public Fundraising Association in the UK was recently established with the stated aim of working with local Councils to set up co-regulatory voluntary agreements on the way in which face-to-face collectors are allowed to carry out their collection work in that local government area.

The way in which these agreements work is, truly, fascinating. Some highlights include:

  • each charity enters into a Site Management Agreement with the Council that sets out where the chuggers can work, and makes sure that there are not too many different groups of chuggers in a particular area;
  • limits on the days and times that chuggers can work – for example, they are generally not allowed to work on very busy times of day like the morning or afternoon peak times during the working week;
  • there are penalty provisions if a worker breaches the agreement or the Rules established by the Public Fundraising Association. For example, if a worker approaches someone who is seated, that’s a breach and the charity can be penalised. Following someone for more than 3 steps is a more serious breach with larger penalties. Penalties carry with them a certain point value depending on how serious the breach is, and once the charity hits 1,000 points, they are charged 1 pound per point; and
  • issuing a Rule Book that sets out the code of conduct to which charities that use face-to-face workers agree to comply. There is a specific set of rules for charity workers on the street, which focuses on areas of ‘Respect’, ‘Safety’ and ‘Information’. It makes it very clear that activities such as harassing individuals or deliberately targeting the vulnerable are not on, and result in serious penalties for the charity. The Public Fundraising Association monitors compliance through a ‘mystery shopper’ type arrangement, where members of the Association go deep under cover to see what the chuggers are up to.

 

I would LOVE to see a Rule Book or set of standards similar to that applied in the United Kingdom used here.

There has been some (very small) movement in the self-regulation area in Australia, with a number of major charities now signatories to the Public Funding Regulatory Association. This is a voluntary compliance system whereby members agree to follow the rules set down by this Association. To be fair, it does cover things like ensuring chuggers do not take advantage of the vulnerable, and minimise the nuisance they cause. But, perhaps because it has been written by the charities seeking to raise funds in this way, it is very high level compared to the rules in the UK, and there are nowhere near the same level of penalties for breaches. More work clearly needs to be done in this area, and I’d love to see an independent body responsible for these rules.

I believe that regulation in this area is lacking, and that there is sufficient evidence and precedent for New South Wales to lead the way in Australia in clarifying the way in which street collections for charities are conducted, and how they are not to be conducted.

Next step? I am not sure. Stern letter to Premier Baird perhaps? Or hit him up on his Facebook page maybe? Suggestions very welcome!

 

Private Practice to In-House: Comments from those that have done it

I started my legal career in the in-house team at a major bank as part of my graduate rotation, after initially working in their credit and risk teams. I found the legal work much more interesting and better suited to the way in which I think and work compared to the pure finance work. When my rotation came to an end and I couldn’t get an ongoing role in that legal team (they said it was due to a lack of resources to train juniors, rather than my performance, but they were nice people and could just have been protecting me from the cold hard truth of why I didn’t get a role), I ended up getting a job at a big law firm. Hello Clayton Utz, my old friend. Hope you’ve been well.

They’ve moved across the road now, but this building still haunts my dreams.

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I found the move to private practice from an in-house role to be… ‘different’ doesn’t quite capture the feeling I’m after. I’m sure there is a better way of saying the transition was ‘really pretty brutal and forced me to take a good long hard look at myself’, but I don’t have the vocabulary skills, unfortunately.

Suddenly everything was about billable hours, cost recovery and chasing bills, and being a revenue earner. This was very different from being seen as a cost centre for the rest of the bank which was the case when I was working in-house (that is, we got paid salaries but didn’t really charge the other parts of the bank for our work).

It was the 11th anniversary yesterday of me starting that in-house role, and it got me thinking about what the experience is like these days for lawyers who move from private practice to in-house roles. Are they happier? Do timesheets disappear? Are career prospects, pay, bonuses and perks better or at least more attainable?

Luckily I have some friends who have made this move and they were kind enough to share their thoughts on the subject. I will not identify people or firms for privacy reasons, but I can say that the 10 extracted comments below are reflective of the general view of those that responded to me.

Spoilers? They’re almost all happier, don’t do timesheets, get paid about the same, don’t get many (if any) perks, and are still very stressed about their career prospects. With thanks to all respondents, here is what these survivors / beautiful butterflies who have emerged from the chrysalis of law firms think about their in-house life:

1.    ‘I’m definitely happier and no longer have that feeling that I have to be available all the time. I also like being able to leave at 5pm sometimes without getting death stares or pulled aside and spoken to by my partner for not putting in enough face time.’

2.    ‘I like not doing timesheets, but it does make it hard at performance review time. At least with timesheets I could show all the billable hours I’d done, and knew whether I was meeting the minimum. In my current role, the review process is a heap more subjective and I think some people can manipulate it or take credit for the work that others do. They might not do it intentionally but it’s a bit like exaggerating your skills on a resume.’

3.    ‘Less money, more flexible hours. No perks, but clear management lines and less conflict between managers. Definitely happier.’

4.    ‘It’s good but I still don’t know what I want to do with my career. I keep getting asked to make a 5 year plan by my manager and don’t really know what to say other than I don’t want to get fired’.

5.     ‘Never going back to a law firm.’

6.     ‘If you want to have all of your hard work ignored or undervalued, and be seen as an unnecessary obstacle to the sales team doing their job in the way they want to do it, go in-house. Still prefer that treatment to what I was getting at a law firm though’.

7.    ‘When I moved in-house, my salary went from frozen at 3rd year lawyer level to almost double what I was earning. Plus shares in the [business] if we make targets. So pay is definitely better. Work is no better or worse, just different’.

8.    ‘It’s amazing how much easier it is to come to work in the morning without feeling like everyone around me is either competing against me for work, or thinking I’m not working hard enough. The work levels and pay are about the same, but mentally I just feel so much better.’

9.    ‘I’ve just quit, but that was because I am moving to London. But even with that, [my employer] has been great about the whole thing and even asked if I wanted to apply for a role in the London office. I can’t see a law firm doing the same thing’.

10.    ‘I’ve done 10 years at a law firm and 18 months at [my employer]. Feel like the last 10 years was a bit of a waste and I probably only did it because I thought working for [law firm] would make me sound like a success story.’

 

I know this isn’t a great sample (which is my fault, rather than the respondents) and everyone has different experiences. I’m sure many people love working for law firms and private practice, and hey, I’m still doing it. Despite this, I believe that the above responses are pretty close to what the majority of people who have made the change to in-house roles would think of their current working life.

Simple conclusion – you have to do what makes you happy. If you’re not happy then find out what is making you unhappy and try to find a way to get rid of that part of your life, or at the very least replace it with something that makes you less unhappy. Kitties make me happy. Here is a ginger one I saw at a cat cafe.

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Video games and the law

There are so many great video games out there that have the law as a core part of their story or gameplay. In the interests of my professional development, I have played many of these and would like to share some of the best with you.

First up, perhaps the most famous and well-known legal video game of them all:

Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney

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This is actually a series of games (and comics, and a film) for the Nintendo handhold game systems like the DS and the 3DS. They all take a pretty similar format. You’re a defence lawyer for a law firm, and the game involves you defending the (clearly) innocent from bogus charges brought against them, and finding the true guilty person.

The originals are all in Japanese and set in Japan, and are based on the Japanese legal system, so there is some good international law exposure by playing these games. Once the series got more popular, there were US localised versions made where you are a lawyer for a Californian law firm.

Why is this game so great? Well, firstly, for lawyers like me it gives me the only exposure I ever want or need to a courtroom. Plus you get to think about your answers and select them from the screen, rather than having to actually think up a proper response to questions or plan a proper cross-examination in a real court with real people and real consequences.

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More importantly, because all of these game systems have microphones, you get to yell things like ‘OBJECTION’ and other fun legal expressions at the screen, which I am sure is exactly how it works in a real court room. The game then reacts to what you’ve said. There is nothing more satisfying for a legal gamer than their objection being sustained, I promise!

The first time I played this was on a plane, and while I often get strange looks, I got even more than usual when I started saying things like ‘MY CLIENT IS NOT GUILTY YOUR HONOUR’ to a tiny screen in my hands.

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The character names in this game are amazing too. You’ve got the main guy, Phoenix Wright (because he is always right and rose from the ashes of a shadowy former life to be a cool defence attorney). Then there is his colleague, called Apollo Justice.

But the bad guy names are just the best. Manfred Von Karma. An evil prosecutor (is there any other kind) simply called Godot, who wears this laser visor thing over his eyes. Joe Darke. The list goes on.

Look, just go play it or just randomly yell OBJECTION a few times in the street to get a feel for how the game works.

My rating: 5/5

Challenging times for law (and other) graduates

Hey crew, what a stupidly hot day that then went really dark and stormy and emo on us.

I spent a little bit of time on the internet today – big surprise! In my view, the best internet forum site IN THE WORLD is Australian site Whirlpool. It was originally set up to compare broadband services when ADSL was first taking off in this country, but it has since expanded to cover just about any topic you might be interested in. It is certainly more readable and usable than Reddit, it’s local, and it is my go-to source for being social when I don’t actually want to physically interact with anyone in person.

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Anyway, one thread I always keep a bit of an eye on is the one titled ‘How to Improve Prospects For Law Grads‘, which as of the date of this post (14 January 2016) has 4 parts, with around 90 pages per part, and say 30 posts per page. That’s a lot of posting about the prospects for law graduates (maths time: 30 * 90 * 4 = ___ )

I also keep an eye on the thread about the original ‘Predator’ movie (see bottom right of above picture – come join the debate!), to keep things in perspective. Both threads contain very strong opinions on their respective subjects.

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Surprisingly, the general tone of the posts in the law grad thread, which almost all seem to be from final year law students (what a surprise…), isn’t anger at an inability for new law graduates to get roles with firms.

Sure, there are a few of those types of posts, and there are a few people that can’t help but respond along the lines of: ‘You’re all not trying hard enough or aren’t smart enough’.

Disregard these, and you find that the general view of posters is that the recruitment process is really hard to understand, particularly when there are a huge number of posts containing anecdotal evidence from those claiming to have lots of job experience and who say they still cannot get a graduate role. ‘It’s not just about marks’ they cry.

Similar posts come from those that are top at their university and still can’t get a role, and from those that seem to think they’re awesome just because they are a law student and cannot understand why this alone doesn’t guarantee them a job at a top tier firm.

As I love maths, I am keen to look into what, objectively and statistically, the results for law graduates actually are.

Are they really finding it hard to get a job? Is it harder for law graduates than other graduates?

The statistics are all a bit over the place, sorry. The set of statistics I trust the most are those that come from the AFR Partnership Survey, which are updated semi-annually in July and January, so we have January 2016 figures that have just come out.

The results of the survey of 41 firms (a few like Allen & Overy and Minter Ellison didn’t report figures) show that in January 2016, those firms had 9,356 non-partner fee earning lawyers, compared 9,889 in July 2015.

The true numbers are probably closer to 11,000 in each reported period, once you count the fee earners at the firms that don’t report to the AFR, but I don’t feel that the fact some firms don’t report to the AFR affects the trends the survey shows to any great extent.

So based on these results, there has been a clear reduction in the number of fee earners who are not partners, and maybe some of this decline feeds down to the graduate level and means less graduate positions are available.

What I want to know, then, is whether this decline is the result of less graduates being employed (and perhaps even some being let go), or less senior lawyers and senior associates (again, some might be fired but generally this group tend to move on to jobs outside of law firms given their experience and client contacts).

If the graduate intake numbers stay the same for the two reported periods, then the difficulties faced by law graduates in getting their first role probably then comes from the number graduating each year – the issue might be that there is more competition for the same number of roles. That’s a hard one to fix. Try telling your mates studying law to quit so that you have a better chance of a job.

Statistics on where the decline in fee earner numbers comes from in firms (graduates or senior lawyers) are a little hard to come by, and when you do get them they come from different sources, using different data points at different times. The result is that we are not really comparing lawyer apples with other lawyer apples (that was not meant to sound dirty, you just made it that way in your head).

We can turn to the AFR again, who said in October 2015 that ‘The number of law graduates has reached a record high with 14,600 graduates entering a legal jobs market comprising just 66,000 solicitors.’ Woah. That’s a lot of graduates.

Graduate Careers Australia’s GradStats report for 2015 then reports that 25.9% of law graduates are looking for jobs, versus the national average for graduates across all degrees at 31.2%. Hey, that’s not so bad! Law graduates actually have better chances of getting a job than the average university graduate. However I think these averages are skewed somewhat by the fact that some degrees have a very, very high proportion of graduates looking for work. Law graduates should be grateful they are not in the performing arts, where graduates in that area have an unemployment rate of 53.1% post graduation (but are properly happier and more free in their lives than law graduates).

I can’t find any meaningful statistics on senior lawyer and senior associate movements, but if we use the movements in partners at law firms from the AFR statistics mentioned above, it would appear that senior associates are moving from top tier to mid tier firms rather than out of the law entirely, so the overall numbers of lawyers at the top of the law firm pyramid across all major and medium firms probably isn’t changing so much.

The results for law graduates are very close to those for accountants, economists, and other financial and professional based services, so I suspect that what our mates on Whirlpool are complaining about is part of a broader change in the job prospects for graduates with degrees that have traditionally resulted in graduate roles at professional service firms like law firms, banks and accounting firms.

What does this all mean? I’m glad I’m not in my final year of law school and looking to get a job. I definitely don’t tick any of the boxes that my friends on the Whirlpool graduate lawyer thread see as important for getting a job. My grade average? A solid ‘Credit’ in most subjects. Job experience before getting a job as a lawyer? None to speak of, I wasn’t a clerk or paralegal. I just kind of walked into a role as a graduate lawyer. Different times my friends.

I am not sure what to make of all this. I can’t really offer any advice to current law students trying to get jobs as I don’t work for a big firm any more, or even a cute little one. I kinda just run my own thing.

I also need to think some more about what the statistics mean. The economist in me says there is definitely a supply issue – lots of graduates, not enough roles – but then doesn’t this represent an opportunity for employers other than law firms to grab some great graduates with business and legal skills, that they might not have been able to get in the past?  Or do all law graduates just want to work for a law firm and that’s that? Hmm… brain faltering in heat. Will come up with an uninformed view once things here cool down.

If any law students or graduates want to chat, I’m more than happy to share my experiences and give my thoughts. Best of luck to y’all.

 

 

 

 

WDTAD [What Do They Actually Do?]

Company / Person: Atlassian Corporation plc

 

WDTAD is not really a legal series of posts. It is more the result of me wondering what a particularly company or person, that seems to get a lot of media and business attention, actually does in reality.

 

Today’s business is the recent NASDAQ-listed, Australian born, Atlassian Corporation plc. Here is their Sydney office. Kinda understated, huh?

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If you do a search on the Australian Financial Review website for ‘Atlassian’, you get (as of today’s date) 312 articles. They’re also mentioned in less pretentious media sources as well, usually with respect to them having this ‘no bulls$#@’ policy and being the best employer in Australia with a cool office and great staff benefits.

 

All of this is true, but one thing I have always struggled to figure out is exactly what it is that they sell, and who they sell it to. Where is their reported $7 million of net income for financial year 2015 coming from?

 

I’ve read their prospectus for their recent listing on NASDAQ in the United States and I think I have some idea now, and thought others might be interested as well.

 

They design, program and sell software.

 

Cool, huh. Not like anyone else does that.

 

They like the buzzword ‘teamwork’ too, so much that their ticker on NASDAQ (that is, the code that flies past the bottom of the screen when you watch exciting programs like CNN) is ‘TEAM’.

 

So, they make software for teams. Now we are getting somewhere.

 

They want this software to make teams work better and more efficiently together. Apparently conversation and selecting the right people for the job is beyond our natural abilities so we need lines of code to tell us how to do it. Hey, I’m not judging – I used text messaging to wish my parents a happy Christmas and caller ID to screen their calls, so I am a big fan of using technology and software to get the right outcome.

 

So, when it comes down to it, Atlassian makes software that is meant to make it easier for teams of software developers (‘nerds’) to work with non-developers (‘notnerds’). There must be something in this given how profitable and successful they are.

 

I won’t go into the way their software works, as there are all types of different programs for different purposes. But at least we’ve kind of answered the question as to what they do – build a better world by helping people avoid face-to-face conversations by using software to do it for them. And if it’s good enough for NASA to design that cool Mars Rover, that’s good enough for me.

Debt 101: Who are the different types of lenders out there today?

While I like to think that I have a good working knowledge of all areas of law, I am most experienced in banking and finance, having worked in that area for over 10 years now. I am getting old, my friends.

Whatever your personal views are on using debt to fund a property purchase or an investment, the reality is that most businesses, at some point, need debt to fund their operations or to expand their business, and there are more choices than ever for where they can try and source debt.

The main three options are borrowing from the big banks that we all know and accept as a necessary evil bedrock to our society, using a mortgage or debt broker (the real estate agents of the finance world, with all due respect) and going to private investors with money to lend.

Option 1 – The big banks

Traditionally, the main way for a developer to seek debt funding for their project would be to approach their relationship bank, and discuss the matter with their relationship banker or branch manager. The bank would agree that the project seemed very exciting and bank-able, and then would pass the matter on internally to their risk assessment team.

Then the questions begin.

Big banks, whether they are one of the big four, or one of the growing number of offshore banks, regional banks or smaller banks, will all require huge amounts of information and detail on the project before they even consider making an indicative offer, let alone lend the developer any money.

They will ask for valuations, feasibility statements, personal and company accounting records, valuations (from one of their accepted valuers), pre-sales reports setting out the number of lots in the development that have been pre-sold, who they were sold to, at what price, and how much of the deposit has been paid.

And that’s just their first request. Based on the responses to these initial queries, a developer will quickly be hit with many more requests, including (for example) details of any previous projects, details of the builder, architects and marketing strategy, and whether any of the purchasers are foreign investors (and if they are, whether they have the necessary government authorities to purchase into the development).

Answering all of these questions takes a long time. Typically, we’d expect a big bank to take around 8 to 12 weeks to provide funding, from the time of first approach to the time the bank and developer are ready to lend and borrow.

Option 2 – Brokers

In my experience, the quality of loan brokers in Sydney and Melbourne have been very high, and they are clearly focussed on customer service and assisting both the lender and the borrower to come to a mutually agreed position as quickly as possible. After all, there is a good commission in them for helping get a deal done quickly.

Brokers will typically ask all the same questions as the big banks above, but they’re much quicker in assessing these materials as there are fewer levels of approval required. Brokers generally collect the information and then package it all up for their network of lenders to consider.

Brokers take a commission, so are always more expensive than a big bank. The funding they source is also more expensive, and there are always high up-front fees and often a requirement for the borrower to provide some form of up-front security to cover these initial fees. This might mean that the lender puts a caveat on the property, or asks for a personal guarantee for directors, to ensure that all up-front fees are paid.

Option 3 – Private lenders

Developers can also go to private lenders directly for funding, although will find themselves dealing with some of their unique requirements or requests, which a broker would otherwise have dealt with.

One of the main questions we recommend you ask any private lender is whether they actually have the funds you need available to lend, or whether they first have to source the funds from their investor network.

We’ve seen some developers have to wait for weeks for the private lender to collect the funds from its network, which is why we will always recommend that you go with a private lender that has the funds in hand and ready to go. That has the benefit of giving you greater certainty of funding too.

Private lenders are expensive, although not as much as they once were as competition in this area has increased. Their interest rates, fees and security requirements will usually be higher, but they will turn your request for a loan around much more quickly than a big bank. Think 2 to 3 weeks, rather than 8 to 12.

What I see for the Legal Profession in Australia for 2016

 

For many of us, it is the end of the first week back in the office after the all too short Christmas and New Year break. How was it for you? Everyone I have spoken to in our office this week seems to have started the year with lots of work going on, which I suppose is a promising sign if you enjoy working hard and spending all of your life at the office. Just think of the billable hours, right?

Back to work I go…

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How was my break? Hey, thanks for asking! As a proud and lifelong hermit, I spent the majority of it doing all sorts of exciting activities, such as vacuuming under the bed and canning and preserving various fruits, vegetables and legumes for the cold winter months ahead. Doesn’t get any better than that.

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To kick off what I hope will be some more regular posts throughout the year, through this blog, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what I think 2016 will see for the legal profession. I’ll try and keep it short, and limited to the top three developments I expect from our profession in 2016.

 

Firms to offer different tiers of legal services

 

You’re all probably familiar with the technique used by supermarkets in labelling what is essentially the same product under various different labels, and charging different prices for each. This is very common for many common supermarket goods (just look at all the different types of bottled water, usually all from the same supplier), and it’s becoming increasingly common in in the professional services profession.

 

For example, in the private health insurance sector Medibank Private has its traditional product targeted at families and professionals, and its new generic ‘ahm’ brand, with reduced services and caps but a much lower price point. Ahm is targeted at young singles who have reached the age where not having health insurance starts to get costly from a tax perspective, but couldn’t otherwise afford to buy the traditional Medibank Private level of insurance. Now, Medibank Private has new customers in its fold, simply by offering a product, and doesn’t cheapen its traditional product offerings.

 

I believe we will see this concept applied to the legal profession in a variety of ways in 2016.

 

Allens Linklaters (I’m just going to call them Allens if that’s OK with everyone) are, to my knowledge, one of the first law firms to take up this concept and apply it to legal services. Their ‘Accelerate’ offering deliberately and, in my view, very successfully and admirably, targets technology start-up companies.

 

The idea of Accelerate is to give start-ups an entry point to Allens through a different brand that better suits the needs of these companies. In other circumstances, they might not have come to Allens because, well, it’s Allens and they’re not exactly the Aldi of the law firm world.

 

Then, once the start-up has grown and hopefully become successful in its own right, they’ll be transitioned into the broader Allens practice, and I guess be expected to repay the early assistance provided by the Accelerate programme with years of loyalty to Allens, and pay the usual rates for Allens’ legal services.

 

I believe this idea of different tiers of legal services from the one firm has merit to it, and suspect that more and more of the top tier firms will start to offer this type of arrangement, particularly as a way of ensuring staff remain fully utilised and get the opportunity to build long-term relationships with new clients. For clients, this could be a very good thing indeed, if they are able to access high quality lawyers and legal services (again, comments below please) for reduced initial costs.

 

Contracting and flexible work practices

 

OK, full disclaimer – I work for myself and do a lot of contracting work. It has been a very rewarding and surprising well-accepted offering, and has meant I’ve had the chance to work for a bunch of different law firms and large businesses over the last 12 months.

 

Even fuller disclaimer – I’m a very average lawyer, so imagine the opportunities this sort of work practice will have for you excellent lawyers out there, who have moved beyond the difficult first few years of legal practice and now have a set of skills that are highly desirable by law firms and businesses.

 

This doesn’t mean I think a whole bunch of senior associates are going to quit and try and do contract work with their former clients, or set up their own consulting firms. Please don’t, as then I’ll have to compete with you and I’ll lose (and if you really want to get into this area, give me a call and come and work with me instead).

 

Rather, what I believe will happen is that law firms will respond to client demands (entirely reasonable demands, in my view) for a closer relationship with their lawyers by offering more flexible forms of secondment, that might see many senior lawyers working in the offices of their clients under fixed fee or retainer style arrangements, rather than the free secondments of the past or the usual hourly rate arrangement where lawyers never visit their clients’ offices unless it is to get something signed or have a one-off meeting.

 

The biggest advantages for law firms in this arrangement are flexibility in covering shortfalls in their workforce, and reduced costs by being able to avoid recruiters and directly negotiate an appropriate retainer arrangement with an external lawyer. The biggest advantage for clients is having their lawyers always available, and having lawyers that truly understand the way the client’s business operates as the lawyers are there physically, seeing the machine in action and responding to issues appropriately and efficiently.

 

Computer nerds, it’s your time to shine like a beautiful 4K OLED display

 

I am a computer nerd. Ask me about why the Sega Mega Drive was better than the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and I’ll be your friend for life. This means that I have more of an interest in the changes that technology is bringing, and will continue to bring, to the legal professional than most.

 

In 2016, I believe that technology is going to play a critical role in all lawyers’ professional lives, regardless of what type of law they practice and what type of firm or practice they work for or run.

 

The most obvious way we will see this, and are already seeing this, is in the growth in online legal advice and legal documentation services. LegalVision, LawAdvisor and Lawpath are some of the first movers in this area, but whether they’ll ultimately be successful and challenge traditional law firms remains to be seen.

 

Regardless, they do pose threats and opportunities for all lawyers and firms, and I suspect that an increased number of firms will, during the course of 2016, take at least some steps towards offering legal services using technology and the internet (and this will be something a bit more innovative than simply posting an occasional article or favourable press release on their Facebook or Twitter page).

 

This could take a variety of different forms, but in my view the likely starting place for smaller and mid tier firms will be in offering standard documentation for sale to clients on their website.

 

For example, a firm’s corporate team could take one of their standard share sale agreements, and work out what the document’s variables are (such as party names, the description of what is being bought and sold, the and the purchase price), and put these as input fields on a page on their website. The client could then purchase the document online, fill in the variables on an online form page (much as any of us do when purchasing goods or services online), and hit the ‘submit’ button to generate and purchase their document. They could then get a follow-up call from the appropriate lawyer at the firm to run through the document and get a legal sign-off on it once everything has been checked and confirmed.

 

I strongly believe that in 2016, any lawyers with good information technology skills will have their time to shine, and the firms that move beyond Facebook and Twitter posts to a more integrated use of technology, cloud-based services and online communication (think online chats and forums) will outperform those that stick to the traditional physical documentation approach.

 

And don’t even get me started on things like Bitcoin and the blockchain, that’s a subject of a whole other article to bore you with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What should a Privacy Policy Look Like?

 

A few weeks’ ago, I wrote an article on the new national privacy law requirements, and in particular how privacy policies are not as complex or difficult to put together as many businesses may think.

 

I’ve had a few discussions since posting that article from managers wanting to get more detail on the structure of a privacy policy. They were all fine to draft it, they just were just finding it very difficult to start creating or updating their policy without a template or skeleton structure to work from.

 

Hopefully, this quick blog post will help answer some of those questions, not that I don’t like speaking to you on the phone about this kind of stuff.

 

This is just my view on these things too. Ask another lawyer in this area and they’ll likely tell you my outline is terrible and theirs is so much better. To them I say ‘meh’, and to you I say ‘look, this is just one that I have used with clients in the past and they seemed to like to start from, so enjoy’.

 

  1. Our business collects the following information on you

[Here’s where you list all the stuff you might collect from individuals. Go all out here, and if you think you might collect some piece of information in the future but aren’t currently collecting it, include it anyway. And yes, because I have been asked this, someone’s gender and address is personal information. You are also collecting personal information if your website uses some form of location tracking service, IP logging, device ID capture or recording and other similar analytical tools.]

  1. Methods used to collect your personal information

[The heading should say it all for this one. Again, put a full list of all the methods you use to collect (or may in the future use to collect) the information you listed in point 1 above.]

  1. The purpose for us collecting this information

[You can’t mess around or avoid reality here. You must set out clearly and fully why you’re collecting this information, how you are or may use it, and who else you do or might disclose it to. You don’t have to divulge corporate secrets, but you can’t just say ‘to optimise your shopping experience’ if what you’re really doing is collecting information to do spam emails. You have to say (in appropriate language) that you’re going to spam them if they tell you their email address.]

  1. Who do we show or disclose your personal information to?

[Again, hopefully pretty straightforward here. For good practice and to avoid issues, I recommend that you also include other business units or other companies in your corporate group in this list, as well as the obvious ones such as third parties or government organisations.]

  1. Use of information outside Australia

[This one has also given rise to many questions from clients. In short, you have to say whether you do or might disclose personal information to any people, companies or governments outside of Australia. You have to list these countries and who you do or might disclose to.]

 

 

This shouldn’t be seen as a fixed list – you are free to break the above up into as many different headings or categories as you think appropriate for your business.

 

You should also do things like include contact details for your privacy officer/s, and make sure those contact details are up-to-date at all times.

 

As usual, any questions on any of this stuff, drop me an email or give me a call and we can discuss your specific circumstances.