Q&A: Jessica Kinny: “We all seem to ‘innovate’ at a glacial pace and as a pack”

[Australasian Law Management Journal,General Management,Marketing & Business Development,Strategy & Leadership] July 24, 2019

In our Q&A, Jessica Kinny, solicitor director and founder of Kinny Legal, explains why she has relished charting her own course as an aged care, retirement and health law specialist, how ‘fear setting’ has helped her life and business, and why she thinks lawyers should take more risks.

Some industry analysts believe sole practitioner firms could struggle in an era when many clients want very specialised advice. What is your view?

“If a sole practitioner or small law firm pitches themselves as a generalist, then sure, I think they might struggle because it is hard to stand out from the crowd and secure work without engaging in a ‘race to the bottom’.  That said, it would be a mistake to assume that sole practitioners and small law firms are generalists. Most sole practitioners and small law firm owners I know are highly specialised, and market themselves to a target group of niche clients. I am no exception – my law firm is highly specialised and is known for being a leading law firm in aged care and health law despite its size, and that has been a key contributor to our success. The size of your law firm doesn’t matter if you don’t have a clear voice as to who you are, how you help and why a client should choose you over someone else, and if you don’t have a compelling brand and there’s no good reason for a client to engage you. Many a client has been lost by chasing too many different fish.”

After graduating, you worked in a range of roles, including for Dentons, previously known as Gadens Lawyers. Leaving an established firm to ultimately set up your own firm must have been a stomach-churning choice? Why did you do it?

“Personally, it wasn’t a stomach-churning choice. The stomach-churning part was in the 12 months before I started my own law firm, when I knew I wasn’t happy with my current career path but didn’t know what alternative career would make me happy. Once I knew the answer, I couldn’t wait to get started.”

What have been the big personal and professional benefits for you in setting up your own firm?

“There are the obvious benefits like more control over your personal and professional life – how you fill your days. You have the freedom to create a life and career that works best for you. If something isn’t working for you anymore, it’s easier to start making the changes you need to make to get to the place you want to be in life and in your career. A related but unexpected benefit has come from going through the exercise of branding and marketing my firm. To have a strong brand and a compelling marketing message, you need to have a deep understanding of who you are, what you stand for, what motivates you, and who you want to work with. This means you need a really good understanding of who you are and how you want to fill your days, which has given me the perspective needed to create the career and lifestyle that is right for me rather than being reactive to what’s around me.”

Word of mouth aside, what works for you on the marketing front?

“Marketing is essential to any business, including law firms. What has worked for me is being clear on my brand and seeing marketing as just another way of helping people – in this case, helping people understand who you are and how you can help, so they have the information they need to decide whether you are a good fit for them and their situation.”

What tips do you have for other lawyers who are considering setting up their own firm?

“The first tip is about mindset. Don’t be held back by a fear of ‘failure’. Look up ‘fear setting’ techniques by author Tim Ferriss and implement them. And don’t forget to keep checking in with what’s important to you, and pivot as needed … otherwise you might end up building a law firm that you don’t want to work in, which isn’t a great outcome.

“The second tip is to start with the client.  It’s much easier to build the right law firm for you if you have a clear idea of who you are, who you are helping, who your competition is, and why a client would want to choose you over the competition. That will lay good foundations for a compelling brand and make it easier to choose the right location, software, structure and marketing methods for your firm.

“My third tip would be to choose your community wisely, and keep building. Most of your clients will come from word of mouth and most of your greatest opportunities will come from who you know. How are you creating meaningful connections with your future clients? If you are making the move from being an employee to a business owner, you have the opportunity to choose who you are surrounding yourself with for the first time. Take advantage of it, and build your dream team! They don’t have to be your employees, either. You can join groups on social media, or join a solicitors’ chambers, or organise regular check-ins with other law firm owners. Give each other referrals. Learn from each other.  Build each other up.”

What do you love about practising the law?

“The law gives me the tools I need to make businesses better. It helps me see what needs to be done to protect what my clients have built. It helps me see what needs to change in their contracts, structures and systems to take full advantage of opportunities that come their way and help them achieve their vision. My clients have some amazing ideas, and I love being able to give them the protections and strategies they need to bring the idea to life and have that idea reach its true potential.”

If there was one thing you would change about the profession, what would it be?

“We are a risk-averse profession – maybe this is self-selection, or maybe this is drummed into us as part of our legal training. Either way, we are predisposed to have a deep-seated fear of ‘failure’ and unknown outcomes. In most industries, everyone is trying to be radically different from each other, whereas we seem to do the opposite. Many of us are afraid to be the first to do something radically new, but no one wants to be second, so we all seem to ‘innovate’ at a glacial pace and as a pack. I think we would do well to take a step back from these patterns so we can offer more diverse services to more clients.”