Q&A: Trevor Withane – “I don’t want this to be the Trevor show. I want to build a firm that will stand apart from me.”

[Australasian Law Management Journal,General Management,Marketing & Business Development,People Management(HR),Strategy & Leadership] July 11, 2022

In the second part of our Q&A, Trevor Withane, founder and principal of Ironbridge Legal, explains the rationale behind changing the name of his legal practice.

About three years ago, you set up Blackwattle Legal in Sydney to specialise in two key areas – commercial litigation and insolvency. Despite having success, you have recently changed the name of the firm to Ironbridge Legal. Why?

Our chief marketing officer had formerly worked at a number of big law firms and took us on a journey thinking about our brand. We also employed an external brand consultant to help us. It was quite an introspective process as we considered the firm as a whole and then explored ourselves as individuals – who are we, what types of lawyers do we want to be, where do we want to position ourselves in the market, what do we enjoy doing, and what’s our story?

Then we focused on our brand identity and the fact that the firm was created to offer the highest-quality, international-standard dispute experience for Australian and global clients, drawing on my global experience working with leading firms. During our sessions, some of the words that emerged to best describe our brand were ‘polished’, ‘excellent’, ‘high quality’, ‘rigorous’, ‘agile’, ‘strategic’, ‘focused’, ‘dynamic’, ‘driven’, ‘fearless’, ‘pragmatic’ and ‘ambitious.’

We considered the firm’s strengths – the fact that we are conflict free and can see the big picture. We’re strategic, we communicate clearly and we have international experience. We also use this phrase a lot and it’s important – ‘intellectual rigour’ – when it comes to the law. What we do is solicitor led, rather than barrister led, and that’s what people love about us. They can ask us a legal question and get an answer about which they can be confident.

As part of the rebrand, we then looked at the positioning, brand tone and vibe of the firm. Of course, a ‘brand’ is different to the ‘name’ of a firm in and of itself, but when we thought about targeting international referrals, we didn’t think ‘Blackwattle’ was conjuring up the right messages. It’s a tree, it’s native to Australia and it’s not understood internationally at all. Overseas, especially, we were referred to with words such as ‘Blackwater’ or variants thereof. Or people would think that our name has two words, rather than one word. The truth was that ‘Blackwattle’ wasn’t aligning with some of the brand values and concepts we had discussed.

That must have been confronting. What happened next?

We then bounced around lots of different names and considered our IP proposition, not just in Australia but overseas, too. We came up with so many names – some that were native to Australia and some that were based on my personal name. But we didn’t want to use my personal name, even though I’m the founder of the business. That’s because I don’t want this to be the Trevor show. I want to build a firm that will stand apart from me so that employees coming in can see our brand as part of an overall employee value proposition.

This isn’t all about Trevor. This is about the individual employee getting the best training and working on the best matters so they have a real opportunity to have a stake in the business going forward.

Why Ironbridge?

Ironbridge Legal is a good option as a name because it connotes strength and, in complex insolvency situations, we want to provide a bridge from the bleak to the hopeful. Similarly, in dispute situations Ironbridge Legal looks to the resolution and bears the load and burden in helping clients get to the other side.

Ironbridge is also a town in England that is home to the world’s first iron bridge. As such, it was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and that’s very applicable to Ironbridge Legal because what we strive to do is harness the best things from traditional legal practice – an intellectually rigorous approach to the law, having our noses in textbooks and delivering excellent client service. At the same time, we employ vastly new ways of working and use new technology to drive efficiencies and cost savings to our clients. This, in turn, enables our lawyers to focus on their core job of driving great results for our clients.

Of course, Sydney is also home to a very famous bridge. So all of these elements came together nicely through Ironbridge and the name is giving us great traction in the legal market here and abroad.

Do you have any advice for other firms considering a rebranding?

Remember, it’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s been a complex process involving lots of administrative work; dealing with ASIC; changing bank accounts, business cards, websites and letterheads; and informing the court, our opponents, our clients and even the media. In all honesty, I hadn’t been thinking about rebranding, but the idea was planted by our CMO and we gave it some thought. We can really appreciate the value of the move and how we want clients to perceive us now and into the future.

With your branding sorted out, what’s the focus for the year ahead at Ironbridge Legal?

The simple goal is for organic growth in terms of continuing to try to find some of the best lawyers available, both seniors and juniors. The market has been challenging, with COVID-19 and the closure of Australian borders meaning that some foreign lawyers went back home, and some good Australian lawyers are now going overseas as pandemic restrictions ease. Hopefully, there may be an influx of New Zealand lawyers into the Australian market soon. I’d like to bolt on other disputes-based partners and also increase our international referral base this year. In the long-term, I want Ironbridge Legal to be seen as a go-to firm for high-value dispute or insolvency matters in Australia. We are on the right path.