Water Cooler Chats...with Marianne Marchesi from Legalite

Founded in early 2017, Legalite sought to disrupt the traditional way of delivering legal services after finding frustrations in the inefficiencies of traditional law firms, such as hourly rates, clumsy manual processing and adversarial relationships.

An on-going commitment to agility, responsiveness and transparency as a business, has returned growth and industry recognition to the young law firm, whose principal lawyer, Marianne Marchesi earned two nominations at the Lawyers Weekly - Women in Law Awards 2017.  Not only that, but Legalite has just been announced as the winner of the coveted Best Law Firm, Business Clients at the NAB Professional Services Awards. 

First and foremost, congratulations on your nomination, a huge recognition from Lawyers Weekly, especially given Legalite’s 9 months in operation. What do you think stands out about Legalite that earned the nomination?

Thank you! I was so excited and honoured to make it into the finalist categories for Sole Practitioner of the Year and Executive of the Year.

I think the Awards recognise that Legalite is truly a unique offering – we don’t have hourly rates, we engage with clients through social media, and we’re passionate about delivering easy-to-understand (and non-intimidating!) legal advice and support. All these things are almost the complete opposite of a traditional law firm.

Executive of the Year and Sole Practitioner of the Year are big nods to you personally. Not to mention Best Law Firm at the NAB Professional Services Awards.  Tell me a little about the journey that has taken you to Principal Lawyer at Legalite.

When I completed my graduate clerkship 9 years ago at a large law firm, I was shocked and disillusioned by the culture. I ended up leaving the law for about a year, then decided to give it another chance (and I'm so glad I did!). 

When I returned, my philosophy was to ‘be the change’. If I didn’t like the way something was done, I always spoke up. This was great for a while but ultimately unsustainable. The culture at law firms is so entrenched that it’s difficult to truly effect change. That’s when I realised that to challenge the status quo, I had to do it myself – so I established Legalite.

Legalite looks to disrupt the traditional way of providing legal services. Why is that so important to you?

For me, being a lawyer is all about relationships – relationships with clients, suppliers, other lawyers and even with one’s self.

I truly believe that the ‘old’ model of providing legal services doesn’t harness these relationships. For example, the hourly billing method does nothing to foster trust with clients nor to encourage efficiency. The traditional characteristics of the legal industry hinge on slow, manual processing and internal budgets that promote inefficiency.

The NewLaw model does the total opposite – it recognises that legal services can be provided collaboratively and flexibly. That flexibility does wonders for lawyers’ work-life integration and mental health, especially in an industry that has one of the highest rates of depression.

Do you see these inherent characteristics of the legal industries as having a detriment to businesses?

Absolutely. How can a business value legal services if they are too scared to even pick up the phone to speak their lawyer? It’s simply not the way to do business and this means businesses are missing out on quality legal advice. As a startup myself, I know the importance of having certainty and transparency and so make sure these values are at the forefront of how I do business.

What does that mean to your clients? What impact do you see this having in their businesses?

Firstly, clients know they can count on me as a professional advisor, not “just” their lawyer. Having that freedom without the clock ticking expands the value that I offer to my clients, and that certainty means they can get on with running their business. 

What are the biggest challenges that you see facing new franchisees?

There are 2 key challenges that I see facing new franchisees at the moment:

Not understanding how a franchise operates and that, as a franchisee, you are licensed the brand and need to comply with the franchisor’s system. Sometimes, new franchisees feel that they can run the franchised business however they like, and, whilst there is some scope for innovation within a franchise, ultimately they must run it according to the franchisor’s terms. This challenge is easily overcome by seeking professional advice from the outset.

Not doing enough financial due diligence and effectively buying themselves a job. All new franchisees need to factor in the costs of operating a franchised business, which includes ongoing royalties/franchise fees which are payable even if the business is not going well. Again, seeking professional (financial) advice from the outset will mitigate this challenge.

Franchising is a highly regulated area, are there common things overlooked by even the most experienced franchisors?

Yes, it absolutely is – Australia has one of the most regulated franchising industries in the world! Commonly, the things that are overlooked by franchisors are the little details. The Franchising Code of Conduct, whilst generally straightforward, has a few nuances that can be difficult to understand and/or interpret. Seeking the advice of a specialist franchising lawyer will help avoid this and it’s a good idea to have your lawyer manage your franchise transactions to ensure nothing is missed. As the Code imposes penalties for non-compliance, it’s so important to get this right.

We are frequently seeing franchises in Australia, and globally, experience rapid growth. When businesses grow quickly, it is easy for businesses to adjust their operations to the pace of their growth. What are the areas in business, particularly franchises, that are commonly overlooked during times of expansion?

Any business needs to continually check in as it grows to make sure it is still complying with the law and evolving. It’s for this reason that I offer monthly ‘health checks’ for growing businesses. Franchising is a great model for scaling a business quickly. However, with this fast expansion, the franchise system also needs to be adapted. Any franchisor should ensure that they still have visibility over their system once it starts growing. It’s easy to have that visibility when you’re just starting out, but once you have a growing system you can also just as easily lose sight. This might involve hiring key personnel to manage your operations and provide field support to your franchisees.

In the digital age, there is a lot of DIY, even in the business and legal space. What advice do you have for operators looking to DIY in their business?

I think there is room for DIY to a certain extent, and I’m going to qualify that comment with 2 conditions:

You must know what you’re doing! Don’t DIY something simply because it’s cheaper, as that could cost you in the long run. I’ll give the example of a client who applied for their own trade mark and later found they’d registered it the entirely wrong class, so had absolutely no intellectual property protection.

There are certain things that simply cannot (and should not) be done yourself. In my view, legal contracts are one of those. There are plenty of off-the-shelf contracts available online these days, but these are not tailored to your business in any way. You might find that a DIY contract is ultimately useless when you need to rely on it down the track.

Keen to know more about Marianne and her amazing work at Legalite? You can find them at www,legalite.com.au, info@legalite.com.au or their social handles www.facebook.com/legalite.au, @legalite_au (yes, lawyers are on social media too!).

Winnie ElblComment