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Q&A with Holly Mylne: "I've found that business often grows when I delegate because it frees up my time for more of the money-generating work."

In our Q&A, Holly Mylne, principal and founder of Blossom Lawyers on the Gold Coast in Queensland, explains how her firm has carved out a strong niche in education law, and why she is a big advocate of sharing the workload.

You opened the doors to Blossom Lawyers in August 2019, just months before COVID-19 hit. Tell us about your experience.

It’s been a rollercoaster ride, but I’ve learnt a lot – on the legal side and also in terms of running the business side of the firm and ensuring that we always meet our high service standards. We treat everyone the same, no matter how big or small their matter is.

How does your firm stand out from the pack?

A point of difference is that we provide a service to people who are under-represented. A big area of our practice is education law and not many people, even lawyers, have heard about it. There’s only a handful of lawyers across the country who advertise as practising in this area. In this niche, we only act for students, and mainly university students, when they have issues requiring legal assistance. So it might be around academic misconduct allegations that have been levelled against them and for us to follow the appropriate processes that give them an opportunity to respond. We help them draft their responses and frame their defence of the allegations to give them a better chance of succeeding. We also assist students with reviews of penalties in cases. We’re very honest with our clients.   If they have done something wrong and admitted it, we can explain their position and options and try to reduce any excessive penalties.

How did this specialisation come about?

This area of practice was something that a previous employer of mine handled. I took it on under their banner and I enjoyed it and seemed to be good at it. Then when I set up my own practice, with their approval, I included education law as part of my practice, too.

You are a finalist in the Lawyers Weekly Australian Law Awards in the sole practitioner category. What does such recognition mean to you?

We are really pleased to have been shortlisted and proud of the strides we have made in a such a short period of time. Fingers crossed!

Your firm also practises in employment law, commercial litigation, dispute resolution, insurance and liabilities. How did you arrive at these practice areas?

We’re not a general practice, but we do what we’re good at and what we enjoy. Outside of those areas, we refer matters to other lawyers. We only take on what we excel in. These are all areas that I have experience in, are quite technical and that I enjoy.

Did COVID-19 put the brakes on business early in the piece?

The pandemic was certainly an unexpected stumble for us, but we kept going and tried to find ways to get in front of clients even when we couldn’t see them in person. So, on the employment law side of things, I did webinars for business owners, accountants and bookkeepers – anyone who needed legal information at a time of immense change because of COVID-19. Things were evolving rapidly under the Fair Work Act and with regard to procedures that employers had to follow because of JobKeeper and the like. The webinars helped businesses protect their operations, while also making sure they were doing the right thing by employees. As a law firm, we just had to find different ways to do things and give back at the same time. We didn’t charge for those webinars.

What other marketing tools have helped?

We’ve been trying out Facebook marketing for the past 18 months, which lets us share a lot of legal content with people. That’s been most successful with university students, but it’s also secured some clients on the employment side, too. Elsewhere, we’ve been doing a lot of in-person networking through the BNI networking group.

How difficult is it to combine legal and management work?

Managing a business has been a real learning curve for me. We’ve got a bookkeeper. I made one financial entry and quickly realised I needed help in that area! For a small firm, finding the right people to help you is essential and I’ve done that from early on. I’ve taken the view that it’s worth outsourcing jobs that people can do at a cheaper hourly rate than I charge.    My time is better spent doing the legal work and networking to bring more work in.

You have worked in the past for large firms such as Gadens, Carter Newell and Wotton + Kearney. Why did you want to set up your own practice?

It was mainly for family reasons. I’m a mother and now have a six-month-old daughter to look after. Having my own practice means I can combine family and business life. I can do the work that needs to be done, but I can also tailor work around my family life when needed. It’s all about work-life balance. I’ve taken on a casual solicitor who is also a new mum, so it works well for us. If I’ve got too much on and need to delegate some work, I can see if she’s available and wants the work. I also use a contractor as an office manager. We’re getting busier all the time, so I’m now thinking about what needs to be done to make sure the increasing needs are met.

On the subject of work-life balance, you pride yourself on being available to clients outside the typical 8.30am-5pm window. How do you meet that commitment while also ensuring you get some time away from the office?

It very much continues to evolve depending on my family and client needs. Given that I have a new baby, I have had to take stock as to how I can spend more quality time with her during the day, rather than just feeding her and then handing her back to my partner. So I have restructured my week and now have Wednesday off every week. On that day, there are other people who can answer calls and respond to messages. I use that day to unwind and spend some time with the children. When there are urgent work matters that need my attention after-hours, I can do that in the evenings when the kids are in bed. So it’s really about trying to work things around my family life, not just working family life around work. On a practical level, I mark Wednesdays on the calendar with ‘Not in today’, otherwise appointments will be put in the diary, or I’ll feel obligated to respond to calls. I also have to carefully plan around deadlines and make sure I’m ahead of the game to ensure I can take a day off every week.

You have a view that bigger firms are not always better for clients needing legal assistance. What is your reasoning?

Well, more personalised service is one thing that we can offer that large firms may not be able to do as successfully. But it’s also about the legal work itself. I have the experience of having worked in national and large firms, and I’ve been lucky to have had great mentors in those places who really put a lot of time and effort into teaching me. I’ve now taken that knowledge and skills, and I can deploy them in my own firm. So clients are getting someone who has been trained in that big-firm way, while benefiting from the more personalised service of a small law firm.

How did you get started in the law?

Apparently, when I was about 8 I said I wanted to be a ‘bannister’ – I probably meant a ‘barrister’. Later, I completed Year 12 in Australia and did legal studies as an option and it seemed to come quite naturally to me. So that cemented my future. I went back to England and did my law degree there and worked as a paralegal. Then I qualified as a barrister in England prior to moving to Australia in 2010 and re-qualifying in Australia as a solicitor.

What’s the experience been like in Australia for you?

It’s been great. I moved here for the lifestyle and I’m certainly getting that on the Gold Coast. It’s a very small community here and you see the same faces at events and that helps in business because people like to keep it local when using other people’s services. I hope people realise there are professionals on the Gold Coast who can provide good service and know they don’t need to go further afield. At the same time, doing a lot of our work online, over the phone or over Zoom has opened up a lot of opportunities for us to do national work.

What is your goal for Blossom Lawyers?

We’d like to be the go-to education lawyers in Australia. In terms of the business generally and the other services we provide, we just want to continue to grow, hopefully to a point where we have several local lawyers working for us so we’re able to give people employment opportunities on the Gold Coast.

Do you have any other advice for owners of small firms?

I like the quote, ‘You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.’ That’s a really important message to take away – doing everything will just leave you burnt out. That’s happened to me a couple of times in the past when I felt unwell because I was exhausted. That’s counterproductive for work, too. When you’re at a point where you can afford to delegate a few tasks, try to do so. I’ve found that business often grows when I delegate because it frees up my time for more of the money-generating work. And my last advice – be kind to yourself; it’s not easy running a small firm.