At Cultivate 2019: Melbourne, Meng Cheong, Senior Associate at Nevile and Co. shared practical tips, via a Q&A, for strong strategies that are helping his firm expand further internationally.
Let’s talk about some of the growth strategies that you have adopted in your firm or have recommended and consulted to your clients on.
Peter Nevile, my boss, started the firm in 1971. He started out as a sole practitioner and one of the key growth strategies he used to grow his firm is to tap into international markets. He started doing that in the 1980’s in Indonesia. Then he looked to China to tap into the property market and now we are looking to expand into Vietnam for the migration market.
The other key growth strategy that he uses is to employ the right people. You’ve got to employ someone who is tech savvy. When, 19 years ago, I had to choose what to study, I selected computer science and law. People asked me “Why that combination? Because it’s weird” and when I left university, I had to choose to either become a lawyer or a programmer. In Asian culture, parents want their children to become a doctor, lawyer or accountant. So, I chose to become a lawyer.
Fast forward ten years and now I’m here talking about computers and technology.
What role has technology played in that growth?
I think it has played an important role, both good and bad. Because we have many overseas clients, we need to identify the right tools to communicate with those clients. We, as the trusted advisors in these service-based industries, know it is really important to communicate with clients properly. For example, in China they use WeChat, Indonesian clients mostly use WhatsApp, clients from Thailand use Viber and using Facebook, you get those distant cousins and friends who you haven’t spoken to for many years, posting on your profile, asking for free legal advice. So, it’s about using the right channel to communicate with your clients, to create that bond.
People talk about our jobs being replaced by technology. I don’t feel threatened by that because at the end of the day, it’s that personal touch that you can give to your client. It doesn’t matter what artificial intelligence tools you use, at the end of the day, you’ve just got to pick up the phone, talk to your client and understand what they need.
Have you conducted property transactions via WeChat?
No, only because, when I first started practising law, I focused on property conveyancing, but now I focus predominately on commercial law and litigation. But, once in a while, I’ll still talk to my colleague and we will discuss files. We do get client instructions via WeChat and we have found many clients do use WeChat to share instructions. Emails, no we don’t get them very much anymore.
What practical examples do you have that has helped your firm recently to innovate?
When trying to introduce something new or different, it’s not uncommon to get pushback from staff who are so used to what they are doing, they just refuse to make a change. What we do at our firm, is every Friday, when we have morning tea, is talk about legal tech solutions. Just bringing it out there on the table and asking, “Hey is this going to help you?” we aren’t going to force it on you, but we just want to hear your opinion. Is this going to help? Is this going to save you time so that you can pick up the phone and talk to the client?
Firm security and finding ways to keep your firm safe can also be innovative.
Yes, human factor is the main thing that allows cybercrime and cyber fraud to happen.
I was running a file where we had to transfer monies to another solicitor’s trust account. So, one day this solicitor called me and wanted to verify your bank account details and I will email my bank account details to you after. I said, but how do I know that you are that lawyer? I think the one practical way around this is a secret token between your client and your firm – send that token through as a secret code right at the start as part of the matter so that if you do have to send bank account details to that client, you will have that secret code or token that the client can identify that it is from a legitimate source.
Where will your firm be investing in the future to ensure growth? Some firms say marketing, what is relevant for you?
What we are looking at achieving is streamlining our back-end processes. Making sure that our staff don’t spend too much time on repetitive tasks so we can free ourselves up and spend more time on the phone creating a bond with the clients.
We currently use some document creation software which helps us tremendously in creating documents. At the end of the day, if you have a document created by a robot, the client doesn’t really care how the document was created. For example, you walk into McDonalds – you don’t care how the burger was made, just give me my Big Mac!
The one problem we have now is that there are so many tools out there. Our firm uses multiple platforms to communicate with different clients and we don’t have one place to join all those apps. So, in our firm, what we are planning to invest in is to connect. To start with one app and integrate it with another app and build a connective platform. This will help us service the clients better, as we know what they need, what they have done with us in the past – if they bought property for example, maybe now they need a will.