Nurturing innovation in the law

Starting one of Australia's first virtual law firms, Nest Legal, was not high on Laura Vickers' agenda when she graduated with an LLB from Melbourne Law School in 2006.

Laura Vickers

In fact, it was not until the 32-year-old started a family when the idea to offer a completely virtual after-hours service struck her.

Working part-time for the Victorian Government Solicitor's Office at the time, the lack of childcare for her son Rufus was a deciding factor.

"I was thinking, I can work 9-5 two days a week, but I need to make some money either in the evenings or on weekends as well," Ms Vickers said.

"Then I thought, hang on, that is when my friends, who are working parents, are calling me with legal questions because they are too busy during the day. I could answer those questions; there is a gap in the market."

"Then, if I did it online I would have no overheads and I thought, you know what, I have tried crazier things in my life," she said.

With permission from her employer, in December 2013 she established Nest Legal, a completely virtual law firm dealing with wills and conveyancing.

The firm is reliant on email and Skype sessions, with Ms Vickers usually conducting the sessions with clients after 8pm, once she has put two-year-old Rufus to sleep.

She said the idea of doing business online had been received well.

"Our generation, we don't call people up; we don't have time to meet up with people. We would email, we would text; we just want to get it done and get on with our lives," Ms Vickers said.

"I do have people call up and tell me they don't have a mobile phone or they don't feel comfortable talking over the phone and ask if we can meet in person. Generally, I say there are lawyers out there who can better serve your needs, but 95 per cent of my clients are busy people who just want to get it done quickly and efficiently."

Nest Legal has been growing its client base steadily in the past 15 months mainly through word-of-mouth.

Ms Vickers said the process had been challenging and had made her adjust her initial expectations.

"There are no shortcuts. You can have all the search engine optimisation and content marketing in the world but a lawyer is hired on trust, and to get that trust comes from relationships and building up that reliability over time," she said.

Pregnant with her second child, Ms Vickers said the increase of the use of technology in the law was important for a number of reasons, including keeping working parents within the profession.

"Technology improves so many things; it can help with lawyers' mental health because of their work/life balance, it can help retain women in the law, it can with help access to justice issues because it reduces the overheads for lawyers who can then offer quality legal services for less," she said.

"I just think it should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat to the profession."

As a reward for Ms Vickers' hard work and innovation, Nest Legal has been nominated for a Law Institute of Victoria Award in the category 'Law Firm of the Year (Less than 50 partners)', with the winner to be announced next month.

"I have had a lot of support but there has also been a lot of forging my own path and figuring out how to run a law firm from a kitchen table," she said.

Check out the law firm here.

By Andy Walsh