What does it take to become Australia’s best law firm? Marianne Marchesi, principal and founder of boutique commercial firm Legalite, has a few ideas. Her firm was voted by clients as Australia’s best law firm for two years in a row in the NAB Professional Services awards. In late 2019, Marianne received Lawyers Weekly’s highest management honour, Partner of the Year - SME. Insights spoke to Marianne about what makes Legalite so popular with clients and lawyers, and how Legalite Horizons, her latest offering, can help principal-level lawyers.
Good partners live their values
“Legalite operates in a very different way to traditional law firms,” Marianne explained. The firm offers fixed pricing for clients, flexible work for employees, and operates as a paperless practice. “I think this helped us to stand out. I have made a conscious effort to create not only a strong service offering, but also a positive work culture.”
All of this, she believes, contributed to her Partner of the Year award.
“I think good law firm partners are crystal clear on their values, and live these values without compromise,” observed Marianne. “For me, it’s also about having a positive impact on everyone we deal with – whether that’s clients, my team or our community. The legal profession is based on relationships and so I think it’s important that these are nurtured.”
Frustrated with the ‘old’ way of doing things
Like many lawyers, Marianne grew disenchanted with how law firms were run.
“I launched Legalite after being frustrated with the ‘old’ way of doing things,” said Marianne. “I really wanted to take the stress and complexity out of law – not just for clients, but for lawyers too – hence our mission to ‘simplify legal services’. Initially this started through some simple basics, such as fixed fees and running a paperless practice.”
As Legalite grew, this evolved into a greater use of technology, wellbeing initiatives, and new service offerings such as Legalite Counsel, an outsourced in-house counsel service and more recently, Legalite Horizons.
“When I struck out as a sole practitioner, it was very daunting and isolating at first,” said Marianne. “Legalite Horizons is essentially the best of both worlds, whereby principals can still enjoy complete freedom and flexibility to run their practice the way they want to, but also have a support network behind them. Legalite will provide the tools, infrastructure and mentoring to help them to grow their practice, and principals will be part of a genuinely flexible, fun culture. In addition, they will have a recognisable, award-winning brand behind them and still get to retain the lion’s share of what they bill.”
Much of the concept came from her own experience of starting her firm, and watching what deterred lawyers from successfully establishing their own firms.
“I’ve seen first-hand how lawyers can get stuck on a pathway to partnership that never eventuated, or the understandable hesitation that comes with going out on your own,” said Marianne. “I created Legalite Horizons as a true alternative for principal-level lawyers who have ambitions to grow their personal brand and client base.”
Flexible work, office dogs and mentoring
Mondays at Legalite kick off with meditation sessions to help set the tone of the week. Friday afternoons close with a gratitude circle to start the weekend well. Every employee has the freedom to work remotely; in fact, Legalite’s legal practice manager works from her home office on the Great Ocean Road. Nestled in an energetic co-working hub in Melbourne’s city fringe, Legalite looks like no other law firm - and this is the point.
“Some of the initiatives I’ve implemented to make Legalite a fun, happy place to work include mindfulness activities, a flexible work culture, one-on-one monthly mentoring for every employee, and a dog-friendly office.”
Indeed, the office has its own official dog - Marianne’s own cavoodle, Charlie.
“I also encourage my team to innovate and come up with their own ideas for making Legalite a great place to work,” explained Marianne. “This has meant that we can implement other initiatives that I would not have thought of. Our culture is a team effort driven by diverse ideas.”
Not the typical 9 to 5
“I honestly love everything about what I do!” enthused Marianne. “Having the ability to work on things that I enjoy, nurture my team’s progression and grow my business means there is never a dull moment. Every week is quite different at Legalite, especially as we don’t have a typical ‘9 to 5’ day or believe in being chained to our desks. Lawyers often work from client’s offices, from home, or at our offices (which is in a vibrant co-working space), and the work itself can also be quite diverse.”
The team frequently runs events or volunteers for community initiatives.
“Our weeks are really broken up into a variety of activities and types of work. Having said that, it’s also quite a busy practice, but having a flexible work culture means we can truly integrate our work and personal lives.”
This emphasis on self-care is in response to how demanding legal work can be.
“I think it’s important to exercise self-care to make the practice of law more positive,” said Marianne. “Being a lawyer is undoubtedly one of the most high-stress professions out there, and coupled with traditional ways of practice, can cause burn out, anxiety and depression. Some of the ways I practise self-care include making time for exercise, meditation, practising mindfulness, spending time with my dog and taking short breaks with my hubby. However this will look different for everyone. If it’s possible to negotiate a flexible work arrangement, then this would be my number one recommendation, because it then gives lawyers time to incorporate self-care into their day.”