As an employment lawyer, Carly Stebbing is on the front lines of how COVID-19 is impacting Australians. Carly heads up virtual employment law practice, Resolution123, which won the 2019 Lawyers Weekly Innovator of the Year (Firm) at the Women in Law Awards.
Insights spoke to Carly about her experiences as a lawyer in lockdown, how her law firm has been affected by COVID-19, and how she helps advocate for employees during a downturn.
Lockdown life normal for WFH law firm
“Resolution123 was set up as a virtual practice,” said Carly. While the firm is based out of UTS Startups, the team was set up to work from home and did so regularly before COVID-19 made it necessary.
“We were able to transition early before NSW government directions to stay home were issued,” said Carly. “We don’t typically receive snail mail but when we do it’s to a PO Box near my house so it’s easily collected. Our systems were built in the cloud and are accessible on all devices, allowing us to work from any location.”
The firm reimbursed any team members who set up chairs and desks in their rooms.
Like many parents, the biggest difference was having children at home during work hours.
“Fortunately, my husband also works for the firm and was able to do most of the caring, which was great because our children are otherwise usually at school or with grandparents,” said Carly. Her husband continued his operations work for the firm in the evening, or at times when Carly was able to take time off.
Tech-lite, and WFH-ready
Carly credits her team for their motivation to push on despite the challenges of COVID-19 and working from home.
“Amidst the downturn and changes to workplace relations law, it feels like there has never been a more important time to be an employment lawyer,” said Carly.
“We stay connected through collaborative systems like Google Docs for supervision, document sharing, live editing and commenting, Google Hangouts and chat for team interaction and open and honest communication about where the firm is at, how much runway we have, the need to preserve cash to retain jobs and the flexibility we need to get through this.”
Demand surges for employment law services
“Resolution123 has seen a thousand-fold increase in demand for our services,” said Carly. “Employees need quick, simple, and affordable advice on stand down, pay cuts, and redundancy. In response, we have launched Facebook live sessions to answer popular questions, visual scribes on your rights at work, and blogs on job keeper entitlements and obligations.
“We have also launched a low cost COVID-19 express telephone or email consult providing employees with 20 minutes of our time and advice. This is intended to help them protect their jobs. In addition, we also have a chatbot that provides templates to help employees navigate disputes at work.”
Making employment law accessible to every Australian
Resolution123 launched with a simple mission: to provide quick, simple, and affordable employment law advice to employees.
“We are different from traditional employment law firms because we automate repeated tasks and couple this with flexible work practices,” said Carly. “This makes employment law accessible to the average Australian. We launched with a web app to help employees identify if they have an employment law claim, and we have since added an online masterclass on flexible work and a DIY unfair dismissal package.
“More recently we have created an app for workers to record hours and educate them on their rights at work, and launched a chatbot to help employees stood down, forced to take a pay cut or dismissed due to COVID19.”
By providing a range of services at lower price points, Carly has effectively reduced the cost of accessing legal help. While she did this prior to lockdown, the shifting employment landscape has seen that early investment pay off.
Weathering the downturn as a virtual law firm
Like so many lawyers, Carly wasn’t sure she wanted to practice.
“I sort of fell into law. Then I fell in love with it,” said Carly. “While I was studying law at UWS, a friend’s mum worked at an employer association and mentioned they were hiring business grads. I’d completed my business degree, so I thought I’d give it a try.
“I was thrown in the deep end, providing industrial relations (‘IR’) advice to employers in all industries,” Carly said. “I took to it straight away. I love the sense of purpose work gives people. Your relationship to your workplace is so important, and IR plays an important role in all this.”
She transferred to UTS to complete her law degree through night classes, which enabled her to work full time in employment law.
“I’ve never looked back,” she said. “I decided to start Resolution123 for employees after 12 years working for employers. I realised there was a gap in the market to provide accessible employment law services for employees who are not members of a union.
“Now more than ever, I feel called to help. Educating employees on their rights at work, helping them realise the protections in the law, and finding their voice is what fulfils me every day.”
For lawyers looking to provide value and retain clients through the downturn, Carly advises pragmatism and adaptation.
“Get crisis management support, be consultative with your staff and get their buy-in for the changes needed to weather the storm,” advised Carly. “Give your clients what they need now at prices they can afford now. Consider how those needs will change in the medium to long term - and plan to meet these needs. Preserve your cash - you’ll need it on the other side of this.
“A firm that can withstand this downturn and meet its clients’ needs is a firm set up for long term success.”