Angela Advocates Another Way

Angela Advocates Another Way

Angela Smith loves being part of the non-traditional law firm, SLF Lawyers. The environment has given her the confidence to advocate for another way beyond the cigars, cognac and wood panelling.

Law is a very traditional, male dominated sector. Right from law school, lawyers are channelled down a path to do things the “way they’ve always been done”. To be successful, you must do what you are told and compromise on your personal life.  For instance, male norms of business demand that informal meetings are still held on the golf course. Angela openly admits she does not like or play golf yet she has (attempted to) play on numerous occasions early in her career because she felt she had to. She also talks about hiding the fact she wanted to have a family because it would be a career breaker.

Today she knows that there is another way.

Angela is passionate about mentoring others and helping them get the most from their careers. This started early when she worked with young graduate lawyers. She shows them they do not have to limit themselves to the “way things have always been done”. Instead, she works to help them build their skills, so they have the tools they need to do things on their own. She believes too many are thrown in the deep end and sent out to deal with clients by themselves with very little training. Whereas Angela routinely goes out of her way to bring them to client meetings and business functions so they may shadow her and see another way of getting things done.

As the partner heading up the Sydney office, she has been able to create a haven for growth with her own team. She runs a predominately female-based office with over 66% of employees being female.  Many have been attracted because Angela has been a strong advocate for flexible work arrangements including part-time and remote working. She is a champion and a role model, openly saying her family and their health come first and encouraging others that it’s fine to have work and life in balance. She has altered the company’s culture significantly, allowing younger female professionals to excel in their career whilst balancing other commitments outside of work.

Her team is very supportive of one another, empowered and they regularly check in to see “how everything is going” showing genuine interest and support. A sure sign of a problem is when someone’s door remains closed for too long. This usually indicates the person is drowning. If that happens, anyone of the team will step in to ensure the workload becomes rebalanced.

Ensuring that SLF is a safe environment for female employees to grow and develop skills is very important to Angela. There is still a lot of inappropriate behaviour in the legal sector from both clients and suppliers. Angela works to support her team should this occur. Sometimes they cannot avoid the communication, but they have a system to ensure it’s all in writing and channelled straight to her. Often, this alone works to the diffuse the situation.

Angela actively mentors’ young females both within the office space and outside. Within SLF Lawyers, both in the Sydney office and nationally, Angela is an active participant in mentoring young lawyers and guiding their professional development. In this respect, Angela promotes and encourages career growth within the organisation and is supportive in all employees’ professional endeavours. She loves creating opportunities for them to step up.

Externally, Angela is a frequent mentor through Business in Heels Mentor Mornings, connecting likeminded professional women of all demographics. Through these events, Angela empowers other professional women, within and without the legal sector, to collaborate with each other, be confident in their professional abilities and courageous in their career pursuits. “I have assisted and mentored approximately 50 female individuals, assisting them in forming other professional connections and ensuring they have a safe platform to learn from like-minded females,” says Angela.

Another of Angela’s activities is her board position at Humanity Matters, a charity aimed at supporting at-risk and vulnerable youth. The charity focuses on engaging with them to facilitate positive interactions with their community, families and other vulnerable youth. This is turn promotes their development so they can acclimate and succeed in society and all other aspects of their lives.

When asked why she is a great advocate and mentor Angela comments, “In order to promote equity in society, it is important to equip people with the means to succeed and the confidence to pursue their goals.”




Taking Flexibility to a Whole New Level

Taking Flexibility to a Whole New Level

There is a lot of talk about flexibility and hybrid working. Yet too often, when we dig deeper, flexibility is minimal and the gains almost non-existent. So Coulter Legal, a respected Geelong-based legal firm, has decided it is time to break the mould and take the concept of flexibility and hybrid working to a whole new level.

Importantly, it is proving to be a gamechanger for their recruitment and retention objectives.

Almost all their people take up some form of flexibility. This can include varying start and finish times, compressed working weeks, part-time hours and working from home or from an office closer to their own home. They are proud they have managed to conceive and adopt a flexibility model which is possible to offer to all their people, regardless of their position. The model ensures all employees can take advantage of the scheme in an equitable manner for their own circumstances.

“We pride ourselves on our individualised approach to flexibility,” says Belinda Perisic, General Manager. They have embraced their employees’ parenting needs and turned it into a competitive advantage.

The legal industry is often known for its rigid philosophies and partnership structures which do not support partners or principals in any part-time capacity. Not so Coulter Legal who have Alicia Carroll, Principal Lawyer and Head of Corporate & Commercial. She is taking advantage of the scheme choosing a four-day working week with excess load spread across the team. Bonnie Phillips, Head of Family & Relationship Law is currently on parental leave and will return in a part-time capacity in 2023.  The team are already working on a delegation structure to ensure that Bonnie is well supported in he return to work next year.

Coulter Legal
Two additional game changers include the extension of the parental leave policy to 18 weeks and the removal of any distinguishment between primary and secondary carers. Upon the introduction of these measures, they immediately went from two to three taking it up per year to seven in 2022. The program also includes paid superannuation on unpaid leave up to 52 weeks, paid leave for pregnancy loss, paid leave for IVF treatment, and additional support on return to work including part-time and staggered returns.

Quite simply, employees are trusted to work flexibly in clearly outlined relationships. For instance, Belinda personally feels it is important to mirror the values of Coulter Legal, so she chooses to do child drop-off and pick-up every day. One day, excess traffic after drop-off caused her to run late to an interview. “Whilst the situation was not ideal, it was the best way to demonstrate to the candidate that we are serious about flexibility and understand people have responsibilities outside of work.”

Graduates are included in the scheme too. One of the newly hired grads works remotely from Gippsland. She comes into the Melbourne office as agreed. The company have been inventive at ensuring adequate systems are in place for this graduate to use collaboration tools to ask questions and stay on track.

Given the number of employees working flexibly, you could argue they are out of sight and that this might impact their ability to progress their careers. The Coulter Legal team have that covered with a robust talent planning system which ensures people are assessed based on their performance and career aspirations. People are not disadvantaged by taking parental leave as promotions are given to those most deserving. Belinda advised, “We recently promoted a lawyer into a very senior position and then immediately put that on hold so that she could take her maternity leave and focus on her family. She will begin in her new role when she returns to the business in 2023.”

Empathy is one of their foundational considerations as demonstrated by their Family Violence Leave Policy. This allows staff to take the time they need to escape domestic violence through offering paid leave and additional support, including through their Employee Assistance Program. In circumstances where someone shares that they are living in or escaping from family violence, they take a very caring and confidential stance to ensure their staff member is safe first.

Managing Principal, Anne O’Loughlin, also commented that “Coulter Legal are committed to addressing the changing needs of the team on an ongoing basis and that it is part of the strategic plan at Coulter Legal to remain flexible and focused on their people.”

Coulter Legal is incredibly proud of its diversity, in particular their gender equality. They are 80% women and have equal representation of women and men across both Executive and Leadership levels. Clearly, it’s a great place to work!