From botanist to CFO to lawyer
In this client spotlight we sit down with Monicka Baird. She discusses her career from studying a science degree in botany to being a CFO, and what it was like opening her own firm during Covid.
Monicka, it's lovely to meet you today. We'd love to share your story with the mattero audience, so perhaps you could tell us why you started your own law firm and what area of law you are most passionate about?
I started the firm on the 3rd March 2020, two weeks before Covid. A prime time to start a law firm. However, to give you a little bit of background, I have a Bachelor of Science degree in botany, and I am also an accountant, so I was a CFO before I became a lawyer. As a lawyer, I've worked for several different firms in various areas of law, including at a Community Legal Centre. So, with all that experience behind me, my husband suggested I set up my own law firm, and that was the birth of Monicka Baird & Co.
In terms of passion, I did a Master of Law in Property, Wills and Estate Management, so I do a lot of this type of work, but when I worked with Community Legal, I was involved in Elder Abuse Law. I would say about 20% of my practice is now in this area and because this is my real passion, I do it pro bono. Elder Financial Abuse Law can be very time-intensive, and you can become emotionally invested, but there are good outcomes. We recently won a big case for an elderly lady with assistance from LawRight.
Although it was never my intention, I have taken some Family Law clients. I have referred such clients to other Family Law firms, but they often come back to me as they feel they don't receive the same level of respect or understanding.
Your website states that your law firm is devoted to your clients. Can you tell us what that level of personalised service looks like?
The reason why we are different is that I am a suburban lawyer operating from my family home. My entire philosophy is that we are a community legal firm working for our community. I've tried to make it as easy as possible for my clients to visit me. For example, they can park out the front of our home, and our meetings are never set for a specific length of time. If a client wants to talk, I let them speak for as long as they need. I develop a relationship with my clients, and I invest in listening to them. I don't want them to feel rushed because the "timer is ticking" when they visit me.
I also like to involve my client in the legal process. For example, when I write a letter, I send it to my client first for their information before I forward it to the other party. This personal approach has led to the firm flourishing, and it's all from word of mouth. I don't do any advertising, and we have more work coming in every day.
To me, it's all about respecting our clients, respecting where they come from, giving them time, listening to them, and helping them understand the legal process.
If I could go back a little bit. You mentioned that you started the firm two weeks before Covid hit. How did this impact the launch of your firm?
I resigned from my previous position in February 2020, and it took me a month to set up the practice. When I opened the doors, I had my first client on Day 2. Then two weeks later, Covid hit! I had to be proactive and keep working, so I did a lot of research, started my own news blog, set up the website, a Facebook page, and the clients kept trickling in. Right from the beginning, everything we did was digital, including meeting our clients through Zoom calls.
During this period, I noticed unrest in some law firms as they transitioned from an office to a remote working environment. I was lucky I operate from my home, so my running costs are minimal.
Monicka, what are some of the challenges you face running your own law firm?
As a small community suburban practice, my biggest challenge relates to the QLS Audit rules. I am an accountant, and it is frustrating that small firms can be penalised for successfully managing debtors and running a profitable business.
My other frustration was primarily resolved when we moved from our previous software supplier to mattero. We love "Matt". I like to do everything in the system, but we still do some things external to Matt, but he's so malleable and cheeky we really love him.
One of our biggest surprises is the response from the mattero team. Hannah and I are blown away by how quickly your team responds to questions and issues. I needed some help with the Trust when I first started. It was after hours, yet Celeste just kept on going until we found a workable solution. Nobody does that anymore, so big kudos to Celeste and everyone in the mattero team.
Tell us how you found mattero and how it fits into your strategy of running a completely digital firm?
My husband found mattero and is brilliant at sourcing time-saving technology. Setting up mattero was far simpler than I expected it to be, and I could set it up exactly the way I wanted to. When we researched practice management software, we found the other systems have a significant presence in the market, but they can be costly. Many of them have some excellent features, but I asked myself, 'how do those features enhance what I do for my client?' They didn't, so I don't need them.
My husband also found reMarkable, which I use to write Wills, and they're automatically saved into Outlook and mattero.
You offer fixed price packages to your clients. Could you elaborate on how you manage your costs?
We calculate our fixed price and prepare our Engagement Documents, filing them in Matt. To monitor how accurately we estimate our costs, we run some of our clients on a Time record in mattero and make any adjustments when we raise our accounts. This process gives us a good indication of how accurate we are in calculating the length of time a job takes. Of course, for Conveyancing and Wills, we have a fixed price, and we know our times because they have very fixed boundaries. The systems we have in place allows us to be very accurate.
The files which are 'unique' matters, for example, in Family Law, are run on Time in mattero, even though we quote a fixed price. By creating Time records, we have evidence of work and time spent if we need to amend our Costs Agreement.
Are you involved in any activities outside of practising law but related to the profession?
Unfortunately, not so much these days. The firm takes all my time. My hobby outside of work is hugging trees. I'm a botanist, so I like to spend my spare time in the garden.
Do you have any words of advice for lawyers who are setting up their own law firm?
Don't underestimate your own abilities. Setting up your own law firm can be very confronting, especially when you don't have a mentor. It's best to just believe in yourself and give it a go.