Believing the traditional law firm model to be ill-suited to the needs of entrepreneurs, Demetrio Zema founded legal practice start-up Law Squared, determined to offer a better client experience.
Since launching out of Cluster, a co-working space in Central Melbourne, in March 2016, the firm – Zema’s sixth business – has been named ‘Australia’s most innovative law firm’ by the Huffington Post and grown to a team of eleven people across offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
In addition, Zema was named one of the LexisNexis 2016 Legal Innovation Index winners and, more recently, has been shortlisted as a finalist for the “Top 10 Rising Stars”, which will be announced during next month’s Victorian Legal Awards. As well as being the director of Law Squared, Zema is an active participant in the not-for-profit (NFP) community as director for the Centre for Multicultural Youth, Board Sub-Committee Member of VicDeaf and co-founder of If Not Now Then When Foundation.
The serial entrepreneur – an Australian delegate to the upcoming G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Summit in Berlin – spoke to Dynamic Business about the state of the legal industry, his motivation for launching Law Squared and his greatest challenge in business to date.
DB: What is Law Squared’s origin story?
Zema: I’ve been involved in number of businesses, including start-ups, since the age of 21, when I launched my first venture. Outside the legal industry, I’ve had businesses in the consulting, technology, transport, food and hospitality sectors, all of which come with their own unique challenges.
Owing to these experience, I’ve become acutely aware of the barriers entrepreneurs face when seeking to access legal help, including education, and the degree to which they are dissatisfied with lawyers, primarily due to poor communication as well as the expense and inefficiencies.
After a five-year stint with two traditional mid-tier law firms, which provided invaluable learnings, I decided to combine my entrepreneurial and legal skills to create a legal firm that operated in the SME space. With Law Squared, I was motivated to support budding and established entrepreneurs with an accessible, holistic service. To ensure clients understood the value we could add to their business and that we had an ongoing understanding of their legal and commercial needs, I wanted the focus to be on education and being personable. In addition, I wanted to create a positive, nurturing work environment for lawyers.
DB: What is the firm’s point of difference?
Zema: Law Squared is built on ‘NewLaw’ philosophies that incorporate elements of the traditional law firm model that aren’t at odds with today’s technology-driven world. Whereas many law firms charge by time and their ‘fee earners’ are kept accountable by budgets, we’ve created a different business model with a focus on outcomes (not revenue) and creating value, both for our clients and the firm. In this way, we’ve sought to remove the monetary element of engagement.
DB: What has driven Law Squared’s growth?
Zema: Our growth and success have been based on a number of factors. Firstly, we’ve assembled a team of people who believe in our vision, mission and philosophies and have provided them with a positive, vibrant environment where they can flourish. We’ve also focused on building meaningful partnerships with likeminded businesses and entrepreneurs, and have been received support from family, friends, colleagues and, importantly, other lawyers. Critically, we have a high referral rate (>95%) from our growing client base – they have not only provided us with the opportunity to showcase our difference but have embraced and trusted our firm to act as advisors to and counsel in their businesses.
DB: Is the legal sector ripe for disruption?
Zema: Despite the dominance of millennial clients, and the fact that technology has become increasingly indispensable, the legal industry is still frozen in time. In a world where email and instant messaging is a key aspect of daily life, law firms – lamentably – remain ‘stuck’ in the traditional mechanics of client engagement. With their dictaphones, typists and word-processing pools, they sit awkwardly in today’s business world, which is populated by FinTech and millennial businesses that require lawyers to be present, adaptable, relevant and, of course, personable.
Numerous legal tech products and services are coming to market or already exist, all of which benefits the industry. The focus of disruption needs to be on enabling lawyers to become better communicators, more accessible and more efficient. There are many examples of products which are enabling lawyers to disrupt the industry, just as there are firms, like Law Squared, offering a different service model.
DB: What has been your greatest challenge to date?
Zema: With Law Squared, my greatest challenge has been time management. With numerous ongoing projects, along with a rapidly expanding team, three offices and a growing client base, time management is critical. I try my best to overcome this challenge by prioritising my team. This means ensuring they are well supported and have the tools and resources necessary to carry out their day-to day-tasks, which in turn equips them to support our clients in achieving their desired outcomes.
Early in my entrepreneurial journey, I struggled to find likeminded entrepreneurs who had experienced – or were experiencing – similar pain-points to me. I was quite young setting out to start my first business, so I only ever had older mentors to turn to. Since establishing Law Squared, I have built a fantastic network of like-minded entrepreneurs who provide me with support and guidance, and, in this way, make me a better business person
Running and growing a business is far from easy but most people only look at (and talk about) the success. Very few talk about the sacrifices and struggles (personal and professional) or the highs and lows that come with running a business, particularly for a sole founder. I have been extremely lucky to be well supported, not only by family and friends but also by a wider entrepreneur network and community.
DB: How has your NFP work helped you?
Zema: I’ve been involved in the not-for-profit sector since high school and – due to my legal knowledge and experience – have had the opportunity to serve three NFPs as a board member. These experiences have enabled me to develop my skills in governance, which is a key part of any business. Also, being able to influence the direction of the NFPs and have high-level discussions with my fellow board members has helped me better relate to my clients and their businesses.
DB: What plans do you have for future growth?
Zema: This is such a difficult question. Twelve months ago, I wouldn’t have thought Law Squared would be where it is today, yet here we are! With offices in three capital cities and a team of eleven, we have seen tremendous growth and uptake. There really are no boundaries to what we can achieve as a firm; however, sustainability, remaining agile, and staying true to our purpose, including our NewLaw philosophies, will be key to our future strategy and growth.