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Warren, congratulations on Beech Veltman Inc.’s one-year anniversary. As a starting point perhaps you can provide a reflection of your first year.

 

It has been quite an interesting and exciting journey. Interesting because we started the firm during covid and after lockdown was announced. A lot of people thought we were crazy and perhaps even some of our team members thought we were crazy at the time, but it has worked out incredibly well.  It has also been an exciting journey for us. The firm has done extremely well, we are enjoying ourselves, and we remain passionate being in practice, and practising law.  It also meant that because of covid we had to do things differently, we were pushed into being agile, we were pushed into changing the way we work, for example meeting face-to-face with clients, but all in all it has been an extremely exciting journey and we are looking forward to the next year.

 

There is often a difficulty in retaining clients when there is change of firm. How have your clients responded to this?

 

We have been extremely fortunate to have phenomenally supportive and loyal clients.  The bottom line is I would not be sitting here today, talking to you, and the firm would not be in existence, if it were not for the clients who have been so loyal. I do not want to mention names, but there have been some incredible people who have supported the team and I, and got us into the position we are today.  The entire success of the firm is based on our long-standing relationships. These relationships are based on trust; trust is based on reliability and that comes back to our mantra of #RelevantResponsivePractical. The reliability is based on the fact that we are relevant, we stay relevant, we stay ahead of the curve in the industries that we focus on, we are responsive, and ensure that our turnaround times are unquestionably quick – it is one of our key targets, and of course ensuring the advice we give is practical.  Clients don’t like lawyers who don’t put their head on the block, and who say ‘on the one hand you have this and the one hand you have that’ – expecting the client to have to make the decision alone.  Giving practical business – based advice is important, but ultimately it is about relationships.  The clients have been incredibly supportive about our move because they know and trust us. We focus on being in partnership with our clients and this partnership results in better solutions.

 

Have you encountered any challenges over the past year and if so, how has your law firm managed to overcome them?

 

The key challenge was moving away from face-to-face interaction.  A lot of our work is based out of office.  Unlike many other lawyers, we spend a lot of time at our clients’ premises whether it be their offices or operations – so that was a major change.  You tend to interact a lot easier face-to-face: to understand and relate to one another is a lot easier without the digital interface (and the catch phrase of the last eighteen months ‘you are on mute’).  It has been the way we have always practised and on a personal level I much prefer to meet with clients face-to-face.  This has been a major challenge to overcome, both personally and as a team, but we have managed this quite successfully.    Fortunately, we have been classified as an essential service, and we have been able to travel to and from clients as early as June last year, and a lot of in-person interaction has continued. Getting over the muffled mask communication has been interesting.   The other major challenge has been not always being able to interact with our team in person. When you are sitting in a room and talking about matters, it is far easier than on digital platforms.  We did have digital daily meetings with the team members at the start of lockdown and for quite a time after that, but it does not replace the benefits of face-to-face discussions with team members and time at the coffee machine. I know it probably sounds quite strange but standing and having a cup of coffee and chatting to your team members about things is quite important, because there are levels of interaction in these circumstances that are lost on digital platforms.

 

What would you say differentiates Beech Veltman from other law firms?

 

Our approach has always been multidisciplinary.  For as long as I have been practising and our team has been together, our focus has been on providing multidisciplinary services to our clients and the industries that they operate in. This does not mean we are general practitioners, but rather that we provide services relevant to the mining, natural resources, energy and construction industries, and provide all the services that are important to our clients’ business, within our focus industries. This is based on an in-depth knowledge of the industries that our clients operate in, knowledge about our clients, understanding what is around the corner for them, understanding what their pressure points are, and the issues that they are concerned about. This is what differentiates us.  We don’t work in silos, all the team members know what is going on with our clients, and what is going on in each of our matters. This puts us in a unique position where we are able to respond to our clients’ needs, and also be proactive. We always return to our mantra where have to stay relevant, and this is the differentiator for us.  Turnaround time is critical. Basics like responding to our clients’ emails “thank you for your email, I’ll get back to you”, makes a difference – the client then knows that their matter is being attended to and that their matter is important.  With our vast industry – focused knowledge and experience, when a client asks whether we can we do something, it’s not a matter of ‘well we think we can do it’, it is a matter of ‘yes we have done it or a member of our team has done it in the past and we can do it for you.’

 

How does Beech Veltman remain relevant to the mining, natural resources, and infrastructure industry as a firm?

 

It is three ways:

  1. We keep in contact with our clients. You are not going to know what is of concern to clients unless you are in contact with them. Quite often it means taking time out in your day, picking up the phone, and asking your clients ‘how are you doing, what’s keeping you busy this week’, understanding our clients, and knowing what is bothering them through regular interaction.
  2. Secondly, we understand our focus industries, and what is going on in these industries and within the broader stakeholders in these industries. It is important to be able to say to a client that you have encountered a similar situation with another client, or other stakeholders in the industry, and that the problem is not unique. It also often means that a multi – client solution can be identified.

 

  1. Thirdly it is about knowing what is happening with the laws that apply to our focus industries and understanding how it will impact on the client. We stay up to date on the proposed and actual changes to the laws, and how these laws are interpreted or are likely to be interpreted by the regulators. This means that we have to have regular engagements with the regulators and establish a professional relationship of trust with them. We speak to them regularly and often literally have a coffee chat about things. It is not only understanding the law as it is written but how the regulators interpret it, and that sometimes is the vital difference between simply repeating what the law says, and how the regulator is going to interpret it, in practice.

 

You were quoted in the latest Without Prejudice special feature on the changing legal landscape that as a firm a caring culture and diversity is crucial to its success in 2021. Can you unpack this a bit more please?

 

Lawyers often get put in categories, we are identified sometimes as being heartless and dispassionate.  I think that this is the wrong way to look at law and the practice of law.  I have always said when people phone and ask about whether their children should go into law, that they should not do so do so unless they are genuinely passionate about law – it is not ‘a job’ – and that they must find some area of the law that they are so passionate about that they want to specialise and do it every day of their lives. This is what our team has done.  It is sometimes difficult to have a caring culture as clients often expect you to be dispassionate, but this is not always the best way to practice law and provide the best advice. Caring enough to pick up the phone to a client who may be having a difficult time is important, it is not about being a lawyer, it is about being a person behind the lawyer.  It is also about looking after each other as team members. It is relationship based on a culture of care, which I think is absolutely vital to the practice of law generally.  The clients can pick up on that – they know when you are being authentic, and this is what we strive for as a team.

 

Looking ahead, what are your goals and vision for Beech Veltman in the next 5 – 10 years?

 

From my personal perspective it’s probably retirement! Just joking – everyone who know me also knows that I will practice until I get wheeled out of my office. My focus is on ensuring that the team and the firm has a strong core set of principles around which the firm can thrive and grow, into the future.  The challenges over the next couple of years remain the same, we need to remain relevant in a transforming world and a world that is transforming very quickly. Historically businesses, including law firms used to do a 3-, 5- and 10-year business plan, but now you simply cannot do that.  If however you have a core set of principles that guide the firm, this will ensure growth, development, resilience and agility, regardless of the changes around us. Put in the context of the digital life we live in, lawyers can and must adapt to it, and work around it. It is going to remain a challenge in the practice of law particularly because of the human element that is often necessary, but we are working on it,  and I have complete faith in the team’s ability to rise to this challenge My personal intention and that of the partners is to grow the firm, but not for growths sake – it is about getting people  who are likeminded – this is essential for the future of our firm. It is however also about a strong focus on diversity. Diversity brings in different perspectives and different perspectives ultimately result in good advice to the client. We cannot sit as individuals, and decide that our view is the only, and correct, view.  Diversity ensures that other perspectives are identified and considered.  You only get perspective out of diversity and out of diversity comes better thinking, better solutions and better advice ultimately for the client.

 We must have a core set of business beliefs, and be a company with purpose, and I believe that as long as we are achieving our ‘business with purpose’  philosophy, the firm will thrive.

 

Lastly, is there a message you wish to convey to your clients, team, and wider audience in commemoration of your one-year anniversary?

 

It is quite frightening that a year has gone by so quickly (and what a strange year it has been), but it has been an exciting year for the firm, and I cannot emphasise enough that we must thank our clients for their ongoing support. Without our clients we would not exist. I know there is a saying out there that a client can fire everybody from the CEO down simply by moving instructions, and that is so true. When I talk about clients, I am not just talking about the client company, it is the people in the companies who we have had long standing relationships with. I would obviously also like to thank the team, without whom the firm would not be a success.   What a year – and I am looking forward to the next year.