Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Monday, August 21, 2006

Professional Practice in Regional Australia

On 11 August I went to the first day of the Country Week Expo, a promotion designed to promote opportunities in regional NSW to Sydney people. One of the challenges is to attract professional people in metro areas to consider regional options.

That reminded me of a question that had been asked at the previous year's Expo and my response. The question and my response focused on law, but the response is also applicable to other professional areas.

A young lawyer asked me what opportunities were offered by Regional Australia. My short answer was a lot.

Unlike some metro areas where legal professionals are in over-supply, many regional areas throughout Australia have immediate job vacancies. Further it is much easier to establish your own practice or to acquire a partnership in an existing practice. Adjusted for practice and living costs, profit per partner can be significantly higher than the city suburban average.

However, the starting point in considering these has to be your own needs, aspirations and areas of interest.

Regional Australia involves a hierarchy of communities from small centres through to major regional cities.

Practice in the smaller communities is very different from that generally found in the metro areas.

Lawyers have to be more generalist working across fields including criminal law, family law, conveyancing and local government matters. The relationship with clients is also different in that the lawyer is more likely to be the key source of advice instead of simply one among a range of advisers.

Bigger communities such as major regional cities offer more scope for specialisation in practice simply because the business base is larger. In addition, while regional businesses do use metro solicitors to meet particular needs, their preference for local support creates opportunities in areas such as commercial, corporation and property law. Simply put, competition for supply of services in these areas is less than in the bigger metro centres.

There is also great variation within regional Australia in demographic structures and the type and level of economic activity. This creates significant variations in practice possibilities that need to be individually investigated. Examples include agribusiness and rural law in major farming districts, estate planning in retirement areas, business succession planning, biotechnology in certain areas, different types of employment related law depending upon the dominant industrial base.

Partnership opportunities can be very good. Because many law graduates prefer to work in metro areas, the average age of regional solicitors tends to be higher. Practice succession is an important issue, creating a range of partnership possibilities.

All lawyers need to maintain professional currency. It used to be the case that the tyranny of distance made it more difficult to keep in professional touch. However, the existence of on-line resources as well as professional support mechanisms now places all lawyers on a more even footing regardless of location.

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