Building a boutique corporate law firm in New Zealand’s biggest corporate market is not necessarily an easy feat for anyone. But for two large firm alumni who have entered the fray it is also producing results and enjoyment that demonstrates there is life – and plenty of it – after Big Law.
Flacks & Wong was set up in early 2015 by the Bell Gully alumni, David Flacks being a former senior partner and Daniel Wong a senior associate at the firm.
The firm was developed by the two following David Flacks’ retirement from Bell Gully,
when they decided to create a specialist niche corporate practice operating at the upper end of the market.
The focus was on building a small boutique rather than developing a mid-sized firm. Currently the firm exists with just the two principals, but 2016 is the year of expansion partner Daniel Wong says.
Plus, the two have a combined half century of commercial law experience between themselves and a synergy they felt could easily translate into a successful partnership.
“We have a strong track record of working well together,” Daniel Wong says “in large part because we bring different, but complementary, strengths and perspectives.”
However, the Auckland market is competitive – doesn’t that make the establishment of a successful commercial boutique tough?
In some respects yes, but Flacks & Wong has also found the market to be relatively fragmented and has thoroughly enjoyed the support of other specialist practices, even within their own corporate practice area, to talk and share ideas on succeeding as a boutique law firm.
“We’ve been fortunate that the big firms have been very supportive too”, Daniel Wong says.
“We’ve been highly recommended on a number of occasions by big firms already acting on a transaction where the project or client requires further resource to bring it all together – almost in a project management-type role – where our independence, experience in listed company transactions and ability to get things done in a sensible, pragmatic manner, adds real value”.
The firm’s mixed clientele includes listed and private companies, a number of which aspire to list on NZX, as well as a variety of directors, entrepreneurs and start-ups.
Flacks & Wong has also received a significant number of instructions due to conflict referrals from law firms, as well as from an extensive network developed from their years of practising in the corporate arena.
The Challenge of the Start-Up Law Firm
The two have responded to the usual “start-up” challenges with vigour. “There’s an opportunity to challenge the way you’ve been used to doing things in the “big firm” and to consider what ways we could work more effectively and better serve our clients’ needs,” Daniel says.
Beyond that, there is the challenge of marketing and growing the firm’s client base.
They are challenges that Flacks & Wong has grasped with the very firm intention of making good on their ambitions to build a firm that provides “top-tier” service to a growing register of clients.
The firm recently advised on the merger of Imarda and International Telematics to form Coretex, New Zealand’s largest fleet management technology company. The firm subsequently advised Coretex on Milford’s commitment to invest $10 million into Coretex.
Of Flacks & Wong, Selwyn Pellett, Coretex’s CEO says: “David and Daniel from Flacks & Wong have become trusted partners of Coretex. During our recent merger, acquisition and capital raising they performed exceptionally well under very tight timeframes.
The complexity involved in these transactions meant we needed a senior, dedicated and highly-responsive legal team supporting us, and that is exactly what we got. Their experience showed through with concise, balanced and pragmatic guidance”.
Starting and successfully growing a law firm can be tough going, particularly in an increasingly competitive world but it can be just those challenges that make the job exciting, similar to other small business owners.
“There’s a sense of personal satisfaction and achievement when you reflect back on a successful year and our list of happy clients,” says Daniel Wong. “That client feedback has directly led to independent recognition by Legal 500 Asia Pacific as a recommended ‘Corporate and M&A’ firm within our first year.”
The way the firm operates its technology is through entirely cloud or Saas-based, technology (including various desktop and mobile apps).
“We can work from anywhere and often do, with no impact on performance or functionality,” Daniel says.
Having a ‘tech bent’, Daniel Wong has joined the Auckland District Law Society’s Technology and Law Committee principally with a view to keeping abreast of the constantly changing legal technology marketplace.
The Marketing Issue
Marketing a law firm can always present problems, particularly in an age of social media and online platforms, which may appear daunting to many lawyers more used to conventional marketing outlets.
The main focus is always on delivering top level expertise as corporate lawyers with word-of-mouth being the standby for effective marketing for any firm.
Having a cost effective pricing proposition helps too, as well as having clients who enjoy working with them. David and Daniel together also have a unique set of industry insights of particular relevance for listed companies (and independent directors) through their roles on the Takeovers Panel, the NZ Markets Disciplinary Tribunal and the NZ Shareholders Association, as well as David’s position as chair of AFT Pharmaceuticals (which was one of only three NZX IPO listings in 2015).
A lot of the firm’s marketing is about keeping close to existing clients “and having genuine interactions with potential clients and referrers”.
“We’re also in the process of partnering with a newish equity crowd funding platform and running targeted digital advertising campaigns”, Daniel Wong says.
All-in-all it has been a fast-paced and successful Year 1. But there’s a lot more to go and this year is already seeing some good work booked, which augers well for one of the newest boutiques on the block.