Health law, as an area of specialty, has been relatively rare in New Zealand and certainly has been so far as specialist law practices are concerned.
However one newcomer that has developed a burgeoning practice in the legal arena is Claro.
We spoke with partner Jonathan Coates about the development of his specialist practice.
A health law specialist since the late 1990s, Jonathan Coates began his legal career in civil and criminal law before completing a PhD in health law in the early 2000s. A Buddle Findlay partner in the period 2005-2012 he headed the firm’s health law practice.
He left Buddle Findlay to set up Claro in 2012. He remains firmly involved in litigation work, handling a wide variety of work for everyone from District Health Boards and professional indemnifiers to NGOs, regulators and colleges and associations.
With three partners, the firm has developed a strong focus on its area of specialty in part by investing heavily in health specialists with wide and coalface edxperience in dealing with health issues at a local and national level.
Among the key personnel in the growing firm are former Buddle Findlay lawyers and Claro partners Iris Reuvecamp, who holds a Masters in Bioethics and health law and with a decade’s health law experience and Anita Miller, a health law specialist since the mid 2000s who has particular expertise in regulation and litigation.
Other key personnel with the firm include Wendy Beverley, a consultant with the firm who is a registered general and obstetric nurse as well as a lawyer, Pete Le Cren a health law specialist who has been heavily involved in District Health Board work both as in-house and external counsel, and a non-lawyer policy and regulatory specialist, Rachael Heslop.
Variety is one of the key factors in the health law arena and Claro have rapidly gained a reputation for their work in the area and their expertise.
LawFuel spoke with Jonathan Coates about his specialty practice and the birth of a specialist boutique operating in health law.
LF: How long has Claro been operating?
Jonathan Coates: Claro started as a firm in July 2012 – so has now been operating for more than 3 ½ years.
Claro is a boutique, specialist law firm. Our specialty is in providing legal services to the health sector. While Claro follows the trend of boutique firms centred around ex-big national firm lawyers, Claro is different from many other boutiques.
LF: In what ways do you differ?
JC: We are sector focused rather than practice area focused. Most boutiques concentrate on practice areas (e.g. Employment Law, Environmental Law, Commercial Law etc). Claro focuses on one of the country’s major sectors – the health sector.
This means we provide full legal services to our health sector clients, including litigation, commercial and business advice, employment and health and safety advice, clinical and corporate governance, as well as general advisory work for the client’s specific area of focus (e.g., mental health, aged care, professional regulation).
We also have offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. For a small firm, that is a big commitment.
Despite the trend toward providing legal services remotely (which we support), much of our work involves legal issues that have a profound impact on individuals. We think having specialist lawyers accessible in person in these three centres is an advantage.
LF: How has the first stage of development been for Claro?
JC: It has been a busy but professionally rewarding three and a half years. We’ve been involved in some interesting and challenging cases (for example, whether a prisoner on hunger strike could be given treatment against his wishes; whether mental health inpatients have a right to smoke); but we have also been reminded that there is a huge amount of work involved in setting up a firm and establishing a new brand.
We have also discovered what we hoped would be the case is true – that buyers of legal services are generally sophisticated and will seek out genuine specialists.
LF: How has the firm developed and grown its specialist practice?
JC: The firm has grown in all three offices since we started in July 2012. We initially started with 5 lawyers. That has now doubled to 10 lawyers.
Our lawyers are specialists in the law relating to the provision, regulation, funding and management of health services.
All our lawyers have sub-specialities – these include professional discipline and regulation, public and administrative law, commercial law, health sector contract and procurement, litigation, health/medical law, mental health law, public health law, and information and systems.
Claro’s offering includes a health policy and regulatory specialist – a non-lawyer whose services to clients complements our legal services.
LF: What tools and technology do you rely upon?
JC: We work seamlessly across our three offices. We often have lawyers from two offices working on files together. This has meant that we have needed systems to allow this to happen easily.
Our primary filing system is electronic which means our files are up to date at all times so that information and documents can be accessed by anyone who needs them wherever they are.
We have found this easier than we thought we might – although we do often retain supplementary physical files, particularly on litigation files or bigger matters.
LF: You use the Cloud?
JC: IT is a big expense for us – we have a cloud based system, with no servers in our offices. This allows us to access our system from wherever we are – including when we are travelling.
LF: Growth plans, marketing initiatives and how you see the firm in (say) 5 years
JC: We don’t aspire to get bigger just for the sake of it. Ultimately we want to be providing top quality services to clients in the areas of law we enjoy specialising in. We also want to constantly innovate in the way legal services are provided – so as to ensure our clients get the best possible value for money.
One of the things we enjoy the most is the freedom to be flexible and collaborative in the way we work with other lawyers – whether it be barristers, small to medium sized firms, large national firms, or in-house counsel.
LF: Where does most of your work come from?
JC: Most of our work comes directly from established clients, we are available to provide opinions and litigation services to clients through other lawyers.
We like working together alongside other lawyers – combining the lawyers’ own knowledge of the client with our specialist health sector expertise. Likewise, we sometimes involve lawyers from other firms where they have particular expertise to complement our own – including working collaboratively with other lawyers when responding to requests for proposals.
LF: How is the firm administered?
JC: Our 10 lawyers and policy specialist are supported by part time administrative staff and an accounts person. Our policy specialist doubles as the firm’s General Manager.
LF: Do you have flexible working hours?
JC: Some of our lawyers are part time. These are lawyers who work regular, minimum hours; but have the flexibility to increase their hours further where workloads demand it.
We value highly this pool of flexible, extremely talented lawyers.