Warren Bennett: Starting your own law firm
Warren is the Director and Principal of WKB Lawyers. Warren’s firm specialises in TPD (Total Permanent Disability) claims through Superannuation Funds. Warren started his legal career later in life after working in banking and finance and realising that he had an interest in legislation and the technical side to his role in complaints. Warren moved between Sydney and Brisbane in order to gain the experience he needed in order to feel confident enough to start his own firm and in March 2019, Warren started WKB Lawyers. Warren’s story is one of determination and it’s inspiring to speak with someone who has worked so hard — from completing his law degree in three years while working full-time to opening his own law firm with four years PAE and then working full-time when he ran out of money to keep his firm going as a side-hustle for a few months! If you’re dreaming of having your own firm one day, this is a must read for you.
Warren’s law journey
Warren started his law degree later in life after having worked in banking and finance and realised that he had an interest in legislation during his role at Bank of Queensland in complaints. Warren found that he really enjoyed this technical side of his role and that is what first sparked his interest in becoming a lawyer. Warren completed his law degree full-time through USQ while he was working full-time. Warren would study on the train to work, during his lunch break and after work and he would work on his assignments on the weekends. I had a similar experience to Warren with studying after work and on weekends but I studied part-time which was a lot more manageable for me. Warren and I both worked full-time during our studies because we needed to financially support ourselves. Warren completed his law degree in three years — which is amazing — but Warren wouldn’t recommend this! Warren found out that experience working in law firms was highly valued by law firms and so Warren moved from Brisbane to Sydney in 2011 to work as a Legal Assistant and to gain experience working in a law firm. This experience led Warren into TPD claims as he was assisting a Law Clerk in a large law firm that dealt with TPD claims. This experience gave Warren a good insight into what working in a law firm was like. After that, Warren worked as a Law Clerk before moving back to Brisbane and working for QLS in Administration. Warren made the move from working in a law firm to working for QLS so that he could work more regimented and reasonable hours and wasn’t having to stay back at work — which is what often happens when you are working for a large law firm. Once Warren finished his law degree, he got a trainee lawyer job in a local Brisbane firm that specialised in TPD. The job market in Brisbane at that time didn’t have many TPD jobs in Brisbane and so Warren made the decision to move back to Sydney. Warren worked in a large personal injury law firm for two years and it was very much ‘sink or swim’ because the law firm Partners didn’t specialise in TPD claims. During this time, Warren built up their TPD claims practice area. This was when Warren realise that if he could do this in a law firm then he could probably do it on his own.
Starting your own law firm
While Warren was working as a TPD Lawyer in a personal injuries firm in Sydney, he was able to build up his own client base and found that he was skilled at sales — he thought he could probably start his own law firm! At that stage Warren thought, I have a couple of thousand dollars, I don’t really understand how to run or market a business — I barely even know what Director’s duties are…so Warren then shifted his focus into learning these things so that he could feel more confident in opening his own law firm. Warren began reading business and law based books, watched a lot of YouTube videos and marketing videos over a year and a half period while he was working as a Senior Legal Counsel (so in-house) at a large insurer. This experience gave Warren insight into what it was like working in TPD claims on the other side of what he had previously experienced. Warren then did the practice management course and a year later, Warren decided he was going to take the big step and start his own law practice! When Warren started his firm in March 2019, he had $12,000, no clients, a $50 Officeworks printer, an old laptop, no practice management system and a vague idea how to use Google Adwords and Facebook Marketing. Warren used pretty much all of his money to pay for someone to do his Google Adwords and he ran out of money pretty quickly, however, Warren managed to get five clients. Warren’s firm is a no win, no fee firm and with TPD claims they can take between 6–12 months to settle if the claims are approved and if they don’t settle then it can be another 12–18 months to settle. When Warren ran out of money running his firm in May 2019, he got a job working full-time at NDIS and worked on his firm as a side-hustle (so awesome!). So, while Warren was working in his day job, he would take calls and respond to emails in his lunch break and working at night and on the weekends. Warren left the job with NDIS in October 2019 and he moved back to Brisbane to focus on WKB Lawyers.
Being strategic but also working it out as you go
When Warren started his law degree he was focused on becoming a lawyer — not on becoming a business owner. Warren had an interest in having his own firm one day, as I think a lot of us do, but he never really planned for it to happen in the early stages and he certainly didn’t think it would be in TPD. Warren fell into TPD but once he started working in that area he soon realised that he really enjoyed it. Warren’s career moves after he realised that he wanted to work in TPD were quite strategic. Warren moved to Sydney because the job market in TPD claims was more promising and working in roles that were ‘sink or swim’ enabled Warren to learn a lot very quickly. Warren noticed that there were not many niche law firms that specialised just in TPD claims and so he saw this as an opportunity. Warren notes that his firm may change or diversify in the future but at the moment his niche model has been really successful for him.
Dreaming of starting your own firm one day?
Invest in marketing and learn sales
When Warren started having money coming into the business in January of this year, he reinvested this money into Google Adwords in order to market his firm. After just over a year of running his firm, Warren now has over 150 files and is getting 2–3 approvals a week — which is amazing! Warren’s advice (apart from becoming an expert at the area of law you want to specialise in) is to educate yourself about Google Adwords and Facebook ads, as well as look at what content is out there within your particular area of law that other law firms are creating. Warren explains that word of mouth and referrals are generally needed for a start-up depending on the amount of money you have when you start, however, Warren did not rely on this when he started his firm and instead focused on spending money on marketing. Warren says don’t be afraid to jump into Google Adwords, etc. to create work as while it can be expensive, Warren is now in a position where he is in the top three results that come up when people are looking for a TPD lawyer — so it’s a great return on investment for him. Warren also explains that running a business is largely about sales — you need to be able to sell people on your business and your services in order to have money coming in so that you can build a profitable business. You can outsource your accounting and you can seek a Barristers assistance for litigation if that is required. Once you have the business built to a stage where you can bring in staff, you then have the option (like Warren intends to do) of running the business and not working IN the business.
Put out content!
Warren and I met through LinkedIn and Warren says that he would post Google reviews and approvals on LinkedIn to hopefully show value to other law firms who don’t specialise in TPD. Warren explains that he could talk about the TPD claims process and that while that would provide some value, it wouldn’t necessarily provide much value to law firms who don’t deal with TPD claims, as they probably aren’t that interested in hearing about it — so Warren focused on results and it worked. Warren was contacted by a bunch of law firms who didn’t specialise in TPD claims and he was able to establish referrer relationships with these firms.
When you know that you’re ready
Warren doesn’t believe that there is a certain amount of experience that you need to have or to be an accredited specialist in the particular area of law but rather that if you know the law and the process well and you are quite confident — that is when you’re probably ready. Warren only had four years PAE when he went out and started his firm — but he felt confident in his ability to do so because of the experience that he had gained and having been thrown in the deep end early in his career and having dealt with thousands of TPD claims. While you must be on your unrestricted practising certificate (which you apply for after you have 2 years PAE), Warren doesn’t believe that there is a strict amount of time that you need under your belt to start your own firm — if you’re confident, go for it — you only have one life and life is short! Warren explains that if you do decide to open your own firm and it doesn’t work out, well you can always go back to working in a firm.
Dealing with imposter syndrome
Warren has absolutely had moments where he has suffered (and sometimes still does) from the old Imposter Syndrome. Warren explains that when he puts content on LinkedIn that he knows experienced practitioners will see, he did worry about how that may be perceived but he decided to not care what other people think and do it anyway. Warren says that although you may feel that way from time to time, try to focus on what you are doing and not caring what other people are thinking. As Warren explains, they probably aren’t even thinking or caring about what you are doing anyway (it’s often just in your head!). Warren doesn’t think that the Imposter Syndrome is something that will never completely go away, it’s important to feel the fear and doing it anyway — post the post on LinkedIn (or wherever)! When Warren started his firm with four years PAE, knowing that there were many very experienced practitioners who would be watching, he did struggle with Imposter Syndrome but he explains that it is normal and to just do it anyway!
What Warren wishes he knew in law school
Warren explains that after you become a lawyer and you start working in practice, you get put into a particular practice area and it can be quite difficult to transition once you gain experience in a particular area. So, Warren would suggest trying to figure out the practice area/s you are interested in while you are at law school — whether that is by studying a particular subject or by doing work experience or working in a firm that deals with the area of law that you think you may be interested in. Warren explains that he fell into TPD law after applying for roles in different areas of law — so it won’t always work out as you plan, but certainly the more experience you can get — the better. When Warren was working in his first legal role, there was a graduate position that came up that he applied for but unfortunately, Warren didn’t get the job because he wasn’t that great at legal letter writing — so Warren decided to leave that firm and take a risk by sinking or swimming in Sydney. Warren says that some lawyers can feel like they are trapped if they haven’t thought about the practice area they want to work in and they fall into an area which they aren’t overly passionate about and they find it difficult to pivot into another area of law.
What Warren wishes he knew as an early career lawyer
When Warren was starting out in his legal career, he looked for an opportunity to sink or swim which is where his move to Sydney came into it. This ‘thrown in the deep end’ approach meant that Warren gained valuable experience very quickly as he had to do everything — he wasn’t put in a box and given work that was only suitable for an early career lawyer. Having been thrown in the deep end, Warren found himself having to be across the law quite quickly in order to be able to provide his clients with the best possible advice. Warren believes that if he hadn’t of moved to work in a firm where he was thrown in the deep end, then he wouldn’t have gained the same level of experience early in his career. Warren’s advice is to look for a role with a small or start-up law firm where you are given the opportunity to learn quickly as those skills will be invaluable as an early career lawyer. Warren explains that generally, the smaller the law firm, the more responsibility that you are going to have.
Warren’s awesome tips
Starting your own law firm is not a matter of a certain level of experience but rather it’s when you have the confidence to go out on your own!
You don’t need heaps of money to start your own firm but it is hard work and you’ll need determination!
If you want to start your own firm one day, focus on building your knowledge of marketing and your sales skills!
Be strategic with your jobs — gain legal experience during law school if you can to work out what area of law you want to specialise in!
Don’t let the Imposter Syndrome take over — just put out the content and don’t worry about what others think (they probably aren’t thinking about you anyway)!
If you want to learn as much as possible when you are an early career lawyer, don’t be afraid to get thrown in the deep end — that’s where you will learn the most!
Warren is happy for you to reach out to him on LinkedIn or Instagram if you have any questions -
Warren’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/warren-bennett-ba69864b/
Warren’s Instagram: @wkblawyers