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Alternative career pathways in Law

Interview with Brendan Kelso

What do you love or want to change about Law?

I'm not sure if I have any specific examples about the law in general. But there are a few things I'd change about how the law is taught.

For example, I think students need to learn more about alternative pathways while studying at uni.

I didn't realise it at the time, but launching Legalsites was a pretty ballsy move. Most of my uni friends were focused on clerkships and getting a job. For some reason, I thought I could take a different pathway. It's worked out. But I had to find my own way. I literally can't remember learning anything about marketing or running a business at uni. And that includes my Communication degree.

How has your perception of the law changed from your undergraduate years to where you are now?

During uni, I was just trying to get through the next “thing”. This was usually an assessment task. I was in survival mode. While I enjoyed studying the law, I couldn't dedicate 100% of my efforts to being the best student I could be (relatable). Mostly because I was running Advantage DJ's. It's a wedding business. And wedding season tends to align with exam season...which was a lot of fun! It was pretty common for me to have 5 weddings and 2-3 exams in one week.

So I guess I saw the law in the eyes of a student who was trying to balance his life. These days, I see it in a business sense. For example, I do the copywriting for most of my client's websites. Which is really cool. I get to learn more about interesting topics like family law property division. I also love speaking with my clients about how they get new clients, what types of matters are more profitable and how I can help grow their business.

What prompted you to take the path less travelled in Law?

A few reasons.

Firstly, I enjoyed running Advantage DJs. And I wanted to keep running my own business. But I didn't want to be a career wedding DJ with a law degree! In hindsight, my favourite part of running Advantage DJs was the marketing and business side of things. So it made sense.

Secondly, I wanted freedom in my life. Having someone choose my hours didn't align with my values. But these days, I can travel overseas and develop a law firm's website while sitting in a cafe in France. Well, that's what I did before the pandemic. Hopefully I can do this again soon!

Third, I've got a degenerative nerve disease. It's called Charcot Marie Tooth disease. This causes muscle weakness, sensory loss and deformity in my feet and lower limbs. Wearing shoes is often very painful. So working from home helps me manage my disability.

Did you have any apprehension concerning taking an alternative career path in Law?

At the time, not really! I actually looked back on this recently. It’s funny how sure of myself I was. Most other people were doing clerkships and trying to get a job. And I was like “I’m going to start a law firm marketing agency!” I even posted about it on a Facebook group for my cohort. From memory, the post got zero likes.

But yeah, I was more concerned about what could happen if I DIDN’T follow an alternative career path. I wanted to stay true to myself and my values.

I was already earning decent money running Advantage DJs. I’d saved up the money for a house deposit and had booked flights to Europe. So I guess I figured I was kinda okay at running a business.

Who inspires you in the legal field?

I’m actually more inspired by how people run a legal business and not so much their legal skills or knowledge. There are a few people I can think of that are really gifted at marketing and business. Especially social media and personal branding. Such as James d’Apice, Melissa Scott and Jahan Kalantar. While I’m sure they’re also amazing legal practitioners, I’m more inspired by their other skills. They’re also great people.

What does your career look like five years from now?

It’s hard to say! I really love what I do. So I have no plans to change career paths. But I think I’d like to do more of this stuff. And perhaps pivot to more of an educational role (e.g. live events, speaking, seminars, online courses, etc). But I just love what I do. So I’m not sure if I’ll want to change that anytime soon. Like, building websites and doing SEO is actually fun for me! I also LOVE speaking with my clients about their success. It makes everything worthwhile.

What is a lesson you’ve learnt in your career that you think could help a lot of Law students?

I think it’s easy to become focused on “just getting through it”. This is usually the next assessment task, weekly readings, attending class, etc. And I was guilty of that too. But I think the challenge comes in finding a balance. Because ultimately, the connections and work experience you gain is possibly more important for creating a rewarding career in the law. Or at least, equally important.

It all comes down to understanding your values. Not someone else’s. Like, do you really want to climb the corporate ladder? Or are you just doing that because that’s what other people are doing? Are you prepared to give up some of your best years for something that doesn’t really matter to you? What are you REALLY working towards? How do you want your life to look?

Oh…one more thing. When applying for jobs, go for quality over quantity. Find the positions that really appeal to you, and do your best to get them. As an employer, I look for people who look like they’re paying attention to the position. Have they written a personalised cover letter? Have they researched my business? Have they addressed the criteria in the job ad? This stuff really helps.

How do students know if an alternative career path is for them?

Yeah I think it comes down to understanding your values. What matters most to you? I think it’s quite hard to actually get a clear vision. For me, I tried a lot of different things. I’ve had plenty of jobs in my life. I found that I was much more effective working for myself than other people. But this probably isn’t ideal for most people. Luckily, there is so much amazing information online now. And it’s easier to access people. You can contact someone that inspires you and just say ‘I’d love to buy you a coffee. Do you have 10 minutes so I can hear your story?”

What has been the most memorable moment in your career so far?

There have been so many. But I think it was getting my first client. I actually sent out a few emails to law firms in Newcastle. Most didn’t reply. A few did. One of them invited me in for a meeting. I went in there with a “can do” attitude. There were a few things they asked me that I’d never done before. I basically said, “I haven’t done this before, but I’ll learn”. They shook my hand and said they were very interested, pending a proposal. I remember leaving the meeting feeling great. I’d literally bought the Legalsites domain 2-3 weeks prior for about $15. And I most likely had my first paying client. It was one of those moments when I felt I was exactly where I should be.

If you could go back in time and tell yourself something about your future, what would you say?

This is a tough one. I think the main lesson I’ve learned is to protect myself. I won’t make assumptions about other people I’ve dealt with in the past. But communication is key. Always assume there’s a chance the other party does not see (or remember) something as you do.

There are ways to mitigate this. A few things have helped. First, develop a really solid contract. And always look for ways to improve it. Second, surround yourself with great advisors. Third, communicate clearly and get the important stuff in writing. Never assume that the parties understand each other.

I would also tell myself to shift my priorities a bit. In my line of work, it’s super important to communicate the value that you’re bringing clients. Building rapport is also key. It’s not enough to just do a great job.

For example, many agencies will email through a monthly PDF report. But most of the data is confusing and not tailored to the client’s needs. The fact is, most of my clients want to know where their leads are coming from. They’re less interested in keyword tracking and bounce rates. On the other hand, some agencies don’t even send through a report. So, not surprisingly, the client leaves the digital agency.

That’s why I focus strongly on doing a great job AND communicating the value to my clients. In fact, most of my clients prefer a simple phone call every couple of weeks. It’s worked really well for my business. But some clients will want a detailed PDF report. It all comes down to understanding their needs.

Legalsites was founded by law graduate Brendan Kelso (B COMM LLB Hons). His mission was to provide specialised law firm marketing services for lawyers in Australia and New Zealand. Legalsites has grown to become a leading source of authority on the topic of law firm marketing. Including web design, SEO, Google Ads and more.

We help lawyers scale up their law firm by using law firm marketing strategies.

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