Q&A: Laying down the law for women

This week we chat to Courtney Bowie, founder and CEO of Her Lawyer. As well as running the business that is disrupting the traditional legal profession, Courtney speaks out about mental health; women in the legal profession and, recently, on behalf of employers on COVID-19 legislative changes.

ISB: What was the motivation behind you setting up a law firm “with a difference” focusing on services for female entrepreneurs and business owners?

CB: I started Her Lawyer in 2017 after identifying the inaccessibility of traditional legal services to women in business. Like many communities, women have unique values, preferences, needs and styles of communication. Our service is specially designed to cater to these.

I’d spent the first part of my career helping businesses and banks to recover debts from businesses who’d fallen on hard times. I knew in starting my own law firm, I could use my skills and expertise to educate business owners and help them set up their businesses sustainably.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting the enterprise off the ground?

CB: Finding the right time for growth. As we approached the end of our second year, our growth trajectory was looking promising and my husband quit his sales management job to join us in sales and operations. Less than two months later, we found out I was unexpectedly pregnant, which wouldn’t have been a problem except that I became very ill with hyperemesis gravidarum. Extreme nausea and vomiting meant regular trips to hospital and drowsy anti-nausea medication that severely limited my capacity. We had to put our growth plans on hold and go into survival mode. It’s only since I’ve returned to work in late 2019 (when my son was eight weeks old) that we’ve been able to pick up our ambitious plans to scale.

ISB: How do you go about ensuring you prevent the high-pressure, stressful environment you encountered previously in the legal profession manifest itself among your team at Her Lawyer?

CB: Most people think that pressure and stress comes part-and-parcel with the job of a lawyer. In fact, the practice of law can be fun, creative and enjoyable. We want our team to love coming to work, so we ensure their job fits well with their life. That means remote working arrangements, flexible hours, passion projects, training and social activities. Constant communication is so important to making this work. It’s critical we have effective feedback loops with our team members to check in and see how they’re doing. We have open and frank discussions about health and wellness, especially around mental health which is a passion of mine.

ISB: What does being honoured as Emerging Leader in this year’s Telstra Business Award mean for you and your business?

CB: To be recognised by the business community and such a prestigious organisation has been a wonderful validation of our model. The Award has attracted interest which is helping us attract more clients and grow our business. We’ll be able to employ more women returning to work, mentor more junior lawyers and give back to our community by investing time and resources into important projects, such as visual contracts for the neurodivergent community. I hope to inspire other women in business.

ISB: Please tell us briefly about the Coronavirus COVID-19 Business Support Group Australia and what you’ve achieved with it to date.

CB: The Business Support Group is run by myself and three colleagues across accounting, strategy and marketing. It’s designed as a single source of truth for business owners navigating the regulatory and business environment surrounding COVID-19. As the world went into lockdown, we shared news and interviewed experts to give members access to advice about remote working, health and safety, negotiating tactics and insurance.

We have over 1500 members across Australia, who we’ve helped with challenges such as applying for JobKeeper, obtaining a cashflow boost, negotiating rent relief and waivers, pivoting business models and supporting each other.

ISB: And, finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on your journey you’d share with other women looking to start their own business?

CB: Having your own business is an ideal way to design a life you love, shaping your business to suit your health, fitness, family, hobbies and passions. The empowerment of running your own successful business is invaluable to your confidence in yourself. I highly recommend more women explore business ownership as their next step. And when you’re ready, remember to start with the end in mind – have systems and processes set up and documented as soon as possible, so the business isn’t overly reliant on you. And have a business continuity plan, so if you need to step away for a while (illness, family circumstances, travel, etc) your business can continue to run without you.