GLOBAL WOMAN ENTREPRENEURS & LEADERS IN LAW
Written by: Ryan Babbage
In this first article, we speak to Val Pitt from Australia who founded LitSupport more than 20 years ago. Her humble lounge room beginning now boasts an enterprise that has offices in 4 states in Australia and around 136 staff.
The Global Women Entrepreneurs & Leaders in Law (GWELL) series comprises a collection of articles, interviews and stories from around the world about amazing women who have defied the odds to set up their own businesses servicing the legal industry, their own law firms, legal organisations or who are leaders in the functions they head. Many of these women live life on their own terms and are truly passionate about what they do. Through these stories, we hope to give women a platform to share their unique journeys. We also hope they can inspire readers and empower other women in the legal field who are either considering starting their own businesses or who are already in them.
In Conversation with Val Pitt, Australia
Lex Conscientia: What motivated and inspired you to start your business?
Val: I don’t ever recall not dreaming about starting my own business, but it was really my family that motivated and inspired me to take the decisions that I eventually took. My parents immigrated to Australia with 5 children in 1982 and with very little money. Life had always been a struggle and I knew that if I were to let go of my dream, nothing would better our circumstances. Also, I experienced motherhood at a young age. Single parenthood followed and when I turned 30, it suddenly all clicked. By then, life had provided me with a level of confidence that saw me give up my day job and begin the journey of a lifetime.
Lex Conscientia: Tell us more about your business.
Val: Established in 1995, LitSupport is a legal bureau, specialising in providing secure and confidential information management services to law firms and corporate legal departments through a national network of bureaux located in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. Our services include collating and reproducing digital and hard copy evidentiary material. Whilst most of our clients are law firms, our services extend to government departments, financial service institutions and other corporate and commercial organisations with similar requirements for speed, accuracy and confidentiality in document handling.
Lex Conscientia: You began this journey, at the age of 30, as a mother of 2 daughters and as a legal secretary. What lessons did you learn in your early days?
Val: That you have to eat an elephant one bite at a time! I began this journey as enthusiastically as any entrepreneur would – I was going to revolutionise the industry by providing a service that was rare – the ability for lawyers to outsource paraprofessional tasks – documents that needed collating, sorting and reproducing – ready to review and distribute within hours! What I hadn’t prepared myself for was the fact that if you have a good idea it will be copied. Competitors sprouted up within a few years of my start-up.
LitSupport had to focus on differentiation and many lessons were learned during this process. It’s been an incredible journey of learning and contradictions. It’s been fun, yet hard work; exhausting, exhilarating, satisfying and exasperating. I could go on and on.
Lex Conscientia: Do law firms in Australia embrace outsourcing?
Val: Outsourcing document management was unheard of in 1995. It was fraught with risk and, of course, the humble photocopying machine was the highest fee earner in a law firm! Yes, there was a lot of resistance initially, but I soon learned that resilience and persistence were two traits that I would have to rely on if I wanted to succeed. Law firms are generally risk averse and many have strong traditions and heritage. The “We have always done things this way” mentality needed careful persuasion and certainly outsourcing used to be viewed with greater cynicism in its early days.
Thankfully, times have changed and the profession has evolved. Outsourcing is now a ‘norm’. There is more pressure now than ever before on cost management within firms. The business of running a law firm is under scrutiny by savvy clients. Outsourced service providers are now able to provide better efficiencies than what law firms can do themselves.
Lex Conscientia: Tell us what your first sales call was like?
Val: It was to a top tier law firm and when I explained what I do, the person said to me –“Perfect timing. Can you come and meet with me in 10 minutes. I need your assistance now”. That individual remains a client today. Right place, right time?
Lex Conscientia: How do you convince law firms and potential clients that you can add value to their business?
Val: It’s a simple proposition really. I would ask the law firm representative the question “Would you outsource this task if it could be done somewhere else at a fraction of the cost without compromising quality or confidentiality?” It gives me great pride to say that our progressive law firm clients have been rewarded with significant savings through efficient services that guarantee confidentiality and security.
Lex Conscientia: Would you say that you started an “evolution” in the provision of legal support services in Australia?
Val: If influencing the change of habits is considered evolutionary – then yes! But there is an even greater revolution that we are in the midst of. Today, most of our business communications are conducted on mobile phones, but the impact reaches far deeper – our social and personal habits have changed as well. There’s a whole swirl of new social media sites ranging from Twitter and YouTube to Instagram and Snapchat. The data derived from these applications are now being used as evidence in court. If moving from paper to electronic files wasn’t hard enough to tackle, there’s an enormous volume of new data sources that could also prove litigious. Yet it’s all revolutionary and so exciting to be a part of. This is why I do what I do!
Lex Conscientia: There is a fast pace of change in technological solutions available to law firms both in Australia and globally. How do you respond to this evolving landscape?
Val: There is no doubt that technology has dramatically enhanced the effectiveness, efficiency, and profitability of many businesses, including law firms. Those enhancements, however, have also created important challenges which have yet to be effectively resolved. As a service provider, we have to continue to explore ways to simplify a complex process. We will continue to invest in technology, train to update ourselves, innovate and support new products to keep pace with the latest developments that the profession needs. We cannot simply react to change, we have to be pioneers.
Lex Conscientia: We heard your business was acquired in 2014. Are you able to share more and tell us what role you now have in LitSupport?
Val: In December 2014, LitSupport was acquired by The Information Management Group (TIMG), a wholly-owned subsidiary of publicly listed company Freightways. The acquisition enables LitSupport to provide an enhanced suite of litigation support and information management services as well as improved information governance and the safeguarding of critical data.
My role now sees me working on the business rather than in the business. I am tasked with ensuring that LitSupport continues to grow, remain profitable and be of value to its clients.
Lex Conscientia: Do you have any regrets or can you share any past business mistakes you have made?
Val: Absolutely no regrets. I learned very quickly that mistakes were lessons learned and I made many and learned from each one of them! One of the biggest lessons learned was that early success did not necessarily translate into long-term success. We stumbled after 7 years of trading, grew too quickly and realised that the view was not worth the climb! We had to take a step back and refocus. We did just that and now enjoy running a profitable business with a team of highly motivated employees. Our plan was never to be the biggest – just the best.
Lex Conscientia: Do you have a specific business philosophy?
Val: An excerpt from our company manifesto captures my philosophy:
……”Service excellence is what we do. It is our reason for being.
We get a kick out of meeting the most demanding deadline.
Out of solving the most complex technical problem.
Out of delivering under pressure.
For us, one of the best feelings in the world is that of a
job well done.”
Lex Conscientia is a bespoke management consultancy and legal support provider to those who work with the law. The GWELL series is an initiative started by Lex Conscientia. www.lexconscientia.co.uk