Last month we gave you an insight into Aptum Legal's Director and Co-founder Nigel Evans. This month we're throwing the spotlight on Alex Nicol!
Alex has over 12 years of experience working on complex insolvency administrations and large scale commercial litigation. So why law? Someone with this much experience in such a tough area of law must have always had a passion for the intersection of law and business, right? Not quite. In fact, Alex didn't grow up with an undivided passion for the law. As a child, he had a lot of people telling him he should be a lawyer, he thinks, in his own words, in part because of his love for books but mainly because he was “an argumentative little kid”. However, it didn't hit him until he was finishing high school and applying to uni that he would apply for law, purely because people his whole life had been telling him he that should. He doubled this with behavioural science because that is what truly interested him at the time.
It wasn't until during the degree, Alex realised that the law was actually where his passion lies. He enjoyed reading case law and digging through complex legal problems. It was at this point that he realised he actually did want to be a lawyer.
As an articled clerk, Alex worked in everything from criminal law, family law, commercial agreements to litigation and insolvency, which he regards as an excellent way for any young lawyer to commence their career. However, for his first two years, he felt like a jack of all trades but a master of none. While it was a great learning curve, he wanted to get deep into one area of law.
It was at this time that Alex gradually progressed into litigation with a particular focus on insolvency. He started to develop strong connections with insolvency clients at accounting firms and strong skills in the area. Commercial litigation had always appealed because of the problem solving inherent in every dispute, and perhaps a personality that thrived on the intellectual challenge of the fight! But why insolvency? Well, Alex says that the enjoyment lies in professional clients who actually understand the law, but come to you for that pointy end of expertise. Over the past 12 years, Alex has advised insolvency practitioners, banks and creditors on issues surrounding the appointment of external administrators, proof of debt claims, enforcing securities, deeds of company arrangement and sales of business assets.
So, you might ask, what motivates a senior lawyer to go out on their own and start their own practice? In Alex's case, there was a range of different reasons. One driving reason was a perception that there was a lack of value in what was being delivered to clients by commercial law firms, and a belief that he could deliver value in a different way than law firms have been doing for hundreds of years. Even more pertinent was Alex's desire to simply create a better place to work. Having seen so many bright, young lawyers desperately unhappy in the traditional legal model, he realised something was missing. A prevalent culture that encouraged an attitude that anyone who was unhappy was simply “not up to it” had begun to frustrate Alex. It was regarded that unhappiness was part and parcel of private practice and Alex thought it didn't necessarily have to be that way. So he set out to change it.
The shift of focus has been one of the biggest personal challenges for Alex. Being a senior associate at a big firm, you can just focus on your work. The change to a business owner and employer has been a steep learning curve (and an ongoing one), but a change that Alex deeply loves. It's a terrifying yet thrilling mix, but seeing Aptum and their team of brilliant young lawyers succeed is what brings Alex the most joy from his new role.
In terms of happiness and healthiness in the legal profession, Alex believes that the legal industry has a lot of work to do. First and foremost, the happiness and health of staff, from the ground up, is a focus for Aptum. This is a relatively radical thing in the legal industry. But Alex believes that health and happiness can't just be a sale point - it has to be a genuine focus.
“As a new business, we are constantly learning how to introduce things that are going to help our employees with their health and happiness, but it has been a key focus for us from day one. It's about flexibility, creativity and collaboration. We also offer an open feedback loop - we are there for our staff rather than them just being there to crunch out work for our firm and for our clients.”
If Alex was to go back in a time machine and give his junior lawyer self some advice, he would tell himself to absorb as much as possible from your senior mentors but don’t assume they will always be right, and that working hard on improving your strengths is just as important as acknowledging your weaknesses. Sometimes you can feel like a cog in a wheel, but all the hard work you do does matter. It took Alex a while to realise this, but once he did, it put him in good stead in his career.
Alex is driven to create a law firm with a difference - one that provides exceptional legal services but gives a superior experience both for clients and lawyers. An experience focussed on communication, commercial outcomes and certainty. If you need help with an insolvency matter, feel free to get in touch with Alex on +61 3 8639 0564 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.