Welcome to this week’s episode of DLD where I am proud to introduce today’s guest, founder and director of Proximity, Sean King. I first found out about Sean – and subsequently asked him to feature on DLD – when Proximity’s name was listed as a finalist in 6 categories in the recent Lawyer’s Weekly Australian Law Awards. They clearly had something to share. We spend most of the episode talking about the history, business strategy and systems that got Proximity, and Sean, to where they are now. As usual, this article is only a summary – if you want to learn the ins and outs of Sean’s practice, you’ll have to listen to the podcast! 

When Sean and James Dunn (his co-director) first set up Proximity in 2011 they had both been working in a big global law firm which, as my listeners will know, comes with a familiar set of baggage:  

“We could see that the projects we were working on were bigger than the legal issues. It wasn’t an option at our firm to delve into those other parts of the matters and we couldn’t see another firm doing it.”  

And thus, a new business was formed! One that would attract lawyers who specifically wanted to bring their skills to a broader range of the challenges facing their clients. From there, Proximity honed in on its three lines of service; legal, commercial and consulting. In a very NewLaw way, everything they do is a sharp move away from what Sean likes to call ‘the artisan approach to law’.  

Side note: what is ‘the artisan approach to law’? Sean describes it as treating everything as a unique, once-in-a-lifetime problem when in reality, most cases have parallels with other ones so taking advantage of that is a big win-win. 

Perhaps the most exciting and empowering thing about starting your own law firm is that you start with a blank canvas, meaning you get to design what you want to be in the firm. For anyone thinking of doing the same, listen up. Sean, with all the benefits of experience, actively took ideas with him and left others behind. While the type of work he wanted to do remained the same – i.e. large-scale, government matters – he completely reinvented the workplace and its approach (as well as his own software, Optics). And he continues to do so!  

A quick summary of Proximity’s ‘thing’: 

  • Billable targets are out, career and wellbeing managers are in. 
  • Partners have been completely replaced with a multi-disciplinary focus and a fluid work experience. 
  • Cutting costs (time and money) with automated services that use past experience to make the future more efficient. 

So, how is Sean doing law differently? It’s all of the above, with a solid and actionable ethos thrown in. It’s an ethos that says: we embrace change, we don’t believe in creating extra stress and we want the team we manage to work on things that they’re genuinely interested in. Not-to-mention Proximity’s pro-bono work and community focus.  

“When we established the firm, we were keen to have a triple bottom-line: what’s right for clients, for the staff and for the communities that we’re in.” 

About our guest 

Sean King is a Director of Proximity and a passionate business leader. He is highly regarded by clients as a strategic advisor and lawyer to the government, technology, utility and non-profit sectors. Sean is a proud dad and husband, founder of Proximity, adventure race world championships competitor and a regular volunteer. 

Proximity is a professional services business providing legal, commercial and consulting services to the government and regulated industry sectors. Proximity is a business that cares about staff, clients and community. We are passionate about living our values; innovative, genuine and helpful.  

Sean is doing law differently in the following ways 

  • Multi-disciplinary teams: Helping clients solve their broader challenges and issues; not just the legal ones. 
  • Best for project resourcing model: Each team and project lead for a job is selected based on skills, interests, availability and other factors to ensure the best result. Work is not just assigned to the partner who best knows that client and by default that partner’s team. 
  • Developing products (both technology and services) to address common issues faced by clients; rather than taking a bespoke or artisan approach to every issue. 
  • Empowering all employees to influence the strategic direction of the business. 

Sean King quotes 

  • “You have to learn some of it as you go. An advantage as an emerging business is you have the flexibility to pivot quickly.” 
  • “We knew that at times the greatest contribution that someone could make was not doing the billable client work, but setting up a new system. It takes time to manage a workflow, but that might pay dividends years into the future.”

Find Sean online 

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