Carol Grimshaw is the Principal of the firm brands Grimshaw Legal and Aide Lawyers.
Carol’s legal career commenced in the Melbourne legal sector in 1996, approximately 2 years after she started her undergraduate work at La Trobe University. Carol worked and studied simultaneously toward admission to practise while gaining further experience including through volunteering at community legal centres. Carol’s volunteering involved holding office as Secretary and Vice-President at the former Southern Communities Legal Centre, Inc between 1994 and 1996.
Carol’s keen eye for efficiency and technology resulted in her working for firms across the legal strata, and at government and semi-government organisations with a focus in dispute resolution. This experience allowed Carol to identify the many opportunities for enhancing consumer interaction with the legal system through technology.
Grimshaw Legal is a commercially focused practise that provides decidedly different legals by teaching small to medium enterprise clients how to avoid repeating legal faux pars thereby redirecting their energy, time, and money to reinvest in their enterprises.
Aide Lawyers provides commercially savvy estate planning services, including e-conferencing, e-signing, and e-witnessing for people keen to ensure their estates are least likely to result in family disputes and litigation, or missteps in business for people acting on a client’s behalf without legal authority. Aide Lawyers has a proud partnership with Banyule Business, who provide a reduced cost e-wills service for local health workers.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for accepting my interview invitation! I’d love to know how you ended up becoming an entrepreneur? Tell me your story.
Carol Grimshaw: Hi Jerome, thanks for asking!
I suppose my bio tells some of the tale: I was an increasingly educated person working in private legal practise from junior secretary to paralegal to qualified lawyer, that wanted to personally benefit more directly from my labours, long hours and multiple interests. I also wanted to apply the broad commercial experience I obtained from age 15 up.
I left public high school around that time, and started working to support myself as I had already moved out of home. Over the following 3 years, I had various jobs in retail, accounting, and information technology. My grandmother became increasingly unwell by the time I turned age 18, so I returned to live at home at her request and reduced my employment hours while adding part-time education. My grandmother’s wish was that I would apply my intelligence and acquire self-discipline to achieve success.
I’m still working toward success every day!
Tell our readers what your company does differently than your peers and why that difference is so important to your audience?
Carol Grimshaw: My focus is providing simple, thorough legal solutions that will take care of ‘the now’ while planning for the future. Through providing easily understandable advice, I assist my clients to gradually collect legal and commercial acumen so that over time they can risk manage the smaller things in their everyday and know the what and when to refer matters to me. I get great joy in knowing the money they save in legal fees can go to their and their family’s vacations or other needs, instead of mine.
Despite being a boutique firm, my work is multidisciplinary. There’s only a few areas of law that I choose not to work in. That’s a rarity in 2022, because lawyers have continued to increase in specialisation over the last two decades. It means I am the equivalent of your local family doctor but, for law: I check the initial issues, do the work and provide support rto a client unless I need a specialist in which case I source the right person for the client and in the specific knowledge field. This provides specialty legal help whenever it’s required.
The distinction too is also that clients get my personal touch that is thorough through the matter from start to end while still receiving sophisticated legal services. Many boutique firms do not have the capacity to provide advice across multiple areas, even when they are linked in one matter.
I genuinely care. It’s that simple. And it makes a difference to clients’ experience.
Running a business, your’s or on behalf of someone requires great leadership skills. What are some of the biggest challenges you faced as you took on a leader’s role and what did you learn?
Carol Grimshaw: I’d say:
- The biggest steps are the first ones – for every stage of operating a business. It seems oversimplified but we must all take them to progress in life.
- Adopting a routine of taking big steps helps. Knowing how to manage time and apportion it across all tasks for a day/week/month/etc results in the big steps manifesting a result.
- Missteps also help. For example, inviting others to collaborate on projects because I thought their public accomplishments like awards and competition wins would attract stronger interest. I learned that my drive, experience and education will push projects forward. I’m no island and I enjoy team work, but letting others delay or attempt to control is unhelpful when it derails outcomes.
- This is also a lesson of learning to trust ourselves, as much as when to seek guidance from others is crucial to avoiding unmanageable risk. When I started my business, I knew that good advisors are necessary for business success. But often being surrounded by far more senior legal and business minds than mine translated into a different kind of insecurity. I still need advice but I trust my instincts far more for my ventures than when I started.
- Running a business lean is challenging work, especially when it is in one of the most regulated industries within the Australian commercial sector. However, running lean means that in constrained economic times like Australia is experiencing Grimshaw Legal and Aide Lawyers can continue to operate because overheads are lower than most.
Success is not an accident. What are some routines and habits you learned to master that contributed to your current success?
Carol Grimshaw: A decade ago I often joked, “just be the Nike ad”. The trick is it was no joke. There is no substitute for ‘the work’], regardless of your field. In my first job as a junior lawyer, where the role was occupied by a 3rd year lawyer before I began, ‘the work’ meant early starts, limited breaks, late nights and doing my admin at the weekend. I remember a non-law background friend questioning what I was doing for all of that time. I responded that much of it was continued learning – I had my degrees but would never stop refining my knowledge. So I learned that perspective is a good friend. Let’s face it, it’s nice to peek at the sunrise while working from a desk and to be grateful for the small joys, wherever they are found.
Learning to manage my inner dialogue has also been, and continues to be, a great journey. I’ve found it is the only way to push through my imposter syndrome and those moments of self-doubt.
Work/balance has been a catch cry for some time, especially in the legal services field. Routine work for most senior lawyers at full-time roles is still at least 70 hours weekly, regardless of the spread. My flexible work practices allow me to choose when those hours will happen. This allows me to enjoy rest and recuperation while knowing that “Nike” was not built by sitting on the sofa.
Can you share with us defining moments in your journey, please give us details and stories to illustrate?
Carol Grimshaw: I was bullied through primary school and into high school where I decided to stop regularly attending by mid-Year 8. After some trials at various secondary schools, I sat on the steps of one at St Kilda. I told myself that I was better than what it offered, and that I would need to work to find out what the ‘better’ was. I was 14. I started working in full-time roles during my 15th year only to try to return to school and was successful in being admitted into Year 10 (even though I had not passed year 9). When career’s time came around, a stoush with a career’s counsellor (who didn’t believe my reports from work experience) caused me to leave.
This was at around age 16.
I had always been scared of exams, and scared of failure. So when my grandmother asked me to return home and return to school to complete my education in 1990, it was a lovely moment that I thought I might not manifest. Sitting on the slatted wood and concrete seat of the bus stop beside Moorabbin TAFE after I enrolled in mature-age VCE is one moment I will never forget.
In 1992, I completed my Victorian Certificate of Education and graduated. I was the first in my family to complete secondary school.
In 1993, I commenced study at La Trobe University at Bundoora. Reading for a Bachelor of Arts (Social Science) turned into a Bachelor of Legal Studies in 1994 – one of the first 100 to proceed through the degree.
In 2003, I graduated from RMIT (TAFE) with an Advanced Diploma of Business (Legal Practice). It gave me the foundation for formally working in the law.
In 2002, I returned to La Trobe University to complete my Bachelor of Legal Studies. It was the launch pad for my enrolment in the Master of Laws (Legal Practise, Skills and Ethics) at Monash University in 2004. While completing my undergraduate education, I started working part-time for a barrister in commercial law chambers, Raymond Rosenberg (dec). He helped launch who I am today by teaching me that law is about fairness, intellectual rigour, unassailable ethical standards and simple hard graft. I use his lessons daily. Ray also started my professional network, some of whom I still look up to and seek out whenever I need a great mentor to trust.
In May 2009, I graduated with my Master of Laws from Monash University. I am the only person in my family with postgraduate education. By this time, I had been working in the Melbourne legal sector for 13 years, including as a volunteer student, community volunteer, volunteer Treasurer, Secretary then Vice-President at a community legal centre. I had survived an abusive husband, and found my feet, heading in a forward direction.
On 20 October 2009, I was admitted to legal practice in the Supreme Court of Victoria in Court 1. It is a beautiful ceremonial space where 3 Justices of the Supreme Court of Victoria oversaw me (and a few hundred others) promise to be good and ethical people in service of our communities and the law, as officers of the Court. There’s a saying that new lawyers “sign the roll”. In a digital age, I was delighted to find paper and pen awaited me in a book that was filled with my predecessors, who had walked the same path, stood at the same place and signed their name before walking out to be greeted by their family, friends and the person who moved their admission.
On 30 March 2010, I applied to be admitted to practise in the Federal Court of Australia and the High Court of Australia. This was required for me to start in my first role as an employee solicitor. Despite experiencing bullying, I stayed in the role for 18 months and I learned more than most do in the same time period of their legal careers.
On 1 April 2011, I instructed a barrister in a complex family law matter in the (then) Federal Circuit of Australia. We’re lucky it settled, but I can’t tell you why.
After a 3 year family related break from being a lawyer, I recommenced legal practice in March 2017. By June 2017, I had finished my Masters of Applied Law and become a Graduate Fellow of the College of Law.
On 18 April 2018, I started my legal businesses. That day, I was driving a friend to a 9am meeting. While in traffic, we used the time by her buying my websites from her phone.
In September 2020, the Law Institute Journal interviewed me for its October 2020 issue about the issue of ‘Dear Sir(s)/Madam’ in the legal industry. Those moments and the months of thought that followed formed The Dear Sir(s) Project which is a passion project staffed by volunteer students from diverse disciplines and law at Monash University, and a sole practitioner who qualified as a lawyer through mature aged study while supporting her family.
In December 2020 and January 2021, I assisted in providing legal advice to lawmakers about electronic signing legislation for all Victorians – on a permanent basis instead of just for COVID. This means that every person can sign most documents in the presence of their lawyer, without ever leaving their home. No more inconvenience or costs of delaying work, health, or travel, changing care plans or family routines, just to get in to see a lawyer and/or to have them witness your signature. Given the breadth of the impact this can have on people from all walks of life, that is seriously powerful stuff. I sometimes cannot believe that I was a part of such an important outcome. I couldn’t be more honoured as I never thought my work could have such an impact.
In December 2021, Australasian Lawyer honoured me as an Elite Woman of 2021. That means I was selected as one of 50 Australian female lawyers – in fact, in the top 11 across the region, despite never practising law in any of the top or mid tier firms and coming from such humble beginnings and maintaining a humble lifestyle.
It’s truly astounding to me that I’ve come this far. But there’s plenty more in store, so stay tuned!
What are the five things you wish someone had told you before you became an entrepreneur?
Carol Grimshaw: My answer would be:
- Before anything, invest money into strong time management through buying automation apps.
- Hire a team now. Include professional advisors in your team. Get to know them well so they can know your pain points, and come to help you transition through them.
- Change is clunky. Accept, apply, manage, progress.
- Yes. You. Can. You’re no imposter. You will build and manifest your vision.
- Vision is practised daily.
Oftentimes we hear: “Your network is your net worth”, please share your thoughts on that adage and illustrate your experience.
Carol Grimshaw: I think my defining moments and volunteer work demonstrate the magic of networks. Without being introduced by a temporary employment agency to barrister Raymond Rosenberg (dec) in 2002, which meant he would say he wanted me to work for him over the other candidates, ensured that from one connection I could grow a tree, then a forest.
When I started my firm in 2018, I found a networking/support group for lawyers within Facebook. Skeptical, I was quite snobbish about it at the beginning. I am now a member of multiple Facebook groups, and have connected with some of my closest colleagues through those groups. We share insight and experience, learning and triumphs, and life, in those environments. My little part of the world would not be the same without those networks.
My joy is that I get to pay it forward by building new networks who support each other’s passions and businesses. I believe a healthy network truly holds an immeasurable worth even if it is not an immediate profit source for the business.
What are some professional or even personal goals you plan on tackling during the 2022 year? Share the battles you expect to face.
Carol Grimshaw: The Dear Sir(s) Project and the Electronic Wills and Online Witnessing Committee are volunteer run. While my volunteers are incredibly dedicated to the causes of equality, and increased access to legal services through electronic/digital legal services, I naturally direct students and other volunteers to place their lives, education, work, health and other commitments above their work with me. This produces a cycle of attrition in the teams that I must better manage. Every organisation is only as good as their knowledge team and volunteer teams are no different. However, for me, the social justice focus makes reducing the impact and increasing efficiencies even more important.
I anticipate further serious outbreaks of COVID-19 in different strains across Melbourne and Victoria, where I live. This will turn volunteers’ attention to necessary income, education, welfare and housing priorities for themselves and for their families. Like all workforce managers, I will need to source specialty volunteers from further afield and adapt deadlines wherever possible to ensure workflow continuity. It also means that the output of the Electronic Wills and Online Witnessing Committee is urgent because every Victorian, and every other Australian who can have their wills, powers of attorney, affidavits, statutory declarations, and commercial documents electronically signed and witnessed, need to know about the law and how it can help them. If my instincts bear fruit about COVID-19 during standard flu season, proper estate and business succession planning will also need to be in place to ensure CEOs of all varieties have their interests legally protected in case they can’t make decisions for themselves.
I’m planning the Anniversary celebration of the operation of the above e-signing law for 26 April 2022, that will bring together members of the Victorian Courts and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, a senior elders’ law solicitor who practises in the pro bono sector, and a visitor from within Queensland Supreme, District and Land Courts Service to talk us through how their electronic/digital transformations are changing the provision of legal service to all Queenslanders. The celebration will be a panel format with a town hall and hybrid delivery so I’ll need to organise the audience through personal invitation as well as promoting the event through the broader lawyer audience across Australasia so they can Zoom in. I understand from a New Zealand colleague that she’s looking forward to joining us to see whether there’s any insight she can take to help nudge New Zealand into electronic/digital signing of solemn documents.
The Dear Sir(s) Project will launch its Inaugural Summary Research Paper on 6 April 2022 to mark the 119th anniversary of women being lawfully allowed to practise as lawyers in Victoria. To tie in with that launch, when not working, I will be writing The Dear Sir(s) Project’s first website and social media, and designing the future of The DSP and how to manifest true equality in workplaces, healthcare, retail, recreational spaces and homes across the country. I’ll be pushing the legal fact of equality before the law for all against a patriarchal system that’s struggling to understand it’s place and the heightened urgency for implementing real change.
In May 2022, in collaboration with the Victoria Law Foundation, the Electronic Wills and Online Witnessing Committee will do a drive tour of some of Victoria’s regional cities with ever-growing populations and increased need for modern and efficient legal services. I’ll be demonstrating the safety and certainty of e-signing to local residents while likely having conversations with regional lawyers about how to bring those services to their clients and communities.
The Electronic Wills and Online Witnessing Committee will launch the second version of its Australia wide electronic signing ‘bible’, and work toward improving our current laws and introducing serious legal changes that could modernise electronic signing with banks, in conveyancing and for mortages – where currently only in person verification of identity and wet ink signing is permitted.
On a personal note, there’s a healthy stack of interesting business, health, and general knowledge books and novels that need my attention. Perhaps they’ll be read before mid-year when it will be time to revisit my work plan for error checking and to make any necessary adjustments.
On a more serious note, in an election year, we need to be making the correct and supportive choices for everyone. When the poorest and least fortunate amongst us suffer, on a purely rationalised basis, the cost to allow and/or rectify that suffering is usually greater than it is to provide necessary support before the real social, health, education and labour force problems start for those individuals. Australian society needs to remember that we are the sum of our parts and fighting over the last toothpick will only result in stuck thumbs.
The economy is facing challenging simultaneous triggers that domestic levers like monetary policy cannot simply rectify:
- a narrow to non-existent labour force for various industry sectors
- low wages with historically slow growth
- low housing stock
- high cost and demand for housing
- recurrent high impact natural disasters
- the pandemic and its continuing strains and challenges
- sluggish overall growth caused by the economic conditions within the pandemic and exiting lockdowns
- since early March 2022, the Russian insurgence into Ukraine and risk of European war, and
- the 2021-22 oil/petrol crisis.
My goal personally is to maintain my modest lifestyle while continuing to support others through my various business and volunteer interests.
Whatever 2023 holds, it may just be a very different ‘hold your hat’ than we’ve had for the last 3 years.
With all the social media platforms available, it’s increasingly difficult to be present everywhere. Which ones do you favor for your company and why?
Carol Grimshaw: My business and equality/social justice focussed volunteer work is on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. It’s where my audience and colleagues go, and where I can keep up to date and interact with their activity too.
Given the connection and discussion space it has provided, it must be said that Meta deserves a gold star.
Jerome Knyszewski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Carol Grimshaw for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Carol Grimshaw or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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