Richard Shakenovsky is the Principal of a successful, boutique law firm nestled in the heart of Sydney’s CBD. His passion for law was ignited 43 years ago after joining the South African police force at the age of 18 to complete his mandatory national service. Richard’s police experience coincided with the 1976 Soweto Uprising which was a time of extreme police brutality, violence and injustice.

Although grateful for his experience with the police, the atrocities that Richard witnessed plagued his moral fibre and ultimately fuelled his choice to pursue a career in law. He saw this as a platform to do the right thing.

With the support and encouragement of his parents, both of whom are qualified lawyers, Richard went on to build an impressive legal career in Johannesburg, South Africa, and subsequently in Sydney, Australia, accumulating an inspiring array of accomplishments along the way.

We sat down with Richard to uncover the secret behind his success.

What 3 things does anyone starting in your industry need to know?

  1. The law is a jealous mistress. It takes up a significant part of your life, requiring unyielding hard work coupled with long hours.
  2. Professionalism and integrity– It is essential that a lawyer, at all times, conducts himself ethically, honestly and with integrity.
  3. Build solid and long-term relationships with colleagues and clients.

What would you do differently if you were starting in your industry now?

I would not do anything differently. I never had any desire to work for a large law practice, so starting my own law firm was the natural decision for me, one I have never looked back on.

How do you think technology is affecting the legal industry?

The popularity and accessibility of technology within the legal sector have increased client expectations. This has had a profound effect on how law firms operate. A firm that embraces technology is better equipped to meet those expectations without compromising on the quality of service. Technology has enabled me to work more efficiently and better serve my clients by delivering more efficient and timeous service, not to mention the thoroughness and efficiency of legal research.

How do you structure your day?

As soon as I get to the office, I check my emails and appointments for the day. Systems have been put in place requiring my staff to carry out their daily duties which enables the smooth running of the practice.

What are your 3 favourite tools for accomplishing your daily tasks and getting the most out of your day?

  1. Quality staff is the cornerstone of my practice.
  2. A good practice management system is vital. LEAP management has served me exceptionally well over the last 15 years, thereby enabling the smooth operation of my practice.
  3. Dragon Dictate is a timesaving device as it accurately and efficiently transcribes my dictation.

Would you have any one single piece of advice to any young lawyers currently that just started practising and coming across some of these challenges themselves?

Never assume that you know everything. Recognise when you do not know the answer and seek out the advice from an expert in that area. Colleagues are invariably willing to share knowledge.

What marketing techniques have you used to build your brand and attract more business?

Your greatest marketing tool is yourself. Clients can come from the most unlikely places.

The big lesson is to treat and serve everybody well. Word-of-mouth will be your predominant source of business. Recommendations by referral are the best source of business because by the time your clients come to you, they already have the required perception of you as a lawyer and the quality of service they are likely to receive.

Never abuse or take your clients for granted. By and large, you’ll find that consistent business comes from hard work, good service, honourable conduct and, of course, positive results.

What keeps you going when things get tough in your firm?

I have been in law for almost 40 years and there have definitely been tough times. What really impacts me is when the economy is down and the work’s just not coming in as one would hope. The overheads in a law firm are very high. Don’t overextend yourself financially. Be mindful of ongoing expenses. Above all, do not panic. Work your files and contact your clients.

How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?

Bearing in mind the pressures of the profession, it is paramount to establish a balance between work and leisure time. Maintaining fitness is essential. It’s important to find a pastime that you are passionate about and nurture that passion.

Throughout my career, I have nurtured a passion for running and photography. I have competed in excess of 100 marathons, including ultra-marathons, both within Australia and overseas. My love for running has seen me establish The Achilles Running Club, both in South Africa and Australia, which serves to enable disabled people to enjoy the benefits of walking and running in a supportive, social and even competitive environment.

My interest in photography has taken me on many adventures across the globe.

Which people have had the most influence on your growth and why?

My family and colleagues have had the most influence on my growth. The support of my immediate family in every aspect has been crucial. They have understood the pressures of legal practice, the demands and constraints thereof.

Immigration to Australia and my desire to continue legal practice could most certainly not have been achieved without the support of my wife and three children.

What event that Mandela shared with you remains with you until this day?

I was invited by President Nelson Mandela for him to meet my blind running partner with whom I was participating and piloting him in the 1994 160km international ultra-marathon to raise money for charity. Mr Mandela wanted to personally meet and wish the blind man good luck for the race.

Mr Mandela’s interest and patience in my blind running partner, the questions he asked him and his insistence on leading him to the bathroom, demonstrated his humility and compassion. Albeit that I felt compelled to thank him for affording us this opportunity of meeting him, instead, he expressed his gratitude and honour to us for taking the time to meet with him.