Joanne Rees  

Joanne Rees is CEO of Allygroup

Since founding Allygroup in 2007, Joanne has become one of Australia’s most respected strategic legal advisors and an expert in legal project management. She has also developed an international reputation as a thought leader in legal services transformation and NewLaw service offerings.

Joanne’s career has placed her in a unique position to understand and solve the evolving needs of legal practitioners and their clients. She has worked as a barrister and a solicitor since 1981, and has been both a partner and a managing partner in a number of leading Australian legal practices. She has also worked on the client side of the equation, which has given her a deep understanding of the challenges involved in managing the lawyer–client relationship.

‘I first became aware of the problems in the relationship between lawyers and their clients when I was managing partner of the Canberra office of a large national firm. During that time, I was also the client relationship partner for a number of government clients. I realised that these clients liked working with me because I took the time to listen to them, to be sure that I understood what they were looking for in a legal advisor, and then I always ensured that we met – or even exceeded – their expectations.’

As a senior consultant at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), Joanne managed major corporate litigation. She also set up the class action practice at a large plaintiff law firm and went on to become a senior partner at one of the big four accounting firms, where she led the NSW Government Advisory Practice. Her skills were recognised by the Federal Government, when the Federal Cabinet appointed her for two terms as convener and CEO of the Corporation and Markets Advisory Committee (CAMAC).

‘It was during my time at ASIC that I began to re-think the traditional law firm model. I was managing a couple of very high-profile cases with a limited budget, especially compared to the resources available to the other side. We were also working to a very tight court timetable. I soon realised that a central part of my job was project management. Instead of outsourcing all the work to a top-tier firm, we put together a team made up of in-house lawyers, secondees, and the considerable talent that’s available at the junior bar. We only used senior counsel and the law firms when absolutely necessary. After the litigation concluded, I used the same model for other large-scale litigation, in each case achieving excellent results with cost savings of around 25% (after paying the project management fee).’

When Joanne returned to private practice, she went on to apply and refine these techniques to ensure that the teams of lawyers she was managing were delivering the best service to clients as cost-effectively as possible.

‘Most lawyers are squeezed between the demands of management and their clients, so it’s up to the clients to drive change. Over the years, I have worked on an incredibly wide range of matters, including a number of class actions where we applied the tools of legal project management very successfully. I set up Allygroup because I felt that clients could benefit from having access to a team of advisors who were experts in legal project management and could show them exactly how to obtain better value from their legal service providers.’

In her role as CEO of Allygroup, Joanne advises organisations, including Australian and UK corporations, on how to optimise value from their legal spend. Over the years, she has developed a unique approach to legal project management that is highly strategic and is centred on the relationship between lawyer and client, rather than being process based.

‘At Allygroup, we have refined our legal project management methodology so that we can achieve the best possible outcomes for clients. The reality is that a lot of legal project management is about adding additional processes on top of existing ones. When I spent time in the United States a couple of years ago observing their approach to legal project management, I was surprised that everyone seemed obsessed with procedures and processes. We offer something different, being much more analytical and strategic in our approach. We start by asking our clients the question, ‘What will success look like for you in this matter or transaction?’ From there, we drill down and devise a practical strategy for achieving the result the client is seeking, as well as greatest value from their legal spend.’