blog image

Creating a new normal for the legal profession: Helen Mackay on shaping business around people

March 25, 20245 min read

Helen Mackay is the Founder and Director of Juno Legal, a people-centred law firm with transparency and client relationships at its heart. More than just a lawyer or just an entrepreneur, Helen is an active thought leader in the legal industry, advocating for a change in culture. 

“I’ve always been driven by fairness and equality,” says Helen. “I wanted to create an environment for lawyers where you didn’t have to sacrifice everything else in your life for your job. And for clients, a firm that delivered expert in-house legal services on a flexible basis at a fixed cost. I didn’t see anyone else out there making this work – and so I decided to make that space myself. That’s where Juno Legal began.”

Shaping the business around the need

Before her entrepreneurial journey, Helen spent 20 years working as an in-house lawyer inside large corporates, where she became well-connected within the New Zealand legal industry. “I experienced what so many do as general counsel under pressure, while also juggling a young family. It’s not an easy place to be.”

helen

Helen noticed a lot of unfairness in the legal profession. Women were often penalised for taking time away to have children, as were men, and the pathway back was often hard to navigate. There were not many alternatives to jobs that demanded 60-hour weeks or huge sacrifices. 

But before jumping straight in, Helen spent three months conducting research in the market. She interviewed more than 50 potential clients and chief in-house lawyers, testing her concept, and figuring out exactly what kind of services people needed – and weren’t seeing offered anywhere else. She heard that clients wanted transparent pricing and client-centred services from commercial heavyweight lawyers.

When Helen launched a model shaped to what the market really wanted in 2017, it wasn’t just clients that came knocking on the door. “All these amazing lawyers wanted to come and work with us. We knew we would only take the very best people, the kind of person who wasn’t just an outstanding lawyer, but who also could bring a commercial lens, who wanted to work differently, and who was open minded about how law firms could be shaped.”

It was a strong start for Juno Legal – a healthy band of clients interested right from the start and a growing team of talented lawyers. 

“It still took a lot of effort and tenacity to get out there,” says Helen. “The legal profession is pretty traditional so we got quite a few “no”s in the beginning. I had to wake up every day and find the confidence and the energy to look for new work, to connect with people on LinkedIn, to share our story and keep moving forward. For me, it was about being very disciplined in those early days and to keep believing in what we were creating. And we continue to evolve – our All-Hands company-wide session in March focuses on how we can adapt for the needs of clients and our team in 2024 and beyond.”

Of course, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Helen reflects on plenty of learnings, and tough times, especially in the first few years. The key, however, was being willing to take guidance, accept mistakes despite the very lawyerly tendency to be a perfectionist, and to never compromise on the quality of people they took on. “At the end of the day, our reputation has grown incredibly strong, and that’s due to the collective strength of our whole team. 

The power of challenging thinking

About three years ago, just after the early COVID lockdowns, Helen was recruited for EO by Paul Nielsen, a longtime ambassador for EO. “At the time, I had worked with strategic advisors and business coaches, and they were very helpful – but they also typically gave quite academic advice. What I really wanted was to hear from other entrepreneurs, from people who had created a business of their own.”

When she eventually became an EO member, Helen quickly became a leader within a group of leaders, signing on to the board as Learning Chair to bring speakers and events to the EO community. 

“EO is a fabulous tribe. They are incredibly supportive, and everyone goes out of their way to connect people or recommend one another. It’s all about supporting you as a business leader, and also as a person – and I only wished I had been part of it sooner to have that support during the thick of the pandemic.”

Beyond the community aspect, however, Helen says the value of EO is in how it pushes you to think about your business. For example, a few years ago Juno Legal was moving offices, and looking at different leases. At an EO property event, however, she was encouraged to broaden her options. Instead of going with a lease, the company ended up buying the floor of a building and using it as a shared office space between three law firms – and it’s been a huge success. “I never would have thought of that without EO challenging my thinking,” says Helen. “And that’s so important. EO isn’t about making you more ambitious, but about encouraging you to think differently, more creatively, more strategically about business and the impact you can have.”

Helen continues to work on improving the legal industry as a whole. She regularly speaks with young law students, she continues to connect with leaders across the spectrum, and her team throughout New Zealand continue to be living proof of a new normal for the profession. All the while, she has her EO forum to support her journey as an entrepreneur, a leader, and a person experiencing an altogether different kind of juggle than she once did.

Back to Blog

QUICKLINKS

GLOBAL

SOCIAL

CONTACT