Brandell Turner is the straight-shooting Partner and Director of TNK Attorneys, a mid-size Cape Town-based firm that punches well above its weight, for good reason...
You’re a small firm, but that doesn’t hold you back from competing with the big boys, does it?
Absolutely not! The perception that the biggest firms provide you with a better service is simply not true. You couldn’t make out a case for it. We have four or five lawyers who have come out of the bigger firms, yet they don’t suddenly become inferior now that they are working in our practice. My message to corporates is that you can get that same level of quality service at a smaller firm but you’ll see the difference in your individual service standard, which you possibly wouldn’t get even at the bigger firms. Choose your lawyer carefully — don’t choose him or her judging by the firm, rather choose them for themselves and look at what they are able to give you and check whether the billing practices are fair and in line with what you expect and can afford. There’s nothing worse than getting a nasty shock when you get your legal bill.
What is so crucial about the principles and values that your practice is built on?
The firm is based on the values of hard work, communication with clients and problem-solving, but all in the context of fair billing practices. We don’t sell law which is not useful to clients. We understand that law is not a cheap commodity so we don’t over-sell law when a common sense solution presents itself as an option. I’m not going to sell law to you in the sense that I’m going to give a long academic piece or a 20-page legal opinion to backup my legal approach to your situation — and then bill you for that opinion! When people walk into your firm they know they have a case — they don’t need you to tell them that. My aim for this firm is to break the perception that so many people have out there that legal fees are exhorbitant — they shouldn’t be.
What aspect of your work excites you the most?
Law often tells a story without an ending. A good lawyer writes the ending himself. The law can be clearcut, such as in the case of a road accident, but you don’t know how it’s going to end until you have started to investigate and found out if the responsible party has insurance, what their legal defence will be and even investigated what your client’s part in the accident might have been. So every case is a challenge and that’s where you have to write the best possible ending for your client.
What does success mean for your practice?
We win small battles every day. If we have achieved a good result for a client and have earned a decent fee for it, then that is a success upon which we build. If a larger institution has put their faith in us then I take it as a measure of our growth, without basking in the glory.
What challenges has your practice faced?
As a smaller firm, we don’t attract lawyers with the more specialised commercial law skills in, for example, banking, mining, intellectual property and corporate mergers. This is because we don’t have clients in these fields and can’t sustain the salary expectations of commercial lawyers without these clients. It’s a Catch-22 of the cruellest kind. Accordingly, we have no choice but to build the skills from within. We have created a budget for further academic studies in specialist fields, but this does not equate to the building of legal skills and gaining the trust of clients. We have been knocking on the doors of larger corporates with the view of seeking mentoring opportunities where we propose that our attorneys work in the legal divisions of these corporates free of charge to gain working knowledge of the peculiar legal environment of such corporates. For some reason, corporates don’t easily buy into the merits of this option. I suspect that this has to do with the comfort of using existing law firms and that legal managers of corporates don’t spend their own hard-earned money on legal fees. Thankfully, we have recently sold this option to a larger corporate in the insurance industry and we have no doubt that this will prove to be a positive growth model. Fortunately, in the arena of labour law, public law and forensic investigations, we have firmly put our hands up and have been entrusted with the work of larger corporates and the government.
What is TNK Attorneys’ background?
TNK, as it currently exists, is a merger of two smaller firms, which have been around since about 1999. In 2014, Turner & Associates Attorneys and Kirsten Attorneys — along with two other senior attorneys who held senior management positions in the government — got together to form TNK Attorneys. Turner & Associates & Kirsten Attorneys were evenly matched in terms of professional capacity and shared a common desire to combine professional and support resources into a single firm, which could then offer the capacity needed by larger corporate clients. Added to the two firms was another senior attorney who had almost 20 years of experience in the forensic investigations arena, having previously worked for the Scorpions, SARS and PWC. Another senior attorney joined us from the public service, where he was involved in the administrative and public service labour law arena. As at the date of the merger, TNK had a combined professional resource of 15 attorneys.
What is TNK’s area of speciality?
Our firm has a strong public and administrative law component and we offer labour law and forensic investigation services to government departments, parastatals and small businesses, in addition to an active corporate law offering. Generally, we also offer a full range of everyday legal services such as family law (divorces), trusts and deceased estates, conveyancing, criminal law, civil litigation, personal injury claims and so on.
What is your leadership style?
I don’t sweat the MBA stuff and don’t fool myself into believing that everyone who works at TNK share my vision. I can only impress upon them my vision and encourage them to align some of their own vision with mine for the advancement of TNK. I do, however, require this as a basic commitment and do not allow anyone, including myself, to be bigger than TNK. To be honest, I could never be the leader that Stephen Covey wants me to be. However, I can hope that people might sometimes take their cue from my actions. Fortunately, I have also employed people who have stronger personalities than mine and can get things done when I am not brave enough to do so. I also don’t wait for the perfect circumstances to present themselves before I move on an opportunity. Over the years, I have also learnt that you don’t have to argue your point or answer uninformed criticism. You have to trust that people are complex animals and never openly admit their faults (myself not excepted) and you have to trust that they will then admit their faults quietly to themselves and, I believe, they will respect you for letting them be.
Source: Leadership Magazine, ed 380, April 2017