When founders of Axon Partners were starting a company, they promised each of their associates a share in the company that would eventually increase. The newest law firm partners came out with how they actually managed to end up as partners.
#What’sUpAtAxon – over the year, this hashtag has been attracting the attention of a great many lawyers. This law firm used Bitcoin as incorporation capital, applied Agile methodology in law practice, started to use a coworking space as their office and made Wednesday a creative day-off. Sure enough, some people keep wondering how this company actually operates and whether their management model will work for other companies, while others can’t wait for Axon lawyers to become serious, suit up, and go on building their careers at IT practice sections of other law firms.
We addressed these and some other questions to the new partners Yana Bakalenko (Y.B.), Oleg Geletkanych (O.G.), Yevgenia Gireva (Y.G.) and Oksana Kochkodan. It’s been a year since they have joined a legal startup. According to them, at this point, they have no regrets.
It’s been a year since you have joined Axon Partners. Did you have any second thoughts about joining a newborn company?
O.K.: All that is new makes you anxious at first. Yes, we were anxious back then, but at the same time, it was a new challenge, a new chapter for us.
Y.G.: I felt no fear since we continued working on the same team, with the same people. I wanted to create something new and really cool, and that’s what actually happened.
Y.B.: I’ve been with Axon Partners from the very first day. However, I did not know anyone from the team until started working with them. I was a little bit afraid of the unknown. I kept thinking who I was going to work with and whether we would get along. However, I did not realize back then how many tasks we would have to deal with: it was a new company, and we had to start from point zero.
O.G.: It was a very interesting experience. We got in on the ground floor of a unique Ukrainian law firm. It was a risky idea. Still, as a look back, I must admit that this game is worth the candle.
How do you promote a law firm? Who is actually doing the job: Yana as a general manager, partners, or the whole team of lawyers?
O.K.: Quite frankly, we are not intended to promote ourselves this way or another. We don’t put banners and don’t hit on people during events. Sometimes, we post something interesting on social networks, write articles and commentaries. We give free advice at Chasopys creative space and take part in some events where we speak about IT law. Sure thing, sometimes we cannot help speaking about Axon.
Y.B.: All partners are engaged in the process, including myself. We don’t do any profound content planning, we don’t plan how many publications we are going to do monthly, and we never arrange any boring press breakfasts/lunches/five-o’clock-teas. Still, nobody’s perfect: we count likes on social networks from time to time. We try to stay in touch with our followers and inform them about some interesting current events and our plans for the future. If there is nothing interesting going on, we don’t fill the air informing that our partner visited some conference. However, we do have our PR concept. For example, we set up a company and launched our office in Lviv – these are the super newsworthy events for us. We did plan to share this news.
O.K.: Somehow, we manage to attract new clients by our posts on Facebook and marketing activities. Happy clients recommend us to others. That’s how it works for us.
Who are your clients: startups, small, or big companies?
O.G.: At Axon Partners, we hold ourselves out as a company for technocrats. We are not an IT boutique, as it may seem. Actually, we have good expertise in intellectual property, taxes, corporate structuring. Most of our clients are companies engaged in software development and implementation, e-commerce, outsourcing, telecom, bitcoin and blockchain projects. We also work with startups. If we see that a project is likely to work, we don’t charge them for services. We offer our services in exchange for shares in their future companies. This is a kind of investment in the future. It’s no secret that we mainly work with middle-size companies. It’s not our choice, it’s today’s market situation: there are no companies in Ukraine doing about the same amount of business as Apple Inc. However, we provide services to a number of public companies, and a number of American and European startups of BlaBlaCar level.
Now that you are partners, will you hunt for new clients?
O.G.: It’s my first partner experience, so I don’t know how to look for clients. Over the past year, we made our name on the market. Other lawyers and many IT guys know us. So, we have a good outlook for our further development. On the other hand, it does not make any significant difference whether you are a partner or associate. I remember, someone had to go to Kharkiv to speak about bitcoin regulation, and one of our interns volunteered. He did not bring any clients, but it was quite a decent speech that he delivered. I doubt that it would be even possible in any other company.
Y.G.: In traditional law firms, partners bring clients, and associates do all the research work. This scheme does not always work for us. As associates, we do a lot of things other than paperwork: we meet with clients, take on some projects, give speeches on conferences and seminars. We gained a wealth of experience, and I doubt that we would have a chance to do it at any other law firm in just one year. By the way, partners do the paperwork as well. Sure thing, we understand that our ‘no rules’ policy should not affect the quality. That’s why we always work at two levels: at first, the work is done by interns or associates. After that, associates or partners (or both) check it.
Do you have any plan of events you have to visit?
Y.G.: We are not aimed at visiting as many events as possible. We go to those we are interested in. If we come through an interesting conference or seminar, we share the link in our messenger. Then we get to decide whether to go or not to go.
Y.B.: Recently, we made a list of last year’s events worth visiting this year as well. It’s about five events a month. We also have a list of events ‘never ever to visit again’.
If you have missed an important event, who is to blame?
Y.G.: We have ‘no blame’ culture in our company – we don’t look for someone to blame. Sure thing, we do have problems sometimes. In such cases, we think how to solve problems instead of looking for somebody to get punished. This applies not only to marketing, but to our work in general.
O.G.: It’s easier to work when there is trust instead of control. Of course, your sense of duty grows stronger. However, your motivation to do a great job is even bigger.
Y.B.: If we missed the event, maybe it was not so important at all.
Why work at Axon Partners? In one of his interviews, Dima Gadomsky promised that associates would get their partner options. Did he keep his promise?
O.G.: Dima Gadomsky did keep his promise. Actually, when founders of Axon Partners were starting a company, they promised each of their associates a share in this company that would eventually increase. Associates who have joined us later, will get their company shares as well. We know that options fall outside the scope of Ukraine’s statutory and regulatory framework. What matter is that our relationship is built on trust, not on a written agreement with an ink stamp in eight original copies.
О.К.: Why Axon Partners? Sure thing, it’s all about flexibility and freedom. Besides, I wear sneakers to work, and my friends envy me. Seriously though, I enjoy working here, it’s for sure. I can use my potential as I like, since I can choose projects I work with. Our work is a challenge for us and for the whole legal industry, since there are no definite answers to questions we deal with. As for our shares in the company, they make us believe that we work for ourselves. Now we are even more interested in our company’s success.
Y.B.: For me, money was not the most important thing. I actually liked the team and the way they work and communicate. Human rights is a hot-button issue for me, and traditional hierarchy is in a certain sense a limitation of equal rights. In this company, people do listen to me. Besides, I’ve discovered that law is really interesting and exciting (though it is commonly thought to be boring). I work here because I feel I’m part of a very cool team.
Y.G.: Yana is right. The way we work is our great asset. Before we even got our shares in the company, we had been taking part in strategic decision-making. We have equal rights, everybody can suggest an idea. We all participate in decision-making. Sometimes it is difficult for us to agree on a certain issue, but we always manage to build consensus in the end. Besides, just like Oksana, I prefer casual work outfits and an open space office, and I don’t have to hide my laptop if I want to use Facebook for 15 minutes. At our coworking space, we can discuss our projects, search for creative solutions, laugh at each other’s jokes. We all understand that it’s not a place or an outfit that makes you perform high-quality work.
О.К.: Besides, coffee is delicious there!
Do you think that your management model and your philosophy will work for other law firms?
Y.G.: Sure thing, the best team to work on is a self-organized team. Every team member makes efforts to reach the common goal. However, you have your own role, and it’s up to you how to act within this role. This kind of freedom helps you show what you are capable of – it’s my personal experience. In addition, our management model enables us to make decisions quickly and create something new. In a law firm with hierarchical corporate culture, a cool idea suggested by a junior associate may go unnoticed. However, it will be implemented in a company operating under holacracy, where everyone has equal rights. If your idea is really great, people will definitely want to implement it.
Y.B.: If partners of a law firm are not ready to share their powers with their team, it is unlikely that holacracy will work for them. The only obstacle to implementing this management model is a way of thinking.
О.К.: Besides, not so many people are ready to change their habits. Neither holacracy, nor Agile will work without flexibility. We are constantly improving our project management processes. We discuss what actually went wrong during a sprint. As a result, next sprints are more effective. The same goes for company management.
Who do you compete with on the legal services market: big law firms, individual legal practitioners or robots?
О.К.: When it comes to competition, bots and neural networks are a real challenge. Maybe, legal tech solutions will not replace lawyers in the near future, but they can be used to do some simple lawyers’ work, such as collecting and studying information. To compete with bots, you have to be creative and do things machines cannot do. You have to move with the times. Change or die – this is definitely about IT law.
О.G.: A chatbot lawyer launched in Вritain a couple of years ago drafted appeal complains to contest traffic tickets and as well sent them to competent authorities. By the way, the chatbot successfully appealed almost half of traffic tickets for free and won cases worth 2 million GBP. Can you even imagine how much money would have people paid to lawyers? I am sure that soon enough, similar projects will be launched on Ukraine’s legal services market.
Are founding partners going to edit this interview?
No, they are not! (in chorus)
(Interview by Marina Bakholdina, Yuridicheskaya Praktika)