Posted on Mar 4, 2022
Ahead of the WLANSW 70th Anniversary Gala Dinner, we spoke with NSW Change Champion of the Year 2021, Carly Stebbing. Carly is a workplace rights advocate and Founder of Resolution123 where she uses technology to deliver employment law services to employees in a fast, affordable and straightforward way. Carly talked to us about her passion for empowering employees, how she founded Resolution123 with only $6000, and her main piece of advice for other aspiring female legal entrepreneurs.
You have dedicated the majority of your legal career to employment law and are passionate about educating people about their workplace rights. How did your interest in this area of law begin?
I believe it developed when I worked in various retail and hospitality jobs during my high school and university years. I was always concerned with receiving the correct minimum wage, overtime, penalties and workplace conditions. I would often organise my teammates to enforce their rights at work. My parents fostered a strong set of values in me, where the notion of fairness became very prominent. Despite this, when I got to university I wasn’t sure law was for me, so I decided to take a semester off to travel. When I came back I got a job working for an employer association.
I fell in love with workplace rights - the relationship between an employer and an employee is fascinating. It's also a topic that is present virtually everywhere: you talk about it around the dinner table with your friends, you discuss it with your partner, and it is in the headlines on the news. And no wonder, the kind of relationship you have with your boss can significantly impact your life.
Can you expand a bit on what it means to be a real workplace advocate?
I believe it's vital that employees have a thorough understanding of their rights at work to have agency over themselves. I believe it is my job as a workplace rights advocate to help people understand their rights at work. I do this in lots of ways. As a junior lawyer I advocated for myself about equal pay and other workplace conditions including hours of work, in doing so I role modelled and encouraged agency to my peers. As an experienced employment lawyer I have taken to social media, podcasts and traditional media outlets to keep people informed about their rights at work. Now, through Resolution123, I help individuals understand their rights, what to do if a dispute arises, and the steps to resolve it. It's all about empowering people with information to take action if they need to and not have to depend on traditional legal services.
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You founded your online practice, Resolution123, in 2017 with only $6000. Can you tell us how this venture came about and what motivated you to leap into legal entrepreneurship?
It started when I was still working at a respondent firm. We received many inquiries from employees but it was cost-prohibitive for an employee to figure out if they even had a claim. In addition to this, I would often have friends and family coming to me discussing issues at work where I would think to myself, "I'm sure that there could be an app for this that would help you work out if you had a claim or not."
Then in 2014 - while I was on maternity leave with my first child - my friend saw an advert for a Hackathon. In short, a Hackathon is a weekend where people who have a business idea can meet with business advisors and tech experts to develop their idea further. So I rolled up on Friday and pitched my idea: an app that would help people figure out if they had a work claim or not. We worked on the idea during the weekend - while nursing my eight-week-old baby - and I ended up winning! But I still didn't feel quite ready to take the big leap into making it a reality.
Then in 2016, I had my second child. During this time, I did a lot of reflection, and I decided that returning to traditional legal services wouldn't fit my new life as a mum with two young children. One day I was reading "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg, and one of the things she asks you in the book is, "what would you do if you weren't afraid?". I thought to myself, "if I weren't afraid, I would create this app concept and see whether or not people would use it". What convinced me even further was that The Law Society of NSW released their Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession (FLIP) report. The paper basically validated all these ideas I had: that an increasing number of lawyers wanted to work flexibly, that access to justice was struggling, and that many people couldn't afford to access legal services. It also suggested that tech and fixed fee prices might be the way forward.
From there, I started to reach out to people that could help me get my business idea off the ground. I found out it would cost me $6000. Since I was still on maternity leave, I didn't have much money to spare. Luckily, I could borrow the money from my in-laws.
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The key for any business to thrive is to keep evolving - so can you share what's next for your practice? Have the past two years influenced how you approach your online practice?
The last two years have been difficult for everyone. My biggest challenge was to navigate having my little girl homeschooled while trying to run a business with a number of personal losses. In regards to the business, Resolution123 was set up in a way so we could deal with the lockdown.
Due to COVID, I found that what people needed from us and their ability to pay for the services changed significantly. During the first lockdown in Sydney, many people lost their jobs and needed access to information quickly. At the beginning of the pandemic, I did a lot of Facebook live streams where I talked about JobKeeper payments, employee rights and explained what happens when you're made redundant or stood down. We also started to offer 20-minute express consults. My team and I felt like we had a calling; we had a skillset that was useful to people in a really tough time, and even if they couldn't afford our services at the moment, we knew that it would come back to us in goodwill.
My team and I felt like we had a calling; we had a skillset that was useful to people...
However, during the last 6-12 months, the most significant change I've made is to revert to the business model that I foresaw when I first started Resolution123. Initially, my idea was that the app would help someone identify if they had a claim, and give them access to a legal marketplace. I was going to match people that made the inquiries with experienced employment lawyers that could help them resolve the claim. But it was pretty challenging to launch a new platform simultaneously with finding lawyers prepared to go into it, so I decided it would be easier if I offered the services myself. After two rounds of the pandemic combined with managing everything at home and work, I realised that the need for employment law services is much bigger than my team and me. Which is why I decided to go back to my initial idea, and I am now partnering with other employment law firms. I specially handpicked these firms and lawyers because I know they will stay true to our values around upfront fixed fee pricing - and because I know they are great lawyers.
Now, when an inquiry comes in from a client, we first identify whether they have a claim or not. We then match the client with the lawyer or law firm that is the best fit to help the client resolve their claim.
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Looking back, is there anything you'd have done differently at the start of your entrepreneurial journey?
When I reflect on things I could have done differently, I could have, from the beginning, financed everything and filled all the positions that I wanted within the organisation. Instead, I had to wear multiple hats and so did my team- and being an entrepreneur at the same time as a lead generator, principal, and supervisor was incredibly demanding. I believe it would have been a lot easier for me - and my team - if I had taken the route of financing everything from the start. At the same time, would I have taken the plunge if the risks were so much higher? I don't know. With $6000, I was prepared to take a punt on, and if it failed, it failed.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring female legal entrepreneurs?
My main piece of advice is to be very clear on why you want to do it. Are you doing it because you think it's easier? Less stressful? More flexible? All those things are not necessarily true. Of course, if you want to do a barre class in the middle of the day or you have to leave work to pick up the kids, you don't have to ask anyone for permission to do that. But you still have to keep the business ticking over, pay staff and keep clients happy. If your "why" is that you feel stuck in traditional law and don't want to do the hours anymore, realistically, you're going to have to work just as hard in your own business as in a traditional law firm setting. But if you have identified a problem in the market, and you have a unique solution combined with a skillset to lift it off the ground, I would absolutely go for it. When I started Resolution123, I was extremely clear that it was an employment law firm only for employees, mainly targeting professional women or mums returning to work. And that shines through in everything that we do - from our social media feed to the language we use.
To finish up, we've got three quick questions for you which we ask all of our leaders in law interviewees:
- What’s your favourite way to wind down? I love going to my barre class, listening to a great audiobook (most recent fav being Ciao Bella! By Kate Langbroek) - and a glass of wine.
- What’s one thing you would tell your 15-year-old self? I feel like this question infers that you were a fragile and innocent 15-year old that's full of insecurities and needs bolstering. But that's not my recollection of being a teenager. I've been fortunate to have a personality where I have always trusted my abilities. I think my life panned out the way I've made it and the way I've worked for it. So to answer your question, I would tell my 15-year-old self, "you're on the right track. Just keep at it".
- And last but not least, are you a cat person or a dog person? I'm a dog person. There is a constant battle about getting a cat in this house but I'm unsure of how my Aussie bulldog would deal with it!