Murgiana Haq started her own law firm in 1997 and was later joined by her daughters, Tasneem and Ferzana, who are similarly accomplished in IP law. Today, the trio manage an impressive portfolio spannning multinationals and small enterprises in Singapore and across the world.
“It is common in business to start with your own personal funds as capital and hope that it will grow your business so that you may later recoup it. When you set up a small business, there is a lot of personal sacrifice involved: not only monetarily, but also in terms of your time and energy.
You need to have a plan: you need sufficient funds to last six months to a year. During this time, any profits are ploughed back into the practice. You must be prepared for this as you will keep ploughing back into your business and you may not withdraw for some time, so your capital is stuck there for a very long time. You don’t want to pay yourself back as soon as you get some income. You want to let your business grow and stabilize. In this kind of enterprise, there is a lot of personal sacrifice.”
RUNNING A TIGHT SHIP
“Having had the benefit of working in a large law firm where I was running a large department, I know the challenges there. In a smaller practice, we can provide a personalized service. In a large organization, there is a tendency to work like a factory chain. It may be difficult to identify a specific person responsible for the work as there may be more than one person involved.
In a small setup, a client can speak to a person who knows his or her matter very well because that person does the work from beginning to end and knows the portfolio.”
“Next, costs. Being smaller, we can control our overheads and run what I call a tight ship by making sure our costs are kept down. In that way, we are able to offer a good service for a lesser price— this is what clients want. They want good service, but not pay a substantial amount simply because you have a large organization to support.
Further, in large organizations, most of the groundwork is done by paralegals or juniors but with a senior fronting it and charging senior rates. Whereas in a small firm, you get what you pay for.”
SPEED & FLEXIBILITY
“We can also respond to client’s requests on costing or provide quotes very fast because we can be flexible and decisive and not be required to go through a whole hierarchy to get approval. The client will say: I have a budget, this is the amount I can pay, and we can immediately decide if we can work within that budget and so we are able to commit ourselves almost immediately.
So these are the advantages of a small practice.”
“When you are small, you have to invest a lot in building up your practice, such as by networking with people, attending conferences, and building relationships with people so that they get to know you better, and begin to trust you, and give you work, and support you.”
The Curious Case of the Carriage Clock
“Conferences are a wonderful way for lawyers around the world to meet in person, and cocktail receptions in the evening are usually hosted by individual law firms as a way to market their brand.
At a conference on intellectual property in Boston, one of the firms was set to impress with a cultural theme from India. As soon as we stepped through the doors of the ballroom, their staff slipped bangles on our hands, and before we knew what was happening, another person put a bindi on our forehead. From the exquisite details, it was obvious that extraordinary effort and money had gone into planning the party.
When the guests were leaving, they each received a hand-wrapped gift — yes, each box was hand-wrapped — and it was heavy! It turned out to be a carriage clock with the company’s name inscribed elegantly on the front.
Most law firms give out little mementos such as pens, earphones, or battery chargers— these are small gifts that we can use immediately while traveling. What were we going to do with this massive and heavy clock?!
Walking back to the hotel (with this clock in our hands), we noticed a line of yellow cabs circling the block and thought: Okay, maybe one of these guys will appreciate the gift.
So we walked up to a cab driver and said: “Excuse me sir, we just came from an event, would you be interested in this gift?”
The cab driver started laughing and threw open his trunk. “Lady!” he gestured inside, “I got a trunk full of these!”
We glanced at the trunk and our eyes popped open: it was full of the same half-opened carriage clocks!
That law firm probably did not anticipate how many lawyers had come from abroad and these days most of us travel with carry-on luggage. A little reminder, perhaps, to understand your target market!”
May the law protect you wherever you are! You can contact the lawyers and learn more about their portfolio on http://www.hslegal.com.sg
This interview is featured in a coffeetable book showcasing business owners from diverse trades in Singapore. The gorgeous publication was sponsored by the Singapore Business Federation and SG50 Celebration Fund with a lovely cover design from Paperplane, a visual storytelling studio based in Singapore.
Shopkeeper Stories is a photographic documentary of small business owners and their trades around the world, sharing their tips and insights. You can connect with the community on Instagram and Facebook @ShopkeeperStories