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Secombs celebrates centenary

News

Cite as: (2003) 77(10) LIJ, p.26

For the past 100 years, law firm Secombs has been one of the family for many people in Melbourne’s west.

A western suburbs law firm celebrated a centenary of practice recently with a party honouring the partners and clerks whose loyalty helped it to thrive.

Founded by Arthur Secomb, who was admitted to practice as a barrister and solicitor on 2 August 1903, Secombs has evolved into a highly specialised firm of seven partners representing clients from its heartland in Footscray.

Managing partner Rod Jones said staff loyalty and the strong working relationships between partners were important parts of the firm’s longevity.

“You are not going to stay in partnership with somebody you don’t like, you don’t trust – somebody who does not have the same values as you,” he said.

Mr Jones said Secombs promoted a working environment in which employees were valued as friends.

“I think it’s a good atmosphere around the place. They are more than just employees, they’re friends. We respect their skills and their knowledge.”

Law clerk Charlie Cooke, for example, has been working with Secombs since 1986. He came to Secombs when it merged with the law firm he’d been working for since 1964.

Conveyancing clerk Cathy Licastro also continued to work at Secombs long after the firm she worked for – Jones and Kennedy – merged with it.

Law Institute president Bill O’Shea and former Family Court Judge John Fogarty were among those who celebrated the centenary at Maribyrnong Town Hall on 5 August.

Mr O’Shea said few firms in Victoria could trace their history back 100 years.

“Secombs has been providing first class service to the western suburbs for all these 100 years and is a master of the art of private practice,” he said.

Mr O’Shea said suburban firms like Secombs presented great opportunities for law graduates.

“We hear much these days about the crisis in articles for young lawyers graduating from law school,” he said.

“Most of them see their future as limited to major city firms. Increasingly, they are beginning to realise that working as a lawyer in suburban and country firms in Victoria presents them with a great opportunity to become hands-on earlier in their career and to experience clients up close.”

Rod Jones, the firm’s business law specialist, agreed that a suburban practice could build a close relationship with its clients.

“Obviously you’ve got a lot more personal clients, individual clients than the city firms have because they just don’t service that market,” he said.

“So you might be serving the third or fourth generation of a family. That’s not to say they (city firms) don’t but it’s more a part of our market.”

Secombs still draws most of its clients from the western suburbs, a region with a high population of migrants, particularly newly arrived migrants.

Mr Jones said that over the years the firm was able to adapt to meet the needs of its clientele.

Through the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the solicitors ran an evening practice from Arthur Secomb’s Footscray house so that clients could get advice after hours. The clients would often bring their children to act as interpreters for them.

Today Secombs has a Vietnamese/ Chinese interpreter and plenty of staff with diverse cultural backgrounds who can step in to help with any language problems.

Mr Jones said Arthur Secomb, who died in 1967, had been a great “all-round” lawyer, capable of understanding a client’s needs and giving them advice on a wide range of issues.

But, he said legal practice had become more complicated since Arthur Secomb’s day, leading to a need for greater specialisation within firms.

Secombs continued to change to meet those needs, with all seven partners gaining specialist accreditation in areas including family law, personal injuries, business law, wills and estates, and property law.

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