On the 1st of July 2023, South East Lawyers were proud to congratulate our client, Dr Monica O’Malley, and her dental practice Your New Dentist on their official business transition – from a traditional model to an employee-owned business structure. As only one of two legal firms working to get this new model off the ground in Australia, we were faced with unique discussions and challenges for finding the best ways to support Monica’s vision, while also protecting her business. In this SE Lawyers blog post, we spoke with SE Lawyers Director Principal Melanie Heffernan and Dr. Monica O’Malley on their views and experiences working to bring this business model to life. Read it below. 

Q1. Can you describe what South East Lawyers did from a legal perspective to orchestrate the changeover of Monica’s business from a traditional model to an employee-owned business structure?

Melanie: After being introduced to the employee-owned business model by Monica – who loved the concept but wasn’t sure about how to achieve it in a legal sense – we set to work. This meant undertaking background research, meeting with leaders in the employee-owned business movement from the UK, and formulating how to approach this transition from an Australian legal perspective.

As we don’t yet have specific laws for employee-owned business structures in Australia, there was a significant amount of time dedicated to working out how to adapt the model for use here.  Once we were able to find appropriate solutions for this, we could then provide Monica with bespoke legal advice and prepare the documentation and a roll-out plan.

Q.2 Can you talk about what the overall process involved? What were timelines like and did you come up against any unforeseen challenges?

Melanie: The entire process took much longer than expected – it has been an 18-month timeline due to a number of factors. There were over 15 separate steps in the legal process alone, not to mention that Monica needed to undertake a lot of work and thinking about how she wanted the business to look and operate. There were also important discussions around her business values and ethos.

It was a very time-consuming process for all parties, and we worked with Monica on a weekly basis for almost 2 years to complete the project. When reflecting on this time, it was a challenging project for all, but also incredibly rewarding and we are really excited to see how Monica’s business will grow from here. Something else to note is that because of the experience we now have, we can roll out this business model much quicker for future clients, as we know what is required and what to expect.

Q.3 What aspects would you say have made this changeover a success

Melanie: Monica’s passion and philosophy for her business, and the business structure itself were big contributing factors in getting this project off the ground. If she hadn’t been so passionate about changing the standard model she had previously, then this would not have happened.

The relationships we built with other employee-owned business mentors and proponents, along with aligning with the necessary accountants and financial advisors were also crucial aspects. We are now a whole group of people who are wedded together in this journey with Monica and are well-placed to bring other businesses into this model.

Q.4 How can SE Lawyers help future businesses who are wanting to explore this structure?

Melanie: As we are one of only 2 law firms in Australia to get this business model off the ground, we are uniquely positioned to provide advice to those who wish to explore this type of business structure. Whether that is changing over from a traditional business model to this employee-owner business model, or starting from scratch, we have a strong foundation and advantage over other law firms to facilitate either.

Not only do we fully understand how to orchestrate this changeover in a much more efficient way due to the experience we have gained, but we can really provide valuable guidance to our clients before making big decisions. This also means ensuring that they fully understand how an employee-owned business differs greatly from an employee-share scheme.

Working with us also provides clients access to the other important resources and professionals they need to accomplish their goals. We can guide them through the entire process and prepare all documentation required

A statement from Dr. Monica O’Malley of Your New Dentist:

With Your New Dentist as an employee-owned business, we are committed to conscious business practices where we take care of ‘health’ at every level. Our vision is to become an industry leader, utilising the collective wisdom of our entire team, providing stable and secure career advancement and building a business that is future-fit and resilien

After 32 years in the dental industry, I was determined to have my legacy be a distillation of the very best I had ever experienced across the many varied workplaces I’ve been employed in. This meant minimising the needlessly resource-hungry bureaucratic processes we’ve been socially conditioned to believe are necessary to run a successful business, as they can often result in workers feeling disempowered and infantilized.

With this model in place, we seek to continue our mission to improve the health of Australian communities and do our bit to alleviate suffering as a vehicle of social justice. We aim to do this directly through the provision of our healthcare services, and indirectly through educating women in financial literacy, addressing wealth inequality and empowering those experiencing domestic violence. This business model will also support our goals to expand our services to rural and remote areas of Australia – where dental healthcare services are so desperately needed.

For us, ‘collaboration, not competition’ is our first order of business. We all share the load as a team and are engaged and united in this practice together. Your New Dentist is very excited and proud to begin this next chapter

If you would like to learn more about what an employee-owned business structure can look for your business, and how South East Lawyers, we can chat with you directly about your options and factors to consider. To work with our team and receive experienced, thorough support and advice. Reach out to us here.