Viv Greene Attorneys

Viv Greene Attorneys 10 Year Anniversary

1 April 2011 – 1 April 2021

An interview with Viv Greene

What do you do at Viv Greene Attorneys?

Focus on civil litigation, acting for other attorneys around South Africa who may have matters for the courts arising in Pietermaritzburg. Aside from that, I am also a notary public where I help people with their antenuptial contracts which they need to sign before they get married and then we also work with another attorney who also does all our conveyancing. 

How did it start?

Just prior to opening the law firm in Pietermaritzburg, I was in a partnership with two other attorneys, and after 9 months both the attorneys resigned which forced me to make a decision as to whether I could go it alone or whether I should go back to being an employee again. Took a leap of faith and hoped the clients who said they would come with me would do that. It started from there, myself and a filing clerk, sharing an office with another attorney on 1 April 2011, exactly 10 years ago.

Any regrets? Not a single regret, but obviously comes with its challenges, especially in the early days, I had to work harder than I have ever worked in my life before, to make sure I kept all the clients. I have found it immensely rewarding.

What were the challenges starting out?

The main challenge was being the only attorney so I basically had to do all the work myself, whether it was office bound work or court appearances. I had to divide my time up very carefully from a work perspective, but also getting all the right systems in place such as setting up my website, e-mail addresses, phone lines, fax machine, postal address, banking and so on. Making sure I was tax compliant with the numerous legislation out there – the same as any new business would need to do. The challenge was to split the work between work that generated income and all the systems and procedures that had to be in place around that.

What were the turning points?

The turning point in my business was the decision for my husband, Chris, to join the practice as Practice Manager, because I was able to hand over a lot of the admin work, and the IT side to him. That was within the first year of opening the business. Of course it did create a bit of stress, defining the roles each of us would play.

The second biggest turning point was appointing another attorney in the firm which happened during the second year and she gradually took away a lot of my work and developed her own practice within my practice, and she is still with me today. Having quality staff makes all the difference.

Was there a lot of competition when you started out?

There was obviously competition in Pietermaritzburg, and being a small city with a high number of legal practitioners, but I found that I was busy from day one having already had a large number of clients, prior to opening.  A lot of sole practitioners don’t have that to start with. Having an existing client base to build from was definitely an advantage. I just really had to get my name out there and get referrals. Actually, once I opened on my own, colleagues seemed more willing to refer clients to me where as that didn’t really happen before when I was part of various other firms.

What do you attribute your success to?

We have always gone the extra mile, and each case we deal with, we really run that case as if it is our own, no matter how small. Each matter is of value to us. I have also been careful as to how cases are run ethically, where others may take chances, I have always been very careful never to do that. PMB is a small town and so reputation is everything. If you get an name for unethical practices, clients don’t get referred to you. I do feel Viv Greene Attorneys has developed it’s own personality, its own DNA, with a solid foundation.

Why a correspondent law firm?

I have always done correspondence work for the time I was admitted as an attorney. The Pietermaritzburg courts have historically always been very busy, so it is the type of work I got use to doing, immediately after qualifying. When we started we did try and take on all types of work from all over, and the difficulties were that much of it was very labour intensive such as divorce work, which I did do a lot of and weren’t as good for our progress from a business perspective.  You have to be there personally for that kind of case, but for Pietermaritzburg correspondent work, another attorney in the practice can take that work on, as it is just a matter of following the court processes right up to trial and completion of the case.  We started to refer divorce or family cases to colleagues who we have a good working relationship with, who then referred work to us as well.

Balance between work and home life in a marriage

It is something we work on, but we do have specific areas that we focus on. Chris is a businessman and not an attorney so there is no overlap in the work we need to focus on. We have two young children and he has taken on a lot of the family responsibilities. In the morning he will be working from 5am and then he will leave the office at 12 to take care of the kids which gives me peace of mind. It enables me to fully focus on work, knowing that the kids are in good hands. I am very fortunate and appreciative that Chris is able to do that, and he appreciates the time he has with them.

How did you cope during the Covid-19 lockdown?

We are use to working from home so that hasn’t been an issue. We just had to manage our time more efficiently, keeping on touch with our team via daily meetings and giving them work to do. From a home perspective, it was also having to manage our kids at home. We had to set up rotines where we alternated spending time with them. That was challenging.

With our clients, we are keeping communications open, but there was a big dip in business which was quite scary. We were relying on other attorneys sending us work, however the difficulty is that the courts have been closed. We have therefore had to look at new avenues of business that we can do remotely and so our focus has been on that. It has been refreshing to discuss work issues with other attorneys and throw ideas around.

Lastly, advice for an aspiring attorney

Whatever path you end up doing taking, get as much experience as you can. It might not be the job you initially want to do, but during these times you just need to get your foot in the door. You may need to broaden you outlook on what you thought would be the dream job and look at a wider range of options. Law involves an initial 2 years of training to become a qualified legal practitioner and during that time do as much as you can. Push the boundaries and get as much experience because that is a real opportunity before you are qualified. Look at other areas of law, such as cyber law rather than the traditional areas.

Advice for business in general

Positive, read, push yourself and don’t let the negativity get to you. You will have bad days. You need to be sure of your own destiny and follow that through.

Viv Greene