Golf’s days are over: Entertainment for law firm clients is back in Australia after COVID, but it’s different

It’s been at least a decade since Australian law firm Wooton + Kearney organized a golf day for its clients.

“We don’t do that anymore because it just doesn’t suit our gendered clients,” said David Kearney, chief executive partner of the Australian specialist insurance firm.

Personal customer entertainment has returned to Australia after two years of severe COVID-19 lockdowns. But the days of craziness with clients on the golf course or at a sporting event are over.

Wooton + Kearney clients are more likely to be invited to a cookery class, a visit to the theater or a game of lawn bowls where clients enjoy a day in the sun and compete to roll unevenly weighted balls closest to the -a small ball known as a “jack”.

Wooton + Kearney’s shift from what Kearney calls “promiscuous” pursuits to activities that appeal to both sexes is echoing in law firms across the country as the legal profession becomes less male-dominated. In fact, corporate counsel and government attorneys—the purchasers of legal services—are more likely to be women than men.

“We make sure that we find activities that appeal to a wider range of customers that we work with,” Kearney said.

Businesses typically engage with customers in several different ways. They hold lunches and seminars on legal or business topics of interest to their clients. And for many businesses, this is the most important part of customer engagement.

But businesses also organize more social and informal events.

“It’s all about building relationships and bringing people together. We find it’s a much more enjoyable working experience for everyone when we know our customers and they know us, and often the social environment provides a better opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level,” said Amber Matthews, Australian managing partner of the global firm DLA Piper.

Matthews said entertaining clients has changed over the years and the firm aims to organize events that are both inclusive and enjoyable. “Not all customers are the same and people naturally have different interests, so we try to offer a range of different entertainment depending on the customer,” she said.

In Melbourne, the firm recently hosted more than 40 clients at “Hamilton”-themed cocktail party and took them to a performance of the hit musical, while in Sydney the firm takes clients to private viewings of the popular Archibald Portrait Prize, arguably Australia’s most prestigious portrait prize.

That’s not to say the firm doesn’t host sports-themed events, but even then they reflect its more diverse client base. In Western Australia, customers are targeted to watch soccer matches featuring the women’s A-League team Perth Glory, which the company sponsors.

After two years of COVID-19 lockdowns, including some of the world’s longest lockdowns in Melbourne, Matthews said customers were keen to reconnect in person, usually in smaller groups than before.

Entertainment for personal customers is also back at Clyde & Co, but there is a change after COVID, the firm says.

The structural shift to working part of the week from home means partners have to be more careful about when clients will be in the office and able to accept invitations, Clyde & Co Australian managing partner Michael Tuma said, adding that many are at home in Monday or Friday.

“Customers really have to want to do something to do it. And we consider it a privilege that they come out and spend time with us,” he said.

In the decade the firm has been in Australia, Clyde & Co has sought to ensure its hospitality offerings to clients are not centered around sporting events that appeal more to men, Tooma says, noting this reflects a shift in the profession .

“You’re seeing more engagement with our customers in terms of what they want, what they prefer, rather than us putting on a day of cricket or rugby or golf and assuming our customers will like that because some elements of our partnership enjoy that ,” he said

The firm usually presents options to customers after chatting with them and lets the customer choose. One customer enjoys making gingerbread houses around Christmas, which the company combines with a barbecue. The firm also organizes an annual art show and cocktail party featuring works for sale from Sydney’s leading art schools.

Clifford Chance screens a documentary called Past Continuous, which tells the story of Sydney couple Oscar Shub and Ilan Buchman, who in 2018 became the first same-sex couple in Australia to be legally married in a religious ceremony. Shub is a consultant to the company. It was the company’s most attended event.

Art events play an important role in the customer entertainment programs of many businesses.

Australia’s Corrs Chambers Westgarth’s latest event was a 250-person dinner at the National Gallery of Victoria and a private viewing of this year’s Winter Masterpieces exhibition. The century of Picassowhich chronicles the career of Pablo Picasso.

Australian corporate firm Gilbert + Tobin has based its client hospitality around Grand Slam tennis, Opera Australia, Bell Shakespeare, outdoor cinema and art gallery exhibitions. It aims to partner with organizations that have strong grassroots, local and educational programs, said Chief Operating Officer Sam Nickless.

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