Box Forest Consulting: legal services that social enterprises and green start ups can afford

Box Forest

Box Forest Consulting is a sustainability, advisory and legal business based in Melbourne, Australia, founded by lawyer Mick Coleman in 2019

Paying full rate for legal services is often out of the question when you’re an emerging social enterprise, or sustainable start up. One highly qualified lawyer has found ways of offering legal advice at an affordable rate, which can include exchanging payment for “sweat equity”.

Legal fees are expensive and that’s why many social enterprises or fledgling mission-led organisation end up relying on charitable legal outfits, or without any help at all.

It’s the kind of dilemma that encouraged Mick Coleman, a former partner at top tier law firm Mills Oakley, to go out on his own with a streamlined business model that allows him to provide legal and business advice at a rate these organisations can afford. How? That’s the interesting part.

Melbourne-based Box Forest Consulting has been operational only since mid-2019 but the lawyer of 25 years has already secured interesting clients such as renewable energy business DC Power, organic waste-to-energy business Pocket Rocket Pyrolysis, and land conservation not-for-profit Odonata.

Mick says Odonata is “right in his sweet spot” as a pioneer in combining commercial and biodiversity outcomes, such as a sheep farm that doubles as a conservation site for the endangered eastern barred bandicoot.

He’s also leveraging his experience working in Telstra’s legal team to service digital, technology, network and infrastructure companies, including telecommunications and energy businesses.

An avid bushwalker, Mick was always interested in conservation and this only intensified during a year-long sabbatical that involved volunteering work with Bush Heritage Australia and Environmental Justice Australia.

“Lawyers make a good living and we should be able to use our skills to support good causes, and that’s the good cause I’m interested in.”

The endangered Eastern Barred Bandicoot. Photo: Zoos Victoria
Windy Hill Wind Farm. Photo: Lepidlizard

An expert in telecommunications, competition and commercial law, Mick wanted to start taking on social enterprise and conservation clients but realised a traditional legal firm wasn’t equipped for this type of work.

“I realised that the law firm model, which is highly geared towards high revenue and significant partner profits, doesn’t work very well for social enterprises and conservation businesses.”

While there’s a proud tradition of pro bono work in the legal profession, the gap between working for free and charging $600 to $800 an hour is so large that pro bono work, unfortunately, represents a big hole in the annual budget.

“There’s scope for somewhere in the middle of full commercial rates and working for free.”

How low rates are possible

Mick has worked with businesses in renewable energy organic waste-to-energy, and land conservation

Mick is able to save money by leveraging the excellent legal and remote working technology already available so that he doesn’t need to pay for support staff and office space.

Another strategy to stay financially sustainable is through a “sweat equity” model where he provides business advisory services in return for small stakes in the business.

“I’m interested in becoming involved in these small businesses as they start out on their journeys.”

Mick is operating on his own at the moment, but he hopes to attract other experienced lawyers to his business. 

Box Forest Consulting

Service | Victoria