A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Sailing the 4C's to Innovation: Communication, collaboration, critical thinking & creativity

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

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By John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack

As principal partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit, InfoTrack is proud to be supporting firms to drive innovation in the transforming legal landscape. This year, we’re working with ALPMA to gather insights from the industry on how firms are applying the four key 21st century learning skills: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. If you haven’t had a chance to complete our survey yet, please participate now.

As a technology company, innovation is central to our culture and processes so we're always thinking of how we can use the 4C's to adapt and evolve. Here are some of the things we focus on that can easily translate to your firm.

Communication


1. Be transparent about your firm’s strategy

When you’re clear about short and long term goals it promotes strategic alignment across your firm. Whether you work with yearly, quarterly or monthly strategies, make sure to start each new cycle with a meeting where you lay your strategy out for everyone in the firm and give the opportunity for discussion and questions. Working towards a common vision creates a cohesive and determined team. Track progress of your goals on any online collaboration platforms or even on your office wall to remind everyone of what you’re working toward.

2. Learn how to adapt your communication style

Take the time to understand your colleagues and how to best communicate with them. Different working styles respond better to different types of communication. Often, the younger generation prefers constant updates and feedback because they’ve grown up with instant messaging and social media. Some people work better with detailed instructions whereas others just want to know the end-goal. Being aware of your colleagues’ communication styles and how they work best creates better working relationships and increase productivity.

Collaboration


1. Promote knowledge sharing

Don’t let people hold back knowledge out of fear of succession-planning themselves out of a job. Make sure your employees understand that the more they help each other, the further they’ll get as a team and individuals. The more you share, the more you learn; especially in a digital world where change is constant.

2. Encourage mentorship

This goes both ways; senior staff can help the younger generation by providing guidance and imparting knowledge. Junior staff can help introduce new ideas and new technology to the firm. Take advantage of the diversity that different mindsets and backgrounds bring to your firm by encouraging reciprocal mentoring.

Creativity


1. Set aside specific time for brainstorming

In today’s society, we’re all time-poor and that goes even further in the legal industry. You’ll never have time for blue-sky thinking if you don’t make a conscious effort to block it out in your calendar. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and your never-ending to do lists, but you’ll never evolve if you’re stuck with your head in the books 24/7. Today’s market is more competitive than ever and you need to adapt in order to keep a competitive edge.

2. Have a dedicated innovation budget

Everyone says they’re working on innovation, but there’s rarely follow through to show for it. Have an actual plan around innovation and invest in it – whether that’s an innovation team, quarterly innovation days, training or something else – make sure it’s part of your strategy.

Critical thinking


1. Use time-saving technology

There are a lot of technologies available to you now that cut down on the time you need to spend on administrative tasks and sifting through data. Take advantage of these so that you have more time to work on critical analysis and profit-generating activities.

2. Be open to new ways of working

Recognise that disruption is now a constant in the legal industry; new technology, new business models and a new generation are constantly shifting the way things are done. Learning to embrace some of that change and take it on in a way that works for your firm is critical to continued success. You don’t have to change everything all at once, but take time to consider which new concepts and processes will benefit your firm most and trial them out.

The above advice applies to all businesses – no matter your firm size or area of law - these are simple initiatives you can put in place today to drive innovation and build upon the 4C’s.

We look forward to seeing you at the 2017 ALPLMA Summit in Brisbane.


Editor's Note

The ALPMA/InfoTrack 2017 Research: 21st Thinking at Australasian Law Firms is available for participation by Australasian law firms until Friday 28 July.  Complete the survey by Friday 28 July to go into the draw to win a delegate pass to the 2017 ALPMA Summit, from 13 - 15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. Please note, you must be eligible to join ALPMA to win the pass and the prize does not include travel or accommodation.

The results will be presented at the 2017 ALPMA Summit.  Participants who complete the survey will receive a complimentary copy of the research report, which sheds light on collaboration, communication, critical-thinking and creativity at law firms.

About our Guest Blogger


John AhernJohn Ahern is CEO of InfoTrack, proud principal partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit.

John joined InfoTrack in 2015 as the Chief Technology Officer taking charge for establishing the company’s technical vision and leading on all aspects of InfoTrack’s technology development. John was appointed to the role of Chief Executive Officer in May of 2015 where he is now responsible for maintaining the extensive growth of InfoTrack in the Australian market.

John has over 20 years' experience in the Information Sector, having worked in a number of engineering, sales and executive positions. With a strong technical background, he has vast experience in designing and developing products and has delivered platforms from inception to production.

5 Five Year Predictions

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

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By Joel Barolsky, Founder and MD of Barolsky Advisors and Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne Law School


The two questions that every small and boutique firm needs to ask are:

1. Where is the legal market headed over the next five years; and

2. What should we do about it?

This blog post attempts to address the first question. The second will be covered during my 2017 ALPMA Summit presentation.


Before launching into my five-year predictions, it important to stress that I’m focusing on the market for legal services for individuals, families, and the smaller-end of SMEs.

Prediction #1: The market will be bigger than it is today


One of the major benefits of growth of online legal providers, is that it’s made the law far more accessible and affordable. Everyone can now access simple legal agreements, forms and advice for relatively a low cost. The experience of fast-expanding legal enterprises in the USA, like LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and AVVO, points to market growth coming from new clients seeking legal advice for the first time. Technology and scalable delivery models are unearthing the latent demand for legal services. I’d expect a similar trend here in Australia.

The rise in Australian property value is also likely to expand the market over the next five years. This means the stakes, complexities and risks are much higher for the majority of family law, probate/estate and property matters, as well as many commercial transactions. The role and involvement of lawyers is only likely increase when interested parties have more to gain, or lose.

Prediction #2: Strong retail brands will emerge


Over a lifetime, a typical family may need legal advice for property purchases, employment issues, insurance claims, marital disputes, estate planning and settlements. In Australia, there are no trusted ‘lawyer-agnostic’ retail legal brands offering a lifetime service relationship. By lawyer-agnostic, I mean clients buying a brand rather than an individual. To me, this is a major gap in the market that someone is likely to fill.


Slater & Gordon was on this path prior to their UK troubles. The other leading personal injury firms seem to be sticking to their knitting for the moment. The onliners, like Lawpath and LegalVision, are still relatively small and appear to be undercapitalised for a major brand assault.

This opportunity may be pursued by major service providers like the banks, insurers or super funds. It could also emerge as an adjacent strategy from leading accounting and financial planning firms.

Prediction #3: Costs will decline (for the innovators)


One of my clients, a 12-partner corporate and commercial firm, recently outsourced their entire IT function and moved almost everything to the cloud. The managing partner stated that this approach has more than halved the costs of IT and eliminated most of the headaches. They are now exploring other outsourcing solutions across their firm.

Another client has shifted one-quarter of her permanent workforce onto contract and now engages these lawyers as and when she needs them. By ‘chasing demand’ with a flexible talent pool she has shifted demand risk and lowered her costs significantly.

Stanford Law School’s TechIndex lists 716 technology companies currently developing solutions for law firms to become more efficient and effective. I predict a 5 to 10% per annum productivity gain for those firms open to innovation and willing to experiment with some of these new tools.

A simple example is the new proof-reading and document drafting application, jEugene. For a low monthly subscription fee, jEugene can potentially save hours in preparing and reviewing legal documents. As a SAAS solution, it has few entry and exit barriers and is perfect for small and boutique firms.

Prediction #4: Disputes won’t be disrupted


While technology can improve case prediction, discovery, research and other process elements of disputes, there is a very human role to play in handling the strategic and emotional nuances of legal conflicts and litigation. Not only is there a strong human element, it’s an area where lawyers have a natural advantage given the structural constraints of the judicial system and regulators. This advantage is likely to be sustained for many years to come.

Prediction #5: Invisible competition will grow


Thomson Reuters data suggests that the larger firms in Australia have reduced their overall headcount by around 7% over the past three years. Many of those leaving have continued to practice as freelancers.

At the other end of the career spectrum, this year, Australia’s 39 law schools will produce over 7,500 law graduates. A significant proportion of these graduates will enter the legal market in some form as freelancers or contingent workers.

The growth of the legal freelancer is the greatest threat to small and boutique firms. These freelancers operate with low overheads and maximum flexibility. They use the same powerful personal branding and social networking tools as everyone else. They can also access sophisticated practice management, legal research and CPD services for minimal cost online. The advantages of firm over freelancer seem to be less significant by the day.

In conclusion


With so much change and progress predicted, those firms that just stand still will go backwards. The market will reward the innovators and punish the laggards. Which one do you want to be?

PS. See you in Brisbane on Friday 15 September 2017 at ALPMA Summit for Part 2.

Editor's Note

ALPMA SummitJoel Barolsky will be speaking about the "State of the Australasian Legal Market and strategic implications for small, focus and boutique firms" at the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13-15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. Registration is now open for the 2017 ALPMA Summit, and there are great savings for those who register early! Register now!


About our Guest Blogger


Joel BarolskyFor the past 28 years, Joel has helped law, accounting and other business advisory firms plan, innovate and grow.

In addition to heading up Barolsky Advisors, Joel is a Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne and a former Principal of Beaton Research & Consulting. Joel has advised over 100 of Australia’s leading professional service organisations. Over 70% of his client are repeat clients or come directly from referrals from existing clients.

He is a recognised thought-leader evidenced by regular conference keynotes, press mentions and the global reach of his blog, Relationship Capital. Joel’s teaching roles at the University of Melbourne include delivery of an intensive subject on the Melbourne Law Masters program called, ‘Management for Professionals’.

He has in-depth expertise in the fields of strategy, culture, change, organisation design and business development.


Incentivising the New Normal

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

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By Timothy B. Corcoran, Principal, Corcoran Consulting Group, LLC


Businesses that don’t merely endure but thrive over extended time periods tend to attract and foster leaders who establish and maintain tight alignment between business strategy and business execution. Unfocused businesses with unfocused leaders generate sub-optimal financial performance even when things are going well. But when permanent market disruptions occur, a certainty in every market segment, unfocused businesses with unfocused leaders tend to flail until they’re acquired, dissolved, or relegated to a shadow of their former strength. This is a lesson that many law firm leaders have learned.

As law firm leaders valiantly struggle to overcome the consequences of market changes and maintain market share, they face several obstacles: Law firm partners don’t enjoy losing the autonomy to run their practices as they wish; most firms take an undisciplined “whack a mole” approach to driving change, responding primarily to variable client demand; and there are minimal rewards for partners to change behaviour. We won’t address the discipline of change management here, other than to say this: Leaders can’t drive change if they lack a comprehensive understanding of their law firm ecosystem and how each business function connects and interconnects with others. Without a multi-faceted and multi-year master plan, the odds of landing on the appropriate formula are significantly diminished. But let’s assume such a plan exists. Now what?

Follow the Money


If we hope to thrive in the new normal, we need to know how we make money, and how this has changed given the market disruptions. Law firms tend rely on a scant few performance metrics, most of which are focused on production, most of which are wholly internally-focused, and most of which are inefficient proxies for what we really wish to measure: profitability. For our purposes, profitability isn’t a crass or one-sided measurement. It’s a scorecard that reflects how well the law firm has deployed its unique assets to meet a market need in a way that’s mutually beneficial to the buyer and seller. Calculated properly, profits are a measure of long-term client satisfaction, not of “beating” the client in an adversarial game.

So we must understand the building blocks of our business, working ever backward from aggregate results, to the practices and offerings generating those results, to the matter types and activities contained therein, to the efforts necessary to win more of these activities. When we truly understand all that we do, and what we do well, and where we can improve, we can start to identify the critical behaviours necessary to generate greater success.

Acknowledge Different Contributions


Many law firms were built by exceptional lawyers who were as accomplished at generating business as offering legal advice, who were exceptional mentors and coaches, who were as adept with strategy as with operations. This is not most of us.

A successful law firm is comprised of different roles, different skill sets, different contributions. It’s necessary to understand the combination of contributions that generates success. Otherwise we risk the false assumption that “Success is primarily driven by business generation” or its opposite fallacy “We’re successful because we have top practitioners.” Of course these are true, just as a dozen other factors play a critical role. Only by understanding the unique combination of contributions by different lawyers with different skills can we establish a roadmap for replicating our success. However, we must acknowledge a fundamental truth: some contributions are more valuable than others, and this value may differ by practice, by matter type, by business cycle, by client industry, by year. Our objective in identifying critical behaviours is to maximise the contributions of all lawyers, rather than dilute our performance by asking, or allowing, lawyers to pursue that which is not their highest and best use.

Drive and Reward


Law firm partner compensation schemes, whether lockstep or eat-what-you-kill, subjective or formulaic, open or closed, tend to share one overriding flaw: they fail to proactively and clearly define the behaviours expected of partners in order to drive such behaviour. Instead, rewards are issued at year-end, in a process oft-shrouded in mystery, to partners who may not know what specific actions were valued, and how their specific contributions were valued relative to their peers. Changing lawyer behaviours requires leaders to set expectations in advance and to identify the rewards associated with the desired behaviours. Lawyers, generally acknowledged as averse to risk and uncertainty, are more likely to be dissatisfied when the incentive scheme is opaque rather than transparent. Managing expectations in this manner also helps to reduce feelings of inequity, because partners know the rewards associated with various behaviours and those willing to adapt can access different rewards.

There’s an old saying: If your compensation plan and your business strategy aren’t in alignment, then your compensation plan is your business strategy. This isn’t a reflection of selfish partner behaviour. In fact it’s the opposite. Sensible partners trust that their leaders have established an incentive scheme that rewards lawyers for activities that are beneficial to the firm. When leaders expect partners to act against their economic self-interest “for the good of the firm,” this isn’t boorish partner behaviour. This is simply inept management. It’s the leaders’ obligation to create alignment. The goal: What’s good for the partner is what’s good for the partnership. Settling for anything less than that outcome, and what’s good for the partnership might be better leaders.

Editor's Note

2017 ALPMA SummitTim Corcoran is a keynote speaker at the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13-15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. His presentation "Incentivising the New Normal: Linking what's good for the partner to what's good for the partnership"  covers the importance of communication and how to embrace a collaborative approach. This year's Summit theme, Sailing the 4C's, focuses on the critical 21st century learning skills of Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking and Creativity. Registration is now open for the 2017 ALPMA Summit, and there are great savings for those who register early! Register now!

About our Guest Blogger


Tim Corcoran

Timothy B. Corcoran is a New York-based management consultant with a global client base. A former CEO and corporate executive with several multinational businesses, his specialty is helping law firm and law department leaders adapt and adopt time-tested business practices in order to profit in a time of great change. Tim is past president of the international Legal Marketing Association, a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, faculty and affiliated consultant with Legal Lean Sigma Institute, a member of the Association of Legal Administrators, a regular keynote speaker at legal industry conferences, and author of the widely-read Corcoran’s Business of Law blog. He was recognised by LawDragon in its 100 Leading Consultants and Strategists for 2016.


Legal Industry Innovation under the Microscope

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

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By Marc Totaro, National Manager Professional Services, Business and Private Banking, Commonwealth Bank of Australia

For some, the word innovation has become synonymous with some of the most cutting-edge changes within the legal industry, and a disruptive force in legal circles. For others, the prolific references to innovation have firmed its place as another corporate buzzword.

In today’s rapidly changing legal services market, we think that innovation is an important part of adapting to ongoing change. But to understand its place within business, we first sought to offer a definition that would unearth the common traits of successful innovation in the legal sector and quantify its value to individual firms.

So what does innovation mean for your business, how innovative is the professional services sector, and how can you put it into practice within your organisation?

In our latest research into the state of innovation within the industry, CommBank spoke to firms in the legal sector to understand the state of innovation and how well legal firms were performing.

To first define innovation, we looked to the Oslo Manual – an international set of guidelines used by the OECD and local government bodies such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics to collect and interpret innovation data.

Therein, innovation is defined “as a new or significant improvement in one of the following four key areas – organisation, product, process and marketing”.

This definition is important when compared to what innovation means to professional services businesses, with almost half telling us they equate innovation with improvement or new processes, ideas or products.

While this indicates that many firms have a high level understanding of the tenants of innovation, we also found that many are yet to enter the realm of genuine innovation when assessed against the international standard.

Innovation ‘Active’

Our research shows healthy levels of innovation amongst professional services firms, with 44% of businesses in the sector qualifying as ‘innovation active.’ This proportion was in line with the national average for businesses across all industries. The top performing industry was manufacturing, with 61% qualifying as ‘innovation active’.

While 44% of professional services firms were genuinely innovative, a further 33% of firms claimed to be innovating but were found to be simply putting in place improvements – a strong foundation to move into the realm of innovation, but nevertheless falling short.

The remaining 23% of firms were either not innovating or had abandoned their innovation plans.

When looking more closely at the four key areas of innovation - organisation, product, process and marketing – we found that firms were more likely to have implemented organisation-based innovation, and less likely to be innovating within their marketing activities.

Business size also appears to factor into firm’s innovation activities with small and medium sized businesses with turnover up to $20 million more likely to innovate than those with greater annual earnings.

3 Key Characteristics of Successful Innovators

Our investigation of the attitudes, behaviours and characteristics of successful innovators shows that there are three breakthrough factors that typically distinguish innovation active businesses from their peers that are only improving:

1. Encouraging employees to ask questions that challenge the conventional approach

2. Adapting products and services to make the most of opportunities, and

3. Running experiments and piloting new ideas to test new ways of doing things

These three factors work to kickstart innovation and generate the initial successes that drive businesses to pursue the benefits that moving up the innovation curve can provide.

One of the largest behavioural gaps between businesses who are innovating and those simply making improvements is their drive to adapt their products and services for a changing market. They also seek to build a culture of innovation and encouraging them to ask challenging questions.

Editor’s Note:

Though Leadership Award NominationIf your firm has successfully implemented an innovative new initiative or is doing something different in response to the changing legal landscape, then enter this project in the 2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards. Nominations are open until 21 July, and winners will be announced at the 2017 ALPMA Summit gala dinner on Thursday 14 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. 



About our Guest Blogger

Marc TotaroMarc Totaro is the National Manager Professional Services, Business and Private Banking Commonwealth Bank of Australia 
Marc has over 25 years of experience in professional and financial services in Australia and the UK. He has overall responsibility for Commonwealth Bank’s professional services industry strategy and client experience. Marc has extensive relationship management experience across a broad range of industries.

If you would like to discuss the latest trends impacting the legal industry and your business, feel free to contact me on 0477 739 315 or email marc.totaro@cba.com.au, alternatively you can read our Legal Market Pulse for the latest developments in the legal industry.

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How to successfully navigate the information-rich digital world

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

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By Whit Lee, Executive Director, Strategy & Legal Software Solutions, LexisNexis Asia Pacific


We live in an age of information, powered by technology. Where once a collection of Encyclopedia Britannica was required to find the answer to an obscure question raised in a lively pub discussion, now all that is needed is a 4G signal on one of the many devices inevitably resting on the table.

There are immeasurable benefits to technological development; for one, the wealth of our individual knowledge has grown colossally. But value doesn’t lie in information itself. Even a mountain of data and information does not necessarily equate to better intelligence and decision-making. Value comes from applying analytical and critical thought processes to that information.

The loss of analytical thinking


Over the last few years, studies have started to emerge revealing that we are gradually adapting to respond to information in an automatic, uncritical way. A generation of ‘digital natives’ will be entering the workforce in the coming decade, remarkable for their intrinsic aptitude for technology, but worrisome for their lack of critical nous.

In a Stanford University study published in November 2016, students were asked to evaluate the reliability of information posted online in order to assess their ability to apply critical thinking. For those of us who grew up using libraries, the findings are somewhat alarming: 82% of younger high school students were unable to differentiate between sponsored ad content and genuine news posted online, and nearly 40% of older students believed that a photo of misshapen daisies proved that there were toxic conditions around the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan – despite it being a viral post with no identifiable location characteristics or source given.

We are inundated by information, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Z Generation find it hard to distinguish between fact and fiction. But what it does highlight is the importance of maintaining skills in analytical reasoning. In order to successfully navigate the digital world, we need to adopt a scientific approach of critical, rational and effortful thought. In short: we all need to think like lawyers.

The rise of the machine


Hollywood has long visualised the future of machines, and fact is now surpassing fiction…though some may say the advent of artificial intelligence is far less exciting than we have come to expect; machines will not be taking over the world. But we still need to be prepared for further rapid technological advancement.

We know that the digitally-powered information-overload is not going to slow, but what we will see in the future are tools powered by artificial intelligence that take the analysis of data out of our hands, presenting us just with the most accurate and relevant answers we require. So why maintain skills in analytical thinking ourselves? Well, an answer doesn’t necessarily equate to a decision. A human element will always be necessary to assess and evaluate answers – which are, of course, simply condensed pieces of information.

The analytical thought process of a human is inherently different to that of a machine, because a human can take into account personal experience, empathy, and external drivers across a wide range of topics. Intelligent machines will remove the ambiguity of confirmation bias and the fallacy of false news, but are devoid of emotional intellect; humans are what give information meaning.

In practice management, as artificial intelligence tools start to enhance workflows and provide improved outcomes for lawyers and clients alike, intellectual agility will still be required in the analysis of information in order to make decisions and take actions that best suit the business. So while investment is made in the latest technology, so too must investment be made in that almighty gadget we each possess: our brains.

The future belongs not to those who will build the digital world, but those who will work in collaboration with it to deliver excellence that has undercurrents of both machine and emotional intelligence.

Editor's Note

Thought Leadership Awards NominationsLexisNexis is the proud partner for the 2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards. If your firm has successfully implemented an innovative new initiative or is doing something different in response to the digital world, then enter the project for an award. Nominations are open until 21 June. Nominate online now.

Winners will be announced at the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13-15 September at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre. This year's Summit 'Sailing the 4C's' focuses on the four key 21st learning skills of Collaboration, Critical-thinking, Creativity and Communication. Readers interested in learning more about building analytical thinking skills at their firm should register before July 20 for early bird savings. Register now.


About our Guest Blogger

Whit LeeWhit leads the Legal Software Solutions (LSS) team, which delivers cloud-based and on-premise tools that drive improved outcomes for clients, helping them to make better decisions by combining world-class LexisNexis content with practice management workflow solutions.  Whit is also responsible for strategy and business development for the LexisNexis Asia Pacific business. As strategy lead, Whit is focused on how the organization is executing today as well as planning for tomorrow – ensuring we have the right resources allocated to deliver on both short and long term goals and that our investments in new products and solutions deliver value to customers. Whit holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee and an MBA from Harvard Business School.


The Dangers of Silent Malware

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

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By James Walker, Managing Director, Computer One


Ransomware masks a more serious threat, and your law firm’s network may already be compromised. Here’s how to know...

In early May 2017, the world witnessed the largest ransomware attack in history. Within 72 hours the WannaCry ransomware had encrypted files in more than 200,000 organisations across more than 150 countries - thanks to its novel use of an email entry point and then self-propagation through network protocols. It was the largest ransomware attack in history.

Or so we thought.

Less than one week later, on May 18th, came the news that WannaCry was not the first programme to take advantage of recently released National Security Agency exploits. Another variant, called Adylkuzz had already been infecting computers for three weeks, potentially on an even greater scale.

It was a benevolent kind of attack - this time


The creator of Adylkuzz had used the same exploits as WannaCry to create a botnet (an army of slave devices) and used it to mine the Monero cryptocurrency. Effectively, they had created a supercomputer capable of mining the currency quickly, making early gains that may later be worth millions.

And no-one even noticed.

It was only when researchers at Proofpoint looked into the WannaCry attack that it was discovered at all. Because although system resources were being stolen, Adylkuzz was generally a benevolent system infection, with the payoff for the creator not coming directly from the victims.

But its discovery underlines a new era for ransomware and corporate espionage.

A typical ransomware attack is messy and violent. It encrypts your files and demands a ransom as fast and as noticeably as possible. What it does, and what the creators want from you, is black and white.

Software that is designed to remain low-profile and undetected on your firm’s network for as long as possible represents a nastier kind of infection. Often called Advanced Persistent Threats (APT’s), the function and use of such software is not clear and the purpose of the attack can only be determined after detection and observation.

This kind of software goes hand in hand with secret file theft or erasure, secret recording of voice and video, untraceable physical security breaches and more. The creativity of the threat actor is the only real limit.

Every device connected to your network has the potential to be a spy on your conversations, actions and files. Every laptop has the ability to record sound and video. Every IP phone is connected to your network and could be compromised. Digital video cameras, physical access controls and more all have potentially dangerous exposure to your network and your firm's intellectual property.


Your firm may already have been infected. But here’s what you can do...


It’s not all doom and gloom. The development of this new kind of signatureless, pervasive but low-profile threat has spawned a new generation of cyber-security products specifically designed to counter APT’s.

Cisco Umbrella, for example, covers every endpoint in your network, looking for out-of-character network traffic. A laptop that starts transmitting packets of information to a remote and rarely-contacted network at 2am, or a printer that moves a lot of data outside business hours may be silently syphoning your firm’s secrets.

Umbrella compares the traffic it has observed to what it knows is “normal” for your system. It also checks every connection to an IP address against a database of suspect IP addresses forged from witnessing over 60 million IP requests every day – Cisco claims it sees nearly 2% of the entire Internet’s traffic, giving it a solid base of trusted vs. suspicious IP addresses.

If the destination IP address is already flagged, Umbrella can suspend the transmission and report it to your IT team. If it’s not flagged it can still generate a request for a deeper investigation, so that you can stop the exfiltration of data.

Another product, called Darktrace works along similar lines. Darktrace sits over your entire network, observing the behaviour of all the endpoints connected to the system. Developed by Cambridge mathematicians and former MI5 operatives, it observes a wide range of activities, connection requests and data transfers to identify suspicious activity and can even stop malicious activity autonomously, just seconds into an APT’s deployment.

There’s always the question: “Why would an attacker care about hacking us?”

All this concern over APT’s seems the stuff of spy thrillers that wouldn’t really apply in the context of most Australian law firms - until you put yourself in the shoes of the attacker. Inside information on new patents, details of messy celebrity divorces, and discussions around setting up foreign entities for listed companies are all valuable assets in the hands of someone who can make money from them.

Even if an attacker doesn’t intend to make money directly from the knowledge, threatening to expose your firm to serious reputational and economic damage by leaking stolen information is a serious threat that we know is already making attackers rich – you just don’t hear about it because ransoms are being paid quietly.

The economic motivation is clear and real. The tools are readily available and new, silent attacks are happening every week. It’s not a case of “if”, but “when”, your network will be compromised. 

And “when” may already be in the past.

Editor's Note


Interested in learning more about IT defences and the steps you can take to mitigate the risk of a data breach in your firm and the next steps to take should a breach occur? Then come along to ALPMA QLD's July practice management seminar "What your firm needs to know about the upcoming Mandatory Data Breach Notification" presented by James Walker, Managing Director, Computer One on July 19 in Brisbane. Register now for this event. 

About our Guest Blogger 

James WalkerJames Walker is the Managing Director of Computer One, an IT Services company that covers the full spectrum of delivery, from a Managed Helpdesk through to complex project management, Network Management and Information Security. Computer One has been working with legal firms for almost 15 years and has experience in solving a range of IT challenges faced by the legal fraternity, from software integration to security, network configuration and productivity enhancement.

Computer One is offering a free two week proof of value trial which could immediately identify if your network has already been compromised.  Contact Computer One on 1300 667 871 or sales@computerone.com.au to arrange.


Managing Brand Integration

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

By Tineke Mann, eBusiness Manager, TIMG 


Mergers and acquisitions are common in the legal sector – but as many who have embarked down this path know, getting the post-acquisition integration right is not always easy! In this post, we share some of the key learnings from our acquisition of LitSupport in the hope that this will help you on your journey.

The Information Management Group (TIMG) embarked upon the challenge of successfully acquiring a complementary brand to enhance their service offering in early 2014. TIMG solve information management problems daily for thousands of businesses, large and small, in every major industry, across Australia and New Zealand. Our offering is simple; help clients store, manage, integrate and access important information securely, compliantly and effortlessly.

By December 2014, TIMG successfully acquired LitSupport; a leading organisation that specialises in providing secure and confidential information management services to law firms and corporate legal departments. The brainchild of Val Pitt some 20 years ago, LitSupport grew from a home-based business to a national organisation with over 130 employees and a service network spanning Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Why integrate?


Why would LitSupport embrace being absorbed into TIMG you may ask? 

“Times were changing. The legal industry was and is facing increasing pressure to improve performance and manage costs across all areas of operations” Val Pitt, Communications Manager, LitSupport said. “A union with TIMG enables us to deliver greater efficiencies and innovative solutions for our clients.”

TIMG similarly identified the need for innovation in the managed services and information management space. 

Chris Cotterrell, General Manager TIMG Australia recognised the need to provide a complete service offering to clients, ensuring they continued to grow and revolutionise the space.

“Investigations were completed by Ernst & Young, our parent company Freightways and TIMG management and it was decided that LitSupport offered the services we needed to compete in our industry, as well as offering an excellent cultural fit for both teams”.

The combined expertise in both companies has seen a positive outcome with TIMG now offering a full suite of services with greater capabilities to their clients. 

The integration challenges


The transition, however, has not been easy and has had opposing challenges for both parties in different ways.

Val acknowledges the positives and negatives that have accompanied the journey and acquisition of LitSupport within TIMG. 

“The hardest part for me has been letting go of decision making after twenty-one years of being the key decision maker. In contrast, the most rewarding part of the integration has been being part of a much larger organisation where accountability is shared and you are surrounded by many levels of support and expertise”.

The journey for TIMG has been focused on driving the acquisition from a strategic perspective, ensuring goals in the immediate future and in years to come are achieved. 

“There were areas we needed to tackle head on, areas that required a longer strategy to ensure a smooth transition, and areas we had little control over,” Chris said.

Mr Cotterrell explains how an earn-out period is still in place until 1 July 2017 and resulted in TIMG having limited authority for the first two and a half years of the acquisition which came with its own set of challenges.

Consideration factors in brand acquisition extend far beyond the immediate strategic vision. Chris Cotterrell explains: 

“Culturally, it’s difficult to integrate small owned business structures with a larger organisation that operate with a more corporate structure and related governance”.

“TIMG managers and those involved with LitSupport have been very excited about the service offering and the value this service will have for TIMG clients. TIMG has successfully signed an agreement with Ringtail to resell it as LitReview in line with the TIMG branding. This is an exciting development as legal and corporate clients will now have access to the most advanced eDiscovery tools” he continues.

Advice for others


With every acquisition, ensuring clear communication to clients is vital. 

“Branding and synergies will be the main focus in our immediate plans, with a five-year aim to triple the digitisation and processing revenue” Chris states.

As with all business changes, learnings will be had and will be different depending on the side of the table you sit at. 

Val recalls the experience: “I would not have changed a thing. I never look back – the future is way too bright. If I could offer advice to an organisation exploring the same avenue, I would encourage them to choose carefully, be prepared for change and commit to a successful merger”.

For TIMG the acquisition and integration challenges continue as the company continues to grow. 

At the start of the acquisition, integrating finance and payroll was prioritised; swiftly followed by the integration of CRM and job management to ensure client workflow remained unaffected.

“We should have taken a much more active role in cost control at that point of the journey. Costs blew out and bringing these back in line has been a painful process” Chris recalls. 

Internal considerations should also be allowed for, he said.

“More time should have been spent earlier with LitSupport staff to help them adjust to our wider vision. It’s taken almost three years to adjust the view that we are not two separate businesses, but one; TIMG.” 

As Chris highlights, people and their behaviours play an important role in any acquisition, and the management of these behaviours is time-consuming but necessary to provide clear vision and to set realistic expectations.

“If I could advise a business who were about to take on a similar journey, I would advise them to manage expectations, review systems and processes and don’t assume they will be compliant just because of certifications. 

Above all, make sure the cultures of the two businesses will work well together” Chis advises.

About our Guest Blogger


Tineke MannTineke Mann is the eBusiness Manager for TIMG, the information management service provider. Tineke is passionate about helping lawyers simplify their work-life through more efficient management of records and top data security. In addition to working closely with a range of clients tailoring solutions, she manages teams of eDiscovery experts, Online Backup specialists and in-house developers.









Blockchain & Smart Contracts…Why is it important, and what can I do with it?

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

By Ashley Kelso, Senior Associate, AustraLaw


There are a number of technologies at the moment that are on the verge of bringing a wave of innovations to many industries. These include:

  • Machine learning
  • Internet of things
  • Blockchain and distributed ledger
  • Smart Contracts
  • IPFS (decentralised storage of data)

We in the legal industry must at least gain a working knowledge of these technologies if we are to leverage them, give effective advice to our clients, and address the risks that they entail.

Most of the above technologies are fairly self-explanatory:

  • Machine learning allows us to train a computer by trial and error to perform repetitive analytical tasks (this holds major potential to allow smaller firms to punch above their weight)
  • The internet of things is about feeding data from sensors to an internet-connected server and then performing some action or analysis on it (the weather app on your iPhone is an example)
  • Decentralised storage is basically a cross between bit torrent (peer-to-peer file sharing) and dropbox (cloud-based storage). i.e. files are sourced from ‘the cloud’ by reference to their content rather than their location on a server. So if an identical copy of the file you are after is located on a computer nearby, your computer doesn’t have to pull that same content all the way from a server in the US.

However, smart contracts and blockchain technology require a little more explaining. As smart contracts are built on blockchain (e.g. Ethereum) and distributed ledger (E.g. Corda) technology, it best to start with an explanation of blockchain.

Blockchain – how does it work?


As an engineer I always found it more effective, when dealing with complex ideas, to communicate them visually through diagrams and drawings. Blockchain technology is a complex idea. This video provides an excellent visual explanation of what a blockchain is and what it is useful for.


Blockchain as a register of transactions


As the video demonstrates, blockchain provides the benefits of:

  • A trusted common register of information that is highly resistant to forgery
  • Decentralised recording of transactional data (good for data preservation, but also a privacy issue)

The importance of reliable common registers to record the exchange of property rights between parties will be well familiar to those involved in conveyancing and sale of business work.

Smart contracts


The first blockchain technology was Bitcoin. This simply tracked the creation and exchange of bitcoins between users. However, it is the next generation of blockchain technology called Ethereum that has really got people interested. This is because Ethereum allows users to customise the kinds of transactions that are performed, recorded, and tracked on the Ethereum blockchain.

Users can do this by writing smart contracts and loading them onto the Ethereum blockchain. In simplistic terms, a smart contract defines the items of value that parties to the contract will be exchanging, and the rules by which they will be exchanged. (i.e. Define the things whose state will be tracked, and how their state will change based on the information that the contract receives).

What do smart contracts look like?


To avoid talking too much in the abstract, here is an example of a smart contract from the Ethereum website.  It is written in a programming language called Solidity.
In basic terms, the ‘functions’ become actions that users can perform on the contract – for example, to tell the contract to process a transaction between two parties, or to check the balance of an account. Ethereum provides an application called the Ethereum Wallet that allows you to load your contracts on to the Ethereum blockchain and provides a user interface to interact with your contracts.

Risks and benefits of smart contracts


Smart contracts are the reason that people are talking about blockchain. Benefits include:

  • Automatic execution of the contractual effect of events (i.e. reducing the legwork of contract administration)
  • Automatically generates a record of all transactions that is highly resistant to forgery
  • Ability to create entire trading environments and schemes to exchange customised items of value (e.g. could be used to implement a private carbon credit scheme)

Negatives of smart contracts on Ethereum include:

  • Privacy of contract data
  • Difficult to prevent a party from exploiting a bug in the contract code
  • Charges Ether to process transactions (Ether is the currency of Ethereum)

There is a rapidly growing developer community around this technology; AustraLaw has already had an enquiry about drafting a smart contract; and a quick glance at the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance site demonstrates keen interest from major corporates (including Thomson Reuters). Exciting and uncertain times lay ahead.

More information


Corporates experimenting with blockchain technology

  • The Commonwealth Bank participated in a successful demonstration of the use of smart contract-IoT system which allowed payment to be trigged once a shipment of cotton reached a geographical location.
  • The Queensland Treasury Corporation and the Commonwealth Bank have demonstrated the ability to use smart contracts for the auction and issuance of bonds. 

About our Guest Blogger

Ashley KelsoAshley Kelso is a senior associate at AustraLaw. He holds degrees in mechatronics engineering and law. Prior to becoming a lawyer he worked in project management and systems engineering roles in the Department of Defence. This background allows him to communicate effectively across multiple disciplines and industries to assist clients more efficiently with their ADR and contract needs.

Ashley has a keen interest in applying the tools and methodologies of engineering to optimise the quality and efficiency of legal services.





Invest in Yourself

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

By Stephanie Beard, Human Resource Manager, Harwood Andrews


"What can you do to ensure that you are ahead of the game and you can play above the line?"

Don’t wait for someone else to provide you with opportunities for your professional development, take responsibility for your own career path. Here’s how:

Never stop learning

One thing that we can take control of is how much we want to continue to learn.

It is a competitive world we live in, and committing to professional development can set you apart from your competitor. It can be your point of difference.

It also builds confidence and self-belief. Look for things that are going to give you a broad perspective. Read as much as you can. Social media also provides a fantastic platform to follow thought leaders.

Take control of your career path

The first step is simply to write it down! You need to answer the following questions:

  • Where you are now?
  • Where you want to get to?
  • What you need to do in between?

Really identify where you want to be and how you are going to get there… then fill in the gaps.


But before you do this, you must identify your strengths and the areas where you need further development. Ask yourself the following questions and be honest with your assessment.


Some questions might be -

  • How do I rate my ability to do the job? Where are the gaps? What do I need to focus on?
  • Can I build relationships easily, am I liked and respected?
  • Do people want to follow me? If not, why not?
  • What do I need to do to improve my leadership and interpersonal skills?
  • How do I rate my personal drive?
  • How much time am I prepared to commit to this?


Back this self-review up by seeking out some feedback from other people that you trust, both internally and externally - mentors, HR Managers, Principals and supervisors can all offer valuable insights to help you progress your career.


Review and Adjust

Review your progress and, if necessary, adjust your goals. Start undertaking professional development targeted at addressing your weaknesses and supporting your desired career path. This does not have to be overwhelming - you can start with small goals. Remember that professional development doesn’t take away time, it adds value. It is an investment in yourself and your future – you deserve it!


Professional development comes in many forms

Professional development is not just about advancing your technical skills in what you are doing; it is a whole range of things. Don’t forget to look at your less tangible skills. While it is important to continue to develop and enhance your technical skills, don't neglect building stronger interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, communication and negotiation skills. The importance of these softer skills in moving your career forward cannot be under estimated.

Have the courage to put yourself outside of your comfort zone; this is when you will grow both personally and professionally.

It can be as simple as joining a professional membership association within the industry that you are working in, learning and consulting with your peers or attending networking events. Speak to your mentor, shadow someone that you aspire to be and learn from them.  Read as much as you can - this is a must!


What have I done?

I have been a member of ALPMA for many years, which has enabled me to deepen my understanding of the legal sector - from understanding trends in the macro environment to driving change in the micro firm environment. It has also given me the opportunity to meet some wonderful like-minded people, where I have formed some great friendships and working relationships with people who I know I can trust and rely on for assistance and support.

I regularly attend conferences where I have been inspired by great speakers from all over the world. Sometimes that is just what I need to reignite my passion and to continue being the best that I can be. You can learn so much at a conference, and it provides a broader perspective. No matter what you are doing, you need to understand the business from a holistic approach. I always walk away from these events with some key take-aways which I can take back to my work place.

I have been involved in the ALPMA Summit Committee for the past three years, where I have been able to learn from my fellow committee members who work in different areas of the legal industry - which has provided a broader perspective. This has also given me the opportunity to chair a panel session and to present at national level. This was outside of my comfort zone, but I felt that real sense of achievement by doing it.

I am a certified member of AHRI, the national body for human resource management and I am involved in the Geelong Regional Committee for AHRI.

I read a lot. I follow the top fifteen thought leaders and coaches in the world on Twitter and LinkedIn. I take the opportunity to read and share articles on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Personally, I also invested time in formal study which I paid for myself. I have undertaken two Masters Degrees, an MBA (with a major in HR) and an MBC (Masters of Business Coaching). Undertaking these studies has enabled me to form lots of networks with people outside the industry that I work in. I left school at 16 and returned to study in my early 40’s. Anyone can do it if the motivation is there. Full time work, study and managing a home life was difficult to balance, but I was determined to succeed because I wanted to!

Share your knowledge

Don’t forget to share your knowledge when you do get the opportunity to attend a seminar or a conference, or you have read an inspiring article. You can do this in many ways. Sharing articles on your intranet, writing a report to your Board after attending a conference or taking the opportunity to present at a lunch and learn session. This will help you demonstrate the firm's return on investment in your professional development, help position you as a thought-leader at the firm and encourage others to seek out new ideas.

I have done all the above and, as a result, my firm has sponsored me to attend both the ALPMA Summit and the AHRI National conferences for many years. I know that I am a better HR Manager because of attending seminars, conferences and participating on committees. It is a win/win for both myself and for the firm as I gain a better understanding of what is happening from a global point of view in the world of business and I share that knowledge.

This is the challenge:

Having read this post, ask yourself “What am I going to do to invest in my personal development?"

Take responsibility for your own career now. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you, by then it might be too late!


About our Guest Blogger

Stephanie BeardStephanie Beard is the Human Resource Manager of Harwood Andrews where she provides both strategic and operational support to the business. Stephanie holds a Masters of Business with a major in Human Resources Management together with a Masters of Business Coaching. She is a passionate HR professional who works closely with the CEO and shareholders of the business to build a positive and supportive culture where everyone can be the best that they can be.





Want to know the one simple thing that might save your firm?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

By Leticia Mooney, Director, Brutal Pixie



Did you mindfully design service to be a strategic element of your firm? Chances are you didn’t, or haven’t. But designing the service may well make the difference between a firm that survives the ‘lawpocalypse’, and one that doesn’t.

Nobody has the solution to the problems we believe that our businesses are facing. Marketers tell us to do one thing, technologists another, business gurus something else. We seem to be in an age when we have to be doing many things outside of core business, just in order to survive. Some lawyers believe robots will take their jobs, others that robots are the promised land.

So, where in all of this thinking, are the people you are serving?

Somewhere in the middle of all of the things we ought to be doing, we have to deliver services to people. We have to do what we promise and what we’re good at. The challenge for law is to stop looking at its own bellybutton, and start gazing deep into its customers’ eyes. Just being a firm with great lawyers won’t be good enough in the long term.

If your firm is like the vast majority of businesses in Australia, the delivery of your service has been something of a default. Working out where that default has come from can be quite tricky.

Generally, though, the style of service that we put in place in our businesses comes from one of two places:

  1.  Prior examples, in other firms or businesses in which we’ve worked, where things were done a certain way (and seemed to be the way things are done)

  2.  Prior bad examples, of the kinds of things we hated and swore we would do differently.
But beyond this point? Most of our time is spent thinking about what we want to do. We spend our time thinking about the work that we need to complete, about how busy we are, about how much more business we need.

It’s pretty rare that we focus those questions on the people who come to us. We don’t often stop to wonder what they need to do, the work that they need to complete, about how busy they are, and what your service means to them.

Enter, service design.

Service design is the bridge between strategy and customer experience. It happens when you stop and ‘rethink, reimagine, and re-create every stage and aspect of interaction between customers and your company, regardless of what is being sold and whether a transaction actually occurs’.[1]

A consistent business is not consistent by accident, but by design. It requires us to be proactive in every sense. It’s a removal of friction, from the customer end. More importantly, great service is a result of it being woven into the fabric of your business. It’s not something that is at the whim of management, intentions, or even the culture. If you don’t create it, it doesn’t exist.

Law isn’t designed to think this way. Most firms, which are ultimately run by lawyers, have never been introduced to this level of detailed corporate strategy, or this level of product design. Most business models, even in law, learned from manufacturing: Where ‘metrics are based on the quantity and quality of finished goods’[2] rather than the value of your interaction with customers.

That interaction is where the service happens. The quality of that interaction is the point on which the longevity of your firm rests. It’s not in the technology, the way you bill people, or even what kind of niche you target; though, your service design will consider all three. In the 21st century, what will make the difference between your firm and another one will be in how beautifully you’ve designed the service to remove friction from people’s lives.

You won’t instinctively know how to measure that value. In fact, it’s likely that even if you do have a clear corporate strategy for your firm (which many don’t), that you won’t have designed the service within it. Even the most customer-focused enterprises somehow seem to leave the client stuff out of their strategic documents; ultimately, it’s their downfall.

Customer journey maps are the plans and activities of the hour, it seems. But knowing who your customers are, where they come from, and how you capture them is literally just the surface. Delightful service design goes beyond that work and reworks the interactions at every stage, at every touchpoint, on that journey. It also considers service over a client lifetime, and not just ‘how do we bring them in’.

By going right back to the basics of great relationships, and standing in your clients’ shoes, you will be able to truly shift your practice or firm, and position it more strongly in the face of an uncertain future.

[1] The Art of Customer Delight, Strategy+Business, 1 Nov 2016. URL: https://www.strategy-business.com/article/The-Art-of-Customer-Delight?gko=e9da8. 
[2] ibid.

Editor’s Note


2017 ALPMA SummitWant to know more? Leticia is a speaker at the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13 – 15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. She will be talking about using creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication to rethink how you relate to your clientele.

You can learn more about delightful service design, and how to start reimagining the service of your firm at her upcoming online workshop.



About our Guest Blogger

Leticia MooneyLeticia Mooney is the Director of Brutal Pixie, a company that partners with law firms to improve how they relate to people. Leticia is passionate about making communication human, and believes that it's in our humanity that we'll find our success.











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