A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Australian and New Zealand Legal Professional Outlook for 2018

Monday, March 12, 2018

By Sam Coupland, Director, FMRC

2017 was a turnaround year in the Australian and New Zealand legal profession. Despite media predictions of doom and gloom, financially at least, most firms had their strongest year for a long time.

There is no one-size-fits-all reason for this, but a number of factors are at play. On a macro level, the economies of both countries are improving, and on a micro basis, the tougher years have seen firms work hard on getting their personnel structure right, which has reduced unnecessary costs and the resultant fiscal drag.

My predictions for 2018 for the Australian and New Zealand legal profession:

Improved Profits

Good firms of all sizes will do well financially. Demand is increasing and so are the key drivers of profitability; namely, rates and hours.

In 2017 rack rates and realised rates for all categories of fee earner increased and the margin between rack rates and realised tightened. This was possibly helped by the ‘bigger bastard’ theory, where clients know (either through experience of osmosis) that other firms or a group of firms are charging a lot more. This applies to the total cost of matters, not just hourly rates.

For the first time in about ten years, recorded hours have increased. I know mentioning chargeable hours is anathema to many commentators, but it is still the predominant way of generating fees and is the best measure of utilisation within a firm.

With price and productivity increasing and a buoyant economy to operate in, 2018 should be a great year for good firms.

Personnel structure will continue to evolve

Leverage (the number of employed fee earners per equity principal) as a differentiator has almost disappeared. Clients are increasingly demanding senior lawyers do their work and they are prepared to pay for it. This coincides nicely with what senior lawyers want to do: after all, they trained to be lawyers not people managers.

I see the trend toward leaner teams continuing in 2018. For practices which do the high-end complex legal work, these teams will be a cluster of experienced senior lawyers with very little leverage. For the more commoditised work, firms will make greater use of technology and contractors to ensure those people on the payroll are fully utilised. Gap-filling by contractors will reduce the need for firms to have a large ‘standing army’ to cope with the peaks in demand.

More merger activity

There is interest at both ends of the acquisition / merger spectrum to do a deal where possible. Firms with an expansion mindset see acquiring a firm or practice group as the fastest and cheapest way to grow their business. They will usually have a support structure that can accommodate – both physically and managerially – an additional practice or two which provides economies of scale.

At the other end, an acquisition or merger can provide a firm with a circuit breaker for some of their managerial challenges or deadlocks. This could be anything ranging from succession to disparity in contribution or a hollowing out of market share.

Cash payments for equity will become increasingly scarce

For firms of all size, a lockstep entry to equity is more common than dollars changing hands from the sale of equity between partners. Similarly a merger is more likely than a trade sale between firms.

The opportunity for the partners in a firm being acquired is usually the likelihood of earning more in the merged entity, plus a one-off opportunity to realise the firm’s balance sheet.

Like most of the economy, sale of law firm equity is becoming a buyer’s market.

Genuine innovation remains on the horizon.

Conferences will continue to be built around innovation, artificial intelligence and a general theme of ‘the machines are coming, so get on board now’. There is no doubt there is plenty of movement in this area but there are also limitations, least of which is widespread client acceptance. So the conference industry is safe for a few years yet.

About our Guest Blogger

Sam Coupland
Sam joined FMRC in January 2000 and became a Director in July 2006. His client facing roles span direct consulting and management training. Sam’s consulting work is predominantly providing advice to smaller partnerships. Sam is considered the foremost authority on law firm valuations and would value more law firms than anyone else in Australia. He has developed a robust valuation methodology which calculates an accurate capitalisation rate that assesses the risk profile, cash flow and profitability of the firm.

How artificial intelligence and technology can create a better you.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

By Todd Keeler, Director, FilePro

With the influx of artificial intelligence and the constant introduction of new technology, it appears that we are losing access to some of the work tasks that we often rely on to recharge or take a breath. Whilst you don’t want to be wasting time on the more low-level tasks, I think you’ll probably agree; there’s an almost meditational quality to switching into autopilot as you scan those documents or fill in your time sheets.

It’s not news that as a lawyer your time is increasingly valuable. It doesn’t make sense for you to be wasting time on tasks that anyone, or anything, can do. But as technology continues to focus on delivering efficiencies and AI becomes widespread, will the mundane and repetitive tasks become extinct? And if so, what does this mean for maintaining sanity during the work day?

Whilst the future of AI is out of our individual hands, you can control how you incorporate productive mini-breaks into your day. Here at FilePro, we were recently joined by Executive Coach and time management guru, Linda Murray. During her sessions, Linda encouraged us to deliberately structure our days; to build balance, to work in manageable blocks, and to take regular breaks in order to maximise efficiency.

Here are my three favourite tips from her sessions:

1. Be realistic with your daily to-do lists and schedules. Work out how long each task will take, and allow a buffer for over-time and unforeseen issues. Don’t create a to-do list which you know you can not complete in a day. Start a second list for the next day if necessary.

2. Focus on the task at hand. Multitasking does not save time! Focus on completing one task before you move on to the next.

3. Divide your day into deliberate blocks of focused attention (maximum 90 minutes). In between these sprints of effort, try to switch your mind off, be present and recharge your mind ready for the next sprint.

Once your time management is under control, start to incorporate some breathing techniques into your day. Dr. Herbert Benson believes that controlling our breath can counteract the fight or flight response and replace it with a relaxation response. Breathwork can be used to physically change the structure of your brain so that it performs at a higher level, even when you’re under pressure. You can read Dr. Benson’s advice on breathing techniques here.

Mindfulness expert, Jodie Gien, recently equipped FilePro readers with 3 quick breathwork strategies she uses to manage stress and anxiety in the moment. Anchoring, 7/11 breathing, and breath counting are all ways in which we can force our brains to remain present. Jodie takes you through her simple techniques step-by-step here.

Next time you're feeling nostalgic for some quiet time at the scanner, have a go at practicing the above strategies. We can’t control the future of AI, but you can control how it works for you.

About our Guest Blogger

Todd Keeler
Todd Keeler is a Director of FilePro, a fully integrated practice management solution for law firms looking to streamline office processes without sacrificing service. Having worked with law firms since 1999, Todd now leads a team of professional staff who are passionate about upholding FilePro’s key value; building strong, enduring relationships with each and every client. Feel free to contact Todd on a no-obligation basis to discuss any technology, workflow or productivity challenge you may be facing.

How to maximise engagement from social media

Sunday, January 21, 2018

By Nicole Shelley, Operations Manager, Pepper IT 

There is still some hesitation within the Australasian legal industry to embrace digital marketing, including a presence on social media channels.

Some barriers include:

  • a lack of understanding on how to determine the return on investment;

  • a lack of insider industry knowledge around digital marketing and in particular, how this translates into a professional services context. 
The platforms developed to be ‘social’ with family and friends have evolved into the most effective platform on which to share your firms’ stories, successes and values. It’s your opportunity to speak directly to your clients in bulk. Once you gain an understanding the fundamentals, social media for law firms really becomes an effective and essential marketing and client engagement tool.

From our experience, the two largest initial roadblocks are:
  1. How to successfully start. Where do we start? 

  2. How to create social media content. Having the knowledge around what to write about, what to post, when to post, where to post and how to post your content.

Where to start with your digital marketing strategy 

When kicking off any communication and marketing strategy, law firms always carefully consider, and many battle with, the thought of ‘handing over’ their firms’ public facing voice to either an internal marketing team or an external agency.

We generally see that ‘letting go’ is overcome by 1 of 3 factors.

  • It’s brought to the firm’s attention that competitors successfully navigate social media and there is the reactionary position to do the same;
  • Digital savvy senior leaders of the firm champion these initiates; and/or
  • Engaging the right resource to successfully develop, manage and implement digital marketing is key. 

How to allocate the right resources to your digital marketing strategy

Allocating the right resource to managing your digital marketing social media management is an important part of planning for the firm success.

Whilst you may have a junior staff member who is a “super user” and very engaged with posting in a personal context, they may not have the business knowledge and marketing strategy know-how to frame your online communications in the best way. It’s not simply a matter of handing it to a ‘gen y’ or ‘millennial’.

The nature of social is dynamic. Platform algorithms (the science and technology behind how social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn actually work) are always changing and it’s incredibly time consuming to keep on top of it all. This should also be another consideration when setting the digital marketing team up for success. Allow your inhouse team the capacity to continuously upskill and stay abreast of developments; just like lawyers upskill in legislative changes through their CPD programs.

Overcoming this allocation of the right resource, gives comfort to firms. Unfortunately, this can be a long road to success particularly for smaller law firms, many whom initially pilot social media marketing with the resources they have at hand, creating an often less than desirable initial outcome. In turn, if your initial foray into social media is unsuccessful, you may not continue and, in our view, this is a big mistake.

Social media marketing content planning

To help keep your social media tone of voice true to your firm and your content relevant to what you do and for whom you do it (your audience), we recommend having a strategy which loosely follows a 5-3-2 content framework.

  • Five pieces of content should focus on your industry. For specialist law firms this may be changes in family or property law for example or for firms with a broader service offering, don’t be afraid show the breadth of your offering across social media. If you do both family and property law do not be afraid to share both industry updates on your social media platforms. This provides a good opportunity for client cross selling.                                                                                                                                                                     
  • In curating/creating these 5 pieces of content, leverage current and relevant industry news and events. Keep in mind your target client audience. This will facilitate conversation and assist to position your firm as thought leaders. 
  • Three of the ten posts can be used to specifically promote your firm, your practice areas and your lawyers’ expertise. This can include client success stories, lawyer speaking engagements or sharing news and insights from the firm’s website. 
  • Now it’s time to showcase your firm values by sharing posts that highlight organisational core values. In addition, showing your audience that your firm has a human side is a great way to build familiarity and trust. This can be inclusive of events like team fun runs and sporting events or pro-bono and charity work. Professional services firms are in the people industry and social media provides an opportunity to showcase human experiences and values that align with clients or potential clients own values. 

While this is a guide and some weeks this will need to change and flex for business reasons, we do recommend posting on average of at least 7 - 10 posts per week. More content is usually preferable than less content, but don’t post for the sake of posting. The quality of your content should be your top priority.

What can you learn from the mistakes of others?

There are two common mistakes most people/companies will make when embarking on their social media content journey. The first mistake is thinking firms have nothing valuable to share on their social media platforms.

This is simply not true. Take a step back and appreciate the tribal knowledge that is held within the firm and transfer this into content that is easy to digest and appealing to the intended audience, your clients and industry.

The second mistake is doing the opposite - going overboard on sales pitch or another of the above elements and therefore not having a balanced and rounded approach. You can have a little bit of ‘me, me, me’ but you need to have a lot of ‘you, you, you’.

Finally, a holistic approach is essential to social media management. There must be a strategy. There is no point if your posting is ad hoc, inconsistent in the content and regularity of posting or irrelevant to your audience.

Your social media tactics and strategy must be a piece of both your digital marketing and traditional marketing mix.

About our Guest Blogger

Nicole ShelleyNicole Shelley B.Com, CPA, CIMA is Operations Manager at Pepper IT, a full service digital and social media agency with a particular expertise advising clients in the professional services sector.

As a qualified accountant and working at top tier global law firm Herbert Smith Freehills in various strategy and practice management roles, Nicole understands the unique operating environment of law firms. Combining her background with her marketing expertise Nicole works with professional services firm across Asia Pacific on digital marketing.


Why is a Legal Practice App Essential for your law firm

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

By Garth Brown, Brown and Brown Conveyancers

How to embrace change, stay relevant and satisfy client needs is a challenge facing today’s law firms, and will only keep evolving as time moves forward.

Business is now transacted on the move, meetings are held online, and the virtual environment is rapidly expanding thanks to mobile technologies. This means an effective mobile strategy to represent your firm involves more than just a mobile-friendly website.

Leveraging technology to increase productivity, profits and optimise organisational and individual performance is redefining how law firms deliver services to existing and future clients and traditional marketing/advertising methods are rapidly changing.

I started my Conveyancing firm nearly 20 years ago and was an early adopter of leveraging technologies moving very quickly to remote servers and establishing a virtual office for my practice. Having a well branded website was critical to how

I communicated. I then progressed to video content, social media and self-publishing an eBook (available to ALPMA members at a discount*).

The next logical step was an App and I developed my first “Ask Conveyancer” App for consumers and then released a Pro version with significant enhancements.

So, who is my market and how is the App a lead generation tool?

Millennials are a big market. That’s those born between 1980 and 2000 with an average age in Australia of 37.3 years according to the ABS.

This type of consumer is very tech savvy and will look to a firm who employs technology as a leader in their field of expertise and discipline.

The App also reduces the amount of emails and telephone calls between the client and lawyer by supplying critical information in a timely manner.

I have personally found journalists and leading industry providers will contact me for opinions and advice because of my App that is designed to reduce “client pain points”.

A law firm without its own Legal Practice App could be missing the immense potential an App can deliver - don't let your law firm fall behind!

It’s a big opportunity to enhance your clients’ experience.

The process for developing an App for your law firm

Working with the right designer/developer is easier than you think.

They will provide you with an App strategy/brief, assist you to work out the content and add niche features that apply to your specific practice, making your App unique to you. During the process there are beta versions to test before publishing so you don’t go live without full testing.

I have worked with the same agency for many years and highly recommend them Please feel free to contact me for if you’d like to be connected with them.

Once you go ahead with your Law Firm App, you will not regret your decision.

About our Guest Blogger

Garth Brown
Garth Brown is a Degree Qualified Accountant and Certified Conveyancing premium property specialist offering; highest property law, quality solutions, trust and service.
Brown and Brown Conveyancing have over 16 years experience in Conveyancing and Real Estate matters we are well placed to handle the conveyance for either Vendor or Buyer. 

Don't Automate - Obliterate!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

by Gene Turner, Managing Director, LawHawk

In a recent LinkedIn post, Tim Boyne (a founder of legal tech company LawVu) made a deliberately provocative statement:

“On average, less than 5% of the tasks lawyers do every day require a law degree. In some areas of law it's less than 1%. That means ~ 95% of the $Trillion NZD legal industry is up for grabs. There’s gold in the streets. Right now that bounty still belongs to traditional law firms and they're reaching for their trusty clubs and slingshots ready to go to war for it. The problem is that the venture backed LegalTech industry is building a high tech, robotic arsenal of weaponry the likes of which the world has never seen. There have been over 700 LegalTech startups created in the last few years. Each one of them looking for a piece of that action. Interesting times, and well worth everyone in the industry spending a little time thinking about how they'll maintain relevancy moving forward.”

Tim wanted a response, and he got it, including the following: 

  • Derision from a young lawyer, because Tim was not a lawyer, and therefore shouldn’t presume to comment on the topic of law; 

  • A comment by a partner of a law firm that her firm can already do whatever the legal technology (any of it apparently) does, better, and at a lower cost; and

  • Requests to know where the 95% figure had come from, and doubts as to whether it was accurate. 

  • There were assumptions that legal tech suppliers are looking to take work away from lawyers, rather than work with them; that legal technology is primarily for the high-end legal market, given that they have the most money; and that legal technology is still something that is coming, rather than here and available today. 
In response to these points, I would say: 

  • We should never dismiss an idea just because it did not come from a lawyer.  In this case, Tim has 10 years of experience managing IT for a law firm, and knows very well how law firms work.  But would it matter if he didn’t?  As ALPMA members know very well, non-lawyers such as practice managers and IT specialists already add a lot of value and ideas to the legal profession.  In the legal tech space, many vendors are looking to bring improvements to law which have already been proven in other sectors and we should be encouraging those ideas. 

  • Legal technology and law firms should not be mutually exclusive. Most of the legal technology suppliers I know would prefer to partner with law firms and help them use the “robotic arsenal of weaponry” to provide better services at better value, but many law firms don’t want to know about them.  Why? 

  • Law firms need to continuously try to improve the way they work, as any business does.  Everything can be done better – often dramatically so. Just a small amount of curiosity would allow law firms of any size to trial many of the technologies that are now available, and to see how much they can help to save time, reduce risk, improve quality, and win more work.  

  • It doesn’t matter where the 95% figure came from, or if it is totally accurate. As Warren Buffett has said, “It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong”, and I bet it is approximately right. Even if it was only 50% that would be substantial.  But take a minute to imagine if it is as high as 95%.  If new technology means that up to 95% of what the organisation does could be done at least as well – if not better – at lower costs, wouldn’t that be awesome?!  Any business owner should be excited by those type of opportunities for their business. 

  • Let’s not forget all the “legal” and “non-legal” (whatever that distinction means) work that law firms currently do not get, and never will if they keep working as they currently do, but could if they provided services clients wanted at a price they were prepared to pay.  Technology will enable law firms to understand and respond to their clients’ real problems and integrate into wider business processes in very profitable and enduring ways.  The potential market for lawyers’ services is far greater than what lawyers currently serve. 

  • Legal technology is absolutely not just for the large law firms, and you don’t need a lot of money to start using it today.  In fact, many of the solutions are cloud based and as available right now to small firms as large. Some legal technology such as document automation are far from new, having been available (but largely ignored by lawyers) for 20 years. 
Automation is essential for law firms.  It is already happening – with or without law firms - and those who adopt it will be able to offer profoundly different services to those who don’t.  Instead of cautiously seeking incremental improvements to the traditional ways lawyers work and focussing mainly on risks, lawyers should embrace the opportunities it provides to completely transform what lawyers can do. 

In September, I spoke at the 2017 ALPMA Summit on the topic “Don’t Automate – Obliterate” where I looked at the opportunities legal technology is opening up for lawyers, and how they can use it to reinvent the services they offer to their clients.  

Despite many lawyers’ ongoing resistance to change, I was pleased to be able to point to progressive firms like Page Seager, who recently launched Page Create, as examples of firms who are looking to use technology to create better ways to deliver legal services and greater value to clients through innovation.  I also enjoyed meeting a number of lawyers and legal technology vendors who are excited by the potential to re-engineer the way legal services are provided.  

As Tim says, “Interesting times, and well worth everyone in the industry spending a little time thinking about how they’ll maintain relevancy moving forward.”

Editor's Note:

Want to know more about legal technology opportunities for law firms? Watch Gene's presentation "Don't Automate - Obliterate!" session from the 2017 ALPMA Summit On-Demand for just $99 (incl GST) or purchase the whole package for just $395 (incl GST), thanks to the generous support of our Summit Live and On-Demand partner, BigHand.  

About our Guest Blogger

Gene Turner
Gene was a corporate & finance partner of Buddle Findlay from 2009 until retiring from partnership in 2014. In 2011 to 2013 he was ranked as a leading lawyer in both M&A and banking as a result of leading a number of substantial transactions such as the very successful $700m acquisition by Infratil and the NZ Super Fund of Shell’s New Zealand business.

Gene is now managing director of LawHawk – a ‘new law’ venture providing advanced automated legal documents via the HotDocs cloud and helping lawyers provide better quality services to their clients, faster, at lower prices that are more profitable. In March 2017, LawHawk and Wellington law firm Succeed Legal released a free online will that anyone in New Zealand can use.

Gene is on the advisory board of The College of Law Centre of Legal Innovation.

The Evolution of the Mobile Worker

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

by Angela Nguyen, Marketing Executive, GlobalX

The trend in mobile technology has grown exponentially in recent years. Today, there is hardly an employee who isn’t constantly connected to emails, texts and work applications. Employees can work from any location with an internet connection – knocking down office walls and erasing national borders.

A recent Citrix mobility survey found that 81% of organisations currently have or plan for mobility strategies and it’s without a doubt the ‘mobility’ tech trend is here to stay.  The Australian workforce is seeing a shift in the way modern business is conducted with 73% of Australians using their smartphones at work.  As the confidence in technology increases, law firms are looking to invest in mobile technologies to not only adapt to the digital age but to increase productivity and remain competitive within the legal industry.  

Here are 3 reasons why your firm should invest in a mobility strategy. 

3 reasons to invest in a mobility strategy:

1. Increase in the number of mobile workers

Today’s business environment has entered a new era with mobile technology revolutionising how companies interact with their clients. A survey conducted by OnePoll, of workers in Australia and UK, found that nearly half of today's employees use a smartphone or mobile in the workplace. In addition, laptops have also become commonplace in today's work environment, with 82% of workers using it on a daily basis. The recent explosion of smartphones, tablets and laptop use, reveal that today's employees are looking for increased mobility at work.

2. Increased efficiency and productivity 

Mobility solutions are providing new ways for lawyers, conveyancers and support staff to collaborate more efficiently. According to Forrester Research in the Global Workforce Benchmark Survey, it revealed:

  • 56% of Australian and New Zealand workers state they need a smartphone to do their job, and
  • Approximately 66% of respondents who use their own smartphone for work believe that it makes them more productive

Mobility provides a real-time touch-point between the firm and the client, enhancing the visibility of progress with matters and increasing client services and engagement. Mobile technology boosts productivity as employees have the autonomy to perform tasks anytime, anywhere – not confined by physical office spaces. 

3. Foster business growth in the digital age 

Digital technology such as mobility, is transforming the way companies create revenue and results. Indeed, 71% of executives rate mobility as one of the top five priorities revealed in Accenture’s Mobility Insights Report 2014. In addition, it was found that 30% of Australian companies plan to spend at least US$30 million on mobile capabilities in the next two years - more than any other mature market except the United States. Respondents from the survey view their investment in digital technologies as a strategic investment geared to helping their company grow.

To thrive and survive in a world where technology is constantly evolving, law firms need to adapt and embrace new technologies. Recently,  we held ‘Innovation Exchange Workshops’ to measure readiness among our customer base for an enterprise mobility solution for their firm. From discussions at these workshops, it was evident that, despite concerns about how to effectively adopt mobile solutions, practitioners of all ages want to successfully engage with technology to increase work efficiencies. 

Having a mobility solution provides numerous benefits. The capabilities of a mobile workspace increases visibility and engagement with clients, enables employees to manage matters effectively, and allows them to overcome barriers of time and location.

At a time where the legal landscape is changing, it’s important to empower your clients with a mobile solution to have secure access to their content wherever they are, on any device. Work will no longer be defined by the 9-5 office routine, but rather by connectivity to the business network.

About our Guest Blogger

Angela Nguyen joined GlobalX in 2013 and is the Marketing and Communications Executive responsible for the digital facets within the company. Angela manages GlobalX’s social media channels and email communications – keeping customers up-to-date with the latest product enhancements and technology news within the legal industry.

 Angela has a wealth of knowledge across GlobalX’s products and services having worked across a number of roles within the company from Helpdesk Support to Sales and Marketing. She is passionate about developing engaging content and making connections with customers.

GlobalX has launched a new enterprise mobility solution – Open Practice Mobile. This new mobility solution offers substantial productivity benefits to firms via mobile access to contacts, interactive matter data, document management and time-recording functions to support their productivity whilst out on the road.

GlobalX is an ALPMA FY18 Corporate Partner and a 2017 ALPMA Summit Workshop partner.

Rise of the Machines: Driving Automation in Your Practice

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

by Matt Palmer, Marketing Manager, Actionstep

Lawyers could be replaced by artificial intelligence

This headline from February surely sent a few recent graduates into a panic.

Yes, the legal industry is in the line-of-sight of major technical disruption. It seems that soon, intelligent machines may replace our colleagues; keeping us company during those long nights at the office, reviewing our contracts, undertaking painful research, and hopefully continuing to make the coffee.

Despite the ‘doom-and-gloom’ headlines, AI is a huge opportunity for law firms, and builds on the shoulders of what automation has been doing for years - taking mundane repetitive tasks, handing them over to a machine, and allowing us to focus on what we do best. The result? Higher productivity, and an improved bottom-line.

Advanced AI is still an emerging technology, and not likely to reach the average law firm for a few years yet. But if you’re looking for some easy ways to save time (and money) today, here are a few smart tools you can use to make your firm more efficient:

Automate your client intake

Dealing with your busy day-to-day workload, as well as engaging with new prospective clients, and delivering a great first impression can definitely keep you on your feet.

Luckily, there are some smart tools that can help you automate the process, while still giving clients’ a personalised experience.

For starters, a customized form on your website can gather all of the information from a client you need to get started - such as the their personal details and general requirements.

This form may contain sensitive information, so ensure you're using an encrypted connection, and that the information is delivered to your firm in a secure manner (such as straight into your legal practice management system, which also eliminates manual data re-entry).

An automated, yet personalised e-mail, can then be sent to the client once the form is submitted. You could even include a link for the client to schedule an initial conversation in your calendar (with tools like Setmore or Timely).

Automating this part of your client intake is a win-win situation - freeing up your time, and delivering top-notch service to your clients.

Document and Email Automation

Law is definitely one industry known for it’s large amount of paperwork. So how can you spend less time creating documents, while still ensuring 100% accuracy of even the smallest details? That’s where document automation comes in.

Document automation technology allows you generate ready-to-send documents or emails in seconds. It does this by drawing on data already entered in to your legal practice management system.

Simple document automation can just insert the names of the parties involved, dates, and other details in the correct areas of a document template.

More advanced document automation can use conditional logic to add or remove sections based on the case details, and insert gender-specific pronouns.

If you wanted to go a step further, tools like Bundledocs can create professional PDF binders or document bundles in minutes.

Document automation helps your firm save time and money, stay competitive, and reduce the likelihood of errors.

Client Portal

For all of it’s benefits, email isn’t the most secure way to communicate and share files with clients. When you send an email, it can hop around the world from server to server, with each company having its own security and storage policies.

A ‘client portal’ allows your clients to log into to a secure area of your legal practice management system. They can then upload, download, or edit files, chat with you, and see the status of their case.

Automatic notifications can be sent to both you and client when required. This is great for both your clients’ and your firm, as it drastically reduces the inbound call volume of clients asking for a status update, and enables easy collaboration.


Workflow technology allows you to build your processes into your legal practice management
system. Rather than just having a digital case file, workflow lets you easily see the progress on
a matter, automatically create and assign tasks at each step, and ensure nothing gets missed
before moving to the next stage of the case.

Workflow can greatly increase your productivity and compliance. Everyone knows what needs
to be done next, can see what might be holding things up, and automation can keep parties
informed along the way.

While you may be using some, or all of these tools in your firm, new technology continues to
disrupt the legal industry, but can help you increase profitability, sustainability, and efficiency.
So keep an eye on the future, and if you ever find yourself repeating the same process, ask -
How can I automate this?”. The machines are here to help*.

Happy automating!

*Accurate at time of writing this article. In the event of a hostile AI take-over, this sentence will be revised.

About our Guest Blogger

Matt Palmer is the Marketing Manager for Actionstep , a powerful all-in-one cloud-based legal
practice management system customised for Australian law practices. Actionstep focuses on
powerful workflow tools and automation to help lawyers achieve greater efficiency in their

With a background in business, marketing, and web development, Matt has worked with B2B
companies for over 5 years, helping them build effective digital marketing strategies. He also
consults with a number of small businesses looking to move into their next stage of growth. Matt
has a passion for connecting with customers, helping them solve problems, and developing
great user experiences.

Rod McGeoch's 15-Point Credo for Leadership

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Rod McGeoch

The 2017 ALPMA Summit kicked off in Brisbane with an inspiring keynote presentation from Rod McGeoch AO, distinguished business man, leader of Sydney’s successful Olympics 2000 bid, and Co-Chairman of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum. 

Rod shared war stories from across his distinguished career ending with his 15-point personal credo, that he has generously agreed to share in this post.

Rod's Credo For Leadership

1. You must know your real strengths and weaknesses, not what you or others perceive are your strengths and weaknesses.  You must know whether you are at your peak in the mornings in in the evenings. Then plan around your peak performance times.

2. You must be aware that you do not get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate.

3. You must never say “Get it any price.”  Get it, and get the best price.

4. Timing is the most important thing; it is the only thing. You know it is better to be approximately right at exactly the right time, than to be exactly right at completely the wrong time.

5. You learn to operate by the 80/20 rule: you expect 80% of the result with 20% of the cost in 20% of the time. By the 80/20 rule, you achieve five times as much as those who strive for perfection.

6. You put your family first and your business second.

7. You read biographies. You seek mentors. You ask yourself what your mentors would do in each situation, not just what they would say.

8. You never apologise for wanting only exceptional people to work for you. And you pay those people well.

9. You congratulate employees publically but criticise them privately. You write 'thank you' notes and send them to your employees’ homes.

10. You put up whiteboards about production figures and costs.  After all, how would you like playing in a football game every day with no scores?

11. You never ask anyone to deliver what is beyond them.

12. You do not compete with the economy. The economy is the excuse people use for under performance. 

13. You protect your reputation. It is your most important asset.

14. You work long and you work smart. You work five to nine not nine to five.

15. You manage by walking around. You never tire of going to the shop floor where your people are. You ask them what you can do to help them do their job better.

You celebrate success and involve everyone in the celebrations.

Editor's Note:

You can watch most of the presentations from the 2017 ALPMA Summit - and share this with colleagues at your firm by purchasing the 2017 ALPMA Summit On-Demand package, proudly supported by BigHand.

About Rod McGeoch

Rod McGeochRod McGeoch has had a remarkable career at the forefront of business, sports administration and the legal profession. He unites exemplary senior level management experience with an unparalleled commitment to achievement.  Perhaps best known as the leader of Sydney's successful Olympics 2000 bid, he is Chairman or Director of a wide range of major corporations and past Chairman of Corrs Chambers Westgarth, one of Australia's largest law firms.

Rod McGeoch was described in an ABN AMRO report as one of Australasia's most influential Directors; his appointments included Chairman of Vantage Private Equity Group Limited and BGP Investments/Holdings plc. He is also a Director of Ramsay Health Care Limited and a member of the Board of Destination NSW and Sky City Entertainment Group Limited.

He is Co-Chairman of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum, a past President of the Law Society of NSW and a Member of the Order of Australia, awarded in recognition of his invaluable services to the legal profession.

Creativity is the key to adapting and innovating in the changing legal landscape

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

By John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack

There’s no denying the increase in the push for technology adoption in the workplace (and outside of it) since the turn of the century. Almost two decades in and this push has evolved into a necessity, leaving late adopters at risk of falling behind. According to not-for-profit organisation P21, the key skills of the 21st-century are communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity – the 4 C’s. In anticipation of this year’s ALPMA summit, ‘Sailing the 4 C’s’, ALPMA and InfoTrack surveyed over 100 firms in Australia and New Zealand to gain insight into how well Australasian law firms were embracing the key 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

According to the research results, lawyers and law firm leaders are better at critical thinking than they are communicating and collaborating, while most are ineffective when it came to finding creative solutions. These results are not surprising, but they indicate that the legal industry as a whole still needs to modernise its mindset.

Creativity is not ‘arts and crafts’; it’s the starting point for innovation and the key to not just surviving but thriving in the new legal landscape. You should be thinking creatively when it comes to the other C’s as well – how can you differentiate yourself when it comes to communication, collaboration and critical thinking? What new things can you bring to your firm as a business to provide a better service to your clients?

The survey results indicate firms are all at different stages of the journey and looking for ways to improve these skills. As an innovative technology company, we live and breathe the 4 C’s and understand how each component impacts your success. Bearing this in mind, I’d like to share with you some tips on how you can further embrace the 4 C’s in your legal practice.


How do you open communication while maintaining focus and minimising noise?

  • Create an inclusive culture where staff feel safe sharing ideas. When you make an effort to understand your staff, their working style and what motivates them, you create an environment for open communication. At InfoTrack we’ve conducted employee profiling workshops which have helped our employees not only better understand their own working style, but how they can enhance communication with their colleagues.
  • Create clear outlines for afterhours communications to minimise noise. Ensure your employees know when and why to use certain channels. I’ve worked with many firms who have policies around what certain communications mean at certain times. For example, if you send an email afterhours, know that it won’t be read until the next day. If you text afterhours, know that you’re interrupting someone. If you call afterhours, know it will be treated as an emergency. Set these boundaries to avoid entering a never-ending loop that can cause burnout.
  • Set aside specific time for staff to talk to partners. This is a common strategy I’ve come across that is a great way to encourage more efficient and effective communications. I’ve known some principals who set aside specific hours each week to open the floor to questions from anyone, either via conference call, open door policy or simply being available on their phone during their commute to or from work.


As we become more digitally dispersed around the world, the need for effective collaboration increases. Clients are used to doing almost everything online and that includes legal services now. The younger generation of employees at your firm expects collaborative software and online tools.

How do you maximise collaboration in the digital age?

  • Use platforms that enable you to provide your clients with transparent and mobile service. Many firms are beginning to use portals which enable clients to view all documents and searches related to their matter online.
  • Move processes online to allow for document sharing and better integration across your firm. A lot of firms are beginning to implement Office 365 and other platforms that enable online collaboration across teams.

Critical Thinking

As lawyers, you are pros at critical thinking when it comes to legal projects, but you often forget to use that same critical eye when it comes to business decisions.

How can you implement critical thinking from a business perspective?

  • View technology as an enabler and figure out how you can make it work for you. I’ve been travelling across Australia to educate the market on e-Conveyancing and it’s a classic example of scalable technology that firms of any size can adopt. There’s a way for every single firm to make it work for them, it’s just about giving it a try and working with suppliers to find the solutions that fits your firm.
  • Approach new opportunities with solutions not problems. I’ve been in a number of boardrooms with major law firms while they’re deciding if they should invest in new technology. Firms generally fall in one of two camps; they come to the table with 100 reasons why not to implement it, or they come in determined to find a way to take advantage of a new tool and differentiate their business.


Of the four key 21st century skills, creativity was the least strongly-valued skill. Effectively adopting creativity in your law firm gives you a competitive advantage in the overcrowded sea of competitors.

How can you foster creativity in your firm?

  • Turn everyone into a thought leader, don’t just rely on partners to lead the way. Empower your employees to suggest process changes, to research new tools, to get their voices out there and to always be looking for ways to improve the business.
  • Differentiate your firm and develop new ways to drive more business. I’ve seen firms who’ve implemented iPads at reception that can show clients their matter and a list of all related documents. Others have created bespoke client portals and others are digitising processes to provide a more modern experience for their clients. When you can provide clients with a quality, modern, streamlined experience, they’ll recommend you to their friends.

In an industry that’s constantly being disrupted, the 4C’s are pivotal to your success because they underpin innovation and allow you to be adapt to the changing market. The survey revealed that many firms are focusing all their efforts internally and failing to rely on partners and suppliers in this journey; remember that you’re not it in alone. Lean on your suppliers and demand more from them. Invest in vendors who are investing in their technology and providing you with new solutions that are innovative, flexible and make your life easier. The right vendors will help you develop the 4C’s.

When you’re looking at new suppliers, thinking about new projects or implementing new processes, make sure you ask yourself:

Is this going to help me differentiate my business?

Is this going to enhance the way I interact with my clients?

Is this going to enable me to innovate?

Is this going to help me problem-solve more effectively?

Editor's Note

research front coverThe ALPMA/InfoTrack 21st Century Thinking at Australasian Law Firms research measures how well Australasian law firms are embracing the key 21st century learning skills of creativity, critical-thinking, communication and collaboration, as defined by the influential P21 organisation. You can download your copy of the results here

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.

Are you well-connected? Embracing technology and tips for choosing legal technology for your practice

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

By Karen Lee, Principal of Legal Know-How, Legal Industry Advisor, SAI Global

The future is connectivity

The dictionary definition of connectivity is the state of being connected or interconnected. “The future is moving towards connectivity” is not an understatement. Did you know, by 2026, cars will communicate with each other and share information about road and weather conditions? They will also be connected to infrastructure such as smart highways and traffic lights, so they can propose a change of plan en route based on real-time conditions.

Connectivity and technology

With this in mind, would you consider driving a well-connected car, or would you opt not too? This pretty much is a rhetorical question as it has an obvious answer.

In a recent PwC report on the future of banking in Australia, the leading multinational professional services firm identifies that changing technology is one of six powerful forces that are reshaping the banking industry. Among other things, the report said that banks need to be more deeply connected to customers.

This, indeed, is true. Australians are known for being fast adopters of new technology, and in May 2017, European fintech company TransferWise found 78 per cent of Australians did their banking online. No doubt we have all observed that some banks have revamped the manner in which they offer products as well as services on mobile devices.

“The future is connectivity” spells true not only for the banking industry, but also other industries, including the legal industry.

Connectivity and legal practice management

Is connectivity relevant to legal practice managers? The answer is a definite yes. The Law Society of New South Wales’s 2017 FLIP report noted that “legal services and the legal profession are evolving in the context of increased connectivity.” FLIP is short the Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession. The FLIP report provides recommendations to enable lawyers to adapt to changes that are taking place. It also looks over the horizon in an effort to gauge what might lie ahead. One of the FLIP report’s findings is that connectivity raises new and great opportunities and threats for lawyers.

Undeniably, lawyers who are well-connected to technology enjoy many benefits. Recently, Lawyers Weekly

has a cover story on the “rebooting” of the legal profession. It reported that law firms are incorporating advance technology such as blockchain and e-signatures into their service propositions, and the “big wins” of embracing technology include increased client retention rates, flexibility and employee satisfaction, together with the ability to offer a more effective and efficient way of doing business. As you can see, being well-connected to technology also means you are well-connected to clients and staff. It also enables access to data, information and knowledge. Importantly, as we have highlighted in an earlier ALPMA blog post, the ability to generate useful commercial information (which impacts on the ability to create new knowledge) is at the heart of a law firm’s competitive advantage. Imagine this – you can extract and analyse data which can potentially be converted into insights, then present this knowledge in a format that enables decision makers to act, and you do this better than others in the market. Isn’t this a real competitive advantage?

In terms of threats, the Lawyers Weekly article reported that technology such as robo-lawyers and artificial intelligence are seen by some as taking jobs away from lawyers and damaging the way clients are advised. One can certainly argue that technology may pose a threat to the traditional way lawyers do business, but it is fair to say that technology also is an opportunity for lawyers to do business in a new and different way.

Lawyers cannot not embrace technology

We already know that technology is relevant to the business of law, but did you know that it is also relevant to the ethics of law?

Earlier this year, Dr Eugene Clark argued that lawyers cannot ethically avoid using technology tools. Dr Clark, as Dean and Professor of Law of the Sydney City School of Law, said lawyers must take responsibility for the digital security of client and other information, they must know about encryption and the risks and benefits of cloud computing, and they must be responsible for keeping up to date with technological advances and the issues they raise in relation to the delivery of legal services.

So, you know you must embrace technology. But how do you choose legal technology for your practice? What are the key things you should consider?

Tips for choosing legal software

Some people (such as lawyers) and some organisations (such as law firms) are scared of technology, and this leads to its slow adoption. Often, after a bit of investigation, the real reason for not embracing technology is not a fear of technology, but a fear that technology would not meet their needs. Here are some check points to help you choose a technology solution that will meet your needs:

  • Does your service provider offer a range of generic solutions which you can adopt at any time? For those who feel jumping into a completely new software system seems like a daunting proposition, starting first with a more generic solution could be a quick win and a confidence booster. May be all you need or all you are prepared to invest in for now in is an easy and reliable way to access people and company information. Once you realise that conducting your searches using certain technology will reduce the time spent sourcing and analysing the information by 49%, then trying a data visualisation tool to display people and company information and addresses their associations in an interactive visual workspace will not intimidate. In fact, once you have a taste of what technology can do, it can be exciting to learn how you can further leverage technology to improve efficiency!
  • Does your service provider offer a range of specific solutions which you can tailor to suit your needs? Look out for custom solutions with software integration that offers the specific functionality you need for your practice, be it workflow automation or document management.
  • Is it easy to use? Look out for legal software solutions that do not need expensive hardware or installations. For example, something that everyone can access through their ordinary web browser is highly flexible.

Choosing the right legal technology that meets a law firm’s needs can be a minefield at times. By selecting a service provider who can help you stocktake what you currently have and guide your transition into using more and better technology, you will be off to a good start. 

Editor's Note 

SAI Global are proud to be a Gold Partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit. To find out more about embracing technology and tips for choosing legal technology for your practice, join Richard Jones, Head of Segment and Strategic Sales, Property Corporate and Justin Cranna, National Key Account Manager at the 2017 ALPMA Summit Partner Connections sessions on Wednesday 13th September at 5pm at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. The Partner Connection presentations are free to attend and part of the public opening of the 2017 ALPMA Summit Trade Exhibition, the largest gathering of legal vendors under one roof in the Southern Hemisphere. If you (or your colleagues) would like to attend the free open afternoon from 3.30 to 6.00pm, simply register here. You do not need to be attending Summit to come along.

About our Guest Blogger

Karen LeeKaren Lee is the founder of Legal Know-How and a legal industry advisor for SAI Global for 2.5 years. 

SAI Global Property is a division of SAI Global, which provides organisations with information services and solutions for managing risk, achieving compliance and driving business improvement and operational efficiency. SAI Global Property supports a range of Australian industries with information and data services and business process outsourcing services that enable our customers to operate their businesses more efficiently and with less operational and financial risk.

SAI Global are proud to announce our strategic partnership with Practice Evolve, a full legal and conveyancing practice management software capable of managing all areas of your practice on one platform.

As an ALPMA member, we offer a complimentary discovery session to review your current systems, understand your processes and drive efficiencies throughout your business. Register for your technology check here.

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