A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

6 ways to make adopting new technology easier for your firm

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

By John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack

Our recent survey on technology issues in the legal industry found that while most firms are looking for productivity tools and willing to invest more in technology, lawyer resistance to change is creating hurdles.

This isn’t a surprise as legal practitioners have generally been late adopters and tend to be averse to risk. But as the digital disruption of the industry continues this type of resistance can seriously hinder a firm’s development and growth.

New technology is having a significant impact on the legal landscape and changing the way legal work has been done for centuries. With the rapid pace of change, firms that struggle to implement and adopt technology will quickly fall behind their peers.

So how can you help your practice embrace new technology?

Get people engaged

Getting people involved from the beginning is important. You want your employees to feel that they had a part in shaping your firm’s technological future and not that the new technology is something being imposed on them. Show them the options, let them do some of their own research if they want and encourage questions and debate. Engagement in this form will make them feel invested in the firm’s future and more appreciative of the benefits of technology. Communicating change is also key to engagement – update and talk to your employees regularly via email, intranet or meetings so they are in the loop.

Choose wisely

Just as important as the technology itself is the team behind it. Make sure whichever technology you choose has a reliable support team in place. Does the company have an implementation and training plan? Are there any hidden costs? What kind of support system do they have in place? Is it based in-house locally or outsourced internationally? What kind of hours do they operate? There’s always an adjustment period when adapting to new tech and having the right support to help with the transition is key.

Opt for integrated technology

Choose technology that can be integrated with your existing systems. The more integrated the new technology is the easier it will be for your employees to adopt and adjust to. True integration enables different technologies to speak to each other and easily share information across platforms, creating a better user experience for your firm and allowing for a more seamless transition to new processes.

Understand and address any worries

Technology can create fear – fear that jobs will be replaced, hours will be reduced, etc. It’s important to be completely transparent – make sure your employees know why you’re getting the new technology, how it will change processes and most importantly be clear about the benefits. The more employees understand the value of the change, the easier it will be for them to embrace it. Let them know all the ways the technology will allow them to do a more efficient job and save time.

Have a dedicated team

Any change needs leaders to spearhead it. Make sure you choose some key players within your business to take the lead. Having in-house experts can help put people at ease and make new technology seem more manageable.

Build some excitement

Enthusiasm is contagious and when leaders show excitement and dedication to new technology it helps filter that throughout the business. Organise a launch, have a few hours set aside to let people play around with the new technology and ask any questions. Encourage people to experiment and make use of any additional training or support options.

These are just a few of the ways you can improve implementation and adoption of new technology in your firm. Remember, a big contributor to resistance to change is the fear of the unknown – so the more transparent you can be and the more you can educate and reassure your employees, the better.

Editor's Note

2016 ALPMA Summit

InfoTrack are the Principal Partner for the 2016 ALPMA Summit “A Blueprint for Change”, which will be held at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne from 7 - 9 September. The program provides you with the practical 'how-to' advice you need to successfully implement the people, process and technology strategies required to keep your firm competitive in a rapidly evolving legal landscape - and create a blueprint for change at your firm. Check out the program and register now. 

About our Guest Blogger

John AhernJohn Ahern is CEO of InfoTrack, proud Principal Partner of the 2016 ALPMA Legal Management 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.

Two simple ways to improve your firm's digital security and privacy

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

By Simon Langford, Operations Manager, CommArc

Nobody likes seeing their stuff stolen. So we all take precautions to protect what’s valuable to us – both at work and at home.

But it’s not enough to put a lock on something, build a wall or own a dog with an easy bark. You’ve got to act in a way that keeps you safe. We’re big proponents of the idea that it’s no good building a fortress if you open the door to anyone who knocks

At the link above you’ll see a few ideas for leading your firm towards a security-minded culture. Here we’ll focus on two areas where some easy changes in behaviour could save your firm and your clients a lot of heartache, hassle and money.

Consider a more secure way to share and store documents

Sometimes attaching a document to an email might seem good enough. But there are some potential pitfalls.

The most obvious is one you’ve probably run into more than once: you can’t email files over a certain size.

To get around this, employees often use personal file sharing services such as DropBox or Google Drive. Upload the file, send the link and it’s sorted, right?

Problem is, these services aren’t necessarily as secure as you need. If people aren’t careful with their individual privacy settings, files could be viewable by the public. The file storage might not be encrypted. You’ve got no way of keeping track of who has sent what to whom, and how far that link has gone.

And if you’ve got any concerns about data sovereignty, then these services might present a real problem: most of the time they’re hosted overseas. If you need to keep your client information in the country, then these options should be a no-go.

You could encounter a similar problem when your employees want to work on a file at home. Maybe they’ll email it to their personal email account, or copy it onto a USB drive.

But that means that information is now out of your control. It’s not covered by your security policies and measures. If that email account is compromised, or the USB drive lost, your confidential information could go astray. And you might never even know it’s happened.

You need to make it secure and easy for staff to share and access their documents. Consider providing everyone in your firm with a standard, secure file sharing option. To get the most out of it, find one that:

  • lets you see where and when your firm’s documents have been sent
  • is hosted within your country
  • has security features such as password-protection, encryption and restrictions on how a document is accessed (e.g. how many times it can be opened, or for how long)
  • lets you know if and when a recipient opens a document
  • integrates with your email system
  • works on a variety of devices (so your staff can use it easily in the office, at home or on the go)
  • lets your clients transfer documents to you.

Once you’ve got something like that in place, you can ask your staff to stop using other services, email accounts or USB drives without compromising their work.

Be smart with your emails

We’ve all had good email habits drummed into us. But we also all get a few more emails than we know what to do with – not to mention less and less time to address them.

It’s easy to send to the wrong person or to send the wrong file. And then there’s also the people out there who’ll actively try to trip you up.

But we reckon if you can keep the eight ideas below in mind, you’ll be in great shape to keep you, your colleagues and your clients safe and secure.

Of course, the best way to improve your email habits is to practice. Consider running a security awareness training at your law firm to see how cautious they are with emails linking to potentially malicious websites.

Consider disabling the autocomplete function in your email’s “to” line.

This is the incredibly handy feature that pops up with some suggestions when you begin to write the recipient’s name.

Unfortunately, it’s also the incredibly handy feature that can provide you with the wrong recipient. For example, you could send that highly private (or highly personal) email to John Smith, external client, when you really meant to send it to John Smithee, your colleague two desks over.

Maybe you’re confident you’ll check the name twice. But if you have any doubt (or have had a bad past experience), consider disabling the function. It’s still really easy to add a recipient’s name via your address book or by typing their name in full.

An email might not be from who it says it’s from – be wary.

There are easy ways to make it look like a scam email is coming from a legitimate sender (“spoofing”). If something about the email seems suspicious (spelling, content, design, timing), be cautious – the fact that a legitimate sender’s name and email address appears in the “from” line is no guarantee of legitimacy.

Never give out any usernames, passwords or account numbers via email.

No one legitimate will ask for these via email. Your bank definitely knows not to. If you think a request for an account number might be a legitimate request from someone you trust, give them a call using a number you know will definitely reach them (not just one you’ve seen in the email signature). But never give out a password.

Even seemingly innocent information can be a risk.

You’re probably already pretty good at not giving out the top secret stuff. But scammers might email you looking for something more benign. Names of staff, details of what software you use, and information about clients – all this could help them carry out a scam. Don’t make it easier for them.

Be cautious about opening attachments.

Unless you’re expecting them or know what they contain, you’re probably best to leave them. But as with the last couple of steps, if you’re unsure, call or talk to the sender directly.

Be careful clicking on links.

Same story again: extra caution if the email is from someone you don’t know. If you think it’s from someone you know, still be careful. And think twice before entering any information in websites to which they lead you.

If you think it’s a scam, don’t be tempted to respond.

It could be tempting to say “I don’t think so, buddy!”, but don’t risk giving them anything – even confirmation that there’s someone on the end of your email address.

Sometimes scepticism might delay legitimate business, but it could save your organisation.

Sometimes our healthy scepticism is outweighed by feeling pressure that something just needs to be done, and that we'll get in trouble if we don't act.

Any cost a delay causes will be tiny compared to the potential loss from sharing confidential information with someone you shouldn't. Support and encourage your staff to take the time to check. Don't let them feel pressured to respond. Never chastise them for questioning an email.

Editor's Note

Learn more about digital security at the ALPMA livestream session Protecting Information and Maintaining Privacy in a Digital World on June 2 by Professor Margaret Jackson. The session is being hosted in Melbourne but if you are unable to attend the host location you can join local members at 18+ regional hubs across Australia and New Zealand or participate online from your desktop.  Register now.

About our Guest Blogger

Simon Langford is the Operations Manager of CommArc, an ALPMA NZ Corporate and Leading Your Firm Partner.

Simon leads a team of more than 35 technology experts in their partnerships with New Zealand law firms. Together they deliver a comprehensive range of IT services and expertise, including support, strategy, consulting, security and cloud. Simon has been in the IT industry for 18 years, and at CommArc for 11 of those. He was technical lead in CommArc’s transition into virtualisation, and after the Christchurch earthquakes, he implemented and managed CommArc’s new cloud infrastructure, to which many law firms have migrated.

For more than 20 years dozens of Kiwi law firms have benefitted from CommArc’s client-focused approach. CommArc works with firms to find the best solutions for their specific needs, including practice management systems, digital dictation, document management and electronic filing.

CommArc’s mission is to help your firm stay as secure as possible. Get in touch today to learn about their CloudDrive or CloudShield solutions, to organise a Security Awareness Campaign, or to discuss any other ways to improve your security.

The secret to effecting practice improvement

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

By James Sowry, Managing Director, Sentrian

Technology is an enabler. It is the primary and easiest method to facilitate actual change in your legal practice. But it is only half the story. Change requires people to jump on board.

Addressing the change aspect of improvement projects is such a common challenge for law firm leaders that Sentrian convened an expert panel to discuss Effecting Practice Improvement. I found that no matter what topic we were discussing, the conversation always drifted back to the same issue: how to work with those who resist change.

Bringing a firm’s decision-makers and key staff on side may be the single most difficult aspect of effecting change. No matter how wonderful the outcome, or how low the risk may be, stubborn partners may be just that, immoveable. Technology with a focus on people can instigate improvement by taking on their critical perspective and creating a plan that works for them.

Technology gets the ball rolling

In my experience, the majority of practice managers fall into one of two camps:

  • They have a wealth of practice improvement ideas and opportunities, but no way of prioritizing where to start or the capability to successfully implement

  • They have a directive from the partners to achieve a broad business outcome (eg: reducing expenses by $X), but no clear idea of how to identify the change needed to achieve it

In either case the bottom line is the same: no clear starting point = ultimately sticking with the same old “way we’ve always done things”. For practice managers trying to become champions of change, it can feel like a hopeless cause.

Turning to technology can often provide the simple “quick win” that counters initial resistance and kick starts a series of simple improvement projects. The key here is not to focus on technology for technology’s sake but practical outcomes. It requires a clear and honest vision.

Create a vision, dig in

Effective technology innovation takes more than a string of intermittent projects. It takes a long-term vision with short-term goals. On too many occasions I’ve seen not only resisters against change, but champions for change give-up at the first sign of the deployment not matching the plan.

Speaking as a member of the panel, Dr Peter Lynch of dci lyncon highlighted the need to secure the partners’ commitment to at least a three year timeframe when undertaking large practice improvement initiatives to establish realistic expectations. Keeping the long term goal in mind allows scope to refine the approach in response to short term results and emerging opportunities.

The key in setting that commitment is early, direct communication. It is arguably the most important element in effecting change. Setting out a vision early on will prepare the senior figures in your firm for all the blips and setbacks that inevitably occur in any improvement strategy. Partners will be empowered with the knowledge the plan is progressing. And significantly, it will dampen any urge to pull out of change at the first hurdle.

Back yourself

When talking about or planning change, it is easy to stereotype and marginalise partners into expected roles. Like the over 50-year-old partner who resists change no matter the facts. Yes, in many cases it is difficult if not impossible to convince them otherwise. But that’s only going half-way in trying to effect change.

Think outside the box. My fellow panelist, Graeme McFadyen of Russells, underlined the persuasive power of expert external agents on senior partners. They can show actual evidence of where technology has created real change in other firms and provide a perspective that will often go missing from internal strategy meetings. Sometimes all partners need to hear is the same argument from a different voice.

Be pragmatic, match reality

What constitutes substantial change in one firm may be dramatically different in another. Technology and how it is used can vary wildly from one firm to another, and from one partner to another. Quantifying expectations and perspectives is a powerful tool in creating a strategy for change. Stories from members of the audience flagged this as a useful tool in convincing resisters to change. Knowing what those resisters expect of technology improvement can allow the champions to set acceptable outcomes at a tolerable yet still effective pace.


Taking advantage of technology to effect improvement takes more than completing a project. The ideas-driven planning stages should not be forced into a pure logistical role once a project is undertaken. A guiding hand, directing change offers greater security toward matching outcomes. Further, it facilitates active communication. If technology enables change, then communication delivers it. Effective practice improvement takes more than a bright spark, it needs fuel for a slow burn to truly achieve meaningful change.

About our Guest Blogger

James Sowry

James Sowry is the Founder & Managing Director of Sentrian.

James lends the benefit of his experience to helping law firm leaders establish the technology platform needed to drive digital strategy and practice improvement.

Sentrian delivers digital strategy, business improvement, computing platform and support services to organisations Australia wide within the flexibility of a managed monthly subscription. With over 40 law firms on the client list, Sentrian has particular experience in supporting a variety of practice management applications and helping firms realise the benefits of hosting these mission critical systems in the cloud.

The Importance of an Employer Brand

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

By Marianna Tuccia, Legal Recruiter, empire group 

"Finding good people" remains the number one challenge facing Australian law firms, in a sneak peak of results from the 2016 ALPMA/empire Group Australian Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey results, which will be publicly released on Friday.  Attracting talent and retaining quality employees is becoming increasingly difficult for most organisations. This is due to a shortage of skilled candidates, the lack of employee loyalty as well as the many opportunities that exist for lawyers to work overseas.

The question becomes how does a law firm position themselves and make themselves more desirable to future employees? In order to attract, retain and develop talent, the recruitment function should be viewed as an extension of the marketing function. Organisations (and law firms included) must have clear strategies regarding marketing their brand to existing and future employees. This is because your employees are the organisation’s best advertising.

What is an employer brand? An employer brand communicates the organisations culture, vision, reputation and value system. Therefore, anything that an organisation does e.g. how management communicates internally and how an organisations services are perceived in the marketplace, impacts on the employer brand. For an employer brand to be successful, the entire employment life-cycle (e.g. the interview process, on-boarding, induction, performance reviews, exit interviews) needs to be scrutinised and where necessary improved and enhanced. It must always be remembered that quality candidates will always have several options to choose from.

When attracting the talent, the first interview is crucial in communicating the employer brand. Interviews are always crucial in communicating the employer brand. Interviews are always a two-way street and talented candidates do not move purely for an increase in remuneration. Candidates want to know about an organisations culture and philosophy and whether it is in line with their own value system, objectives and career goals.

It is very clear that in today’s mobile workforce, retaining talented employees is just as challenging as attracting new talent. Therefore, an organisations leadership, the way it communicates to its staff and the opportunities within the organisation to develop and [progress all impact on whether an employee will stay or jump to a competitor. The lack of training and development opportunities are the main motivators in employees leaving, not necessarily reward and remuneration. Keeping your staff motivated is one of the keys to low turnover as well as offering a workplace that is flexible and a management that is transparent in their decision-making.

There are many ways for an employer to improve their employer brand. Here are just a few practical tips:

  • Undertake research (both internally and externally) regarding the way current future employees perceive the experience of working at the firm;

  • If you make a job offer and it is declined, find out why the candidate was not interested in working for the organisation;

  • Conduct an audit of your organisations values and vision statement. It may be worthwhile to conduct a survey within the organisation to compare the value statement with the employees reality;

  • Always ensure that your values, vision and philosophy are conveyed at every step of the recruitment process;

  • Conduct an annual review of your employer brand and where necessary make changes to your organisations vision statement. This is where your staffs feedback is useful.

The aim of every organisation is to be “”Employer of Choice” and a strong employer brand will help a law firm or any organisation, attract and retain the best talent.

Editor's Note 

The ALPMA Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey provides a comprehensive, independent review of salaries paid for legal, management and administrative positions in legal firms, and reveals the hottest HR issues and challenges for the legal industry in Australia and New Zealand.  

252 firms completed the 2016 Australian survey, proudly supported by the empire group,  while 69 firms completed the New Zealand survey, proudly supported by McLeod Duminy Legal Recruiters. All participants will receive their complimentary copy of the report on Monday, May 9.

If you didn't participate, and would like to understand more about law firm compensation strategies for FY17 and how your firm compares, then you can purchase the relevant report for $A550 (including GST) if you are an ALPMA member who did not participate in the research or for $A2,200 (including GST) for all non-members who did not participate in the research.  Please contact Connie Finestone if you have any questions about purchasing the report.

About our Guest Blogger

Marianna Tuscia
Marianna is a specialist professional legal recruiter at the empire group, with an in-depth understanding of the legal industry. Marianna is focused on recruiting lawyers (at all levels from NQ to Partner level) for the Australian, the UK and the Asian private practice sector.

Marianna’s track record includes sourcing senior practitioners for law firms as well as sourcing lawyers from overseas jurisdictions for Australian based private practice firms. Marianna also has experience in sourcing Australian lawyers for law firms across the UK and Asia.

Marianna consults clients regarding market trends, remuneration and salary benefits and assists lawyers at all levels to help them make an informed career choice. Marianna qualified as a lawyer and worked as a commercial litigator before embarking on a career in legal recruitment.

Is your firm wasting money on an inconsistent digital strategy

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

By Caitlin Ritter, Senior Content Executive, Search Factory

Digital marketing is a funny thing. 

Most law firms have nailed creating a solid brand across traditional marketing channels. Yet many seem to struggle when it comes to making a cohesive digital strategy that represents their firm while also generating leads and driving sales. That’s why many companies – not just law firms – fail to make the most of their digital marketing efforts and instead utilise only a few channels (which may or may not be the right channels) and hope for the best.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at “Winning Work in a Digital World”, which showcases research conducted by ALPMA and Julian Midwinter and Associates. Can you guess how effective digital channels are when it comes to business development for law firms? (Hint: they certainly don’t seem to pull their weight!)

But are digital channels underperforming because ‘they just don’t work’ or are they underperforming because they aren’t being utilised to their full potential? The research would suggest the latter. Though only 13% of respondents report their website to be highly effective for BD, those that do are more likely to be quite active through more digital channels. Interestingly, they also tend to have a more positive financial prediction looking forward.

This all points to a targeted, planned and thorough approach being the key to digital success. It also shows that simply ‘having’ a website, blog or social account isn’t good enough – if you just have something for the sake of having it, and you pay someone to jump on there every fortnight to share your latest newsletter, you are basically waving goodbye to your money.

So how do you change all this and turn it to your advantage? Let’s begin with the basics.

So what is ‘digital strategy’?

Digital strategy has a range of definitions, and every marketer will have their own favourite. In a nutshell, though, digital strategy can be summed up as the process of defining an organisation’s visions, goals and opportunities to maximise their return in digital channels. These channels can include:
  • Websites
  • Blogs
  • Social media
  • Paid advertisements 
  • Content marketing
  • Organic search marketing (Search Engine Optimisation). 

Why does it matter to law firms anyway?

You could argue that not seeing returns on digital investments is reason enough to limit the incorporation of digital in your marketing strategy. That won’t be good enough in the future, though. Even within an industry that leans toward face-to-face interaction to create business, online channels can still be imperative to keeping that business. 

When you meet someone at a networking event and they want to know more about you, the company or the other people that work there, where will they go? Chances are, your website is (or will very soon be) a key pillar to your business. It should reflect your firm – if your web presence is clunky, riddled with errors or simply out of date, it says a lot about the quality of the practice.

Just having a fast, well-designed website with enough information to show potential clients that they can trust you is an important asset moving forward.

How to create a strong strategy

  • You need to identify what your goals are

What are your strategic goals? If you can’t answer this immediately, it is past time to sit down with decision-makers and identify some. Without clear goals to direct your strategy, it’s kind of like throwing money to the breeze – you might fluke it and manage to pick some of it back up, but most of it will be long gone with nothing to really show for it.

  • You need to identify the channels that will support your firm to reach those goals

Consider where your potential leads are, and where they want to be finding your company. Consider what is cost-effective and offers you the opportunity to reach out and engage potential clients. Anything that doesn’t directly support your goals isn’t necessary, so don’t waste your time on it.

  • You need to utilise those channels in a way that is consistent and representative of your brand

This is where aspects like content come into play. If you don’t have a guide for brand language and company tone, it is a good time to nail down some specifics. Do you want to come across as professional and corporate? Caring yet expert? List some words that you want to represent your brand, then some language that conveys those feelings – you then have a quick guide to refer to when creating communications both online and offline.
As an example, check out companies like Sinnamon Lawyers – their web copy not only conveys who they are as a law firm, but it is also optimised for search engines with smoothly integrated keywords. They can then transfer this to their other channels, allowing them to achieve their strategic goals.

Don’t forget the most important part!

Of course, I’m referring to measuring and testing. You can’t gauge the effectiveness of marketing activities if you don’t have anything in place to measure your efforts. This relates directly back to your goals – create KPIs that link back and let you see how you are tracking. By doing so, if things aren’t going to plan, you’ll be able to make adjustments before sinking any more money into it. 

By developing a considered strategy and committing to it wholeheartedly, you can become one of the few law firms reaping the rewards of the digital marketing world.

About our Guest Blogger

Caitlin Ritter
Caitlin Ritter is a Senior Content Executive at Search Factory. Specialising in business writing, Caitlin has worked alongside a wide range of clients to develop effective onsite and offsite content.

In her time as a content developer, Caitlin has written extensively about digital marketing and SEO, with a focus on the intersection of these fields across various industries.

Building an effective travel policy for your law firm

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

By Astrid Richardson, General Manager, Corporate Traveller

Is the cost of business travel hurting your balance sheet?

If you're struggling to rein in travel spending, there are two key questions you can ask to identify the weaknesses in your travel policy:

What do we currently spend?

If you don't know, or you have large fluctuations in costs, it's likely you're lacking the tools that deliver visibility and cost control.

Lack of cost control usually stems from a weak travel policy or non-compliance from staff. Booking without mandated limits for spending removes a vital check and balance in the booking cycle that would otherwise keep your budget in the black.

Self managing your business travel program might seem like the easiest way to keep your schedule ticking over but it's usually the most detrimental factor in losing control of spending. Undisciplined booking behaviour automatically puts your travel program at a disadvantage as you're only likely to find out the real cost of a trip after it's been booked.

How can we save?

  • Develop a clear travel policy

Start by developing a travel policy that clearly defines how travel should be arranged and the types of parameters that must be adhered to when booking travel.   There are plenty of examples of travel policies online that you can customise for your firm.  

  • Ensure compliance

Ensuring your staff comply with the travel policy is the next, and often more difficult, step in keeping control of your travel costs.  If this policy represents a significant change from existing practice, it will be important to develop a plan to communicate this to staff and ensure they understand the drivers for creating the policy.

Appointing a travel partner to manage your travel arrangements will help ensure compliance - and save your firm valuable dollars through accessing a wide range of airfares, hotel rates and car hire rates. 

  • Automate your policy online

Automating your policy online is the first line of defence against policy leakage. Streamlining your bookings by using an online booking tool gives your staff cost control reminders throughout the booking process as well as notifications for any break in policy. 

  • Delegate approver authorisation

You can nominate a designated travel authoriser to approve any bookings that fall outside of policy. An online booking tool will automatically email your travel authoriser and notify them of any breaks in policy prior to trip approval.

  • Implement Travel Manager authorisation

A dedicated Travel Manager can also act as an additional check and balance if you're not using an online booking tool. A dedicated Travel Manager will have intimate knowledge of your travel policy and can ensure compliance on each request.

  • Post trip reporting

Having access to accurate post trip reporting also helps you identify travel policy leaks. 

About our Guest Blogger

Astrid Richardson
Astrid Richardson has served as a senior manager for Flight Centre's business travel brands since 2006. Her previous roles include Account Management Director for FCM Travel Solutions, State Manager for Flight Centre Business Travel and Regional Director of Sales and Account Management for Corporate Traveller. Her extensive leadership experience and track record of delivering financial growth led to her appointment as General Manager for Flight Centre’s Corporate Division in NSW and the ACT. Astrid was appointed Corporate Traveller’s General Manager - Australia in 2014. 

Travel Tip - Using a best fare of the day booking policy and purchasing preferred airline lounge memberships are some of the most effective ways of keeping your travellers happy and improving your ROI.

Corporate Traveller are ALPMA SA Corporate partners. Corporate Traveller offers a range of specialised business travel solutions and corporate travel management services to make your travel faster, cheaper and greener. Our industry and group specialisation means clients receive expert advice and service that is tailored to suit their needs.

Find out how much you could be saving with Corporate Traveller’s TRAVEL CALCULATOR

Q & A with Julie Dobinson, Managing Partner, DDCS Lawyers

Tuesday, April 19, 2016
ALPMA member Julie Dobinson, Managing Partner of Dobinson Davey Clifford Simpson Lawyers, shares her insights into leading a law firm in the changing legal landscape with the editor of ALPMA's blog, A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Q: What do you think are the key challenges associated with leading a law firm in the changing legal landscape?

It is clear that law firm leaders need to embrace change as a constant and that we no longer make assumptions about our environment, mission or core competencies.

In today’s landscape we cannot, for example, assume that clients will pay for the service and fee structure that is associated with the traditional leverage model and that the role of a leader is a mastery of knowing which leverage lever to pull at any one time. In the future, the leverage model will only remain relevant for a diminishing number of firms as clients demand flexible service models and pricing.

Instead successful leaders will characterised by their ability to create agile organisations - agility in service delivery, agility in workforce participation and agility in the use of technology and backroom functions.

In today’s environment a stable law firm is an organisation that lives well with change rather than resisting change.

Q: How are you addressing these challenges?

At DDCS we are working on four key areas:

1. Better understanding the service needs of our clients

We are looking at the whole client journey and asking more questions of our clients and referrers about their service preferences. So far we have looked at our initial client contact processes and while we have a good conversion rate from inquiry to appointment we can do better. Additionally, we have identified missed opportunities to meet clients’ needs because we have asked too few questions. For example, this has occurred in some situations where a lawyer has assumed that the client’s main driver is price.

2. Developing a range of service delivery options

We cannot assume “a one size fits all”. A firm such as ours should offer flexibility when it comes to the range of legal services and their delivery. For example, some family law clients will only want to retain us for advice at important milestones like presenting a settlement offer or to represent them at a mediation. Other clients will want a more traditional lawyer/client relationship. Even then, there are opportunities to deliver flexibility and cost effectiveness for the client and profitability for the firm – for example using paralegals to assume a greater role in the day to day client and file management functions with lawyers focused solely on the legal work. Some lawyers do not have the requisite skills to either manage the commercial relationship with the client or to conduct proper file management. In many cases, it will benefit the client and the firm for a file to be managed by dedicated paralegals rather than lawyers.

3. Creating greater work participation flexibility

Many of our team members work part time and we are looking to a future where more of our work may be done outside the office or outside usual office hours. In the past twelve months we have moved our IT infrastructure to a hosted platform and we are transitioning to a “paper light“ file management system. We are also one of the few firms of our size to have an employer sponsored paid parental leave scheme and we endeavour to be flexible about return to work conditions including work hours and place of work.

4. Developing the attributes of a resilient mindset

Individually, and, as an organisation, we need resilience to deal with any challenges, good or bad. Resilience enables us to bounce back from life’s challenges and to learn from our mistakes and in the face of rapid change it is an essential industry tool for survival.

Resilience can be learnt and our recent firm retreats have focussed on developing a resilient mindset – for example, cultivating optimism over pessimism and using Neuro-Linguistic Programming techniques (NLP) to program our brains to better understand people.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your role as Managing Partner?

  • Being recognised as a market leader in our practice areas of family law and wills and estates. Since its inception, the peer reviewed Doyle’s List has recorded DDCS Lawyers and Partners as market leaders in the area of family law. Informally, our firm is a market leader evidenced by the calibre and source of our client referrals and the leadership roles taken by our Partners and staff in the Canberra legal and wider community.

  • The appreciation of our clients – our client surveys consistently indicate a high level of satisfaction with the services we provide. Additionally our team members are rewarded by unsolicited praise from clients and referrers on a frequent basis.

  • Our culture - characterised by generosity and appreciation rather than competiveness and individualism.

We have worked hard to foster supportive relationships within practice areas and across the firm. We recognise that our clients will be better cared for if our lawyers and administrative staff work in teams. At this stage, our productivity budgets and KPI‘s are set on an individual basis but in the future it may be appropriate for us to focus more on team metrics.

Our people genuinely care about each other and appreciate each other’s skills and contributions.

Q: As a Managing Partner, what do you value about your ALPMA membership?

ALPMA keeps me up to date with the latest (and constant) developments. Increasingly, I look to ALPMA for articles and ideas about people management, leadership, technology and the latest products. The conferences are stimulating and offer law firms an opportunity to connect with colleagues and research latest products with great efficiency.

About our Guest Blogger

Julie RobinsonJulie Dobinson is the Managing Partner of DDCS Lawyers, one of Canberra’s pre-eminent law firms specialising in Family Law, Wills, Estates and Business Succession. Julie is a well-respected leader in the Canberra legal and business community and has guided the firm to be recognised as ACT’s leading Family Law firm.

Julie’s firm is a long term member of Law Australasia - an independent association of law firm with over 150 lawyers, whose members are committed to achieving best practice management and client service delivery. Julie has served on the Executive of Law Australasia and was Chair of the Board in 2014.

Julie dedicates her time to serve on various boards and Committees including as Chair of the Women’s Legal Centre (ACT) and was founding Chair of the Canberra Region Family Law Professionals Association.

How eTrials are changing Australia's Judicial System

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

By Elizabeth Miller, Head of eCourts Service, Law in Order

The recent Cowan trial of the Daniel Morcombe killer was an eTrial, one of a number that are running across 14 Queensland Courts as they begin their electronic transformation process. Other states are following suit, embracing not just electronic lodgements in the judicial system but also electronic presentation of materials and remote witness participation.

Openness of our courts is a fundamental principle of our judicial system. eTrials demonstrate transparency and accountability for all by opening up hearings to those outside of court. For lawyers, electronic courtrooms allow for a much richer presentation of evidence. For courts, the use of technology helps to speed up the judicial process.

Counting the Benefits

There are a number of benefits eTrials provide over traditional trials:

  • All legal participants and Judiciary have 24-hour, real-time access to relevant material before and during a trial;
  • Documents within an eCourt environment are fully searchable, so you can easily and quickly search keywords and phrases within the documents;
  • It’s easy to highlight and make notes on electronic documents for the whole team to see;
  • Remote witnesses can participate in real-time.

The Process

While eTrials are conducted similarly to regular hearings, the main difference is that documents are submitted and viewed electronically in the electronic court book, as well as allowing remote participation in real-time.

And while evidence management in an electronic court book or appeal book is one aspect of the eTrial process, evidence presentation is another important facet. eTrial evidence uses specialised presentation software to present the evidence in real-time to remote witnesses and to parties within the hearing. Exhibits marked by the Judge are displayed and processed in the same timeframe and manner of a traditional court, however this is done immediately.

Importantly, an eTrial allows for remote witnesses to participate in the hearing in real-time, both in taking the stand and viewing evidence. Witnesses do not normally have access to the electronic court book, however witnesses will have a monitor in the witness stand where the witness can view the evidence being displayed.

eTrials typically offer a daily transcript service where the transcripts are presented in real-time for the judge and parties. The transcripts are finalised at the end of the proceedings and then uploaded to the electronic court book for parties to access. Similar to evidence, transcripts are also fully text-searchable.

There have been a number of private and public hearings that operate as an eTrial and also offer a webcast streaming functionality, where the broadcast of the hearing is made available on public websites, or to a private website for restricted viewing.

The Cost

eTrial solutions come in varying forms and associated costs according to their complexity.

The most cost effective method is to DIY and bring your own device to connect to the court’s presentations systems to provide evidence management and presentation. To reduce the costs when appearing in court, parties should always only provide the consolidated tender bundle; the practice of providing all documents exchanged is not acceptable in any jurisdiction.

The biggest cost of any trial is in the discovery phase. The cost of an eTrial is easily absorbed in the eDiscovery phase where all documents exchanged (which tend to constitute the trial bundles) are already electronic and set up with automatic linking capability, or hyperlinking.

Regardless of the initial outlay, eTrials are capable of improving the productivity of legal practitioners and courts by providing flexible, easy access to court documents. This ultimately reduces the time spent by lawyers producing and sharing bulk copies of physical documents.

When would you want an eTrial?

The most basic consideration is obviously whether or not the court is willing to permit an eTrial and if it has eTrial technology available. Courts that support eTrials usually provide individuals with access to an electronic court book, unique credentials to access the documents, monitors within the courtroom to access and display the documents and access to the internet through the court’s Wi-Fi service. While most courts around Australia have some of these facilities, there is a commitment to move in the direction of electronic hearings.

Where facilities are unavailable in courtrooms, many eTrial providers offer court build solutions where personnel can build temporary court rooms that cater to electronic document management and presentation. Parties must also contemplate if they can produce the documents electronically and if conducting an eTrial produces enough cost and time benefits.

Editor's Note

Readers interested in learning more about eTrials can watch the ALPMA on-demand presentation "The Art of an e-Trial", featuring a panel discussion led by The Hon, Justice James S Douglas, on issues such as:
  • when is an eTrial appropriate
  • some practical tips on the implementation of eTrials
  • the pitfalls of eTrials; and
  • the future and development of eTrials
and an e-trial demonstration at the QEII Courts of Law.  CPD: 1 CPD Unit/1 NZ Hour Practice Management and Business Development Skills. This on-demand seminar available for ALPMA members only to watch for free.

About our Guest Blogger

Elizabeth Miller
Elizabeth Miller is the Head of the eCourts Service practice at Law In Order. Elizabeth has over 25 years of experience working in law firms and 10 years in the Courts. She has worked on Royal Commissions of Inquiry since 2003 and has in-depth experience developing, designing and operationally implementing eHearing and trial models to the judicial, legal and corporate markets in Australia, Europe and North America. Law In Order supplies end to end document and digital solutions to the Australian legal industry.

Values Based Recruitment

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

By Michelle Sneesby, Founder and Managing Partner, empire group

In 2009, I decided to set up a recruitment agency that was different to my competitors. empire’s firm values are trust, positive culture, success and connection and we choose consultants who reflect those values. As a result, we are very passionate about sourcing the right staff with values that complement your firm's values.

Values are a vital part of all businesses. In professional services firms offering a service to clients, rather than (for example) a piece of equipment, values are even more important, as they underpin the many things you do that are intangible. In a broad sense, the values of an organisation define everything and everything can be prepared and then reviewed in light of them.

Recruitment is one such business process for which your values can be instructive. In fact, adopting values base recruitment can reduce turnover and increase retention because you are more likely to recruit the right person to start with. Performance management can also be linked to your values, but that is a topic for another day.

What are your firm's values?

Before I examine values based recruitment, it is important to understand what your firm's values are. Most organisations have stated values and a mission statement - written on the website and in written orientation materials. Some questions for you before you embark on recruitment based on the firm values:

  • How were these values arrived at? Did the partners decide what they are and impose them on staff?
  • How current are they? Do you need to find out if the firm’s values need to be revisited?
  • Do staff know what they are? If asked, are staff able to enunciate them. Even if they don’t know the exact words, can they tell you broadly what the values are?
  • Do you model the firm’s values? This question requires honest self reflection. If you can’t honestly say that you model the firm's values in your behaviour, then in the words of someone famous ‘Houston, we have a problem’. Staff can spot hypocrisy from a long distance.

If you want to adopt values based recruitment, then before embarking on this important process, you must be sure your values are current, relevant, and known, and that you, personally, and your partners, model and reflect them.

Values based recruitment

Values based recruitment takes behaviour based interviewing one step further. Most candidates are aware that most organisations use behaviour based interviewing as a means of recruitment, on the basis that past behaviour is a good indicator of future behaviour. And they probably know the type of questions you will ask them about time management and organisational skills for example. Values based recruitment uses the tools of behaviour based interviewing, and applies it to the firm’s values.

Interview format

All interviews should follow a similar format:
  • Establishing rapport by introductions and general pleasantries
  • General questions based on the candidate’s CV
  • Particular values based questions
  • Candidate to ask questions
  • Conclusion, including confirmation of next steps
If you are interviewing several candidates, don't forget to use a documented questionnaire with ratings for each question, so that you can compare the candidates objectively.

Once you have settled on your introductory questions, think about the role you are filling, and how the values of your firm could impact on that role. Let’s say, for example, that you are recruiting for a lawyer with four years post admission experience, with a view to promotion to Senior Associate, in a commercial litigation focused role, and your firm’s values are:

  • Excellence
  • Teamwork
  • Innovation
  • Commercial.
Your values based questions will be set around these values, and target associated behaviour very specifically.  Each set of questions for each value will have a main question, follow-up probing questions, and key things you are looking for on your assessment sheet. Space does not permit a full interview question sheet; however the following will give you a good guide based on one question for each value:

 Value Sample Question  Probing Questions Assessment 
 Excellence Tell me about a matter that required more than the usual attention to detail and focus to ensure a quality outcome.
How did you maintain focus? 
Were any changes to your work style required? 
Did you have to manage any difficult personalities?
Ability to recognise own limitations.
Ability to focus on end result. 
Ability to lead a team to get result
 Teamwork Tell me about a time when someone else neglected or failed to deliver on their work commitments and it had a negative impact on you.
What did you learn? 
How did you resolve it? 
Did you have to change your innate management style? 
Recognition of different work styles. Resilience. Learning from situations. Ability to have a difficult conversation in a constructive way 
 Innovation Tell me about a time you had to come up with a new way of solving a complex problem – legal or administrative.
Can you describe your approach? 
What was the outcome? 
Could this be adapted more generally in the practice? 
Ability to look at issues from a different perspective. 
Ability to think differently. 
Ability to solve problems quickly. 
 Commercial Tell me about a time you solved a client problem in a pragmatic , commercial way rather than a purely legal one
What was the result? 
What did you learn? 
How did you come to this conclusion? 
Did you have to ‘sell’ this result to the client or your supervisor? 
Putting client’s needs first. 
Assessing acceptable risk.
Thinking laterally. 
Managing up 

There are many more examples of this and you can create your own interview questions and assessment criteria. Still prepare your interview questions about technical legal expertise and general ability, but think about your firm values and what you hope to find in a candidate that reflects those values and prepare your questions accordingly.

Remember – taking a bit of extra time in preparing yourself for the interview and assessment process will result in recruiting the right person which will ultimately save time and money.

Editor's Note

The empire group have partnered with ALPMA to support the 2016 Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey in Australia, while McLeod Duminy are supporting this survey in New Zealand. Participation is free and now open to all law firms in Australia and New Zealand. Participants receive the comprehensive report, benchmarking salaries for more than 60 roles at law firms, for free (normally $550 for ALPMA members or $2,200 for non-members). The survey closes on April 10. For more information about how to participate in the survey click here.

About our Guest Blogger

Michelle Sneesby
Michelle Sneesby has had an impressive career in the recruitment industry that spans more than 25 years. Michelle founded empire careers in June 2009, with a vision that empire careers would be a leading, consultative service for clients in legal executive, legal support and corporate support and executive recruitment across a multitude of industries - permanent, temporary and contract.

Growing from a single office in Brisbane in 2009, empire careers has now expanded to include offices in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth recruitment markets.

Outsourcing isn't the only way that law firm are reducing their cost base

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

By Marc Totaro, National Manager - Professional Services, Commonwealth Bank

It isn’t in the culture of law firms to let staff go during lean times. Australian law firms are embracing global trends to lower their cost base by other means.

The biggest component of a law firm’s cost base tends to be its staff, giving rise to a high fixed cost base. CommBank’s latest Legal Market Pulse examines the strategies that the legal profession is using to reduce its cost base without reducing headcount.

Outsourcing back-office functions

Outsourcing back-office functions is well established among top-tier law firms with 44% of the largest law firms doing this over the last 12 months.

More noteworthy is the increased propensity of mid-tier firms to outsource back-office functions. Over the last 12 months 34% of these firms outsourced back-office functions compared with just 9% in the March 2015 survey.

Office functions too

To a lesser extent, law firms are outsourcing a portion of front-office work to lower cost locations. The top-tier firms, those largest by revenue and employee numbers, are the most advanced here because they’re more exposed to global trends.

That said, the proportion of firms sending work to other locations has fallen since the March 2015 survey. Back then 50% of the top-tier firms moved office functions to lower cost locations in the preceding 12 months but that has dropped sharply to just 22%. Among mid-tier firms the percentage eased from 17% to 14%.

Variable cost models

Alternatively, some firms are setting up a parallel brand that only hires contractors, giving it a variable cost base.

Corr Chambers Westgarth was the first to take this path in Australia, launching its Orbit business in December 2014. Queensland-based McInnes Wilson Lawyers soon followed with lexvoco.

Equity partners moving

Given the trend to outsourcing back-office functions, it isn’t surprising that the headcount of secretarial, administrative and shared service staff is falling at top- and mid-tier firms alike.

Instead they’re increasing the number of senior and junior lawyers, as well as paralegals.

An interesting difference between the two groups is that the largest firms are reducing the number of equity partners while mid-tier firms are taking on more of them. Arguably there’s a net drain of equity partners from the top-tier firms to the mid-tier.

About our Guest Blogger 

Mark Totaro

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.


  Subscribe to receive posts as email

Recent Posts



Australian Corporate Partners

Leading Your Firm Program - Major Partners

Principal Summit Partner

Thought Leadership Awards Partner