A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

7 strategies for building a high performance culture

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

By Fiona Crawford, GM Human Resources, InfoTrack



‘High performance’ gets thrown around a lot these days as a new buzz word, but few businesses know what it is or how to define it. Everyone seems to be striving for it but many find it hard to articulate what exactly it means for their business. It is not as complicated as it seems – here are some simple steps to cultivate a high performance culture in your firm.

Define what high performance means for your business


High performance is something that should have a unique definition for every firm. What are your firm’s values and how do you expect your employees to fulfil them? What do you want to drive and motivate your employees? How will you define their success? Take the time to map this out – what are the characteristics you would expect from a high performance employee at your firm?

At InfoTrack, we have developed an employee value proposition defined by ‘effort over obligation’ – we expect our employees to come into work with a motivation and effort that overshadows any feeling of obligation. If employees are thinking about obligation, they’re missing out on opportunity - we are always thinking about opportunity and where it can next come from. We don’t dwell on what we are obliged to do and that’s why our workforce is brimming with ideas and innovation, and opportunities never pass us by.

Recruit the right people

Once you’ve defined what high performance means to you, you need to recruit the right people. A robust recruitment process should include clearly defined roles and expectations and be run by someone who understands your firm and its values. It should include multiple interviews with different people within your firm, and interviews should be designed to screen for high performance indicators that you are looking for. At InfoTrack, myself and our CEO take time to interview as many potential candidates as we can because we understand how important it is to our business to hire the right people.

Be transparent about your strategy

Being transparent about your firm’s strategy and goals helps foster a sense of trust and mutual understanding. The more employees understand what you’re working towards, the more enthusiastic and involved they will be. When employees can clearly see how their work is adding to the end goals of the firm as a whole they have a greater sense of purpose. At InfoTrack we have companywide update each 4 months to detail our new strategy to our employees across Australia so everyone knows what part they’re playing to reach our goals.

Don’t underestimate the importance of succession planning

Succession planning is key - be open and honest about opportunities for growth and ensure that you speak to employees about their careers and where they see themselves in the future. The clearer vision an employee has about the future of your firm and their place in it, the more dedicated and motivated they will be. It’s important to ensure there are no single points of failure to keep a business running at top performance.

Track employee engagement

Engagement occurs when employees feel an emotional connection to your firm and its goals. Employees essentially want three things; a meaningful vision of the future, a sense of purpose and great relationships. The more engaged employees feel, the more productive they are, the better service they provide and the longer they stay in their jobs. Engagement fosters a collaborative, empowered, innovative, productive and overall positive environment.

There are a number of ways to track engagement – ensuring open communication with employees along with regular reviews and opportunities for feedback is key. Having a formal system in place such as employee engagement surveys helps to hold you accountable and creates a measuring stick. Employees will appreciate the opportunity to give feedback and will feel that they are being listened to.

Seek out diversity

Diversity should be seen as a necessity in any modern firm. Employing people with a wide range of backgrounds brings a unique mix of talents, perspectives and experiences to your workforce. Having a variety of different viewpoints challenges people to think outside the box and encourages creativity and innovation. Diversity helps to ensure your firm will continue to evolve and can be a significant differentiator in today’s competitive market. It can not only help attract and retain the right employees, but also the right clients.

Recognise achievements

The power of reward and recognition should never be underestimated. Achievements of all kinds should be celebrated, from individual milestones to team and firm-wide efforts. Whether it’s a work anniversary or winning a big case, make sure employees feel acknowledged and appreciated. This doesn’t mean you have to break out the cake for every achievement, sometimes a thoughtful email will do and other times a real celebration will be in order –just make sure you take the time give kudos when they’re due.

Always remember that your employees are your most important asset; they are the face of your firm, they are the ones interacting with your clients every day and they will define your firm’s future. A high performing firm requires a high performance workforce.


About our Guest Blogger


Fiona Crawford
Fiona Crawford is GM of Human Resources at InfoTrack, proud principal partner of the 2016 ALPMA Legal Management Summit.

Fiona has been driving the strategic people agenda to keep pace with the growth at InfoTrack since September 2015. InfoTrack recently won an Australian Business Award for Employer of Choice 2016, and has also been among the Best Places to Work in Australia for 3 years running.

Fiona has a wide range of experience with over 15 years’ human resources, training and coaching across a range of industries including sport, fitness, finance, hospitality and automotive. She has operated her own HR consulting business and worked on start-up HR functions, transformational cultural change programs, mergers and acquisitions, and strategic and operational HR initiatives. Her uncompromising commitment to high performance and continual improvement stems from her sporting background - a two-time medal winning Olympian in softball (Silver 2004 and Bronze 2000).


ALPMA Member Q and A with Jane Ritchard, Finance Director - Wotton+Kearney

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In this ALPMA Member Q&A, we interview Jane Ritchard, the Finance Director at Wotton + Kearney, ALPMA NSW Chair and recently appointed ALPMA Board Member about her inspiration, career development and experience as a leader in the NSW legal industry.

1.       What has inspired you this year?

Fortunately there have been a few things that have inspired me both professionally and personally this year.  It actually feels like it's been a particularly tough year for many; I've heard quite a few people saying they are looking forward to this year finishing and hoping 2017 will be a better one.  

Professionally, my biggest inspiration this year has been watching the firm continue to grow and mature.  It's been great to be part of a management team that is helping guide the firm through its journey of development and change.  We turn fifteen early next year, which is a great milestone.   The firm is always looking for ways to improve and innovate.

The corporate social responsibility programme at Wotton + Kearney is a real source of inspiration for me.  We choose a new charity to support and partner with every year.  This year it's been So They Can.  They do amazing work in Africa; providing education and housing to try to break the poverty cycle.  There were some great fund raising events during the year, including some of the team going to Kenya to see the programmes on the ground and to run a half marathon in the Masai Mara.  We're partnering with OzHarvest in 2017 which I'm very much looking forward to.  The concept of reusing perfectly good food (that would otherwise have found itself in landfill) for people in need, is so elegantly simple and effective.

On a somewhat micro level and specifically in my area of the business, I'm excited about going paperless in our accounts payable process.  It might not sound like a big thing, but will make a huge difference both to my team and the wider business.  We'll be able to process accounts payable invoices more quickly - without printing anything out and have approval done through online workflows.  That means there won't be any more lost bits of paper, we won't have to file paper invoices and we won't have to archive them and pay for storage for seven years.  

Personally, I've been inspired by the amazing Australian track cyclist Anna Meares.  She announced her retirement a little while ago, after an extraordinary career as our most successful cyclist.  Anna came back from a potentially life threatening accident in a race in 2008.  She went on to win more medals and set more records.  What an awesome role model.

 2.       How did you become the Finance Director at Wotton+Kearney?


Interestingly it was through ALPMA!  I was approached about the position by a colleague that I knew through the NSW committee.  So many roles at this level are filled through network contacts, rather than through more traditional recruitment channels.  

3.       What do you think is the biggest issue facing senior finance professionals in law 

I think the biggest issue we face is keeping up with the pace of technological change.  We need to make sure that we have the best technology; to ensure our finance teams can give fast, reliable and relevant information to the business.  That includes practice management, business intelligence and other ancillary systems (such as expense management, budgeting and accounts payable systems).  We have to make sure that our systems allow everyone in the business to perform the financial aspects of their roles with the least amount of effort.   It can be challenging to build the business case that asks for the commitment of time and resources to implement new or upgraded software.  We are all competing with our IT, HR and BD colleagues for finite funds allocated to technological investment.

It can also be interesting trying to work out what is best for our firms.  We all have subtly different businesses, so what may work really well for one firm, might not be the best for our firms.   Then, once we've worked out what we need, it's important to set up the best resourcing for the project team.  It's very rare to find anyone with much excess capacity in a finance team; so it becomes a juggling act to keep the wheels turning on normal operations whilst an implementation is underway.

4.       What do you think the big challenge for law firms will be in 2017?

For a long time we've been hearing that the ball is firmly in our clients' court when it comes to the provision of legal services.  I think that's certainly the case and I can't see that changing in the short term.  Our clients are becoming more sophisticated in the way they  run their procurement processes and are demanding more for less.  Coming up with appropriate fee arrangements continues to challenge our ingenuity. It's also difficult trying to work out where the next possible disruption may come from.  Sometimes we won't know what it looks like until it's here, so it's tricky to plan for that kind of eventuality.  The challenge is to stay nimble; to be able to respond quickly to threats to our business models.

5.       How has your ALPMA membership contributed to your professional development?


Being an ALPMA member has made my life as a finance professional in the legal industry so much easier.  It has contributed to my professional development in so many ways.  Initially, it provided me with great networking opportunities; giving me access to people who could answer the questions I had about how things worked in law from a financial perspective.  Once I was settled in, I went to the regular lunch time practice management seminars and the annual Summit which helped me learn more about the legal industry as a whole.  I've developed a deeper understanding about the HR, IT and BD aspects of our industry along the way.  It's been great to be able to give back to the ALPMA community by being involved with both the NSW committee and more recently the ALPMA Board.

Editor's Note


Watch the video learn more about Jane's experiences as an ALPMA member.  

If you are inspired by Jane's story and are considering joining the ALPMA community, now is a great time to get on-board.  From 1 December, membership until 30 June, 2017 is just $250 (ex GST) if are a law firm leader or manager working in an Australian capital city - even less if you are based in a region, live in New Zealand or your firm supports multiple members.  

Learn more about becoming a member.  


About our Guest Blogger

Jane RitchardJane Ritchard has nearly 30 years’ experience as an accounting professional. Jane is the Finance Director at Wotton + Kearney, a specialist insurance law firm.  She has also worked in senior finance roles at Curwood Lawyers and Clayton Utz. 

Prior to this, when not travelling, working in the UK or doing contract work, Jane spent 12 years working on and off at Deloitte, progressing from office junior to auditor, to small business practitioner and then to internal finance manager and consultant. 

She is member of the ALPMA Board and Chair of the ALPMA NSW Committee. 






Championing incremental change at law firms

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

By Anthony Bleasdale, Managing Director, BigHand


Never more than so right now have law firms been challenged to not repeat the mistakes of the past, to change at light speed and to adopt “innovative” approaches to ensure you stay relevant for current and future clients. The recent ALPMA Summit was full of ideas for firms keen to develop an effective blueprint for working smarter. Here are the key take-ways I took from Summit as a leader of a legal industry technology vendor and major Summit partner:

Change is hard – but inevitable


As Summit co-MC and CE0 of Coleman Greig, Warrick McLean said recently “driving change at law firms is hard for many reasons – but it is something that law firm leaders must excel at in order to ensure their firms remain competitive in a rapidly evolving legal landscape”. 

Law firms can be excused for not wanting to change, as it requires a step that maybe uncomfortable and resisted internally. Yet firms have to find ways to continue to prosper within an environment that is in a constant state of flux, facing an invasion (welcomed or not) of global firms and customers that are challenging law firms small, medium or large to think differently or be replaced. You only have to read the ALPMA/InfoTrack research on the changing legal landscape to see that most firms are embarked or embarking on a broad range of change initiatives.

Successful change can be incremental or transformational


Many speakers talked about change being a journey of many steps, and encouraged firms to get started with small projects utilising proven technology to make incremental improvements. These kinds of projects (like an implementation of voice recognition software!), well-executed, can build positive momentum for the next step in the journey. 
 
Quality vendors will be able to share insights on how you can improve your productivity, leveraging their legal industry expertise and experience to deliver great returns – without (necessarily) having to spend a fortune. My colleague, James Bible, wrote an article back in August on some thoughts to consider when running an innovation project.

Other speakers talked about joining with their clients to develop new, more collaborative ways of working and innovative ways of delivering legal service and advice tailored to their customer needs.

Don’t be afraid to fail


BigHand is lucky to be an organisation that is agile and responsive. Our clients and prospects often provide us with great ideas that lead to new product development. Not all of these see the light of day – but we don’t let this make us afraid to experiment. The same is true for law firms. You must be willing to fail along your way to success. As the old saying goes “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!’. 

The All Blacks rugby team failed in 2007 and vowed to make incremental change at the next World cup. Nine years on, they have lost but a handful of times, won two World Cups and have become the benchmark for change as an incremental journey, not a huge crash bang wallop!

Draw inspiration from others


Finally, draw inspiration from others. If you get a chance to hear Catherine McGregor speak (as she did at Summit), then go out of your way to hear her story. Never have I been so engaged by a key note speaker at any event! Catherine shared her compelling personal narrative of gender transition in a traditionally masculine realm – the Australian Defence Force. Hearing her talk about how she successfully navigated the challenges to make this change was both insightful and inspiring for those of us contemplating change much less transformative at our companies.


Editor's Note

Summit on Demand

Need some inspiration to help you drive change at your firm? Then watch the keynote presentations from the 2016 ALPMA Summit on-demand. Most sessions are now available to watch from the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre from $49.50 (incl GST), thanks to the generous support of BigHand, our Summit Live & On-Demand Partner.


About our Guest Blogger

Tony Bleasdale
Tony Bleasdale has a long history in the legal sector, working for a number of leading law firms, and for a range of vendors, most recently joining BigHand as Managing Director, Asia Pacific. He is passionate about driving innovation at law firms through knowledge management and process improvement through technology and working with firms to break down the barriers to achieve their objectives.

Tony also has a long involvement with ALPMA, having served as an ALPMA President, National Board and NSW Committee member.




Collegiate culture: the Holy Grail for effective law firm cross-selling

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

By Alistair Marshall, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates


Throughout my nearly 30-year career in business development, it’s been undisputed that it is far easier (and much, much cheaper) to get revenue from clients who already know, like and trust you, than from strangers.

Cross-selling your services has a low cost of acquisition, and can deliver high returns. So why is it that only 20% of law firms track this key activity? This is what JMA’s recent research with ALPMA into referrals and cross selling revealed.

Firms have many opportunities to pick this low hanging fruit, but cross-selling remains a very under-used tactic to generate new business. Few law firms service clients across more than two practice areas, our research shows, so the potential for growth is huge.


Cross-selling is done, first and foremost, for the benefit of the client and therefore forms an integral part of your overall client service experience. It might be more helpful to think of it as “cross-serving”, and will no doubt require a cultural shift in some firms, and a mind-set shift for many lawyers.

Start with this in mind: your motivation should be the desire to make the life of your firm’s client easier. This will require a deep understanding of the client’s needs and wants, current challenges, objectives, long-term drivers and so on. And also your colleagues, how is what you offer of benefit to them and their clients? What problems can you help them solve?

Cross-serving is also about ring-fencing your valuable client relationships. If there are gaps in your firm’s service offerings, then your competitors will not be slow to take advantage.

I hear lawyers make excuses all the time about why they can’t – or don’t want to – cross-sell. If you can overcome the two biggest excuses, your firm will be well on the way to reaching the Holy Grail for law firm cross-selling: a collegiate culture.

Overcoming the two big excuses


Big Excuse 1: “But what’s in it for me?”

This year’s research showed that less than a third (28%) of firms reward or formally recognise lawyers for generating business via cross-selling.

Lawyers solely rewarded on their own billable hours have no incentive to cross-sell others’ capabilities, or indeed carry out any activity that is for the long-term health of the firm. Introduce reward programs to incentivise your team members and foster a collegiate culture.

Discussions around sharing “your” client with another colleague can be uncomfortable, and was identified as a barrier by research respondents who noted there tends to be a culture that the lawyer – not the firm – “owns” the client. As well as incentivising lawyers, make sure that senior lawyers are setting strong examples and acting as role models for positive behaviours by introducing their colleagues into their client relationships. Cultural change must start from the top.

Big Excuse 2: “I don’t know what my colleagues actually do”

Many lawyers in mid-sized firms have no idea who their colleagues represent, the types of legal issues they solve for them, or what types of trigger events represent a cross-selling opportunity. Practice groups often operate in silos, and there is no cross-pollination of ideas and knowledge.

One survey respondent lamented that “after a PI settlement, our client used the money to purchase a house, but didn’t use us because they didn’t realise we do conveyancing.” This is a real lost opportunity, and it could easily have been avoided in firm with a collegiate culture where these types of openings to do more for clients are not missed, but harnessed to the benefit of all as it is so obvious.

Build opportunities for lawyers to learn more about the wider firm through initiatives such as internal networking events, communicating key client wins and deals across the firm, and making cross-selling opportunities a fixed item on management and team meetings.

Organise inter-practice group meetings or informal lunches for team members to discuss who their top clients are, the types of legal work they may need, and who else from the client base they would welcome an introduction to. Many monthly partners meetings go for hours without ever having these critical discussions.

What now?


There are, of course, other barriers and challenges to improving cross-selling in your firm, a great place to start is reading the research report available for download here.


The report will help you benchmark your firm’s efforts and see what the most popular and effective cross-selling (and referral) techniques are in practice.


Another of my tips is to review the report’s comment pages – respondents share some simple and effective ideas on incentives and overcoming excuses that might be right for your firm to implement.

Editor's Note

JMA research downloadIf you want to learn more about how to generate more revenue from referrals and cross-selling at your firm, then register for the research webinar on Monday 28 November at 1pm (AEDST), where guest blogger Alistair Marshall, will discuss the most fruitful areas for firms to concentrate their referral and cross-selling efforts on and share ideas and practical tips to help you get positive behaviour change and results for your firm. Register now

You can also download the ALPMA/JMA 'Referrals and Cross-Selling in Practice' research report, read the media release and check out the  infographics summarising the results. 




About our Guest Blogger

Alistair Marshall
Alistair Marshall is a business development veteran with three decades experience in UK, Europe and since 2014 Australasia. He leads Julian Midwinter & Associates business development coaching and training practice and was ALPMA’s speaker of the year in 2015.


ALPMA and Julian Midwinter & Associates have conducted annual research benchmarking marketing and business development at Australasian law firms for the past three years. 





Prescriptive Conveyancing - The Big Red Button

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

By Chris Collinge, Partner/Director, Bytherules Conveyancing


How do you take a small six person firm located in a beautiful but relatively remote part of Queensland and turn it into a national firm? The budget is limited, the technology in its infancy and the industry still operates like it has done for many years.

That was the challenge we faced in 2011. Our first step was deciding to focus on one discipline, residential conveyancing. With that in mind we then developed a strategy for growing geographically but without having to open offices all over the country. A local presence is important in conveyancing, so we decided to build a business around experienced conveyancers working from home. We decided early on that they did not need to be licensed conveyancers. Indeed in QLD that particular qualification didn't exist anyway.

For some reason, the vast majority of conveyancers in our industry are women. Our decision to offer a work from home opportunity, along with the obvious work/life balance benefits that ensue struck a cord. We have been exceptionally lucky to recruit some highly experienced and knowledgeable conveyancers who may well have left the workforce had they not had this opportunity. With a combined 200 plus years of conveyancing experience in the business, there aren't many situations we haven't encountered. 


So, we had figured out how to grow geographically. We also had to ensure that the client received exactly the same quality of service, no matter where they lived and which conveyancer they used. As all of our conveyancers have many years experience, they all did things slightly differently. We had to make sure they not only followed the correct protocol for the jurisdiction they operated in, but we "wrapped" the service in our own unique and consistent service delivery method, with all the care and attention clients expect. All the time. No matter where they were.

Prescriptive Conveyancing


We needed prescriptive conveyancing.

This meant defining specific workflows, ensuring they were followed, and any exception automatically uplifted by the system. We split roles into administration and paralegal, and let the conveyancers focus on what they do best. This workflow based system is cloud based and everyone in the firm has the same access to the system irrespective of where they are. Compliance management forms a very big part of the system.

We were very proud that our project to develop prescriptive conveyancing was recognised as a finalist in the 2016 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards. 

We are now in 18 locations in QLD & NSW and have an aggressive growth plan that with a strategy that will be the first of its kind in Australia.

Our tagline is "impossibly easy conveyancing" and we continuously strive to make it so. In an increasingly competitive market we realise if we do not continue to innovate and invest, then we will not continue to grow.

Editor's Note


Watch the video featuring Chris discussing the objectives and challenges of this project and business, staff and customer benefits achieved from implementing this innovative project, recognised as a finalist in the 2016 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards, presented at the Gala Dinner at the 2016 ALPMA Summit in Melbourne. You can also check out videos on the innovative projects undertaken by our winner, Maddocks, and other finalists, Nexus Law Group and Hall & Wilcox.
 

About our Guest Blogger

Chris CollingeAfter moving to Sydney in 1998 Chris setup an Internet Service Provider for Businesses, a few years before broadband became available. Within a few years it had become an award winning business winning top Business ISP of the years for three years in a row, runner up in the best IT company to work for In Australia and #11 in the BTR Top100. Chris then invested in other IT related businesses until moving to Noosa in 2011 to become a partner in a local law firm, Bytherules Conveyancing Lawyers.

After working all his life in IT businesses, Chris recognised a great opportunity for a legal firm to adopt new technologies and work methods that he had applied to IT businesses in the past. Since then Chris and the management team have initiated and developed the work from home model that can only operate successfully once the IT infrastructure, processes and the right people are in place.



5 questions you should be asking your practice management platform provider

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

By Michael Vassilieff, Head of Sales, Law and Solutions, Thomson Reuters


A smart practice management platform can transform even the most disorganised law firm into a well-oiled machine. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

It’s important to explore your firm’s current systems and ask the right questions before implementing an entirely new platform. Here are five of the most important ones to help you make a decision.

Implementation: What is the timetable for installation and rollout?



Besides reviewing key features such as document management, trust and office accounting, time capture, billing, workflow and client relationship management, it pays to be clear on how the system will be implemented and rolled out across your firm.

Introducing an entirely new practice management system may seem like managing a heady and complex litigation case, but the right vendor will be able to walk you through the process and provide critical support along the way.

Important questions to ask include:

  • Can it be installed on-site or remotely?
  • Will there be any downtime?
  • Can it be customised and integrated with our current operating systems?
  • Will it fit with our practice needs and workflow?
  • How will our data be migrated and how long will it take?

Organising a planning team of lawyers or administrative staff who will use the system can help make the change smoother. This means your firm can get on without too much disruption and it will likely make for a happier team overall.

Training and support: Will you help us work through any problems with our staff?



The Law Society of New South Wales reports that a “common mistake made by law firms is their failure to commit to appropriate levels of staff training in new technology and systems”.

Their research found that only “11 per cent of small and mid-sized firms offered formalised training for newly adopted technologies. Only 17 per cent said they got the most out of their workflow and research tools and more than three-quarters claimed this impacted negatively on their time efficiency.”

Before purchasing a practice management platform, make sure you check the level of training and tech support your vendor can provide before and after implementation.

You might face a bit of resistance from staff who find the switch challenging. The best way to mitigate this is to work out a clear and comprehensive training plan that suits your firm’s approach to practice, and makes everyone feel included.


Future growth: Can we continue to use the system as we grow and build our firm?



Technology moves quickly, and you need to be confident the system can grow and evolve with the changing needs of your firm into the future. Think of it as selecting a long-term business partner rather than just a software provider.

Social proof: What do your customers think of the product?



It’s no secret that when we see other people recommending or raving about something, we’re more inclined to try it too. To marketers, it’s ‘social proof’, but it’s really just a good old customer review or testimonial.

Getting feedback from your vendor’s current customers – not just about the product, but also about their service – will help you decide if the platform and the provider are a perfect match for your firm’s requirements and operating style.


Budget: What will this cost and what solutions do you have for our firm size, type and practice area? What’s the likely ROI?



Finally, before selecting a practice management platform, make sure you understand all the costs involved, and what return you will see on your investment.

Besides checking the cost of the platform itself, make sure you also ask how the price varies for firms of different sizes and types. That way, if your firm expands in future
and offers more services, you’re not surprised by the cost of upgrading your platform. And most importantly, ask your vendor about any hidden costs.

Assessing the real-world benefits of the proposed platform will also assist with calculating ROI. For example, can you quantify how much time and effort it will save as a result of fast document production, lawyer mobility and less duplication of tasks across the board?

According to Thomson Reuters’ research, time spent manually managing a law firm rather than automating critical tasks reduces profits due to inefficient processes, poor workflow, and a waste of lawyers’ and administrative staff’s time.

The Thomson Reuters’ study also revealed that law firms relying on outdated, manual processes waste hundreds of hours each year, and manual timekeeping inaccuracies cause major billable time losses.

Asking your vendor the right questions will help you navigate these practical issues, save time and money, and start you on the right foot with your brand new system so you are ready for profitability and growth in the future.

Editor's Note


Leading Your Firm
If you would like to learn more about this topic, join us for our upcoming webinar “Choosing a Practice Management System for Your Firm” presented by Steven Tyndall and Jackie White of NextLegal on Wednesday 23 November at 1pm (AEDT). This webinar is part of ALPMA’s Leading Your Firm program, generously supported by our Major Partner, Thomson Reuters. This webinar is free for ALPMA members or $99 for eligible non-members.


About our Guest Blogger


Michael Vassilieff
Michael Vassilieff is Head of Sales – Law and Solutions at Thomson Reuters .

With experience in a variety of industries from both a sales and commercial level, Michael brings a clear and measured approach to assisting law firms gain the most from their business processes and systems to help approve efficiency through automation and use of technology. Michael has a natural passion for establishing and harbouring key executive relationships ensuring law firms are able to perform beyond their expectations.





Creating a Culture of Accountability - Rethinking Traditional Performance Reviews

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

By Trudy MacDonald, Managing Director and Founder, Talent Code HR



It’s that time of year again where many businesses are preparing for their annual performance reviews. Once considered a fundamental tool to ensure employee performance that is in line with the business’ values, direction and standards, performance reviews are now often sidelined for tasks deemed more necessary.

Time and time again I’ve heard from business owners not only their struggle to find the amount of time needed to have meaningful performance reviews, but their desire to have them in the first place. It seems that most business owners, rather than seeing them as an opportunity to have open and honest discussion with their employees, see them as stressful, costly, time consuming, and in some cases, doing more bad than good for employee morale.

But can we really afford to rule them out all together? We all know that if we want our business to be great, we need great people. The only way to ensure this is through communicating with our employees how we achieve our definition of “great”, and in what ways they can continue to grow to support that.

To maximise employee growth and performance, we first need our employees to be engaged. If we look at some of the key drivers of engagement, it becomes apparent that rather than completing dismissing the practice of performance reviews, we simply need to reshape them:

  • Role clarity – A performance review that not only reinforces the direction of the business, but the role that each employee plays in this is critical for employees to feel a sense of worth and importance to the business.

  • Feedback – We should not shy away from providing both negative and positive feedback to employees, as long as it’s constructive. Even negative feedback is far more motivating than no feedback at all, which leaves employees constantly questioning their performance.

  • Career and development – One of the biggest drivers for retention and engagement is that all employees have a sense that their skills and role within the business is continually developing. Employees that believe their career to be stagnate are the employees that most need your support, ensuring the performance review focuses around honest discussion about career objectives and potentials, and most importantly, a plan of attack to get there.

  • Values – The culture of your business is underpinned by both the values that are demonstrated and not demonstrated in practice. Ensuring a good culture is key to maximum employee performance, meaning all employees must aware of the values and behaviours expected of them.

The value of performance reviews isn’t to be dismissed, but they must be seriously reworked as we become more aware of the ways to best motivate employees and therefore enhance performance. By setting in place solid objectives and practices for performance reviews throughout the year, rather than in the weeks leading up, both employees and managers are in a better position to seek real value from the process, past simply checking boxes. Frequent informal and formal performance reviews ensure that poor performance or behaviour can be addressed before it becomes any major concern, and constantly addresses the changing nature of business and employees’ roles.


Editor's Note

Interested in learning more about this topic? Trudy MacDonald will be discussing how to build a high performance workforce, retain your high performers and high potentials and create a high performance culture that attracts great people at the upcoming NSW practice management seminar on Thursday 27 October 2016. ALPMA Members can attend this event for free, while eligible non-members can attend for $99. Register now! You will be able view this seminar on-demand from early November!


About our Guest Blogger


Trudy MacDonald
Trudy is an established business leader and human resource professional who specialises in empowering businesses to become great by maximising the performance of their people. She has the unique ability to inspire people to think differently and delivers highly engaging and passionate presentations that deliver real results to business. Trudy's career is founded on an education in Organisational Psychology and spans Australia, New Zealand, the USA and parts of Asia. She has co-founded or played a key executive role in four start-up technology and human resource consulting business, three of which have been acquired by international companies.





Artificial Intelligence trends and their impact on the legal sector

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

By James Parker, Executive Director, Legal Software Solutions,  LexisNexis


While Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not new to the legal space, only now is it starting to gain real momentum, and lawyers can expect to feel the impact as the technology promises to change the way law firms do business.

The legal sector is still in the early stages of discovering the full potential of AI; however innovative firms should take advantage of current and emerging technology if they wish to be market leaders in the industry.

What exactly is AI? 


Often called cognitive computing or machine learning, AI is computers completing tasks traditionally performed by people. One way that AI has affected the legal space is its ability to process data to find patterns, perform tests, analyse and evaluate data to produce a set of results.

The law’s framework of rules makes it ideal for applying AI systems, where computers will process those rules, enabling them to complete tasks usually performed by lawyers. In simple terms, AI technology works by applying an amount of sample data and outcomes, previously examined by a professional, to a cognitive system, which is then able to analyse large amounts of data at high speed to produce a faster and more accurate result.

The goal of AI isn’t to change the nature of legal work or replace human lawyers, but to enable lawyers to concentrate on more cognitive tasks such as developing legal arguments, instead of spending long periods of time on routine duties like drafting and reviewing documents, extensive research of case files and other un-billable tasks.

Not only does the application of artificial intelligence save time in multiple areas, it also reduces human error or fatigue. However, AI presents its own set of risks including technology or algorithm errors, and inaccurate application, which may pave the way for future changes in paralegal and associate roles and responsibilities.

As talk of AI ramps up and an increasing number of firms dabble with introducing the technology into their legal practices, the obvious question to ask is: where are we heading?

3 Key Trends for Legal AI


In 2016, there are key trends developing in the application of AI in case management across the legal space:

1. Document Reviews


Applying cognitive technologies to areas of law that require the heavy perusal of documents such as due diligence, research, investigations and compliance related works will likely increase within law firms as it offers wide-ranging benefits, including cost and time savings and increased accuracy.

AI-based predictive coding techniques allow documents to be reviewed by computers - providing the opportunity for those documents to be reviewed at a much faster rate - and with more accuracy, saving both money and time. It’s a technology that benefits firms of all sizes; allowing smaller companies to take on more sizeable cases without the burden of hiring additional staff.

In a case likely to lead to a boost in using AI for document review, using predictive coding in electronic disclosure was backed by the UK high court earlier this year, in the first contested case relating to the validity of cognitive computing. 

Predictive coding – approved in the US in 2013 - involves a set of sample documents being analysed by a lawyer. The software can then analyse and rank multiple documents at high speed while employing algorithms that learn from the previously processed data. Berwin Leighton Paisner argued that predictive coding would save costs – claiming that engaging a paralegal to complete the equivalent task would cost 2.5 times more and would be more inaccurate. The ruling followed the UK High Court’s landmark decision from February this year to officially allow the use of predictive coding in e-disclosure to automate the review process.

Australian Courts are yet to take an official position, but it’s reasonable to expect they will follow suit in endorsing the use of predictive coding given the increasing amounts of electronically stored information creating considerable challenges in cost, time and accuracy.

2. Case Predictions


More exciting for the legal industry is the potential for AI to predict the outcomes of legal disputes and proceedings. Predictions would be made via the automatic analysis of past case records using data mining and predictive analytic techniques to forecast outcomes, such as the ideal percentage at which a specific offer would lead to a settlement.

This AI application would significantly aid lawyers in the general management of cases, by enabling them to make decisions based on the likelihood of a certain outcome taking place.

AI for case predictions is already being used to some extent. For example, London firm Hodge Jones & Allen implemented a predictive model of case outcomes which assesses the viability of its personal injury caseload.

Developing the model involved the analysis of data (based on the outcomes of 600 cases over 12 months), with particular focus on the factors contributing to case outcomes, the awarded damages and costs to the firm.

Using AI in case predictions is a good example of how the combination of cognitive computing and human expertise provides an enhanced customer experience. Such AI models support better decision making in more accurately forecasting results, increasing chances of winning a case or adding confidence to legal advice.

3. Advisory Services


Another emerging trend in the potential use of AI in the legal space is its application to simple advisory services.

AI technology isn’t able to provide specific advice in relation to a particular client matter. However it can respond to simple (and common) legal questions while also providing ample supporting references, by analysing large amounts of legal documents, cases and legislations - something which would traditionally require a paralegal or trainee lawyer to invest hours, if not days, of their time, reading through text books and case reports. 

An example of AI advising is the use of legal web advisors, which uses AI software to lead the client from one question to the other via a decision tree system. The software analyses user input to classify the problem, analyse it and produce output in in the form of a problem solution.

While clients won’t receive the legal advice expected from personalised consultation, they will receive a valid level of professional direction, which may be enough for those unwilling to pay the fees required to obtain traditional legal advice.

Where do we go from here?


Artificial intelligence will not take the place of a lawyer, due to the complex nature of disputes and negotiation and the expectations of clients. AI will, however, continue to challenge traditional models of legal service delivery, to automate services, decrease costs and improve accuracy using data.

At the moment, AI’s impact is predominantly on paralegal and junior lawyer roles, whose current duties are likely to become automated over the next several years. AI’s ability to deliver better decision-making through using data for case prediction or matter analysis also adds value to the client.

Firms that are implementing AI strategies, usually through collaborations with specialist AI technology providers, are viewed as innovative and cutting-edge.

Soon, though, firms which refuse to do so will be viewed as out-dated and out-of-touch, as AI becomes the new normal in the legal sector.

About our Guest Blogger


James ParkerJames leads the Legal Software Solutions (LSS) team at LexisNexis Pacific which is responsible for delivering software solutions that improve the legal outcomes to clients, helping them to make better decisions, achieve better results, and be more productive, by combining content and data with workflow, analytics and technology, leveraging the New Lexis platform and cloud technology. James previously led the LexisNexis Practice Management group across the pacific region.

James has a wealth of experience in the technology field and prior to joining LexisNexis Pacific, held senior management roles developing and managing UK and international Customer Services. His employment history includes Head of Operations and Customer Services with LexisNexis UK, Director of IT and Support at Jacobs Rimell and Senior Manager of Customer Services EMEA for Vitria Technology.


Business development for our changing times

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

By Ryan Smyth, Business Development Manager, Coffey Group


“Looking forward, 69% of firm partners expect to see negative legal fees pressure, 38% a downturn in investment and 46% disruption from low cost law firms.”  - Macquarie 2015 Legal Benchmarking

Makes grim reading.

However, as the saying goes, "every cloud has a silver lining". In that respect, I look at changing market conditions as a huge opportunity - no matter if you are a bull or a bear. 

Change presents opportunity…period!

So how can we access this opportunity? How can we be ready? What steps should we take? When should we take them?

Hopefully your practice is performing well and there are no clouds on the horizon. 

Even if this is the case, my experience across multiple businesses and geographies is that the following basic steps provide a platform for growth (and the start of a journey), either against a declining market or to significantly outperform a bull market - if you are lucky enough to be playing in one.


Set your vision


“Vision must remain constant.” Sally Carbon - Australian Olympian


What is the collective vision for your firm that will remain constant in the face of any market, no matter how difficult or dynamic? 

Your firm must have a vision. Every staff member should know it and it should resonate with them. Your vision should give staff the confidence that, as a collective, they are working toward something bigger, something better, something more exciting than just profits! 


Investigate and baseline your firm


‘Every battle is won before it is fought.’ – Sun Tzu, Art of War

In order to get where you want to be, you need to first understand where you are and where you’ve been.

Develop a set of baseline metrics and measures to understand exactly where your business is and where it is heading. Develop specifics objectives around your future desired state for 12, 24 and 48 months from now. This forms your starting point from which all progress will be measured.


With respect to business development, baseline your sales effort. Some of the key elements you may wish to understand are:

  • Win rate
  • Cost of sale
  • Client retention
  • Forward order book, weighted, unweighted, actual, book risk
  • Run rate
  • Commission size breakdown
  • Sales governance: Are you doing account planning, territory plans, sale call summaries, do you have a CRM, are you using it? What’s working for you, what’s not?
  • What does your business development team look like? Do you have one? Do you need one?

Strategy and tactics


‘Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.’ – Sun Tzu, Art of War

Strategically, where will you get the revenue you need to meet or exceed your desired state, over the next prescribed period?

spheres of strategy
One of the challenges of a changing market is that by the time we have a considered view,  the market has changed, our revenue has most likely suffered and we are looking at 3-6 months before we can successfully and sustainable acquire new clients. Three to six months of low billables is always going to be tough to swallow. 

You can mitigate this risk by undertaking a robust strategic planning process, including scenario planning at the start of each financial year.

You should also consider also how much time you are spending on strategy. 

A few years ago I met with Gary Stockport, Professor of Strategy at UWA, who challenged me about the amount of time I had allocated to strategic planning for our business.  As a key part of my role, I was reviewing our strategy each quarter, with the inevitable push at the end of Q3 to set up for the next financial year. I did the maths and I was spending less than 40 hours per year setting the direction for the businesses I led. I now spend three hours per week, every week, off site reviewing trends and strategy planning. It is absolutely at the top of my agenda.

Equip your firm with the tools for success


"If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles." – Sun Tzu, Art of War


In the same way you would equip your team with IT, a technical library, a company car etc, you must give your firm the tools, the systems and the processes to undertake effective business development. 

This will not only give your team the ability to go and engage clients effectively but importantly it will give them the confidence to go to market, and when they have confidence, they’ll do it more and they’ll do it better. Some of the tools you may wish to think about include:

  • Account plans
  • Annual sales plans
  • Proposal capture plans
  • Sales call summaries
  • Zipper plans
  • Pursuit capture plans
  • Annual survey quality 

The nature of the tools you adopt should be uniquely bespoke to the clients you have, wish to retain and the clients you wish to acquire.

Execute with the right team


It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffet

It’s all in the deal, period.

At the risk of showing any prejudice at this point, I suggest you take a good look at your sales team or the team currently conducting your business development. 

Are they the right team to deliver on the framework you have set out, do they have the necessary, experience, capability expertise, do they have the necessary time? 

If not, now is the time to make the tough calls. In terms of business development, at the sharp end of the sales cycle what we ultimately do is binary - we either win or we lose - there is no second place. With that in mind, make sure that from the outset your team is up to the task and equipped to sell effectively. 

It takes decades to hone your legal skill, experience capability, intuition etc., and building business development and strategic capability is exactly the same. However, if you adopt perhaps some of the approaches above, your business should be in better shape and better placed to take advantage of the inevitable change that could be just around the corner.


Editor's Note

If you are interested in learning more about this critical topic, then register for ALPMA's upcoming livestream broadcast "Business Development for our Changing Times" presented by Ryan Smyth on Thursday Oct 20. You can attend the live event in Perth, or watch the livestream broadcast online.  Register now.


About our Guest Blogger

Ryan SmythRyan is a leading and highly respected consultant, with over 15 years’ international experience in senior business development roles with professional service firms. He recently held the most senior sales role with an ASX listed firm with revenues in excess of $500m and has closed deals in Australia, the Middle East, Myanmar, China, Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom.

Ryan studied strategy at the Manchester school of Business, is a frequent blogger of business development approaches and tactics, and retains an advisory capacity with a number of tech start-ups.

Ryan is passionate about the ‘right type’ of business development, from tier one giants to start-ups, with a particular interest in supporting firms through a turn around or those in recession markets.”




Forging new ground requires a commitment to technology

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

By Jacqueline Keddie, Business Manager, Nexus Law Group


Developing a business in unchartered territory can be a little daunting – there are no rules to follow, no paths that have already been forged. The success or failure of an innovative business often comes down to a commitment to investing in technology.

When Nexus Law Group was first established we knew we had a great idea. But great ideas don’t translate to success, unless you can put in place the infrastructure required to make them work. Traditional law firms have their pick of practice management software. Nexus did not.

As a dispersed (embedded contractor) law firm, cutting a path in the ‘NewLaw’ space we had to create everything from scratch. Frankly, it hasn’t been easy.

It was out of necessity that the OpenLaw system was born - a unique practice management and remuneration system that connects independent senior specialist lawyers, allowing them to work together seamlessly and operate as a unified firm, fully supported and resourced by a central office hub. This innovative initiative was recently recognised as a finalist in the 2016 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards.


To create such a system and address the challenges identified, we invested heavily in the customisation of a new, cloud-based practice management software from New Zealand, the only software available internationally that allowed for extensive practice based customisation.

The software was revised to build a silo structure that allows independent lawyers to work in isolation or together in matter based teams when needed. It also allowed the formation of group based precedents systems, knowledge banks, billing systems and customised report building.

Beauty in simplicity

The power of the OpenLaw system is beautiful in its simplicity, when you seamlessly connect a pool of independent senior skill (as opposed to a pool of leveraged employees) and deliver to the market in this fashion, not only do previously discontented lawyers become highly engaged with far better remuneration benchmarks, you have a strong platform to compete with large national firms on their own turf. At the same time, through the low overhead structure, clients benefit from a direct access model and flexibility of service and pricing options and less relative fees. 

The rapidly growing Nexus team has been working with OpenLaw for several years and in the last 12 months we have been working hard to bring OpenLaw to market. This means that other dispersed law firms don’t have to start from scratch, like we did. As the saying goes – why reinvent the wheel?!

Introducing OpenLaw to the marketplace has significant potential to shift the industry as a whole to the Nexus style of practice, which is arguably better than traditionally structured firms for both lawyers and clients on a number of levels and, for once, represents truly positive industry disruption.

A new category of legal practice


Whilst others have focused on marketing strategies masquerading as ‘NewLaw’, with the OpenLaw system, Nexus has quietly been restructuring the law firm itself, creating an entirely new category of practice for lawyers.

The fixed remuneration model of OpenLaw emulates the incentive of a partnership without the need to be in an actual (outdated) partnership structure. This unique and innovative, solution enables independent practitioners to truly operate together as a unified law firm without the competitive tension that would otherwise exist.

The structure allows otherwise disconnected expertise to come together under one service platform, allowing effective competition with traditional ‘BigLaw’ firms, and providing a real practice alternative in a market sitting between the large firm model and sole practice, combining the best aspects of both worlds without the deficiencies of either (practice freedom with large firm resources and collegiate support).

With the low overhead OpenLaw model, we connect clients directly with some of the best lawyers in the industry - at up to half the cost of engaging the same lawyers in their former traditionally structured large firms. It is, in essence, an extremely efficient specialist lawyer delivery system for corporate clientele and we believe, the best option for the practice of modern law.

We believe that unless something produces a positive evolution for all participants in the legal process, then it does not represent true innovation. With this in mind, I know that Nexus is a true innovator and an industry disrupter with a difference.

Using OpenLaw, I am proud to say that we are now operating successfully in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia, with its growth increasing exponentially across Australia.


About our Guest Blogger


Jacqueline KeddieJacqui is a Nexus Law Group’s Business Manager. Having practiced as a lawyer for many years before entering the world of legal recruitment, Jacqui is uniquely placed to understand why it is so important to help lawyers structure their career and realise their professional and personal aspirations and, hence, why alternate practice models are so critical to the profession. It was this understanding which led her to join Nexus where she now works with a wonderful team striving to make a difference within the legal industry.

Nexus Law Group has inverted the traditional law firm structure to reflect modern practice needs. It offers lawyers are more rewarding practice environment and clients a more efficient and cost effective service delivery.

Its unique OpenLaw practice model, based on cloud based software, is specifically designed to join together a collective of senior legal experts under a single, unified practice platform, enabling it to deliver high-end, specialist expertise under a ‘direct access model’. The system incentivises effective collaboration between experts, which results in better outcomes for clients.

The 2016 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards were presented at the recent ALPMA Summit Gala dinner at the Medallion Club, Etihad Stadium.



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