A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

The firm of the future is in fact the firm of now

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

By Matthew Burgess, Director, View Legal

The evidence has been collected.

The submissions have been heard.

Judgment has been handed down - the incumbent law firm business model is broken.

The great lawyer bubble

One of the first people to starkly address the fundamental problems at the heart of the legal profession was Stephen Harper and his book 'The Lawyer Bubble'.

The book details why the legal profession, similar to most other professions, will struggle in the short term to reinvent core aspects of their business model, particularly in relation to time billing, in the short term.

While a myriad of reasons are provided, perhaps the most compelling is the fact that universities across the western world have become factories for producing professional service firm graduates, who specialise in the areas rewarded by time billing such as:

  • long hours;
  • rote learning;
  • technology adverse; and
  • engrained arrogance, particularly in relation to solutions that undermine the traditional personalised bespoke service offering (such as alternative business models, offshoring, outsourcing and automation).

Catalysts for change

Harper argues that any change to the 'BigLaw' business model from within the profession will require the university system to start rewarding students who are able to demonstrate more innovative attributes than those outlined above.

Just as importantly, the owners of the incumbent firms must themselves create a demand for this style of graduate.

Another leading thinker, Clayton Christensen (in The Innovator's Dilemma), predicts that the prospect of the incumbent firms having the vision to truly cannibalise their existing business model is at best remote.

Maister still matters

While much of Harper’s work was ground-breaking at the time, the framework for many of the answers to what law firms should be doing right now to re-engineer their businesses was provided a generation ago by another US consultant, David Maister.

Maister categorised the delivery of all professional services, including the law, into four broad categories, each of which has the prospect of being highly profitable.

The price is right

The price sensitivity goes from least to most through the following four components:

  • unique services (or as Maister describes them ‘brain surgery’);
  • experiential services (or as Maister describes them ‘physiotherapy’);
  • brand name services (or as Maister describes them ‘nursing’); and
  • commodity services (or as Maister describes them ‘chemist’).

Arguably, due to the internet, there are two further categories further down the value chain:

  • wholesale; and
  • online, with product produced only on demand.

Ultimately, the internet has increased the rate at which all technology disruption has historically taken place.

What the winners do

Winning firms understand that success ultimately depends on being:

  • differentiated or unique;
  • of demonstrable value; and
  • delivered in a way that is difficult to replicate.
Sustaining innovation is ultimately just as important as any disruptive one; the challenge is that both types require different visions, metrics and practices.

The disruptive business model requires funding, resource allocation and working environments that are significantly different from those of the traditional firm.

History doesn’t repeat; although it does rhyme

History shows the vast majority of traditional firms are unable to allocate resources away from the primary revenue source, because of their focus on short-term profitability and the need to avoid any perception that there is a 'cannibalising' of the core business model.

The key to a sustainable and successful business model is being self aware enough to know that unless they cannibalise their existing lines of revenue, competitors certainly will. Further, those competitors will have complete disregard for the ongoing profitability of the incumbent firms.

Primarily due to the embedded restraints of being a start up, innovative firms find ways to:

  • monetise ideas quickly;
  • minimise upfront cash expenses;
  • understand that a product in market is always better than a delay to launch in order to ensure the quality is better - in other words, if you are not embarrassed by version 1 of the solution, you have launched too late;
  • recycle and reuse what they have immediate access to; and
  • understand that everything can look like a failure during the 'middle part'.

What will the changes look like?

To give some insight to what we believe a ‘firm of the future now' looks like, 10 examples from our business are listed below – five that we have abandoned and five that we have embraced.

Five things abandoned

  • Timesheets – with timesheets, all we ever focused on was what was chargeable – without timesheets, we now focus on what is valuable.
  • No leave policies – leave policies are a hangover from the industrial age – it is time to move on.
  • No individual budgets – while we certainly have team goals, these are never broken down into individual monetary targets. Our targets are aligned around our performance in the eyes of customers. If we get those right, everything else flows (including money).
  • No performance reviews – again, a very poor hangover from the industrial age.
  • No diversity goals – seeking to mandate minimum percentages of certain genders, cultures, religious beliefs or sexuality disguise much bigger problems with the underlying business model.

Five features embraced

  • Guaranteed fixed pricing – the definition of a competent service provider is someone who can devise a scope of work and provide an upfront fixed price that they are willing to refund in full if the customer is not satisfied with the performance.
  • ROWE – if you do not know what this is, Google it or click here and join the movement.
  • Solution choreographed teams – we work with whomever and on whatever terms are best to achieve the client’s objectives.

  • AAR – again, if you do not know what it is, Google it or click here, and embed it into your business today.

  • Diversity of thought – when two people in business are constantly of the same opinion, one is irrelevant. Raise diversity in every sense of the word and arbitrary politically correct percentages become irrelevant.

Editor's Note

Interested in learning more? Matthew Burgess is a keynote speaker at the 2016 ALPMA Summit, 'A Blueprint for Change' which will be held at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne from 7 - 9 September.  Matthew's presentation will deconstruct why the 'Firm of the Future' concept is gaining such traction and provide an insiders account of how to create a true firm of the future someone who has twice in the last 5 years re-written the professional services firm rule book. 

Register now for fantastic early bird savings!

About our Guest Blogger

Matthew BurgessMatthew Burgess founded what is regarded as Australia’s first virtual law firm and more recently arguably Australia’s most innovative legal solutions platform (the law firm named View Legal).

Having been a partner and lawyer of one of Australia’s leading independent law firms for over 17 years, View was established in mid 2014 and has from this time been actively disrupting the traditional law firm model.

Matthew regularly consults to other professional service providers on business model innovation, with his business book ‘The Dream Enabler’ a key foundation to this offering.

A World of Change Management for Law Firm Leaders

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

By Steve Wingert, Principal, Nesso Strategies

John Kotter, a professor at Harvard University in the United States, noted that up to 70% of change initiatives do not achieve the planned results. This suggests a poor return on investment. And if your experience is similar to mine, law firms struggle mightily with change leadership and change management.

Our world is one of change. Some good, some not so good. Consider what law firms continue to experience:

  • Increased competition as new entrants appear in the market, and Big Law gets bigger
  • Mergers and lateral movement at many firms
  • Decreased or flattened demand for legal services
  • Greater expectations from clients for value relative to cost
  • Bidding wars for work and challenges to price legal services
  • Technological and digital advances at astonishing speed
  • Data security pressures
  • Social change as we now have five generations in the work place

A 2015 study of U.S. businesses and technology by McKinnsey & Company found 69% of the tasks paralegals and legal assistants perform can be automated using existing technologies, while 26% of attorney tasks can be automated. Is there any reason to believe these figures would differ greatly in the Australian legal market? And while many legal tasks are now “automated,” has the integration of people-process-technology truly achieved the efficiency and savings projected? So how do firms prepare to leverage these change opportunities and prepare for the shifts needed to maintain and protect margins, and potentially create competitive advantage?

Change often seems rational and straightforward until an initiative is launched, at which time organizational behavior tells us differently. I often ask participants in my programs about the typical response of their firm’s attorneys and staff to a change initiative, and terms they share include fear, resistance, anger, conflict, distrust and sadness. Clearly these suggest change is emotional, not just rational. Poorly planned change can lead to lack of trust, disengagement and turnover, plus time and effort invested and wasted. Each of these directly affects profitability and undermines the return on investment sought through change.

Are there methodologies we can use to mitigate resistance to change? Absolutely. Leadership and management focused on change are now essential, along with the knowledge and skill to shape and leverage organizational behavior through effective engagement, collaboration and culture development, laser sharp strategy formulation and implementation, the ability to be more agile and innovative, and thoughtful execution. The organizations and firms which we lead and manage require constant diligence to anticipate, recognize and respond to change in a timely and an efficient manner. How do we do this, and do it well?

At the heart of successful change is leadership and management of the goals and process. This requires leaders to engage in self-awareness of their motivations, behaviors, strengths and weaknesses as a leader, and to develop a greater understanding of the drivers and process of change. With this knowledge and skill, leaders will be better positioned to build guiding coalitions and create vision fundamental to the foundation of a change initiative. Embedded in this process is the necessity of collaboration, engagement and buy-in through communication, empowerment and short-term wins, with the long term vision in mind.

Leaders and managers who invest in their knowledge and skills, can be agents of successful change. It requires time and effort, but given what we know about the cost of failed change, it seems a worthy investment, and one law firm leaders cannot afford to take for granted.

Editor's Note

Steve Wingert is an international keynote presenter at the 2016 ALPMA Summit ‘A Blueprint for Change’, held from 7-9 September at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. Check out the full Summit program and take advantage of the early bird savings by registering now!

Steve is also leading an optional half-day Pre-Summit Masterclass Workshop ‘A Process for Change and the Leader's Role’ on Wednesday 7 September that designed to help you become a skilled leader of change at your law firm. You do not have to be attending Summit to attend to this workshop. The workshop costs $395 for ALPMA members or $495 for eligible non-members. Places for these workshops are strictly limited so register now!

About our Guest Blogger

Steve WingertSteve Wingert, CLM, is a 20 year veteran of law firm administration, past president of the Association of Legal Administrators, principal of Nesso Strategies, and co-founder of the Legal Leadership Institute. Steve works with law firms and non-profit associations on leadership and management challenges, including strategic planning, change management, process improvement, client service, succession planning, and team development. He develops leadership talent, assesses needs and issues, and facilitates collaborative and successful solutions. Steve holds a BA in psychology from Creighton University, a MA in human resources management from Truman State University, an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, and is currently working on doctorate (Ed.D.) in interdisciplinary leadership at Creighton University.

Delivering Law as a Service

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

By Denise Farmer, Executive Manager, Legal Software Solutions, Small Law, LexisNexis

‘Software as a Service’, or on-demand web-based software, is a term that most of us have heard of –and have most probably used – it also often cited as the future model of software delivery to business and customers. Entire sectors of software vendors and advisers have had to invest in migrating to delivery through this channel or risk the fate of the ‘Kodak moment’ and fade into oblivion.

The transformation of the Australian marketplace and client expectations is affecting the legal sector and its service model in a similar manner. This does not mean that firms must all migrate to delivering legal services via a subscription, cloud-based, web platform on-demand (unless that works for their clients). Firms should however adopt a new mindset that not only seeks to deliver expert legal advice, but also considers how this service should be delivered to meet client’s expectations.

When you begin to think of the practice of law as a service, you open up the opportunity to review and transform how you deliver that service in a more efficient, more engaging way.

Learning from other sectors

Continuing your businesses relevance and maintaining client relationships in today’s rapidly changing environment is a challenge common to all service providers, not just legal practitioners.

Understanding that other sectors are also dealing with more demanding clients, tight budgets, and increased time and workload pressure means there are also answers and examples outside of the profession.

For example, the accounting industry both here and abroad has shifted very successfully from the mousy number-cruncher to a highly valued business advisor, taking with it a number of legal services on the way to provide a more holistic service to their clients.

Looking outside your own industry for potential business strategies, learnings and support can be very powerful and productive.


  • In an age of continual improvement, it is imperative to self-review where you are delivering to your clients and where you can improve.
  • Where is the ‘glue’ in your business relationship? How can you improve that?
  • Where can you broaden your service? Add more value?
  • Are you delivering your service to clients in the best way possible for them?
  • Do you know how your clients feel about your service delivery?
  • Where are the gaps in your offering and how can you address these?

Thought Leaders

We have certainly seen this mind-shift from the NewLaw firms as evidenced by the innovative work presented by the finalists at last year’s ALPMA Thought Leadership Awards: LegalVision, RMB Lawyers, The Conveyancing Shop and LawLab.

It is time for the whole industry to step up and embrace their service status, or risk getting left behind.

Editor's Note


If your firm is doing something a little bit different, then get some well-deserved recognition and nominate your innovative project for an ALPMA/LexisNexis Australasian Legal Industry Thought Leadership Award. Nominations are open until 11 July, 2016. The winners will be announced on Thursday 8 September at the Gala Dinner for the 2016 ALPMA Summit, held at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne. Nominate your innovative project now!

About our Guest Blogger

Denise Farmer

Denise Farmer is the Executive Manager Legal Software Solutions for Small Law (APAC) at LexisNexis based in Sydney. Denise is passionate about helping small law firms to harness legal technology, and leads a commercial portfolio of practice management solutions for small law firms in Australia and New Zealand. Previously Denise spent 6 years as the Head of Strategy for LexisNexis Pacific driving strategy and portfolio across the region. Denise has over 20 years’ international experience working closely with customers to bring products and solutions to market in the US, Caribbean, UK and Asia Pacific.

How much manual processes could be costing your firm

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

By James Boocock, General Manager - Legal Solutions and Small Law, Thomson Reuters

Old habits are hard to break. When you’re used to running your practice with tried and trusted manual processes, having to learn new digital methods seems like extra work you don’t need. But doing so can help your firm save money, stay competitive and up its productivity.

A study conducted by Thomson Reuters revealed that law firms could be wasting hundreds of hours each year by relying on manual processes for day-to-day tasks, such as legal research (38 per cent), tracking billable time (37 per cent) and document management (31 per cent). These outdated processes are costly in both time and money –  the Thomson Reuters survey found that manual timekeeping inaccuracies can cause major billable time losses.

Manual processes also tend to result in lower productivity, increased error rates and even legal risk. So what can your firm do to change the way it works and gain a competitive edge?

Go paperless

Law firms have a long tradition of paperwork, which involves hours of carefully filing documents and more hours spent trying to retrieve them. The ‘paperless office’ revolution seems to have passed law firms by, with 80 per cent still printing some or all of their documents, and 79 per cent using mainly hard copies when exchanging documents.

Digital documents are much easier and cheaper to store and retrieve, and can be backed up to more than one location, making them safe from hazards like fire and flood. According to research by CommBank, 58 per cent of law firms are investing in document automation, and 42 per cent have adopted e-Discovery software.

Using the cloud

Going paperless also helps you adopt another time-saving technology: the cloud. This enables practitioners to access research and other important documents from anywhere, making it much easier for legal teams to collaborate while on the go.

The cloud enables flexibility and mobility – factors that are becoming increasingly important to attract and retain talent, with 38 per cent of legal professionals now working remotely at least one day a week.

Lawyers are frequently outside the office, attending court or client meetings, and mobility enables them to stay productive while away from their desks. It’s no wonder that mobility is being adopted by law firms, with 61 per cent embracing mobile solutions, according to the same research by CommBank.

Automating tasks

Automation can be a major time-saver. It’s not only about the time originally spent on manual processes, but also the time spent checking and correcting errors.

Auto-tracking billable hours can make a significant difference. Among professionals who manually track billable time, 56 per cent report underestimating their hours, compared to just 18 per cent of those who automate the process. Half of firms also underestimate recharge costs by an average of a quarter.

While processes like legal research can never be fully automated – proper research requires the expertise and judgement of a law professional to carry out – using online or digital research tools (versus doing paper research) can help save time and allow for more productivity in the firm.

Overall, automated processes could save up to 50 per cent of time spent in workflow management, legal research and document production, and 25 per cent of time spent tracking billable time, client cost ledger and document management.

Investing in new technology can provide rapid and significant results. CommBank’s 2014 Accounting Market Pulse study reported that 76 per cent of accounting firms saw a return on investment from new technology, with 29 per cent enjoying a “high return”.

While switching to online solutions from a paper-based environment can prove challenging at first, it is a necessity in today’s digital savvy world. In the long run, upgrading your firm’s manual processes can save valuable billable hours while making your business much more agile, efficient and competitive.

Editor's note

ALPMA Sumit 2016

Thomson Reuters are a major partner for ALPMA’s Leading Your Firm program and the Technology Partner for the 2016 ALPMA Summit ‘A Blueprint for Change, which will be held from from 7 – 9 September at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne. Check out the inspiring Summit program and register now!

About our Guest Blogger

James Boocock
James Boocock is General Manager - Legal Solutions and Small Firms at Thomson Reuters. He has been serving the legal community in the UK, Belgium and Australia over the last 14 years, across traditional legal and trade mark practice areas.

James understands the challenges, the novel ways the market has adapted to commoditisation and other competitive pressures. He has a wealth of knowledge across product development, technology operations and creating innovative environments to drive change within legal firms through practice management solutions. James is intimately familiar with traditional information business models and has significant experience in the changing landscape of the global legal profession in particular in the UK and USA as well as Australia.

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

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