A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

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.

How to make your firm referral-worthy

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

By Amy Burton-Bradley, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates 

The results of ALPMA and Julian Midwinter & Associates’ marketing and business development research over the last two years are clear: the most successful and profitable law firms benefit hugely from referrals (both from individuals external to their firm, and from internal referrals or cross-selling that occurs in-firm).

Last year, 70% of respondents rated their referral relationships or networks as “highly effective” and the number one way their firm sourced new business.

JMA research

However, there’s a big difference between hoping to get some referrals and strategically planning and cultivating a successful referral program as part of a business development culture within your firm.

It’s helpful to remember of some of the referral fundamentals to stay on track.

Who do prospective clients turn to for referrals to legal services?

In the business world, referrals are typically obtained by prospective clients asking:

  • colleagues in their own firm (i.e. cross-referrals)
  • past colleagues, now in-house at other companies or firms
  • respected industry sources
  • indirect competitors considered to be at the leading edge
  • other legal experts.

And in the consumer-facing side of legal work, prospective clients mostly ask these trusted sources to recommend a lawyer:

  • family and friends
  • community sources (sporting groups, hairdressers, church parishioners)
  • other professional advisers (financial planners, accountants, doctors)
  • other service providers (mortgage brokers, real estate agents).

Understanding the 3 drivers of referrals

What causes a colleague, family member, industry contact, professional or competitor to make a referral to law firms?

In general, referrals to lawyers are driven by three factors (sometimes individually, but usually with elements of each co-mingling or overlapping in the mind of the referrer):

  • Direct experience of your firm’s superior service, and stand-out results or outcomes achieved by your lawyers.
  • Lawyers’ expertise in an industry or specialist field, when your lawyers have strong positions as credible and visible experts.
  • Firm reputation, standing, and profile – especially if it is strong in a narrow sphere or a distinct specialty.

How does your firm and lawyers’ appeal measure up against each of the three drivers? Are you strong in all three, or is one (or more) of those areas not as positive as it could be in the minds of referral sources?

Perhaps your lawyers’ service one-on-one to clients is amazing, but is not backed up by a professional and modern online web presence, so you do not amplifying your reputation beyond the immediate client interaction. How many referred prospects do you lose when they look at your website?

Or maybe your firm has been making great use of social media and a new website to amp up positive perceptions, but your processes and service style once a client is on board is resulting in client dissatisfaction. News of that negative experience may be shared with the original referral source.

Perhaps your firm is viewed within the wider legal profession as a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’, making it difficult for potential referrers to define exactly what sort of work you do and how you could help. Referring a personal contact to your firm for complex or high-value work may be considered too risky, even if they regard you highly personally.

The number one way of propelling valuable referrals to your firm is to be worth referring to in the first place –appealing strongly across all three drivers is the winning trifecta.


What about when referrals stop?

It’s important to bear in mind that from most sources, referrals are intermittent – they ebb and flow with the cycle of business, busy-ness, and contact. But sometimes referrals slow down or, worse, stop completely and you are left wondering why.

Here are some of the most common reasons that referrals slow down, and what you can do in response:

  • You haven't acknowledged a referral. Don't expect another referral if you haven't shown your appreciation for the last.
  • You haven't kept the referrer in touch with what's going on. To feel completely comfortable, make sure they know how things are going.
  • You haven't given a referral the right treatment. Referrers put their reputations on the line – treat every referred client as a VIP.
  • You haven't reciprocated with a referral when you can. The most tangible sign of appreciation is to cross-refer a client, if you can.
  • Your referrer just doesn't have anything to refer right now. Any referral source, active or not, needs to be part of your "keep in touch" program, so they feel valued and appreciated. All the time. Not just when the referrals are flowing.
  • Your referrer has started referring elsewhere. Maybe someone else has earned share of mind, so you need to focus back on three drivers of referrals.

Think about these possibilities, explore these issues, and take corrective action to leverage all the possible referrals you can from valued sources.

Editor’s Note

Want to learn more about growing your firm through referrals? Participate now in the 2016 ALPMA/JMA Research “Referrals & Cross Selling In Practice”. The results of this study will help your firm understand what is 'best practice' for generating business from referrals and cross-selling, how your firm's referrals and cross-selling program compares to similar firms and opportunities to improve your program and generate additional revenue.

This research is now open for all Australasian law firms and participants will receive a complimentary copy of the research results. Complete the survey now!

About our Guest Blogger

Amy Burton-Bradley
Amy Burton-Bradley is an experienced business developer, marketer, and copy-writer who has worked with more law firms than she cares to remember! She is a Partner and Consulting Director at Julian Midwinter & Associates, a business development consultancy whose team has helped law firms attract, win, grow, and retain new clients and business since 1993.

Developing an app for the insurance sector

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

By Vanessa Porter, Senior Associate, Hall & Wilcox

Early in 2016 the Hall & Wilcox NSW statutory insurance team recognised that, due to changes in privacy rules, the way insurance providers had traditionally approached the identification of recovery potential on workers’ compensation claims needed to change.

Essentially, opportunities for us and other law firms to undertake screening projects in-house for insurance providers were no longer a viable option, as any third party presence on the office floor of an insurer would be a breach of the privacy rules.

The effect of these changes impacted the insurers as they were now required to allocate resources and time to screening claims, and then further resources and time to refer identified claims out to legal providers to pursue. The allocation of resources was not as simple as allocating staff to screen the claims, it also involved extensive training of personnel around the very complex area of law. The effect was also felt by us as a legal provider as the opportunity to partner closely with our clients was taken away, not to mention the opportunity to obtain instructions as a result of an ability to screen claim files to identify recovery potential.

So, Hall & Wilcox partnered with Neota Logic to develop a web based application for the insurance sector to overcome these privacy issues and other 'disruptions' insurers were facing. The app delivers a simple solution to challenge that was complex and overwhelming for many insurance providers. This innovative project was recognised as a finalist in the 2016 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards, presented at the 2016 ALPMA Summit Gala Dinner in Melbourne recently.  

The app is user friendly and has the ability to facilitate the identification of recovery potential on workers’ compensation claims. The application requires the user to answer a short series of questions, taking less than a couple of minutes to complete, and is provided with a report containing the relevant information to the recovery aspect of the claim. The application enables insurance professionals to identify claims early in the life of a claim, with little to no cost to them in terms of time or monetary expenditure.

In circumstances where a recovery has been identified, the user can then manage the recovery aspect of the claim internally through their own processes or outsource to Hall & Wilcox or an alternate provider to pursue.

In the past, the identification process may have taken up to half an hour or more per claim, through the use of the application, is done in less than two minutes, and often less than one.

The application can be used to increase the identification of claims with recovery potential across an insurer’s entire portfolio. For example, the application can be introduced as a KPI for staff reviewing claims at the six month mark (or before a claim is closed, where early closure is achieved), ensuring that every claim has been reviewed for recovery potential. 

The result of the review using the application is that recovery potential is identified early, ensuring that any evidence required to pursue such a claim is not lost due to delayed identification, legal advice can be sought in a timely manner and recovery can be achieved early in the life of a claim ensuring that money is going back into the pocket of the insurer/regulator, policy holders see an early and positive effect on their premiums and a permanent record, by way of the report produced by the application, is attached to the file should the information be required for audit or other purposes in the future.

The application can be used by workers’ compensation insurers, insurance brokers/intermediaries and employers. As the technology is simple to use, it can be easily operated by an employee at any level, even someone who has no expertise in identifying the recovery potential on a claim. It can also double as a training tool as its built-in hints and tips assist the user to familiarise themselves with the many and varied scenarios that are involved in a recovery claim.

The recovery application is one of a number of initiatives Hall & Wilcox are implementing as part of its 'Smarter law' strategy, where we are looking at new and better ways of working with our clients, embracing technology, forming new ways of approaching legal issues and improving processes that deliver real value for our clients.

Editor's Note

Readers interested in learning more about this innovative project can watch the video below where Vanessa explains the project and its benefits for the firm, clients and the industry in more detail.


About our Guest Blogger

Vanessa Porter
Vanessa Porter is a Senior Associate at Hall & Wilcox. Vanessa has worked in the insurance industry for 19 years and has gained extensive experience acting for and advising both worker and insurer clients. She has in-house and private practice experience managing workers compensation, work injury damages, common law, double insurance and section 151Z recoveries claims. She has a particular interest in defending work injury damages claims and pursuing section 151Z recoveries. Additionally, Vanessa regularly advises insurer clients with respect to compensation to relatives and nervous shock claims. Her clients include government sector clients, Workcover scheme agents, self-insured parties and specialised insurers.


An innovative approach to flexible working

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

By Catherine Dunlop, Partner, Maddocks 

Law firms have long struggled with the issue of high turnover rates of its employees.

This stems from a combination of intense competition for talent, the demands made of lawyers, the increasing reluctance of younger lawyers to stay at the one firm for their career and the difficulties that many lawyers have in advancing their careers while accommodating the needs of their families.

In a bid to tackle these issues, the Maddocks Employment, Safety & People (ES&P) team formally started an initiative during FY15-16 to successfully improve its flexible working arrangements. The objective was to retain the talent of our staff by improving their access to a sustainable work-life balance and to actively manage how flexible work occurred in the team. 

Our team's innovative approach to flexible working was recognised when it was selected as the winner of the 2016 ALPMA/Lexis Nexis Thought Leadership Awards at the 2016 ALPMA Summit Gala Dinner at the Medallion Club, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne last week, ahead of finalists Hall & Wilcox, Bytherules Conveyancing and the Nexus Law Group.

Changing infrastructure and culture

To make this initiative successful, the Melbourne ES&P team made a number of significant changes to its infrastructure and culture.

We adapted our policies to ensure flexible working arrangements were accessible and transparent to the entire team.

We introduced a flexibility committee, which met regularly to discuss issues and suggestions for improvement. The team realised that it wasn’t enough to simply ‘allow’ people to work flexibly and that a genuine commitment to ‘encourage’ people to work flexibly while having a rewarding career was a way to keep all in the team engaged and happy at work.

We made two guides for staff. One is a one-page guide on preferences and availability of our team members working flexibly. The second is a more detailed guide on what best suits people based on their availability when out of the office. These guides are intended to maximise their time out of the office, so they don’t feel they need to spend their day tied to their phone and computer, but still keeps them available for client matters and urgent calls. Having these guides allows for transparency about when people are in the office, what suits them and when. It is particularly important for those with carer responsibilities, so that they can genuinely prioritise their time when they are away from work.

Removing barriers to change

To support this initiative, the team have also tackled other issues, which we believed may have posed a barrier to change. This included changing our model of work from time spent in the office to the tangible work achieved. We have also created quality control policies for work handovers, to ensure work is completed on time and there is no competition amongst staff or decrease in quality. We are ensuring the right coverage is available and they have implemented procedures to ensure clear and transparent communications around work responsibilities.

The team implemented formal one-to-one review arrangements for all staff, whether they worked flexibly or not, to see how they were finding the initiative. Staff were invited to talk about how they were working, if they had carer issues, and if they would like the opportunity to work flexibly. This also provided an opportunity for everyone to voice any issues that may have arisen out of other people working flexibly in the team, in a safe, confidential environment.

While the initiative sought to change the infrastructure for existing work practices, the team acknowledged that making a small change in someone’s availability can make a big difference to them and the people in their personal lives. One of the softer aspects of this initiative was to encourage and support everyone to take advantage of flexible working, even if they didn’t need to.

One male lawyer made a small adjustment to his hours so he could drop his child off at school one day a week and come in late. Similarly, one of the senior male partners made a preference to leave early once a week so he could cook dinner for his family on a designated night. Because this was formally acknowledged by a flexible working policy, it made people want to help him. Staff junior to him often encouraged him to leave early because they knew that Tuesday night was his night with his kids.

While this is a nice example of the soft benefits of this initiative, it demonstrates how adopting small changes affected the teams overall cohesion and comradery.

Leading from the top

The leadership shown by the team’s three Melbourne partners has also played a large role in the successful implementation of this initiative. Two out of three partners in the ES&P team have led by example, and work four days a week. We have also encouraged staff to have an email footer and an out of office that clearly indicates their availability. This has normalised flexible working practices and allows for the different arrangements people have on their days out of the office. 

As one partner describes it: 

‘We don’t have people sneaking out of the office and leaving their jacket draped over their chair as if they are still at work. All too often it is easy for people working flexibly to (mistakenly) feel guilty. We wanted to change that mindset and celebrate it.’

The results

Of the 28 people in the team, 13 of those are now working flexibly. This includes two partners, two special counsel, one senior associate, one associate, four team admins and one practice support lawyer. We also now have a male lawyer, who has child care responsibilities, working a nine-day fortnight to support his wife returning to full-time work. We have two job share arrangements.

More importantly, our employees are now thinking strategically about their work-life options within the firm and there is greater awareness of the options available to them, should they need it.

This initiative has led to immediate results.

The most striking is that not one lawyer has left the team in order to take a role either in-house or at a contracting firm (where the demands on a lawyer’s time can be less than those at a large law firm) and the ES&P team has recently seen a 100% success rate of women coming back from parental leave.

Our people are working from home, and from our clients' offices. Clear communication channels exist between staff and there is greater transparency around, and accessibility to, flexible working options. Flexible working is no longer perceived within the team as exclusively for women returning from parental leave.

Offering flexible work arrangements has allowed the firm to create a culture where people feel their skills and knowledge are valued over their availability. Our staff are encouraged to peruse meaningful and enjoyable lives both inside and outside work, without worrying about one taking priority over another. This in turn has seen our staff come to work happier, healthier and more productive.

The benefits of this initiative have helped us build stronger relationships with our clients. Many of our clients are senior in-house lawyers who work flexibly themselves. Recognising their work arrangements through our own experiences demonstrates to clients that our firm's values match their own. Lawyers who now work flexibly are able to better understand and adapt to the availability requirements of their clients, which has fostered greater trust and respect between clients and lawyers.

The successful implementation of this initiative has changed the culture of flexible working in our firm. Our lawyers know that working flexibly will not stop their career advancement and they are still encouraged to take on challenging and rewarding work.

Editor's Note:

Interested readers can learn more about Maddock's innovative approach to flexible working arrangements reading the media release announcing their win "Flexible working is the new normal in law" or by watching the video below:



About our Guest Blogger

Catherine DunlopCatherine Dunlop is a partner in the Maddocks Employment People & Safety Team and was the practice team leader of the Melbourne ESP Team in 2015-6. Catherine practices in work health and safety, inquests and inquiries, and safety and discrimination related employment matters including bullying. Catherine has acted in a number of high profile safety prosecutions and inquests and inquiries in Melbourne and Canberra. She was named Best Lawyers/Australian Financial Review’s Lawyer of the Year in OHS for Melbourne for 2017.

Catherine has a particular interest in flexible work arrangements and helps clients manage the challenges and opportunities of such arrangements. She enjoys mentoring younger lawyers and staff at Maddocks, particularly when they are returning from parental leave and/or are considering flexible work arrangements themselves. Catherine works 4 days a week at work most weeks and has a three year old son who keeps her busy the rest of her time.

Keeping up with the technology in the changing legal landscape

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

By John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack

Over the past five years, the Australasian legal industry has undergone tremendous change due to disruptive technology, increased client demands and evolving pricing structures among other game changers. In anticipation of this year’s ALPMA Summit– A Blueprint for Change - ALPMA and InfoTrack surveyed 163 firms across Australia and New Zealand to gain insight into how the Australasian legal profession is adapting to the changing legal landscape.

The preliminary findings show that most firms (74%) perceive the profession as a whole as reactive – changing only when necessary, too slowly or failing to respond effectively to the external and internal factors transforming the sector. This seems to be especially true when it comes to technology, as the number one technology challenge cited by most law firms was the struggle to keep up. While 38% of respondents believe they are at the head of the pack compared to other firms when it comes to technology adoption, most firms believe they are in the middle or at the back of the pack.

As a technology company with a large legal client base, we are well aware of the perceived barriers to adopting technology. We’re in constant communication with our clients and we understand the types of concerns that often prevent firms from trying new technology. But our research indicates that emerging technology is the greatest driving factor for positive change for firms (57%). This means that despite their struggle to keep up with technology, most firms recognise its importance and the impact it can have on their firm. With this in mind I’d like to offer some tips on how to better keep up with technology.

Adjust your mindset

Many firms are still trapped thinking that implementing new technology requires huge investment, resources and training, but it doesn’t have to be that way and it shouldn’t if you find the right provider. In today’s world it’s all about user experience. Good companies are building products and systems that are easy to implement and use. Good technology will make your life easier by simplifying processes, increasing efficiency and saving you time and hassle. Don’t let one negative experience taint your view of technology as a whole - if you’re struggling with your existing systems, it’s likely due to your provider – do your research and shop around until you find what’s right for your firm.

Move processes online as soon as possible

Legal processes have already begun to move online, and the pace of this transition is only picking up speed. Conveyancing, filing and contracts have already begun going digital, and it’s only a matter of time before other processes follow suit. Take the leap as soon as you can - moving processes online should not be a daunting task, the right provider will allow for a seamless transition and you’ll wonder why you didn’t make the move to paperless earlier. The faster you move online, the easier it’ll be for you to keep up with new digital processes.

Use integrated systems

Are your practice management, document management and searching systems integrated? If not, you’re likely wasting a lot of time duplicating information across various platforms. Integration technology can save you significant amounts of time by allowing you to do all of your work, searching and document management within one system. A good integrated system will continue to integrate with newer products, allowing for easier implementation of new technology in the future. Many firms have the misconception that integration has to be complicated and expensive – they worry about downtime, training, and a myriad of other perceived issues but a good integrated service provider will provide integration for free, install it with no downtime and provide training as needed.

Don’t be scared to be an early adopter

The legal industry is a notoriously late adopter, but times are changing and playing it safe won’t get you far. You have to take some risks in today’s market and staying on the leading edge of technology can help you differentiate your firm in an increasingly competitive market. The legal industry is still in the early stages of digitisation and that means there is a lot of opportunity for innovation. Keep an eye on the market and be aware of emerging technologies to stay ahead of the game. The more you test out, the better idea you’ll have of what works for your firm and what provide the most value to your clients.

Overall, technology should not be something to be sacred of. Resistance to change has long been embedded within the profession but now is the time to break free of that thinking and not let perceived barriers hold your firm back. With the right technology and a good provider, most of these barriers are non-existent and you’ll wonder what has been stopping you from taking the leap into the digital future.

Editor's Note

ALPMA Summit
Interested in learning more about this? InfoTrack will be discussing ‘The Quest for Changing Mindset & Behaviours to Achieve Operational Efficiency’ at 6.10pm on Wednesday 7 September, at the public opening of the 2016 ALPMA Summit Trade Exhibition at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne. The public opening commences at 3.30pm – and you do not have to be registered to attend Summit to come along. You can also attend other complimentary Partner Connection sessions. This is a great opportunity to also meet more than 50 market-leading legal industry vendors, conveniently gathered under one roof at the largest legal management trade show in the Southern Hemisphere. InfoTrack is the Principal Partner for the 2016 ALPMA Summit and can be located at stand 35 at the Summit. Get a free pass.

InfoTrack General Manager, Sales, Brendan Smart will be launching the ALPMA/InfoTrack research ‘Adapting to the Changing Legal Landscape’ at the Summit opening session on Thursday, 8 September. It is not too late to register to attend Summit. Register now! Can’t attend in person? Get a Summit Live pass, and broadcast Summit direct to your desk or boardroom.

About our Guest Blogger

John AhernAbout John Ahern John 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.

Replacing the Annual Appraisal Agony

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

By Ron Baker, Founder, VeraSage Institute 

Appraisal is not the system that drives pay, careers, and status; it is an incidental effect of those dynamic systems. Appraisal is primarily the paper-shuffling that sanctifies decisions already made.  ––Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins, Abolishing Performance Appraisals

Human capital determines the performance capacity of any organisation. Today’s knowledge workers, unlike the factory workers of the Industrial Revolution, own the means of production. Ultimately, knowledge workers are volunteers, since whether they return to work is completely based on their volition.

Consequently, it is difficult to understand the continued reliance on the “annual agony”—the performance-appraisal apparatus. According to Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins, in their seminal book Abolishing Performance Appraisals, over 50 years of academic studies reveal scant empirical evidence of the effectiveness of performance appraisals at actually improving performance.

Despite these facts, firms cling to it an uninformed belief that there is no suitable replacement. Where did this ritual come from?

The Origins of Performance Appraisals

The modern antecedent of the appraisal process was explained by Peter Drucker in his book, The Effective Executive:

“Appraisals, as they are now being used in the great majority of organisations, were designed by the clinical and abnormal psychologists for their own purposes. He is legitimately concerned with what is wrong, rather than with what is right with the patient. The clinical psychologist or the abnormal psychologist, therefore, very properly looks upon appraisals as a process of diagnosing the weaknesses of a man.”

The appraisal tends to focus on weaknesses, not strengths—what psychologists call the “presenting problem.” But good leaders—like good coaches—design performance processes and tasks around a person’s strengths, and ignore—or make irrelevant—their weaknesses.

Deleterious Effects of Performance Appraisals

Performance appraisals have become, to borrow a term from the medical profession, an iatrogenic illness—that is, a disease caused by the doctor. An estimated ten percent of all hospital patients suffer from this type of disease. We need to apply the Hippocratic principle of primum non nocere (“first, do no harm”) to the performance appraisal process.

The following are some of the more serious negative effects of the performance appraisal (PA):

  • PAs are counterproductive to “driving out fear,” the one emotion that Dr. Edwards Deming believed needed to be eliminated to improve human performance;
  • PAs focus on the weaknesses of the worker rather than his or her strengths;
  • Learning is overshadowed by the evaluation and judgment inherent in the PA;
  • Even if PAs convey both strengths and weaknesses, it is human nature for negative feedback to drown out positive feedback;
  • Effective feedback should occur as needed, not on an arbitrary date on a calendar;
  • PAs are a symbol of a paternalistic boss-subordinate relationship based on command and control rather than the knowledge worker being responsible for his or her own development;
  • PAs impose a one-size-fits-all approach that impedes relevant, authentic feedback to different individuals;
  • Too much “noise” surrounds the PA process: discipline or termination, pay raises, bonuses, promotions, and the like, lessening the focus on performance improvement;
  • Ranking people against each other does not help them do a better job. Ranking people, also, by definition, creates “bottom performers,” regardless of the absolute value of their work;
  • PAs devote far too much scarce leadership attention to underperforming employees rather than top performers;
  • PAs are extremely costly to administer relative to their meagre benefits;
  • PAs provide no effective method for holding people accountable for future results, since they focus on the past;
  • Any self-acknowledged weakness by a team member can be used against them, deterring learning and self-development;
  • PAs confuse delivering effective feedback with filling out bureaucratic forms and check-the-box administrative activities that have no connection to strategic purpose or value creation;
  • PAs reinforce a requirement for human-resources departments to keep KGB-like dossiers on team members;
  • PAs create a false impression that a scientific and objective process is being applied to measure individual performance. Yet all PAs, in the final analysis, are subjective and based on judgment;
  • PAs obscure the fact that a firm is an interdependent system, and what matters is the performance of the whole, which is not merely the sum of its components;
  • PAs provide the illusion of protection from lawsuits and allegations of wrongful termination, when in fact they rarely offer that protection—and often backfire in litigation.
  • According to author Daniel Pink in “Think Tank: Fix the workplace, not the workers” (November 6, 2010), “Performance reviews are rarely authentic conversations. More often, they are the West’s form of kabuki theatre—highly stylized rituals in which people recite predictable lines in a formulaic way and hope the experience ends very quickly.”

Replacing the Performance Appraisal

It is time to move to a model where courage is valued over caution, and command and control is replaced with connect and cultivate. Ultimately, it is the intensity of interactions with intelligent people, along with great ideas, that attracts and develops talent—not the efficiency of a firm’s administrative processes.

Three strategic resources replace the performance appraisal system:

  • Key Predictive Indicators for Knowledge Workers
  •  The Manager’s Letter
  • After-Action Reviews

Key Predictive Indicators for Knowledge Workers

A critical distinction is being made between a key performance indicator and a key predictive indicator. The former is merely a measurement—such as the number of patents filed, or new clients—but lacks a falsifiable theory. The latter, by contrast, is a measurement, or judgment, guided by a theory, which can be tested and refined, in order to explain, prescribe, or predict. It is the search for cause and effect.

Knowledge work is not defined by quantity, but quality; not by its costs, but results. The traditional tools of measurement need to be replaced by judgment. And there is a difference between a measurement and a judgment: a measurement requires only a scale; a judgment requires wisdom.

So many firm leaders worry that if they get rid of objective measures, they will introduce subjective bias into the decision-making process. So what? To get rid of bias we would have to give up emotions and discernment, which is too high a price to pay. Neurologist Antonio Damasio has studied brain-damaged patients, demonstrating that without emotion it is impossible to make decisions.

Admittedly, the following KPIs raise rather than answer questions, but at least they raise the right questions. Better to be approximately relevant rather than precisely irrelevant. Enlightened organisations allow their team members to decide which of the following KPIs are most important to track and develop.

Client Feedback

What are the customers saying—good and bad—about the team member? Would you trade some efficiency for a team member who was absolutely loved by your customers? How does the firm solicit feedback from its customers on team-member performance?

Effective Listening and Communication Skills

It is easier to teach reading and writing, which are solitary undertakings, than to teach listening and speaking, which always involve human interactions. But how do you measure listening and communication skills?

Risk Taking, Innovation, and Creativity

How often do employees take risks or innovate new ways of doing things for customers or the company? Do they engage in creative thinking in approaching their work?

Knowledge Elicitation

Aristotle said, “Teaching is the highest form of understanding.” Knowledge elicitation is the process of assisting others to generate their own knowledge. Note that this encompasses more than simply learning new things; it involves educating others so that they are able to generate their own knowledge.

One of the most effective techniques for knowledge workers to learn any subject—especially at a very deep level—is to teach it. How often do the team members facilitate a “lunch and learn” about an article or book they have read or seminar they have attended? How good are they at educating their customers and colleagues?

Continuous Learning

What do team members know this year that they did not know last year that makes them more valuable? This is more than simply logging hours in educational courses; it would actually require an attempt to judge what they learned. How many books have they read this year? More important, what did they learn from them?

One of the objections we hear to investing more in people’s education is “they will leave, and possibly become an even stronger competitor.” This is no doubt true, although a company faces the risk of their leaving anyway. But what if you do not invest in their education and they stay?

Effective Delegator

Peter Drucker believed that up to one-quarter of the demands on an executive’s time could be consigned to the wastebasket without anyone noticing. Does your organisation encourage its knowledge workers to become effective delegators?

Pride, Passion, Attitude, and Commitment

If you thought some of these other KPIs were hard to measure, how would you measure pride? Although not a substitute for actual talent, pride in one’s work, customers, colleagues, employer, and values are critical to operate with passion and commitment.

High-Satisfaction Day

I am indebted to John Heymann, CEO, and his Team at NewLevel Group, a consulting firm located in Napa, California, for this KPI. An HSD is one of those days that convinces you, beyond doubt, why you do what you do. It could mean landing a new customer, achieving a breakthrough on an existing project, or receiving a heartfelt thank-you from a customer. Sound touchy-feely? John admits that it is. But he also says that the number of HSDs logged into the firm’s calendar is a leading indicator—and a barometer—of his firm’s morale, culture, and profitability.

We can’t measure a doctor’s beside manner—it has to be experienced. Efficiency metrics cannot count all the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment that employees decide not to contribute.

The Manager’s Letter

Another practical suggestion to hold people accountable for their future contribution is what Peter Drucker called the manager’s letter, as explained in John Flaherty’s book, Peter Drucker: Shaping the Managerial Mind:

[Setting objectives] is so important that some of the most effective managers I know go one step further. They have each of their subordinates write a “manager’s letter” twice a year. In this letter to his superior, each manager first defines the objectives of his superior’s job and of his own job as he sees them. He then sets down the performance standards that he believes are being applied to him. Next, he lists the things he must do himself to attain these goals––and the things within his own unit he considers the major obstacles. He lists the things his superior and the company do that help him and the things that hamper him. Finally, he outlines what he proposes to do during the next year to reach his goals. If his superior accepts this statement, the “manager’s letter” becomes the charter under which the manager operates.

Procter & Gamble utilizes what it calls the Work and Development Plan, in lieu of performance appraisals, which lays out the work to be achieved in the upcoming year, how it links to the business plan, the measures and timing for success, and expected results.

What makes the manager’s letter so valuable is its focus on opportunities, results, output, and value, rather than problems, inputs, costs, and activities. Performance appraisals can only report on the past, revealing problems, never opportunities.

After-Action Reviews (AARs)

The U.S. Army’s use of AARs began in 1973, not as a knowledge-management tool but as a method to restore the values, integrity, and accountability that had diminished during the Vietnam War.

Reflection without action is passive, but action without reflection is thoughtlessness. Combine experience with reflection, and learning that lasts is the result. What percent of your firm’s time is devoted to improving the work, not just doing the work?

The objective is not just to correct things, but to correct thinking, as the Army has learned that flawed assumptions are the largest factor in flawed execution.

But perfectionist cultures, however, resist this type of candid introspection, as they tend to be intolerant of errors, and they associate mistakes with career risk, not continuous learning. The medical world has an appropriate axiom for mistakes made: forgive and remember. AARs should not be used for promotions, salary increases, or performance appraisals.

Confronting People with Their Freedom

You can’t keep on doing things the old way and still get the benefits of the new way.  ––Thomas Sowell

Because knowledge workers are volunteers, we could learn a lot from the not-for-profit sector. They know how to leverage people’s gifts, whereas performance appraisals are more concerned with people’s weaknesses.

Management thinker Charles Handy has spent his career arguing that organisations are living communities of individuals, not machines. He offers a splendid metaphor in his autobiography, Myself and Other More Important Matters, which I believe is applicable to knowledge workers and the performance appraisal process: the theater.

“There’s no talk of “human resources,” everyone is listed on the playbill, and managers are for things (stage, lighting, etc.), not people. The talent is directed, not managed, by someone who departs after the project commences. The audience feedback is immediate, not one year after the performance.”

Author and consultant Peter Block says, “The real task of leadership is to confront people with their freedom.” Performance appraisals inhibit autonomy and responsibility; they are the buggy whip of the knowledge era—an example of yesterday holding tomorrow hostage. Do we have the courage to replace such an ineffective process?

Performance appraisals are, after all, an iatrogenic illness, which means: physician, heal thyself.

Editor's Note

ALPMA Summit

Ron Baker is the inspirational and challenging Master of Ceremonies for the 2016 ALPMA Summit ‘A Blueprint for Change’ held from 7 – 9 September at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, together with ALPMA Life Member and CEO of Coleman Greig Lawyers, Warrick McLean. Ron is also chairing a panel session on ‘Reinventing Performance Management’ which also features Jane Lewis, HR Director at Allens and Stephanie Beard, HR Manager, Harwood Andrews Lawyers, and helping delegates pull together the key take-aways from Summit in the final session “Creating Your Blueprint for Change”.

About our Guest blogger

Ron BakerRonald J. Baker started his CPA career in 1984 with KPMG’s Private Business Advisory Services in San Francisco. Today, he is the founder of VeraSage Institute—the leading think tank dedicated to educating professionals internationally—and a radio talk-show host on the www.VoiceAmerica.com show: The Soul of Enterprise: Business in the Knowledge Economy.

As a frequent speaker, writer, and educator, his work takes him around the world. He has been an instructor with the California CPA Education Foundation since 1995 and has authored fifteen courses for them, including: You Are What You Charge For: Success in Today’s Emerging Experience Economy (with Daniel Morris); Alternatives to the Federal Income Tax; Trashing the Timesheet: A Declaration of Independence; Everyday Economics; Everyday Ethics: Doing Well by Doing Good; and The Best Business Books You Should Read.

Legal Innovation for Small Firms and Legal Teams

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

By Therese Linton, Managing Director & Principal Consultant, The BASALT Group 

Why do Law Firms and Legal Teams need to change and innovate?

Law firms and legal teams are facing challenges due to innovations, restructuring and changing client expectations that started after the global financial crisis and have gained momentum. In response, some firms are adopting innovative practices including Lean Six Sigma and Legal Project Management but these have yet to be fully integrated into an overall approach. In my work with lawyers and practice managers, I am regularly asked to explain the difference between Project Management, Portfolio Management and Process Management. These frameworks and tools are used by many organisations to achieve their strategic outcomes, improve profitability and to simply ‘stay in business’. Law firms are at a point where they will need to ‘change or die’ and research has shown that this is incredibly difficult for any human being in any circumstances – as bought to life by Alan Deutschman in his article for Fast Company in January 2005.

How new are these innovative practices really?

So exactly what are these innovative practices and how can law firms and legal teams use them to ensure the long term viability of their practices and maintain relevance to clients? Well they aren’t exactly ‘new’ as successful organisations have been using various methodologies, frameworks and tools for project management, portfolio management and process management to improve their returns and increase client satisfaction since the 1970’s. Indeed the concepts are best when they are tailored to the specific needs and nuances of law firms and legal teams. To this end, I have leveraged my experience in project, portfolio and process management to adapt the traditional frameworks and select the tools and techniques that will work the best in legal practice.

How do we decide which frameworks are best for us?

Put simply, you need to choose the right tool for the job or challenge that is being faced and these simple definitions help to identify the most appropriate practices to adopt and apply.

  • Legal Project Management: focusses on how to utilise legal project management techniques to improve management of individual legal matters. These frameworks and tools are in great demand from clients and senior executives who are familiar with the generic application of these techniques within their own organisations. These work best when there are teams of lawyers and other professionals working together to achieve major project based outcomes.
  • Legal Portfolio Management: focusses on how to apply legal portfolio management techniques to achieve efficient and effective allocation of resources and juggling of priorities across a suite of legal projects and matters. These are required in situations where individual lawyers are allocated to many matters at once and typically work solo on the matters. Benefits are obtained through more effective expectation management and allocation of resources to the highest priority matters.
  • Legal Process Management: focusses on how to standardise and improve the efficiency of legal processes by drawing on techniques from the field of Lean Six Sigma. These concepts are fundamentally different to project management and seek to improve the efficiency and reduce the defects contained within any process. This could be a practice management process such as invoicing or a legal process such as contract preparation. The effective application of process improvement tools and techniques allows firms and legal teams to achieve more with less and to improve client and stakeholder satisfaction.

What benefits can be expected?

There are many direct and indirect benefits that flow from the adoption of the above innovative practices. Here are some specific examples –

  • Legal Project Management (small firm of 20) – shortly after I ran a serious of LPM knowledge workshops and one on one coaching sessions for a small firm specialising in aviation matters, they were inundated by an unexpected increase in the number of matters and transactions. The Managing Partner observed that the solicitors who had adopted the LPM tools and techniques were much less stressed and much noticeably more productive than the solicitors who had not incorporated the new practices.
  • Legal Portfolio Management (mid-tier firm – workers compensation practice) – a workers compensation practice was able to improve resource planning and deliver more effectively against client driven deadlines by implementing an extremely simple Portfolio Resource Planning Tool, combined with forward visibility of major mandated milestones. This highlighted areas of congestion where matters needed to be reassigned in order to maintain client delivery and also provided visibility of areas where legal staff were significantly under utilised. Corrective action was taken to significantly improve overall utilisation and reduce stress due to overloading.
  • Legal Process Improvement – major firms such a Seyfarth Shaw and Dupont Legal have embedded Lean Six Sigma and process improvement techniques which have yielded large efficiency gains and significantly improve client satisfaction. Research in the area of process improvement has found that process efficiency can be improved by a minimum of 30% by addressing the root cause of quality defects and simple process redesign. A good example of this in action is Seyfarth Shaw, a US firm that has created SeyfarthLean,  a proprietry, value driven service model, which combines the core principals of Lean Six Sigma process improvement with creates tangible results, including:

    • More consistent, high-quality legal services
    • Increased efficiency
    • Improved communication and collaboration
    • Right-sized staffing approaches
    • Committed, transparent pricing
    • Reduction in overall cost of services

As you can see there is a lot to be gained from implementing these tools and methodologies to optimise your firm's legal processes, and I would encourage you to get started now! 

Editor's Note

ALPMA Summit
Want to learn more about how to apply these tools to optimise legal processes at your firm?  Therese Linton is leading a half-day Pre-Summit Masterclass Workshop ‘Legal Innovation for Small Firm Teams' on Wednesday 7 September in Melbourne that is designed to introduce you to best practices that can be applied within your small firm or legal team to achieve innovation, improve productivity and increase engagement with clients. You do not have to be attending the 2016 ALPMA 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 

Therese Linton Therese Linton is Australia’s leading expert in legal project management with both practical and academic credentials spanning over 25 years of project management practice. For the last five years she has been working with groups of lawyers from diverse backgrounds ranging from major commercial firms through to boutique firms and in-house counsel to design learning programs and develop legal project management competencies.

Therese is a renowned and awarded Lecturer and Unit of Study Coordinator for Sydney University’s prestigious Masters of Project Management. She is also a Lecturer for the College of Law’s Masters of In-house Practice and regularly delivers practical workshops for the Law Society of NSW in legal project management.

Therese's qualifications and certifications include a Bachelor of Commerce (IT) Merit, UNSW; Executive Masters Program, Harvard Business School; Advanced Diploma of Project Management; Cert IV Training and Assessment; Six Sigma Black Belt; Certified Practicing Project Director (CPPD) AIPM

Get past the AI hype and into the AI help

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

By Fabian Horton, Director, Connect Law

It’s a real thing; but how much of it is real?

Everyone is talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI) again.  But is it really that big a deal? 

Well… yes.  And the fact is that AI is only going to get bigger and bigger - there is no doubt about that.  How fast that will happen though is anyone’s guess; though I’m thinking that it isn’t going to be like the last time we had an AI bubble. 

A report from Tractica, estimates that the market for Enterprise Artificial Intelligence systems will increase to $11.1 billion by 2024. That’s a lot of AI.

Get past the hype

The hype surrounding buzzwords such as ‘AI’, 'Deep Learning’ and ‘algorithm’ can illicit feelings of excitement or fear depending on how you envisage the future. 

Do you see an AI future utopia or dystopia?  Or, as I saw on one meme, will the AI future be with Ironman or the Terminator? 

For lawyers the question is more about; "will AI replace me?"

If you ask me, I would say that, for now, it’s not likely.  In fact, if history is anything to go by, AI will just make it possible for lawyers to do more work! 

Now I hear you say; "what about the law graduates that do all the work that AI will take over, like discovery?".  

Well, those law graduates will probably go onto train the computers so that the lawyers can do more work.  But whatever the future holds, we need to get past the hype and media hyperbole if we are to make intelligence decisions about our profession’s future.

So what are we talking about anyway?

As the old joke goes, ask five lawyers a question and you will get eight answers.  The same thing goes for asking the question "what is AI?".   Ask five software engineers what AI is and you will probably get an algorithm explaining it. Technically correct but practically useless. You can of course just use the ever faithful Google search or Wikipedia

For me and the work that I do in legal technologies, I like the Deloitte definition:

“AI is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.” 

In essence, AI is a broad field of technologies that can easily take on magical properties for the uninitiated. But when you break it down, you see that AI is just a suite of good science.  These technologies include; machine learning, natural language processing, speech recognition, and computer vision. And all of these technologies allow machines to do some pretty amazing stuff.

What are the real life applications?

With so much going on in the field of AI, both theoretically and practically, it is easy to get distracted. Here are a few examples of how AI is working with lawyers:

The here and now:

  • Virtual assistants: This is the tech you find in Apple’s Siri and Google Now. You should be using it now as this technology can help you run your practice. 

  • Technology Assisted Review (TAR): This is the technology used in e-discovery. Once the domain of big-litigation only, the price of e-discover is getting such that even smaller cases can take advantage of it.

  • Expert systems: Not really AI but a close cousin. These are rule based systems that assist in making legal decisions in both rudimentary and complex legal areas. There are a number of commercial providers out there already doing some great work.

What’s around the corner:

  • Advanced document analytics: AI is making headway into the realm of document review and analysis. The technology uses statistical and machine learning techniques, and natural language processing to help lawyers with large review tasks; particularly useful in large contract matters. The commercial companies that are producing this technology will be pricing their services competitively so practices should be alive to the potential cost savings.

Where to from here?

Ok, so you don’t have the big dollars to invest in the latest version of ROSS and you may not have the people power to set-up and run your own AI testing lab. So what can you do? 

Here are my suggestions of a few things that all firms (big or small) can do to take advantage of and prepare for the future:

1. Start thinking like a machine

That means get your firm's processes in order. Have operation procedure manuals for everything.  These will form the basis of running a machine assisted practice.  Get an expert in to help your lawyers understand the processes that they use every day. You will be surprised at how many assumptions and leaps of logic lawyers make.  And the more experienced the lawyer, the more they make. That’s why it’s called experience.

2. Understand your legal domains

Artificial Intelligence works best in a specific domain. Get your practice areas tight by ensuring that you have dedicated people who understand the intricacies of what they do. The days of the generalist are long gone.

3. Start thinking creatively

AI and other technologies are going to help lawyers in ways that we haven’t even thought of yet. So get your thinking caps on. You don’t have to be a computer programmer to come up with a great idea for a legal technology. You know the law. Now start solving problems. The technology is here to help.

It is no longer an option to practice law like we have before. Every industry is entering a new phase. To make it in the new legal world, technology must be part of your plan. So get past the hype, put your practice in order, check out the technologies, and start creating!  If you have a problem with any of these issues, then get some help. There are legal technologists everywhere just dying to talk to new people about their passion!

Editor's Note

ALPMA Summit

Interested in hearing more about the latest in legal technology? Fabian Horton is a speaker at the 2016 ALPMA Summit 'A Blueprint for Change', which will be held at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne from 7 - 9 September.  His presentation,  "Algorithms, AI and Apps, The Rise of the Robot Lawyer", will explain how technology can not only enhance your service offerings, but transform the way you interact with your clients and the law.

About our Guest Blogger

Fabian Horton
Fabian Horton is a lecturer at the College of Law, Melbourne, and a solicitor with extensive experience in legal technologies, online legal applications and social media. He operates his own private virtual firm and is currently undertaking his PhD researching how technology affects the law. 

Fabian is the foundation chairperson of the Technology and the Law Committee of the Law Institute of Victoria.

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