A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Digital transformation and the provision of legal services: what legal practice managers need to know and do

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

By Benjamin Balk, General Manager of Product and Marketing, SAI Global 

Digital transformation is changing the way that businesses can operate across a range of industries, and the legal industry is no exception. We would all agree that digital transformation is a current hot topic, both locally and globally, but do you know that digital transformation as a concept is still misunderstood by many?

What exactly is “digital transformation”?

Let us start with a simple question, a definition. What is “digital transformation”? At its most basic level, or at its very core, digital transformation is the use of technology to radically improve the performance of an organisation, and this includes its people.

Businesses, including us in the practice and business of law, often think of digital transformation as a formal effort to revamp our vision, models and investments in order to achieve our organisational goals and objectives, and importantly, stay competitive in the modern digital economy and evolving legal landscape.

Digital transformation in the professional services industry

In the professional services space, digital transformation is very much about realigning technology and business models to more effectively engage with our clients and more efficiently deliver our services to them. As legal practitioners, we would look at every touch point in the client experience lifecycle as well as the matter/transaction lifecycle to identify how we could inject technology to, basically, do things faster and better. Faster means more time efficient, which often translates to more cost effective, and better means (in addition to faster) more accurate by taking less risks and making less mistakes.

The real challenge

But that is easier said than done. The challenge with digital transformation is not about digital. Digital is typically the more logical, technical and easier part of the equation. The challenge is the part that involves transformation. Investment in technology is not a difficult concept to grasp, and many law firms now have one or more resident legal technology experts and a dedicated legal technology budget; but the real test is how exactly can law firms of all shapes and sizes realign business models in practice. You see, this is where digital transformation as a concept is misunderstood; a mere shift in investment in technology is not the same as digital transformation. Don’t fall into the common trap of thinking you are changing, when in reality, you are only investing in technology. The investment, whether in time or money or both, does not equate to digital transformation.

Here is a real life example. After surveying the fee earners to find out what they like, and after much research into the different solutions provided by different vendors, Big Firm Alpha (not its real name!) introduced a state-of-the-art, complete digital document management system. Everyone received training to use this new DMS. Disappointedly, while some fee earners seemed to have adapted well to the new DMS, many continued to complain “why fix something that wasn’t broken”, referring to the old system that had been in use without much incident for years.

This isn’t unfamiliar, is it? We have all heard of or even experienced the less than satisfactory or the rather unsuccessful implementation of practice management software or knowledge management systems. Why did they fall short of expectations?

The answer is this – the implementer of the new technology only advocated changing the process, and did not invest in transitioning the mindsets of people and building a culture that fosters transformation (or more precisely, digital transformation). Change management to take advantage of any technological or business process change is paramount to getting a strong return on investment. Projects should not be about the technical investment only, they should take into account the change management investment required to achieve the returns sought.

The relationship between digital transformation and business processes

We all know that digital transformation has opened up new opportunities for law firms to innovate and streamline business process. Let us break this down a little and work out how exactly this could be done.

A business process essentially is a collection of linked tasks that delivers a service or a product to a user or customer. For example, to deliver our legal services to our clients, the tasks that we have to undertake in the process may include legal research, document production, tracking billable time and record management. A more specific example is the document production process in conveyancing. Imagine this – a technological tool that could, among other things, automatically and accurately generate contracts, transfer forms, mortgage discharge documents, revenue office forms and the letters involved in the settlement process. Wouldn’t that be a dream for a busy conveyancing practice?

If there is nothing to compare to, traditional, manual business processes while it may not be great, they may just be fine (in terms of sufficiency) for a short while. However, when compared to automated processes, it becomes crystal clear that a reliance on manual processes could be costly, in terms of time, human resources and risk.

Risk in business processes

Let us turn our minds to risk for a moment. The relationship between business processes and risks is a tight one. Risk is an unavoidable business phenomenon. Some risks are inherent in business processes, for example, the risk of fraud, and the risk of source data errors. Other examples of risk in business processes include operational risks, technology risk, financial risk, compliance risk, legal risk, information security risk, and health and safety risk. Indeed, business processes of a law firm could be the place where risk materialises.

Let us look at one task in the business process of delivering a legal service we just referred to – legal research. In particular, let us look at conducting searches. From conducting due diligence on transactions of any size, to providing a legal opinion just prior to settlement of a multimillion dollar financing, lawyers need to regularly access commercial information available on the PPS Register, the ASIC registers, AFSA’s records and the various land titles offices’ records. Searches are then carefully reviewed so as to confirm any disclosures made, uncover connections, and expose weaknesses. Proper and swift analysis of the search results informs proper and timely legal, commercial and strategic advice. Don’t forget the contrary is also true – incomplete information gathering leads to deficient analysis, which then leads to poor professional advice. This spells risk in all possible ways. A smaller risk would be the loss of time and money so as to re-do the searches and re-draft the documents. Of bigger consequence is that the firm could be sued, and the firm’s brand and reputation could be on the line. Further, the client would be dissatisfied, and any competitor would be handed an advantage – completely for free!

Digital transformation has offered firms the opportunity to finding new ways to reduce business process risk. By way of example, there is now legal technology that accurately analyses multiple sets of commercial information from public sources and automatically creates one single easy to understand report. Technology such as this, especially if it is one that enables visual mapping of the often complex web of interactions and interconnections, and that can be accessed anywhere due to being cloud-based, are revolutionary – but only if people use it!

Top tip – people is the key

Whether you have long recognised or only just realised that the real challenge in digital transformation is the part that involves transformation, my top tip for the successful use of technology to fundamentally improve the performance of our legal practices is nevertheless relevant – focus on people. This includes everyone, from the managing partner to the graduate lawyer, and do not forget those who are not in the traditional “fee earner” roles, such as knowledge managers, precedents specialists and professional support lawyers.

This is what history has shown – businesses, including law firms, that had focused primarily on technologies without investing in transforming their people’s mindset and actions to ensure their impact do not enjoy the benefits to their fullest extent. This is indeed in line with the observations I have over the years, and no doubt, yours too.

Easy steps that legal practice manages can take

The essence of digital transformation comes down to people. It is how people’s behaviours differ from that of those before them that genuinely matters. To change people’s behaviours for digital transformation success, legal practice managers can focus on communicating these two messages:

  • We are all humans. Humans make mistakes, this is so, even if we are very skilled and experienced in what we are trained to do. Human error is a very real risk. It is a threat with the potential to lead to serious consequences.
  • Process digitisation, such as in the form of automation, enables law firms to deploy people to more strategic and high-value tasks. This means, for example, lawyers are happier as they are doing less repetitive tasks and less paper pushing; they are less likely to be in a position to make mistakes; instead, they can use and develop their talent on “real legal work”. This also means management is happier as the workforce is happier, the firm is more competitive and profitable, and importantly, they are well placed to provide exceptional legal services to clients.

You may not realise it, but just by taking steps to deliver and reinforce these two messages is part of a digital strategy, regardless of whether or not you have one clearly articulated and documented. (If no, you could start now!) As we design or redesign our business processes – this can be from manual to part-automated to fully automated, or from no integration to part-integration to full integration – these messages help create a positive culture that fosters change and to drive digital transformation.

Now that we have a sound understanding of the true meaning of digital transformation, let us work on transforming people’s mindsets and actions, leverage the advanced technological solutions that are now very accessible, and thereby transform our legal practices for the better.

Editor's Note

Interested in learning more facilitating digital transformation at your firm? Benjamin will be presenting on “Balancing the Opportunity and Risks Posed by Digital Transformation to Help Your Firm Better Manage Risk” at 5.20pm on Wednesday 7 September, at the opening of the 2016 ALPMA Summit Trade Exhibition at Etihad Stadium , Melbourne. You can also attend other complimentary Partner Connection sessions to hear the compelling insights from our Principal & Gold Summit Partners. 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. The public opening commences at 3.00pm – and you do not have to be registered to attend Summit to come along. If you would like to attend the public opening get a free pass

ALPMA also offers great early bird savings on attending the 2016 ALPMA Summit – but hurry, as these savings end at midnight on Tuesday 2 August. Register now!

About our Guest Blogger

Benjamin Balk

As General Manager, Product and Marketing, Benjamin Balk oversees the product and information solutions strategy for SAI Global Property Solutions, which includes the information product offerings currently being rolled out to conveyancers and solicitors in preparation for electronic settlements. A seasoned executive, Benjamin has held strategy, marketing, sales and product management roles in a number of information services companies including Experian, the Veda Group and CITEC Confirm. These roles have stood him in good stead in his current position, enabling him to contribute his global product management and data experience to the development and improvement of the SAI Global Property Solutions product range. Constantly looking for innovative solutions to solve problems, Benjamin’s mission is to help conveyancers and solicitors and the banking and finance sector to improve industry engagement and efficiency for the benefit of all those involved in Property Transactions.

The prioritisation crisis in BigLaw business model firms

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

By Dr George Beaton, Partner, beaton 

In some ways I wish I had read Zone to Win: Organizing to Compete in an Age of Disruption, Geoffrey Moore’s most recent book (2015) while researching the content for my new book Remaking Law Firms: Why & How, co-authored with Dr Imme Kaschner.

On the other hand, it’s pleasing to have come to much the same conclusions as Moore about the urgency in resolving the prioritisation crisis, in our case the crisis faced by BigLaw business model firms. Chapter One of Moore’s book is titled 'A Crisis in Prioritization'. His first paragraph is masterful in succinctly capturing the essence the crisis, which applies as much to BigLaw firms, as it does to all businesses.

“What makes a modern business different? Simply put, speed plus disruption. Wave after wave of next generation technology is continually transforming the landscape of business, both inside the tech sector, where new offers are germinated, and everywhere else outside it (emphasis added), where they are largely consumed.

“This results in two imperatives for any established enterprise (in other words 99.9% of law firms built on the BigLaw business model – click here for an explanation of the BigLaw business model and its implications). In markets where you want to be the disruptor, where you want to play offense, you must catch the next wave. At the same time, in those markets where your current franchise is the incumbent and myself under disruptive attack, you have to play defense in order to prevent the next wave from catching you.”

Which way should BigLaw firms be looking to resolve the prioritisation crisis?

In the first instance, for the vast majority of firms, the answer is to play defence, that is avoid being swamped in the tsunami of change. I say this because incumbent law firms are risk-averse partnerships with no balance sheets, at least to speak of. This means the first priority is to survive in ways that assure their continued capacity to serve clients profitably.

My colleagues and I, as well as a growing number of others, Bruce MacEwen for example, have documented the reasons the environment of BigLaw is now an irreversible buyers’ market – see this post for an explanation. As little as a decade ago, all forces affecting the ability of law firms to extract superior profits for their work were benign, i.e. it was a sellers’ market. Now the there is hyper-competition, substitutes are growing in number, types and influence, clients’ have the power in setting prices, and lawyers willing to work in the tournament for partnership are becoming fewer and fewer.

Job #1: Remake your firm

We interviewed 40 people around the world in researching our forthcoming book. One of these is Stuart Fuller, Global Managing Partner of King & Wood Mallesons. Stuart used a memorable metaphor in explaining the challenge of preventing the next wave from catching you. Here’s an extract of what he said: “We are rebuilding it (the business model of King & Wood Mallesons) as we speak. I like to use an aero plane analogy; it’s like rebuilding a 787 mid-flight as we continue to fly the plane and that creates challenges”.

So it’s not just the media, advertising, travel, hospitality, retail, automotive and transport industries that are being disrupted by Netflix, Google, Airbnb, Amazon, Uber and Tesla. It’s law too with Axiom, IBM’s Watson, Riverview Law, and Neota Logic – to name just a few of the 100s of substitutes for law firms and lawyers.

Substitutes are not always competitors. Many are also complements for those firms that see the opportunity and grasp it. For example, read this article ‘An industrial revolution is coming to law‘ by Michael Mills. And this analysis I wrote last year ‘10 reasons BigLaw managing partners are not sleeping very well‘ setting out the opportunities and threats.

How much time do BigLaw firms have?

For globalising firms, Stuart Fuller suggested it was no more than five years in our interview, positing that there were only 15-20 firms likely to achieve leading global status and scale. 

For BigLaw firms taken as an industry, I think the answer is ‘It depends on what your expect to achieve before your firm is severely affected’. By ‘severely affected‘ I mean a halving or more of the profit per point of equity that the firm currently enjoys. The reasons for this assertion that profits are likely to halve in the majority of firms are set out in my September 2012 post ‘PPEP levels are doomed without re-invention‘ (note the year this was written!).

The realpolitik prioritisation crisis for BigLaw

This is how I see the realpolitik prioritisation crisis for BigLaw. Changing a firm’s business (aka operating) model is not hard in theory. Yes, it’s a massive task, but the real challenge is managing the investment required. As Moore puts it on page 25 “Not only is this going to be expensive to undertake, but also the ROI will come entitle out years, making a highly unattractive dent in the current years’ performance“.

There’s the rub for firms whose partners expect every feasible dollar of profit (and sometimes more) to be distributed every year. That means virtually every firm, with a handful of notable exceptions.

Some BigLaw firms are showing the way

It’s not that all BigLaw firms are sitting on their hands and waiting for the tsunami. Thankfully there are publicly acknowledged pathfinders such as Seyfarth Shaw, Allen & Overy and Gowlings WLG.  And there are perhaps less well-publicised examples of smaller firms, ranging from Inksters (Scotland) to Valorem (Chicago) to Hive Legal, McInnes Wilson and more in Australia.

The prioritisation crisis in BigLaw firms can be avoided. It takes an acute understanding of the environment, clarity of vision, leadership, and change management competence.

Editor's Note

Interested in learning more? Dr George Beaton 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. His presentation, 'Why it's time to remake your firm's business model' will elaborate on this theme and provide compelling insight on how to tackle this challenge.

Register now for fantastic early bird savings!

About our Guest Blogger

George BeatonDr George Beaton is a partner in beaton.  George is a Senior Fellow, Melbourne Law School in the University of Melbourne. His book, “Remaking Law Firms:Why and How" was published by the American Bar Association in March 2016.

Dr George Beaton has guided clients through a wide variety of strategic decisions in his 25 years as an advisor and consultant. Today his practice is focused on corporate advisory, performance improvement and problem-solving assignments for Boards and CEOs of professional services firms.

He is widely regarded as a leading independent authority on professional services industries and their firms. His work covers Australia, Asia, USA, Canada, and UK. He has a particular interest in the imperative for professional services firms to remake their business models. His thought leadership is published regularly and he is a regular keynote speaker in Australia, UK, Canada, and USA. George tweets at @grbeaton_law and @NewLawNewRules.

Your website ability to attract new business bears no relation to how much you spend on it

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

By Jim Thompson, Director of Strategy, One Rabbit 

You don’t always get what you pay for…

Yes there is a minimum amount you need to pay to get a website of an acceptable commercial standard built and designed by people who know what they are doing but its ability to attract new business has no correlation to how much you pay for it.

Unfortunately, I imagine many of you have already learnt this the hard way and maybe more than once.

In my experience, the number one outcome from a new website for many professional service firms is that the firm and its owners feel proud and better about themselves.

There is usually congratulations to the team involved for a long and somewhat arduous process to finally get the thing live, and many even celebrate with some kind of launch event or at least an announcement to staff and clients.

Nothing wrong with feeling proud or better about yourself but that’s not why you built it is it – surely?

(Ask yourself right now why you did build it – it’s not always the easy question to answer that it should be...)

Typically the time and money you spent that you didn’t have to was on what the thing looks like while lining the pockets of some self-anointed “brand experts” and graphic designers who rely on emotional, subjective queues with not much more than fluff in their tool-kits.

Most firm’s sites are all about themselves and full of long debated curated brand messages that due to internal politics and opinions typically leave the site a battlefield of compromise and poorly differentiated when you scratch the nice shiny surface.

And therein lies the problem money can’t buy you happiness (although it does help) and likewise it can’t buy you different – although you can can buy “looking different”.

As a buyer of expertise I’m actually more interested in your LinkedIn profile than your brand and what your firm has to say about itself.

Spend as much as you want trying to look different but the only way to be different is to actually be different.

The following factors influence the ability for your site to attract and convert new business;
  • How clever you really are
  • How well you understand your target audience
  • How well you are positioned to meet their needs and solve their problems
  • Your ability to find and capture your audience
  • How well you can demonstrate your expertise without saying it
  • The quality and depth of the content you are prepared to give away
  • The quality and depth of your lead nurturing program.

These are the things that you should be investing in as this is what wins new clients in a digital age not what you look like or say about yourself.

Editor's Note

Interested in learning more? Jim Thompson is a speaker at the 2016 ALPMA Summit, 'A Blueprint for Change' which will be held at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne from 7 - 9 September. Jim's presentation, 'How to Transform and Position your Firm for the New Business in a Digital Age', will guide you through a proven strategic approach and process specifically designed to transform and position your firm.

Register now for fantastic early bird savings!

About our Guest Blogger

Jim Thompson
Jim Thompson is Director of Strategy at One Rabbit, a specialist firm that markets and positions professional services firms for new business in a digital age.

He help clients throughout Australia maximise the new business opportunities a well thought out and executed digital strategy can deliver. He specialises in counselling, advising, helping and educating Professional Services firms on how to best strategically position themselves in a fast changing digital age.

The future is paperless

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

By John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack 

InfoTrack and Lawyers Weekly recently conducted a Transaction Technology survey of 742 legal professionals which revealed that over 20% believe that complacency could be threatening innovation in the legal market. Despite this fear, I believe that the industry is taking big steps to move itself into the future and now more than ever, legal players are embracing change and supporting innovation.

There is an undeniable shift occurring in the legal market and we are moving closer and closer to a truly digital future. There has been talk of electronic conveyancing for years, but it’s only recently that it has become a reality with new technology enabling practitioners to conduct a completely electronic transaction from start to finish.

On 9 June 2016, Claire Martin, a solicitor at Kreisson, conducted the first fully digital conveyance in the country when she sold her apartment in Dee Why without touching a single piece of paper. She had access to the money from the sale within 10 minutes. InfoTrack is proud to have played an integral part in this historic transaction.

Claire was able to conduct the following tasks electronically:

  • real estate agency agreement
  • contract preparation
  • execution of e-Contract by all parties
  • exchange
  • discharge of Mortgage
  • payment of stamp duty
  • ordering of s109 and
  • settlement

Gone are the days of piecing together contracts and amassing piles of paper that need to be scanned and emailed repeatedly.

Practitioners can now prepare, sign and exchange a contract from wherever they are – physical and geographical constraints are no longer an issue. Practitioners can save up to 30 minutes per contract and hours to days on the exchange process. It is simpler than ever and the profession is beginning to embrace this new way as they gain a better understanding of how it improves their workflow.

The benefits of going digital cannot be denied. It increases efficiency and accuracy – when you prepare a contract online, information is prepopulated saving time and avoiding data entry errors and there is only one master version of the contract that cannot be tampered with.

Digital conveyancing also cuts down on costs and wasted resources, including the reams of paper that each transaction used to involve.

The conveyancing process becomes much easier for everyone involved as efficiency benefits are passed on to clients and real estate agents. Most importantly in an industry where every minute counts, electronic conveyancing literally gives practitioners back time.

In an increasingly competitive market, it is more important than ever to stay on the leading edge of technology if you want to stay in the game. Technology is fast becoming a huge differentiator in the legal and conveyancing industries and practitioners are taking note. In our Transaction Technology survey, 78% of respondents agreed that early adoption of new technology is better for business.

This is the biggest change to how we buy and sell property in our lifetime and the start of a new era that will see firms move more and more of their processes online. The numbers clearly demonstrate that the industry is ready to embrace a change and early adopters are already forging the way toward a truly paperless future.

Editor's Note

ALPMA and InfoTrack are collaborating in ground-breaking research to investigate how Australasian law firms are supporting innovation and change at their firms and the people, process and technology initiatives law firms are implementing in order to adapt to the changing environment.  

The research will provide firms with greater insight into exactly what Australasian firms are doing to drive innovation and to respond to the changing legal landscape - and help firms create a blueprint for change.

The research is now open for participation by all Australasian law firms until Sunday, 24 July, 2016.

About our Guest Blogger

John Ahern
John Ahern 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.

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.

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