A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Why spreadsheets are slowly dying (and good riddance)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Compu-Stor advert




By David Keeler, CEO, FilePro 


For nearly 25 years, Microsoft Excel has been the financial foundation of business. Yet, slowly but surely, services like Xero, Salesforce and Google Analytics have replaced the humble spreadsheet – software that processes data with greater speed, accuracy, accessibility and visibility.

Yes, spreadsheets will always have a role, e.g. processing data highly specific to your circumstances. But for reports shared across business models – be it revenue, contact details, website visits or cash flow – spreadsheets fall flat.

When it comes to running a law firm, many common, business-critical indicators are still reliant on spreadsheets. Automating these financial indicators has numerous advantages:


1. Visibility



Humans are designed to understand information in a visual way, i.e. not a spreadsheet. Probably the most infamous example of this bias is the Challenger Space shuttle disaster, where a part was damaged due to cold temperatures.

In retrospect, it was found that the Challenger team did, in fact, test these sealants under different temperatures – this is how the data was displayed. 


FilePro O-ring history 1



And this is what would have been clear should the data have been displayed in a visual format.


FilePro O-ring history 2


The lesson is clear – ensure that your practice management system displays your information in a clear, logical, and easy-to-understand manner.

2. Speed



Spreadsheets are clunky. Data is copied and pasted from one program to the other, results have to be double checked, and Excel takes time to master.

Your practice management system should be able to display billings, debtors, task list, new matters listing with a single click, and in real time, i.e. without waiting for systems to generate data at the end of the month and the excel expert to generate reports.

Which brings us to...

3. Accuracy



The manual nature of excel makes it prone to human error. In fact, data researcher Raymond Panko found, “that the average cell error rates (the ratio of cells with errors to all cells with formulas) is 5.2%”.

While automated systems such as Dashboard are not immune to human error, e.g. someone filling out a timesheet incorrectly, a fully-integrated approach removes many steps of manual data handling across systems and further reduces the risk of mistakes.

 

4. Accessibility



This is two-fold. Firstly, many spreadsheets are hosted locally and can only be accessed by one person at a time. Services like Office 365 are changing this, although they raise security issues around public v private hosting.

Secondly, spreadsheets aren’t tailored to who is looking at them – for example, a junior fee-earner shouldn’t see your firm’s P&L. Yet you may want them to compare their daily time sheets to their KPIs.


Firstly, check whether your practice management system is hosted locally or on a private server, preferably in Australia. Secondly, ask if it can create tailored reports based on who is looking – be it partner, practice manager or fee earner.



About our Guest Blogger

David Keeler
David has been involved with the legal profession for over 25 years. Originally an accountant and consultant, he became disenchanted with the quality of legal software and developed a solution to satisfy the requirements of his clients – ie FilePro.

After working with over 1000 firms, David has acquired a wealth of knowledge about what it takes to improve the productivity of a law firm, and ultimately, their profit.

If you’d like to learn more about FilePro’s Dashboard, visit our website or watch the video

FilePro video link


Feel free to contact me on a no-obligation basis to discuss any technology, workflow or productivity challenge you may be facing.




3 tips to implement outsourcing for your firm

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Compu-stor advert


By Robin Carter, Managing Director, Add Capacity


Outsourcing was definitely one of the buzzwords heard during the  ALPMA Summit 2016 “A Blueprint for Change” as one of the strategies for change to move a firm into the future. However in my experience, outsourcing legal work (offshoring) still remains a new concept to most firms, with partners and practice managers struggling to know where to begin and how to go about implementing it.


As one principal told me, he loved the idea but the biggest barrier remained “fitting this new jigsaw piece into the existing puzzle that is running a legal practice”. If this sounds like you, here are my top 3 things to consider to help make legal process outsourcing work successfully for your firm.


1. Know your 'Why'



The 3 most common problems our legal clients are looking for a solution to are:

  • Dealing with fluctuations in volumes
  • Productivity due to staff absence
  • Service level variation during busy periods and staff re-allocation
  • Costs of running the back office

Which of these is the main driver for you? While outsourcing offers clear cost advantages in replacing high fixed costs with lower variable costs, my belief is that outsourcing really benefits the firm when the overall objective is a commitment to move activities up the value chain toward higher levels of client service delivery.

Whatever your reasons, once you have this clarity on your why, you will make better informed decisions and be more committed to achieving the outcome.

2. Be prepared to invest



It might sound clichéd, but outsourcing really is a journey not a destination. Even with an experienced team who knows the process, every firm has their own way of doing things or slight variations. A great outsourcing service is an incredibly valuable asset that will keep paying dividends once set up, so it will require someone in the firm to oversee to get it right and keep it on track. Assign someone with great client relationship skills who has the patience and persistence to work through operational issues towards achieving the outcome.

Start with a trial period and review performance. One instance is not sufficient, you want to establish that you will be able to rely on your supplier to work together over a longer period, and this will require an assessment of a variety of factors from technical competence, price, communication and problem solving.

Focus on outsourcing one task or job, then systemising this and only when this is successfully running as you want, replicate the process across other tasks. The initial job will provide you with invaluable knowledge about both the team you are working with and your own internal process required to achieve a successful outcome, that will speed up implementing subsequent processes later on.

3. Get internal buy-in



Managing internal resistance to change may be the biggest hurdle you face in getting your outsourcing project off the ground. The most common unspoken (and sometimes spoken) fear that arises with staff when the word “outsourcing” is mentioned is fear that they are going to lose their jobs. Communicate your 'Why', get the buy-in of your staff with what it means for them, and have a plan for what they will do if part of their work is going to be outsourced.


The clearer these are articulated, the more likely that staff will come on board with the project and see outsourcing as part of a bigger picture towards positioning the firm for future growth, and therefore the security of their jobs. Look at your wishlist for improvement projects and have a plan for staff who will be affected for how their time will be re-assigned to new tasks. Actively involve staff in the process to get their ideas for activities which add value and ultimately add to productive revenue generation rather than just the busyness of getting the task done.


About our Guest Blogger

Robin Carter
Robin Carter is the founder and Managing Director of Add Capacity, an outsourcing company specialising in legal process outsourcing for small to medium sized solicitor firms. Add Capacity is also a LEAP certified bookkeeper.

Robin holds an LLB and is a qualified accountant, and has been involved in outsourcing for the last 3 years. He is passionate about enabling professional service firms to grow by releasing routine work and focusing more on value added client service tasks.  



Why law firm marketing is like dating

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Compu-stor advert





By Wendy Coombes, Brite Kite Marketing


Proposing marriage on a first date is a surefire way of cooling a budding romance in it its tracks. It is safe though to assume that our chances of “putting a ring on it” are vastly improved by a period of courtship.

So just as in the dating game, attracting and converting your ideal legal clients is a sensitive multi-staged process.

Attract



So how do we attract that ideal person into our lives, or, in the case of legal marketing, our ideal legal client to our firm? Having a clear picture of what your ideal client looks like and knowing where he or she congregates is a strong start.

In marketing speak we refer to this process as ideal buyer profiling. Unlike defining a target audience in demographic language, an ideal buyer profile is a “deep dive” into your ideal client’s psychographics. Things like:

  • Pain points (what do you help them solve)
  • Goals & Challenges
  • Information Sources (blogs, forums, social media, review sites etc)
  • Values (what is important to them)
  • What experience do they look for when searching for your services

By creating a clear picture of our ideal client, we can readily recognise them, fine-tune our products and services to better meet their needs and, importantly, we know where they hang out.

If you want to attract a rugby player it is no good hanging out at the cricketer’s arms, but you if your ideal date is a cricketer..., anyway you get the idea.

Engaging and Nurturing Builds Trust



According to an article in the Guardian, a survey in the US put the number of people who google their date’s name before a first meeting at 43%.

What will your prospect find when they Google you? Hopefully a thoughtful article written by you that demonstrates you are someone who understands them, speaks their language and understands their goals and challenges. That is a pretty good start for anyone actively playing the dating game (or wanting to attract their ideal clients to their legal business).

Chances are however that their search result takes them to your LinkedIn profile or a profile on your firm’s website. Not bad, but probably not that memorable either.

Fostering trust is the key to building and nurturing strong, loyal relationships. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer shows us that experts and people who are “like us” are amongst the most trusted.

It therefore makes sense for legal practitioners to make use of digital channels to demonstrate both expertise and empathy to attract and engage their ideal customer. One way of achieving that is by publishing relevant content (articles for example) that position you as a subject matter expert.

Being personal and attentive



Successful courtship is all about being sensitive to the other person’s hopes, dreams and needs and responding in a relevant and personal way. Considering that John Gray’s book “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” (first published in 1992) sold over 50 million copies, it’s obvious that many of us find this pretty challenging to manage in our personal relationships, let alone when it comes to marketing a law firm.

Unlike the physical world, when it comes to successfully building relationships through digital channels, technology and data are our friend. Marketing automation, in expert hands, can help personalize and enhance the experience your customer has with your legal brand. It also lets you educate prospects in a way they find valuable, relevant and timely.

Timing is everything



Too early and you run the risk of repelling your date. Too late and the bird might have flown. Know when it is the right time to invite your prospect for a telephone conversation or a coffee meeting is critical.

Here too technology is a legal marketer’s best friend. By keeping track of which information your prospect engages with, you are progressively building their profile and structuring a comprehensive picture. Based on the actions they take on your website, the relevant partner or BD associate will be notified that the prospect is ready to be contacted.


When this time arrives, you have a wealth of data at your fingertips which will make that first outreach call more personalized and relevant.

The proposal: Putting a ring on it



The proposal stage should only be a formality. If you believe that your prospect has any doubt at all about taking it all the way to the altar, it is best to keep your powder dry. Addressing concerns and possible objections in an upfront and friendly manner builds further trust and enhances your chances of hearing a resounding YES!


About our Guest Blogger


Wendy CoombesWendy is a marketing strategist and marketing automation expert who works with professional services providers to help them make smart use of digital marketing channels to grow their business.

She combines intelligent strategies with smart content and technology to deliver demand generation programs that are highly targeted, effective and relevant.

Her Sydney based inbound marketing agency, Brite Kite Marketing is HubSpot certified and offers marketing technology, inbound marketing and demand generation services.

Brite Kite are an ALPMA FY17 NSW Corporate Partner.

Wendy currently sits on the NSW State Committee of the Australian Marketing Institute.

You may connect with Wendy through LinkedIn or by sending an email to wendy@britekite.com.au


Moving beyond slips, trips and falls in WHS: Managing psychosocial risks at work

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

ICON - Compu-stor advert


By Dr Rebecca Michalak, Principal Consultant, PsychSafe


In 1835, four hundredweight of mutton fell from an overloaded wagon onto a butcher servant, dislocating his shoulder, breaking his thigh, and causing a number of other injuries.

The incident lead to the landmark Priestley v Fowler (1837) common law case. The jury debated, amongst other things, whether the defendant engaged in 'pigheadedness' – in other words, whether the butcher knowingly over-loaded the wagon, thus causing or at the very least contributing to the accident.


The resulting judgment in favour of the plaintiff effectively paved the way for changes in the meaning and extent of employer and employee safety duties and liabilities, setting a precedent, and arguably underpinning our modern workplace health and safety legislative framework.

Workplace health and safety (WHS) standards have come a long way since 1835, and you would be forgiven for thinking that employers have workplace safety issues pretty much under control nowadays.

Air quality sensors have replaced canaries in mineshafts, warning signs galore adorn stairwells and lunchroom boiling water dispensers, and ergonomic keyboards and chairs are omnipresent.

“Safety” also appears as a core value on corporate vision and mission statements across the country, often alongside the ubiquitous statement that “people are our greatest asset.”

Unfortunately, more-than-decade-and-a-half in management and HR roles tells a very different story. Rhetoric abounds, and, in my experience, if one scratches just a little bit, the shiny surface of these safety claims is exposed, revealing a decidedly lack-lustre reality.

In law specifically, no natural – let alone subterranean – assets exist. Think about it. The law is a common good. Your business does not own this good. Your strategic competitive advantage lies in how you use this common good to produce products and services, which requires knowledge-workers.

In the absence of knowledge-workers, your business is essentially sans assets. Sans revenue. Pretty much sans a business (ok, yes, we have Lawbot, for contracts. But Lawbot depends upon knowledge-workers, to create and run Lawbot).


Strategically, for what the OECD classifies as a knowledge-based economy, our current approach to WHS is far less advanced than it should be, and that we’d ever like to concede. While humans are considered the most advanced species on earth, our approach to certain aspects of WHS is still back there hanging out with the hominina. Aka chimps.


Don’t get me wrong – we do seem to be across the need to prevent physical injuries. You can (probably) give yourself a tick.

However, employers appear decidedly stuck in the ‘slips, trips and falls’ WHS era. The requirement to ensure workplaces are not just physically but also psychologically and emotionally safe remain poorly, if at all, understood, aspects of WHS law.

Unsurprisingly, when it comes to risk management of factors affecting psychological and emotional safety, otherwise known as “psychosocial risks”, workplaces fare….. well….. Not So Well.

In my experience, organisations are more likely to have detailed risk management / disaster recovery / business continuity plans for a ‘two Boeing 767’s flew into the office block’ scenario than they are to have strategies to effectively manage psychosocial risks. Ironically including the psychosocial risks inherent to the fallout of said crisis of plane into building scenario (did someone say survivor post-traumatic stress disorder…?)

This failure exists despite a plethora of empirical data and anecdotal evidence that employees are exposed to these risks on a daily basis, if not multiple times a day. Recent research suggests poor interpersonal and/or leadership behaviours, including mistreatment, sexual harassment, incivility and bullying, are common, and for all intents and purposes, culturally pervasive in legal. As in amongst lawyers, risk exposure affects the majority, and for some risks, exceeds 90%.

The above in mind, I suggest leaders and managers need to stop, consider and strategise, because:

Psychological and emotional safety is AS important as physical safety



Not an add on; not a nice to have. A legislated requirement. Firm and officer liabilities for negligence offences for failing to provide a psychologically and emotionally safe working environment are the same as for failing on the physical safety front. The terms “significant” and “severe” spring to mind. While Priestley’s £100 is ‘only’ about $18,000 in today’s terms, a Category 1 Reckless Negligence offence can now attract a $3m fine for the employer, and 6,000 units in personal officer liability (in QLD that translates into $600K). And/or five years in jail. Take your pick. D & O insurance does not cover WHS breaches by the way. It’s a bit like crashing your car while drink driving; no insurer covers that scenario. Oh, and much like simply having unsafe scaffolding up on a construction site is enough to attract a WHS fine even if no one has fallen off it (yet), a psychological injury does not need to actually occur for you to be considered recklessly negligent in failing to provide a psychsafe working environment.

Resilience and mindfulness are psychosocial risk fire blankies



I have seen some fairly questionable safety conduct in my time – including walking in on someone disconnecting a 920 kg drum of liquefied chlorine gas sans breathing apparatus – and without closing the live flow valve off first.

I’m pretty sure my sprint exit from that chemical storage room would have given Usain Bolt a run for his money. No, seriously. I think I flew.

But I have to admit I am yet to see an employee douse an office in fuel and set it on fire, only to joyfully pull out a fire blanket and declare “It’s all good” or “This is fun!” whilst attempting to smother rampant flames.

Tiered (read: “legitimate”) risk management plans should include, but not rely solely on fire blankies.

Resilience and mindfulness strategies have their place. But these strategies really only come into their own after exposure to the risk. After 400 weight of mutton falls on your servant. This approach is a little bit like wanting to be an after-the-fact accessory. To grievous bodily harm, manslaughter, murder.

I’ve noticed the legal profession has an unnatural obsession with fire blankies. They should probably see someone about that.

Failure to primary prevent is costing you – and/or your insurers – money. A lot of it.



Evidence suggests merely being exposed to psychosocial risks negatively impacts all five aspects of job performance, translating into (*cough* SUBSTANTIALLY) lowered profitability. Employees who merely witness a risk exposure event also suffer psychologically and job-performance wise, causing a ripple effect.


Decade-long trends also show amongst other confronting stats, psychological injury claims are not only the single disease-related category of injury on the increase, these claims are, by a loooooong shot, the most expensive claim type.

In addition, poor mental health is considered the elephant in the room in approximately 1 in 3 professional indemnity claims.

It is unsurprising that Worker Compensation and Professional Indemnity insurers have started to cotton on to the “pfffttt, but that’s what insurance is for” attitude to psychosocial risk management. A more eyes wide open and move on from current ‘community’ or ‘number, not cost of claim’ approaches to setting premiums is underway.

After all, it is logical a car insurer would probably have an issue with someone deliberately driving their Ferrari into a wall at 140kph thinking “wahoo, this thing is fitted with airbags.”

Life and income protection insurers are also unimpressed with the exponential increases in TPD claims coming out of the legal profession by those who self-select out and then are declared psychologically unfit to work. In many cases, ever again.

The slips, trips and falls approach to WHS is decades out of date. When it comes to psychological and emotional safety, 1964 does not cut the mutton; Times have changed. Failing to recognize, respect and proactively integrate these changes into your firm’s risk management plan is not only a display of ‘pig-headedness’, but also akin to being as old as Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A-Changin”, and getting caught with your pants down. In public.

Does your firm have a psychosocial risk management plan? Is it tiered to cover primary prevention, early intervention and tertiary intervention strategies? Or do you rely on mindfulness and resilience strategies?



Editor's Note

psychosocial risk management imageWant to know more about managing psychosocial risks at your firm? You can watch Dr Rebecca Michalak's 2016 ALPMA Summit presentation Psychosocial Risks in Law Firms: Why Prevention is Better than Cure from ALPMA's On Demand Learning Centre for just $99, thanks to our 2016 ALPMA Summit On-Demand partner, BigHand.






About our Guest Blogger



Dr Rebecca MichalakDr Rebecca Michalak possesses over a decade of employment experience in senior management, consulting, and strategic human resources management roles in the private, not-for-profit, and public sectors. Rebecca's primary interests lie in strategic HRM, including values-based alignment practices, high performance cultures, change management, and psychosocial risk factor management. An expert in the field, she adopts a stress optimisation approach to employee performance that maximises productivity whilst minimising psychosocial risk to employees. Her perspective on managing human resources for strategic competitive advantage is knowledge-worker centric, and underpinned by social sustainability principles.

Dr Michalak holds a PhD in Business from the University of Queensland, a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Management Research from the University of Western Australia, and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with Honours (Organisational Psychology) from Murdoch University.

Rebecca is also a Certified Trainer and Assessor, a Certified Team Management Systems Practitioner, and University of Queensland Alumni Future Leader Program Awardee (2014). Her professional memberships include Member, Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology, Member, Australian Institute of Company Directors, and Certified Professional Member, Australian Human Resources Institute.

 

How well does your firm manage information security?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

By Leticia Mooney, Director, Brutal Pixie 


The legal profession is one in which information security ought to be front-of-mind. The truth is that information security management feels difficult, gigantic, and not yet necessary.

As a content strategist, my daily trade is in information. I create it for readers, yes, but I also work in risk management, information governance, and digital projects like website rebuilds. In my long experience, it's extremely rare to work with a client who is serious about information security.

Information security management is a critical challenge



There are a lot of challenges facing the legal profession, but the most critical challenge is one that most don't want to face. Data security is about more than having the right cyber insurance in case of hacking or penetration attack. It's about prioritising its importance inside your firm, so that all of your projects have an information security layer to them.
Information Security Management is the unsexy brother of cybersecurity. It's less attractive because it asks you to really think about how you manage insecurity. It's the kind of thinking that gives you headaches before you even start, just like doing the hard thinking about strategic action and strategic growth.

Real-life example from a small firm



You might even think that this kind of thinking is unnecessary. Well, let me give you a real-life example. This firm I will give a fictional name: Let's call it Rosie's Family Lawyers. Rosie's had been working with a range of vendors to help her represent the firm accurately online. She had Search Engine Optimisation vendors, digital marketing vendors, a content strategy company. She also had other vendors: Business coaches, management advisors, and a range of others who have access to her online systems.

One day, Rosie got an email from someone in another country advising her that her website access details were available because a digital marketer saved them in his LastPass account. She did the right thing and sent it to me asking whether or not it was legitimate - because she didn't know the online space, nor the language to use. After being questioned, the person who sent the email advised that a group of digital marketers who buy SEMRush (which is search engine marketing software) purchased it on a cheap option. Access to SEMRush is provided in a LastPass account. And one of Rosie's vendors had accidentally saved her website details in that LastPass account. This meant that everyone around the world who had bought in on this 'group buy' option now had full administrator access, and it had to be removed.

With this information, we were able to track down the vendor and resolve the situation. Since then, Rosie's Family Lawyers are taking their information security much more seriously.

When she stopped to think about it, Rosie's firm had, in its rush to speed up its efficiency, neglected to think properly or clearly about its information security management. In the post-mortem of this event, in which we were involved, we realised that:

  • The back-end of her website held sensitive information about clients

  • That sensitive information was transferred to another database, which is cloud-based

  • The known people with administrator access to the website included at least five people who were not her employees, and with whom she had no formal confidentiality or information handling agreements

  • There are unknown people who might also have access (who include team members who work with her vendors).

What the firm learned from this experience



Rosie has since realised where the gaps are in her information security handling. Because she runs a small firm, she didn't think having policies was even necessary: It seemed a waste of time.

Without having done the thinking ahead of time, Rosie had no idea how to respond. If she didn’t have a trusted advisor like me, she would have tried to bumble through this territory all by herself. What she realised is that there was no structure around how vendors are engaged, or how they agree to work with (and handle or even access) client information in her online systems. She didn't have a structure for managing the information security knowledge of her staff. She didn't have any business systems, risk assessments, or evaluation processes that could help her if she was doing this on her own.

If I had asked Rosie how her firm performs against international standards for information security management, she would have laughed me out of the room. Knowing this, though, is a fantastic way to start thinking about what your firm needs to do first.

Here are some really common situations for which many firms don't have any structure:

  • Files held in cloud services like Dropbox, which makes the information subject to the laws of other countries

  • Cloud-based databases (Google Drive, Office365, and others) that may store your client information internationally, making that information subject to the laws of other nations

  • Automated information gathering on websites, and stored in website databases that don't have the right levels of security

  • Outsourced writers, marketers, advisors, web hosts... the list goes on.

What do you do if your information security management is poor?



The first and most common reaction is to shut all the online and cloud systems down - at a great cost to firm efficiency, and without thinking of the realities of 21st century business.

Shutting things down is not the solution. Embracing the opportunity to improve your firm is the right thing to do. To be blunt, you are better off to think, ‘What can we do?’ rather than, ‘We need to shut everything down'.

If you don't have a policy, your first step is to put one in place. Draft it and get your teams to comment. Inviting collaboration in policies like these results in policies that everyone in the firm can own, contribute to, and improve.

The second thing you need is support from your most senior leadership. If your firm’s staff don’t see support for it at the highest end, will they take it seriously? It’s very unlikely. Conversations about information security management can be added to team mentoring or coaching sessions, where you can ask for feedback, improvements, or suggestions.

You can also start identifying smarter ways of gathering and holding information, knowing that the current economy that makes outsourcing a real and valuable thing.

Cyber security software teams will happily tell you how many companies recover from data breaches, system lockdowns ahead of ransom demands, and other piratical events. It's extremely low: When you think about what would happen if all your systems were offline, and the reputation damage, it's very unlikely your business would recover.

But there is opportunity here, too. Instead of burying your head in the sand and hoping it goes away, own up to it and get things moving.

If you do just one thing today that moves your information security management forwards, you're one step closer than you were yesterday. The first place to start is with your policy and most senior management: Because once your leadership takes it seriously, everything else will start to fall into place.

About our Guest Blogger


Leticia Mooney
Leticia Mooney is the Director of Brutal Pixie, Australia’s only content strategy company that specialises in working with the legal profession. She is a content strategist and a qualified auditor for ISO standards.











Speech Recognition...the Way of the Future?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

By Mike Kelly, Director, Sound Business Systems

There is a resurgence of interest in speech recognition (SR) within the legal profession currently. This same interest incidentally is mirrored in other professions such as healthcare and in business generally. It is a trend that is likely to continue. Refer to the 2014 Gartner report where Speech Recognition is now positioned as one of the leading productivity tools of our age.

Penetration

SR is now penetrated far and wide within the legal sector. There are installations of all sizes…many sole practitioners and a number of firms with just one or two users. There are also an increasing number of firms with 5-10 licences and a few with 20 plus. It is difficult to be 100% certain but we estimate that there are close to 1,000 SR licences in the field today. The product is extensively used with email but also with precedents and templates and of course for substantial opinion or advice related matters.

Motivations

The motivations are varied. In many cases it is driven by individual lawyers or their Practice Managers...interestingly not too often by IT at this stage, but this is set to change in my view now that the technology is now main stream. My expectation is that we will progressively see the “institutionalising” of SR in firms by including it in staff indoctrination processes and making it either a compulsory tool or one that is available as part of the firm’s standard IT platform.

With some firms today there is no planned approach. A lawyer might just have read about it and want to try…referrals are an increasing driver. Others may be forced into it because of 
secretarial constraints or because while they might be used to self-creating documents they find the process of typing slow or tedious by comparison to what speech alone can deliver. Remember you can speak at least three times faster than you can type. In others it is a cold hearted ROI that drives SR.

SR is overwhelmingly used in what is called “front end” mode where a lawyer dictates and the transcribed text appears on their own PC. Initially the thinking was that “back end” deployment of SR, where the lawyer dictated but the text appears on the typist PC, would also be on interest but this has not taken off and in my opinion is unlikely to do so. With SR technology so accurate nowadays, secretarial involvement and the attendant waiting time involved, is a luxury few can afford.

SR is a productivity and efficiency tool

SR is an interesting and clever technology, but first and foremost it is a productivity and efficiency tool. It is not without cost when one factors in installation/training and support plus perhaps a wireless input device, but it will quickly pay for itself if deployed correctly. In one firm where we piloted just the one licence, it quickly grew to nine users and the annual savings of $170k in annual staff support costs is not insignificant. For a one off investment of just $12k this equates to a payback of weeks rather than months.

Because lawyers can produce our own documents on the spot, this can free up typists and secretaries. With the need for typing now diminished, this resource can be redirected into more productive areas as true personal assistants and authors in their own right.

Current scene

To my mind the traditional dictation/transcription market has plateaued. This applies to both desktop digital and network digital technologies. It is not something I like to admit because we enjoy a sizeable business in both areas, but that is my definite opinion. Lawyers no longer want to dictate, send a draft through to their secretary PA and then have it returned for final sign off. They will either type up an original themselves relying heavily on smart precedents or they will do the same things except they will use voice rather than the keyboard. With the advent of a specifically tailored NZ Legal SR software that is now so amazingly accurate there will be few mistakes and the old myth that lawyers won’t format and edit themselves is simply not true. The modern lawyer is quite adept at editing and formatting and as you’d expect in this age of instant fulfilment, get frustrated at what they see as the unneccessary and time consuming step of sending dictated work to a secretary, when they can start and complete a matter themselves in one session.

SR is used for the creation of standard forms type documents where it integrates with a firms precedent system, for the creation of an accurate first draft and invariably with the daily deluge of emails which are fast becoming bread and butter to practitioners.

We are seeing SR used by authors of all ages. While it is probably true that for many more established lawyers the preference is to continue to use a secretary/PA I am continually surprised at the cross section of users out there. Technology or age tends not to be a barrier…but there are other barriers of which a potential user needs to be aware.

Pitfalls

There are a few to be aware of:



  • Not all users or all work types suit SR. While age or technical knowhow is largely irrelevant there must be a certain enthusiasm to explore a more productive alternatives and accept a small amount of training. It is not sensible to consider a firm wide roll out without total buy in from all users.

  • While dictation speed, volume, background noise etc are not issues, the user must be able to dictate or compose their thoughts on the fly. In days gone by this skill was taught to most new graduates but nowadays it is not that common. However it’s not a bad skill to have for any lawyer, I think you’d agree, and like all skills it can be learned. If you are not adept at dictation, we recommend daily practice as a way of coming up to speed. Here are some tips on dictation.

  • The technology is quick to adapt to your voice and produce a highly accurate document but it does need training to extract most value. Don’t be tempted to scrimp in this area. Remember you are spending money to make money.

  • If you operate in open plan are you comfortable in speaking aloud in front of your colleagues? Keyboarding a document or email by comparison is totally private by and you are free to make mistakes or correct without anyone knowing. Do remember though that you can dictate quietly.

  • Proof reading your own dictated document can be a challenge for some. They find it far easier to offload this task to a qualified legal secretary.

New features and direction


Deep learning



Nuance who are one of the leaders in the SR field, designed their speech engine to work off of the principal of deep learning, which relates to artificial intelligence. What this means in practical terms is that it is more tolerant of accents, background noise and adapts your profile on the fly.

Virtual environments



Support for Citrix virtual environments and also TS. Fully Win 10 Office 2016/365 compatible.

Reporting



SR is now biting directly into the space occupied by the network dictation solutions employed by many large firms in that for multiple users it is now possible for IT to centrally administer,manage and maintain (modify, repair, upgrade, remove) the SR software licences and track employee usage, redistribute licenses based on employee use and manage or share customisations, including custom words, commands and auto-texts, across multiple SR users.


Look for a SR product that allows usage monitoring. Especially in a larger deployment this allows conclusions to be drawn in terms of how effectively SR is being uses. Great for anyone interested in the ROI of the SR investment and for highlighting training issues ets. 



In Summary


The takeaway from all this is that no longer do users have to worry about:



  • Accuracy (it’s quickly up to 95% plus immediately after installation)

  • Enrolment. Just takes 2 -3 minutes to adapt to your voice

  • Ease of use. Now very intuitive and able to use mousing as well as voice commands.

  • Computing power. Any modern computer will have with an I5 processor and 4GB RAM or better will do a fine job.

  • SR software can be loaded onto as many as four (4) separate devices meaning you can also store your profile in one place and have it synchronised between your office computer and your laptop.

  • With multiple users a firm can measure usage and identify competence and training needs.

  • SR can be trialed, so a leap of faith is not necessary.

For opinion oriented first drafts, general commercial law involving precedent and templates and for dealing with the mass of email traffic, SR is worth considering.

About our Guest Blogger

Mike KellyAfter a business career running steel and paper mills for Fletcher Challenge in the 80/90’s, Mike settled back to NZ in the late 1990’s and has been co-owner of Sound Business Systems (SBS) based in Auckland NZ ever since.  Sound Business Systems is a provider of Phillips, Olympus, Winscribe and Dragon SR technologies.  He spends his day to day working with law firms of all sizes on dictation and speech recognition related solutions.

The firm’s customer base is NZ wide and they deal with everyone from the sole practitioner right through to the largest firms in the country. They have a full team of specialists who install train and provide after sales support.  

Sound Business Systems have been an ALPMA NZ partner since the establishment of ALPMA in New Zealand.





ALPMA Member Q&A with Mark Beale, General Manager at Malley & Co

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

By Mark Beale, General Manager, Malley & Co.


In this ALPMA member Q&A, we interview Mark Beale, General Manager at Malley & Co, who shares his experience in the New Zealand legal industry and discusses what's in store for 2017.

What are you planning on doing more of this year? 

Having just completed eight days in Australia’s delightful Central Coast, it’s hard to personally go past more recreation time, but sadly I can hear the office calling me back. My insightful and pinpoint forecast for 2016 was of there being “change”, I’m going again with that this year. Change as they say is as good as a rest and more of that seems pretty compelling. There is plenty ahead of me on that front. 

On the professional front, I’m looking forward to the ALPMA Summit in Brisbane, which keeps getting better and bigger every year. The opportunity to network for those of us walking similar paths (sometimes as the lone manager in a firm) is incredibly useful and the quality presentations, always return you back to your firm with fresh ideas and inspired and reinvigorated. Professionally too, I have a big year ahead having only just moved into my new role with my firm in October last year. There are some exciting productivity and knowledge management projects, that I’m looking forward to leading for the firm as well as driving our own learning and development program for our up and coming lawyers.

What are you planning on doing less of?


The plan would be to work less but achieve more, I’ll get back to you on that.

How did you get started in the legal industry?

I’ve been involved with legal management in several firms over half my life. I was told several years ago that once you are immersed in law firm management it’s hard to extract yourself. The clairvoyant accountant, has been proven correct. I began my working life as a journalist in NZ but after two years working in London across a range of administration positions, I turned my focus towards management and more particularly systems administration in a legal practice. Things progressed and over the years I have worked in a range of management roles within legal firms involving technology, business development, human resources and finance functions. Oh, how I wished ALPMA existed back then!

After over six years in a smaller commercial and property law practice, last October I moved to a much larger full-service practice in Malley and Co. Having seen off the themes of reconstruction and business change which all Christchurch legal practices experienced after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in the city, it was simply time to change and look for fresh challenges that the new firm now offers.

What do you think is in store for the NZ legal industry this year?


I was at the NZLaw Association conference a couple of months ago and John Chisholm, the guest speaker, noted that in his opinion there had been more change in the legal industry over the last five years than in the preceding 30 that he had experienced. I have to agree (although John is older than me). The New Zealand legal industry is not exempt from these changes. Younger practitioners are confident, motivated, looking for development and challenge and expecting that their firms deliver the opportunities and the support systems to make them better lawyers. Pragmatically, the current owners of law firms have to ensure as part of their succession planning that their practice is modern, capable and an attractive proposition for their potential new business owners. Equally, firms have to deliver that same capability and attractiveness to a more savvy, researched and price sensitive new generation of clients. 

There is a lot of work ahead for legal practices in the coming five years on both sides of the Tasman. We are beginning to see the emergence of new providers of specialist support services in New Zealand, perhaps not to the same extent as in Australia yet, but their business propositions offer exciting opportunities for law firms to stay focused on their core deliverables to clients, while contracting out knowledge and practice support services with these new legal service providers. It’s very interesting.

How does ALPMA deliver on its promise to you?

I can’t believe how fortunate we are to have such an organisation providing a wealth of constant professional development opportunities for law firm managers. When I first started in law firm management, the most you could hope for was the ALA management periodicals and the occasional offshore conference. Times have changed. I’m incredibly proud to see how ALPMA has developed over the last few years. The development opportunities, the content we provide and the way it is delivered to managers in the city and countryside of Australia and New Zealand is world class. Finally, and on a more parochial note, I’m also particularly heartened by the New Zealand branch’s growth and how its membership has turned out at each Summit in increasing numbers. That tells me that ALPMA is meaningful, relevant and delivers to its member.


Editor's Note

Now is a great time to become an ALPMA member. Membership is a highly cost-effective investment in developing your leadership and management skills and extending your professional network. It will also give you valuable insights to help you improve your firm's performance in a complex and rapidly changing legal environment. ALPMA membership until 30 June, 2017 is just $A250 (ex GST) and less if you work outside the CBD or in New Zealand. ALPMA also offers generous discounts for firms that support multiple memberships.

Your membership includes free attendance at our regular practice management and Leading Your Firm events, free access to content in the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre - and much more. Join now.



About our Guest Blogger

Mark BealeMark is the General Manager at Malley & Co. He brings considerable legal management experience having worked for national and regional legal practices over the past 25 years. As General Manager at Malley & Co, Mark is responsible for ensuring the performance of the business across a range of management functions including finance, technology, business development and team resourcing.

Mark has a particular interest in developing and implementing business initiatives that focus on improving performance and delivering accessible and user friendly service to his firm's customers. 

Mark is a member of the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association and serves on the ALPMA New Zealand Executive Committee and the ALPMA Board.

How to execute on your firm's New Year resolution

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

By Alistair Marshall, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates


Many of you probably put together an aspirational list of hopes, dreams and targets for your business whilst enjoying a glass of something nice over Christmas and the New Year. But we all know that most resolutions are forgotten by the third week of January, so I am here today as your conscience, to make sure you deliver on your New Year’s resolution for your practice and get 2017 off to a flying start.

7 ways to ensure 2017 is your most successful year ever



Here are my top seven ideas that you can initiate immediately to bring in work:


  • Pick up the phone to five clients you have not heard from recently, and ask them how they are going. Maybe send them an article you have written, or some relevant research that would be useful to them.

  • Go and visit your top five clients from 2016, and see what else they may need assistance with. Can they refer you to other individuals within their contact sphere?

  • Reach out to five prospective clients from your pursuit list, who match your ideal client profile. If you don’t have the names of specific organisations and individuals, then you will really struggle to make much progress.

  • Buy lunch or dinner for your best five referrers of work. Good things happen when you get out from behind your desk and go and talk to people.

  • Get yourself a speaking gig at an event that will be attended by potential clients. It is a great way to be seen as the expert in your field.

  • Write a thought leadership piece and send it to your database – make sure it’s on a topic of significant interest and value to them and their networks.

  • Attend or host a networking event involving as many of your business contacts as possible.


Over the years, I have learned that when it comes to business development, the more proactive you are, the “luckier” you become at generating more revenue!

And remember that what gets measured, gets improved, so track your efforts and results. For most individuals in professional services firms, key performance indicators tend to relate to financial results, client satisfaction, improving staff morale, and making efficiency gains with internal processes to help profitability.

How are you and your team going to track your progress against these goals?

Whilst no one measurement should be considered more important than another, the number of billable hours produced in the calendar year is usually a critical measurement for most firms.

Winners make it happen; losers let it happen. To hit your New Year goals, you need to start taking action now.

About our Guest Blogger


Alistair Marshall

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








5 ways your law firm can make more money in 2017 and beyond

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

By Evie Farah, Director, Empire Consulting


As a Consultant who has dealt with hundreds of law firms over the years, it is apparent that competition is fierce. Many sole practitioners are breaking away from the bigger firms and starting out on their own. These lawyers are used to having an Accounts Department who bill for them, a Secretary to type up correspondence and a Receptionist to answer the phone. Once they are out on their own they are responsible for all of these roles including many others. How does a lawyer make time to do billable work as well as run a successful business?

This problem is not unique to sole practitioners though. I have visited larger firms and the only word I can use to describe them is: chaos. There is no structure or cohesion. Staff are so busy with a constant influx of work that there is no time to develop the business or streamline its practices.

Over the years, I have developed simple key changes that law firms can implement to help them run the business side of their law practice so they aren’t consumed with frustration. Here are a few to get you started:

1. Be visible online



A Google consumer survey showed that 96% of people seeking legal advice use a search engine. So if you don’t have an up to date website, how are your clients going to find you?

Just having a website is not enough though, get it optimised! This is particularly beneficial when people enter non-branded searches. An example of a non-branded search is someone in Cronulla searching ‘help me divorce my husband’. If you happen to be a family lawyer in Cronulla and your website is optimised, you will increase your website’s position on the list of results.

As 62% of legal searches are non-branded, optimisation could mean the difference between a potential client finding you or your competitor down the road.

2. Get your IT sorted



Do you still have a dusty server sitting in the back corner of your office? Did your IT Consultant just quote you $10,000 for a new server? In this day and age everything is moving towards being cloud based. Meaning your data is hosted offsite, in a remote and safe location.

Apart from the enormous cost of updating servers every few years (and helping your IT Consultant buy that second Ferrari), cloud technology allows you to work away from the office. Meaning you could draft that affidavit on the couch while the little one takes their nap, or send emails while waiting for your flight.

Also, think about how old your desktop or laptop computer is. If it is slow and clunky, how much of your billable time is it wasting? There are now plenty of affordable options available and this simple update of your hardware can result in improved efficiencies for the entire practice.

3. Invest in good practice management software



Good practice management software helps your firm grow and saves you money. I have had the opportunity to utilise and explore quite a few. Some will offer amazing accounting capabilities but then require you to code and import your own firm precedents. Others will have a great precedent suite but fall short on time recording and accounting capabilities.

Rather than go with the cheapest product, compare your options to find the one that offers capability in more than just one area. Also, choose one that specialises in small-medium law firms. A firm of 200+ users has vastly different needs than one of 2-5 staff members. If you want to be able to save on numerous admin staff, it is imperative to purchase and utilise a practice management system that allows you to keep everything in one place and easily track your progress.

In the short term, the investment might feel steep in respect of anticipated returns. But if you begin on the right foot, the long-term benefits will far outweigh the cons.

4. Be mobile



Clients might be reluctant or unable to travel to your office. If you are mobile, ie. have a laptop and a comprehensive checklist with a list of all the questions to ask the client, you will look professional and organised. Once people see how accessible and committed you are, they will be more inclined to refer you to family and friends. Word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools any business can have.

Mobility also means that staff can work from home. Think of the infrastructure costs that can be saved if staff are not required to work from the office all the time. Furthermore, your job offer will be more attractive if it can offer potential staff the flexibility they desire.

5. Reduce office waste



Is your floor covered in files that are completed? Do you have an office filled to the top with boxes of files that should be sent away for storage? Imagine what your clients think when they see this!

As your obligation is to keep a file for 7 years, it is a good idea to think about a storage system. There are companies you can enlist to take your files on a regular basis, store them in secure facilities and provide you quick and easy access as and when you need them.


About our Guest Blogger


Evie FarahEvie Farah is a Director of Empire Consulting. She possesses over 15 years’ experience in the legal industry and understands the needs and challenges of a law firm. Evie helps law firms streamline their practice and improve efficiency and profitability.

Evie is also a LEAP Certified Consultant who worked internally at LEAP for over 3 years before branching out into her own consulting business. Evie’s extensive knowledge of LEAP software ensures your firm will benefit from her comprehensive understanding of all LEAP products. Evie’s expertise and experience is second to none. She prides herself on her quality service and attention to detail. For more details on how Evie can help you please visit www.empireconsultingservices.com or email her directly at evie@empireconsultingservices.com


Personal Reflections on 2016 by ALPMA President, Andrew Barnes

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

By Andrew Barnes, CFO, Lantern Legal Group and ALPMA President


When I think back on our year with ALPMA it is difficult not to dwell on the success of our Summit, held in September at Etihad Stadium Melbourne. The event is growing from year to year and this year to have record levels of attendees and trade exhibitors being added to an exceptional program was something we are very proud of as an Association.

On day one there was something for everyone, but many people still think back to the power of the speech given by Catherine McGregor about her life, her challenges, her opportunities. How she interwove so many relatable snippets into one incredibly moving story was a highlight. We were also fortunate to have:


  • The inimitable Ron Baker as MC
  • Dr George Beaton again reminding us that to stand still will probably mean we go backwards
  • Matthew Burgess taking us down the ‘Lean Startup’ path and challenging us to change and ‘fail fast'
  • Dr Bob Murray reminding us that ‘praise is the biggest weapon in a leader’s arsenal for change’
  • Steve Wingert and Andrew Price talking about change management in law firms in real, relatable language


In 2016 we have maintained our commitment to undertaking research projects aligned with our six pillars of Learning and Development and also the Thought Leadership Award presented annually at Summit. There is often so much that falls from these projects that it can all be quite overwhelming, but our position at ALPMA is that these are not one-size-fits-all and that there is something for every firm to take away and work with. Firms have different cultures and different life cycles and therefore do not fit neatly into the outcome synopsis in research projects. I suggest you have another read and choose something to work with … small steps are better than no steps!

Our research for 2016 is summarised here:


  • Finding quality staff remains the top HR challenge for law firms, more work to be done on diversity and inclusion at firms etc 


Any thoughts at this time of year always extend to thanking our fantastic team of volunteers on our Board and various committees across Australia and New Zealand. Thanks also to our support staff across the Association who do so much behind the scenes to bring our programs to life. We remain absolutely committed to ALPMA’s core promise to members. We are continually pleased with the way our membership engages with the association and enables us to remain aligned with their expectations. As our Board tries to navigate a way through an ever-increasing competitive landscape for professional development providers, we strive to balance immediate member needs with those of an Association who is more frequently competing to hold its’ profile and standing on a national and regional (international) basis. Thanks to everyone who have contributed in some way to us having a great 2016!

As we look forward to 2017 we can expect more than just business as usual. We have provided branches with extra budget funds to develop local initiatives and enhance the offering. This should ensure the core promise to members remains a focus and that there is a greater value proposition through the branch networks. Our National Learning & Development group is planning new workshops to complement existing programs. Our Summit committee has already commenced planning for Summit 2017 in September in Brisbane. We continue to work on collaborative relationships with groups such as the Australian Law Management Group (particularly after the success of our joint foray into Singapore in November), College of Law, CPD for Me and others in this space. It is a challenging time for Associations such as ALPMA but with those challenges come opportunities and we look forward to exploring these opportunities with our members.

Thanks for being part of ALPMA in 2016 and I wish you and your friends and families the very best for the festive season.


Editor's Note

This is the last ALPMA blog post for 2016. We look forward to the weekly posts resuming on January 3, 2017.

About our Guest Blogger

Andrew BarnesAndrew Barnes is the President of ALPMA. He is the financial controller for The Lantern Legal Group Pty Ltd, which practices under the firm names of Sladen Legal and Harwood Andrews.  He works closely with the principals to deliver strategic planning, reporting and budgeting initiatives and applies his robust commercial skills to drive continued business improvement.  Andrew worked in public practice, as well as financial services and broad industry roles prior to joining the firm in 2003





  Subscribe to receive posts as email

Promotional Image for Referrals and Cross-Selling in Practice Research

Recent Posts


Tags


Archive

Australian Corporate Partners


Principal Summit Partner

Thought Leadership Awards Partner

Leading Your Firm Partners