A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Creating a Culture of Accountability - Rethinking Traditional Performance Reviews

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Editor's Note

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


About our Guest Blogger


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





Artificial Intelligence trends and their impact on the legal sector

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

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


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

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

What exactly is AI? 


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

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

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

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

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

3 Key Trends for Legal AI


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

1. Document Reviews


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

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

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

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

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

2. Case Predictions


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

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

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

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

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

3. Advisory Services


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

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

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

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

Where do we go from here?


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

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

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

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

About our Guest Blogger


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

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


Business development for our changing times

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

By Ryan Smyth, Business Development Manager, Coffey Group


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

Makes grim reading.

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

Change presents opportunity…period!

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

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

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


Set your vision


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


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

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


Investigate and baseline your firm


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

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

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


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

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

Strategy and tactics


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

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

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

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

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

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

Equip your firm with the tools for success


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


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

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

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

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

Execute with the right team


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

It’s all in the deal, period.

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

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

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

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


Editor's Note

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


About our Guest Blogger

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

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

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




Forging new ground requires a commitment to technology

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

By Jacqueline Keddie, Business Manager, Nexus Law Group


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

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

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

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


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

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

Beauty in simplicity

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

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

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

A new category of legal practice


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

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

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

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

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

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


About our Guest Blogger


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

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

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

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



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