A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

ALPMA Member Q and A with Jane Ritchard, Finance Director - Wotton+Kearney

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In this ALPMA Member Q&A, we interview Jane Ritchard, the Finance Director at Wotton + Kearney, ALPMA NSW Chair and recently appointed ALPMA Board Member about her inspiration, career development and experience as a leader in the NSW legal industry.

1.       What has inspired you this year?

Fortunately there have been a few things that have inspired me both professionally and personally this year.  It actually feels like it's been a particularly tough year for many; I've heard quite a few people saying they are looking forward to this year finishing and hoping 2017 will be a better one.  

Professionally, my biggest inspiration this year has been watching the firm continue to grow and mature.  It's been great to be part of a management team that is helping guide the firm through its journey of development and change.  We turn fifteen early next year, which is a great milestone.   The firm is always looking for ways to improve and innovate.

The corporate social responsibility programme at Wotton + Kearney is a real source of inspiration for me.  We choose a new charity to support and partner with every year.  This year it's been So They Can.  They do amazing work in Africa; providing education and housing to try to break the poverty cycle.  There were some great fund raising events during the year, including some of the team going to Kenya to see the programmes on the ground and to run a half marathon in the Masai Mara.  We're partnering with OzHarvest in 2017 which I'm very much looking forward to.  The concept of reusing perfectly good food (that would otherwise have found itself in landfill) for people in need, is so elegantly simple and effective.

On a somewhat micro level and specifically in my area of the business, I'm excited about going paperless in our accounts payable process.  It might not sound like a big thing, but will make a huge difference both to my team and the wider business.  We'll be able to process accounts payable invoices more quickly - without printing anything out and have approval done through online workflows.  That means there won't be any more lost bits of paper, we won't have to file paper invoices and we won't have to archive them and pay for storage for seven years.  

Personally, I've been inspired by the amazing Australian track cyclist Anna Meares.  She announced her retirement a little while ago, after an extraordinary career as our most successful cyclist.  Anna came back from a potentially life threatening accident in a race in 2008.  She went on to win more medals and set more records.  What an awesome role model.

 2.       How did you become the Finance Director at Wotton+Kearney?


Interestingly it was through ALPMA!  I was approached about the position by a colleague that I knew through the NSW committee.  So many roles at this level are filled through network contacts, rather than through more traditional recruitment channels.  

3.       What do you think is the biggest issue facing senior finance professionals in law 

I think the biggest issue we face is keeping up with the pace of technological change.  We need to make sure that we have the best technology; to ensure our finance teams can give fast, reliable and relevant information to the business.  That includes practice management, business intelligence and other ancillary systems (such as expense management, budgeting and accounts payable systems).  We have to make sure that our systems allow everyone in the business to perform the financial aspects of their roles with the least amount of effort.   It can be challenging to build the business case that asks for the commitment of time and resources to implement new or upgraded software.  We are all competing with our IT, HR and BD colleagues for finite funds allocated to technological investment.

It can also be interesting trying to work out what is best for our firms.  We all have subtly different businesses, so what may work really well for one firm, might not be the best for our firms.   Then, once we've worked out what we need, it's important to set up the best resourcing for the project team.  It's very rare to find anyone with much excess capacity in a finance team; so it becomes a juggling act to keep the wheels turning on normal operations whilst an implementation is underway.

4.       What do you think the big challenge for law firms will be in 2017?

For a long time we've been hearing that the ball is firmly in our clients' court when it comes to the provision of legal services.  I think that's certainly the case and I can't see that changing in the short term.  Our clients are becoming more sophisticated in the way they  run their procurement processes and are demanding more for less.  Coming up with appropriate fee arrangements continues to challenge our ingenuity. It's also difficult trying to work out where the next possible disruption may come from.  Sometimes we won't know what it looks like until it's here, so it's tricky to plan for that kind of eventuality.  The challenge is to stay nimble; to be able to respond quickly to threats to our business models.

5.       How has your ALPMA membership contributed to your professional development?


Being an ALPMA member has made my life as a finance professional in the legal industry so much easier.  It has contributed to my professional development in so many ways.  Initially, it provided me with great networking opportunities; giving me access to people who could answer the questions I had about how things worked in law from a financial perspective.  Once I was settled in, I went to the regular lunch time practice management seminars and the annual Summit which helped me learn more about the legal industry as a whole.  I've developed a deeper understanding about the HR, IT and BD aspects of our industry along the way.  It's been great to be able to give back to the ALPMA community by being involved with both the NSW committee and more recently the ALPMA Board.

Editor's Note


Watch the video learn more about Jane's experiences as an ALPMA member.  

If you are inspired by Jane's story and are considering joining the ALPMA community, now is a great time to get on-board.  From 1 December, membership until 30 June, 2017 is just $250 (ex GST) if are a law firm leader or manager working in an Australian capital city - even less if you are based in a region, live in New Zealand or your firm supports multiple members.  

Learn more about becoming a member.  


About our Guest Blogger

Jane RitchardJane Ritchard has nearly 30 years’ experience as an accounting professional. Jane is the Finance Director at Wotton + Kearney, a specialist insurance law firm.  She has also worked in senior finance roles at Curwood Lawyers and Clayton Utz. 

Prior to this, when not travelling, working in the UK or doing contract work, Jane spent 12 years working on and off at Deloitte, progressing from office junior to auditor, to small business practitioner and then to internal finance manager and consultant. 

She is member of the ALPMA Board and Chair of the ALPMA NSW Committee. 






Championing incremental change at law firms

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

By Anthony Bleasdale, Managing Director, BigHand


Never more than so right now have law firms been challenged to not repeat the mistakes of the past, to change at light speed and to adopt “innovative” approaches to ensure you stay relevant for current and future clients. The recent ALPMA Summit was full of ideas for firms keen to develop an effective blueprint for working smarter. Here are the key take-ways I took from Summit as a leader of a legal industry technology vendor and major Summit partner:

Change is hard – but inevitable


As Summit co-MC and CE0 of Coleman Greig, Warrick McLean said recently “driving change at law firms is hard for many reasons – but it is something that law firm leaders must excel at in order to ensure their firms remain competitive in a rapidly evolving legal landscape”. 

Law firms can be excused for not wanting to change, as it requires a step that maybe uncomfortable and resisted internally. Yet firms have to find ways to continue to prosper within an environment that is in a constant state of flux, facing an invasion (welcomed or not) of global firms and customers that are challenging law firms small, medium or large to think differently or be replaced. You only have to read the ALPMA/InfoTrack research on the changing legal landscape to see that most firms are embarked or embarking on a broad range of change initiatives.

Successful change can be incremental or transformational


Many speakers talked about change being a journey of many steps, and encouraged firms to get started with small projects utilising proven technology to make incremental improvements. These kinds of projects (like an implementation of voice recognition software!), well-executed, can build positive momentum for the next step in the journey. 
 
Quality vendors will be able to share insights on how you can improve your productivity, leveraging their legal industry expertise and experience to deliver great returns – without (necessarily) having to spend a fortune. My colleague, James Bible, wrote an article back in August on some thoughts to consider when running an innovation project.

Other speakers talked about joining with their clients to develop new, more collaborative ways of working and innovative ways of delivering legal service and advice tailored to their customer needs.

Don’t be afraid to fail


BigHand is lucky to be an organisation that is agile and responsive. Our clients and prospects often provide us with great ideas that lead to new product development. Not all of these see the light of day – but we don’t let this make us afraid to experiment. The same is true for law firms. You must be willing to fail along your way to success. As the old saying goes “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!’. 

The All Blacks rugby team failed in 2007 and vowed to make incremental change at the next World cup. Nine years on, they have lost but a handful of times, won two World Cups and have become the benchmark for change as an incremental journey, not a huge crash bang wallop!

Draw inspiration from others


Finally, draw inspiration from others. If you get a chance to hear Catherine McGregor speak (as she did at Summit), then go out of your way to hear her story. Never have I been so engaged by a key note speaker at any event! Catherine shared her compelling personal narrative of gender transition in a traditionally masculine realm – the Australian Defence Force. Hearing her talk about how she successfully navigated the challenges to make this change was both insightful and inspiring for those of us contemplating change much less transformative at our companies.


Editor's Note

Summit on Demand

Need some inspiration to help you drive change at your firm? Then watch the keynote presentations from the 2016 ALPMA Summit on-demand. Most sessions are now available to watch from the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre from $49.50 (incl GST), thanks to the generous support of BigHand, our Summit Live & On-Demand Partner.


About our Guest Blogger

Tony Bleasdale
Tony Bleasdale has a long history in the legal sector, working for a number of leading law firms, and for a range of vendors, most recently joining BigHand as Managing Director, Asia Pacific. He is passionate about driving innovation at law firms through knowledge management and process improvement through technology and working with firms to break down the barriers to achieve their objectives.

Tony also has a long involvement with ALPMA, having served as an ALPMA President, National Board and NSW Committee member.




Collegiate culture: the Holy Grail for effective law firm cross-selling

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

By Alistair Marshall, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates


Throughout my nearly 30-year career in business development, it’s been undisputed that it is far easier (and much, much cheaper) to get revenue from clients who already know, like and trust you, than from strangers.

Cross-selling your services has a low cost of acquisition, and can deliver high returns. So why is it that only 20% of law firms track this key activity? This is what JMA’s recent research with ALPMA into referrals and cross selling revealed.

Firms have many opportunities to pick this low hanging fruit, but cross-selling remains a very under-used tactic to generate new business. Few law firms service clients across more than two practice areas, our research shows, so the potential for growth is huge.


Cross-selling is done, first and foremost, for the benefit of the client and therefore forms an integral part of your overall client service experience. It might be more helpful to think of it as “cross-serving”, and will no doubt require a cultural shift in some firms, and a mind-set shift for many lawyers.

Start with this in mind: your motivation should be the desire to make the life of your firm’s client easier. This will require a deep understanding of the client’s needs and wants, current challenges, objectives, long-term drivers and so on. And also your colleagues, how is what you offer of benefit to them and their clients? What problems can you help them solve?

Cross-serving is also about ring-fencing your valuable client relationships. If there are gaps in your firm’s service offerings, then your competitors will not be slow to take advantage.

I hear lawyers make excuses all the time about why they can’t – or don’t want to – cross-sell. If you can overcome the two biggest excuses, your firm will be well on the way to reaching the Holy Grail for law firm cross-selling: a collegiate culture.

Overcoming the two big excuses


Big Excuse 1: “But what’s in it for me?”

This year’s research showed that less than a third (28%) of firms reward or formally recognise lawyers for generating business via cross-selling.

Lawyers solely rewarded on their own billable hours have no incentive to cross-sell others’ capabilities, or indeed carry out any activity that is for the long-term health of the firm. Introduce reward programs to incentivise your team members and foster a collegiate culture.

Discussions around sharing “your” client with another colleague can be uncomfortable, and was identified as a barrier by research respondents who noted there tends to be a culture that the lawyer – not the firm – “owns” the client. As well as incentivising lawyers, make sure that senior lawyers are setting strong examples and acting as role models for positive behaviours by introducing their colleagues into their client relationships. Cultural change must start from the top.

Big Excuse 2: “I don’t know what my colleagues actually do”

Many lawyers in mid-sized firms have no idea who their colleagues represent, the types of legal issues they solve for them, or what types of trigger events represent a cross-selling opportunity. Practice groups often operate in silos, and there is no cross-pollination of ideas and knowledge.

One survey respondent lamented that “after a PI settlement, our client used the money to purchase a house, but didn’t use us because they didn’t realise we do conveyancing.” This is a real lost opportunity, and it could easily have been avoided in firm with a collegiate culture where these types of openings to do more for clients are not missed, but harnessed to the benefit of all as it is so obvious.

Build opportunities for lawyers to learn more about the wider firm through initiatives such as internal networking events, communicating key client wins and deals across the firm, and making cross-selling opportunities a fixed item on management and team meetings.

Organise inter-practice group meetings or informal lunches for team members to discuss who their top clients are, the types of legal work they may need, and who else from the client base they would welcome an introduction to. Many monthly partners meetings go for hours without ever having these critical discussions.

What now?


There are, of course, other barriers and challenges to improving cross-selling in your firm, a great place to start is reading the research report available for download here.


The report will help you benchmark your firm’s efforts and see what the most popular and effective cross-selling (and referral) techniques are in practice.


Another of my tips is to review the report’s comment pages – respondents share some simple and effective ideas on incentives and overcoming excuses that might be right for your firm to implement.

Editor's Note

JMA research downloadIf you want to learn more about how to generate more revenue from referrals and cross-selling at your firm, then register for the research webinar on Monday 28 November at 1pm (AEDST), where guest blogger Alistair Marshall, will discuss the most fruitful areas for firms to concentrate their referral and cross-selling efforts on and share ideas and practical tips to help you get positive behaviour change and results for your firm. Register now

You can also download the ALPMA/JMA 'Referrals and Cross-Selling in Practice' research report, read the media release and check out the  infographics summarising the results. 




About our Guest Blogger

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


ALPMA and Julian Midwinter & Associates have conducted annual research benchmarking marketing and business development at Australasian law firms for the past three years. 





Prescriptive Conveyancing - The Big Red Button

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

By Chris Collinge, Partner/Director, Bytherules Conveyancing


How do you take a small six person firm located in a beautiful but relatively remote part of Queensland and turn it into a national firm? The budget is limited, the technology in its infancy and the industry still operates like it has done for many years.

That was the challenge we faced in 2011. Our first step was deciding to focus on one discipline, residential conveyancing. With that in mind we then developed a strategy for growing geographically but without having to open offices all over the country. A local presence is important in conveyancing, so we decided to build a business around experienced conveyancers working from home. We decided early on that they did not need to be licensed conveyancers. Indeed in QLD that particular qualification didn't exist anyway.

For some reason, the vast majority of conveyancers in our industry are women. Our decision to offer a work from home opportunity, along with the obvious work/life balance benefits that ensue struck a cord. We have been exceptionally lucky to recruit some highly experienced and knowledgeable conveyancers who may well have left the workforce had they not had this opportunity. With a combined 200 plus years of conveyancing experience in the business, there aren't many situations we haven't encountered. 


So, we had figured out how to grow geographically. We also had to ensure that the client received exactly the same quality of service, no matter where they lived and which conveyancer they used. As all of our conveyancers have many years experience, they all did things slightly differently. We had to make sure they not only followed the correct protocol for the jurisdiction they operated in, but we "wrapped" the service in our own unique and consistent service delivery method, with all the care and attention clients expect. All the time. No matter where they were.

Prescriptive Conveyancing


We needed prescriptive conveyancing.

This meant defining specific workflows, ensuring they were followed, and any exception automatically uplifted by the system. We split roles into administration and paralegal, and let the conveyancers focus on what they do best. This workflow based system is cloud based and everyone in the firm has the same access to the system irrespective of where they are. Compliance management forms a very big part of the system.

We were very proud that our project to develop prescriptive conveyancing was recognised as a finalist in the 2016 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards. 

We are now in 18 locations in QLD & NSW and have an aggressive growth plan that with a strategy that will be the first of its kind in Australia.

Our tagline is "impossibly easy conveyancing" and we continuously strive to make it so. In an increasingly competitive market we realise if we do not continue to innovate and invest, then we will not continue to grow.

Editor's Note


Watch the video featuring Chris discussing the objectives and challenges of this project and business, staff and customer benefits achieved from implementing this innovative project, recognised as a finalist in the 2016 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards, presented at the Gala Dinner at the 2016 ALPMA Summit in Melbourne. You can also check out videos on the innovative projects undertaken by our winner, Maddocks, and other finalists, Nexus Law Group and Hall & Wilcox.
 

About our Guest Blogger

Chris CollingeAfter moving to Sydney in 1998 Chris setup an Internet Service Provider for Businesses, a few years before broadband became available. Within a few years it had become an award winning business winning top Business ISP of the years for three years in a row, runner up in the best IT company to work for In Australia and #11 in the BTR Top100. Chris then invested in other IT related businesses until moving to Noosa in 2011 to become a partner in a local law firm, Bytherules Conveyancing Lawyers.

After working all his life in IT businesses, Chris recognised a great opportunity for a legal firm to adopt new technologies and work methods that he had applied to IT businesses in the past. Since then Chris and the management team have initiated and developed the work from home model that can only operate successfully once the IT infrastructure, processes and the right people are in place.



5 questions you should be asking your practice management platform provider

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

By Michael Vassilieff, Head of Sales, Law and Solutions, Thomson Reuters


A smart practice management platform can transform even the most disorganised law firm into a well-oiled machine. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

It’s important to explore your firm’s current systems and ask the right questions before implementing an entirely new platform. Here are five of the most important ones to help you make a decision.

Implementation: What is the timetable for installation and rollout?



Besides reviewing key features such as document management, trust and office accounting, time capture, billing, workflow and client relationship management, it pays to be clear on how the system will be implemented and rolled out across your firm.

Introducing an entirely new practice management system may seem like managing a heady and complex litigation case, but the right vendor will be able to walk you through the process and provide critical support along the way.

Important questions to ask include:

  • Can it be installed on-site or remotely?
  • Will there be any downtime?
  • Can it be customised and integrated with our current operating systems?
  • Will it fit with our practice needs and workflow?
  • How will our data be migrated and how long will it take?

Organising a planning team of lawyers or administrative staff who will use the system can help make the change smoother. This means your firm can get on without too much disruption and it will likely make for a happier team overall.

Training and support: Will you help us work through any problems with our staff?



The Law Society of New South Wales reports that a “common mistake made by law firms is their failure to commit to appropriate levels of staff training in new technology and systems”.

Their research found that only “11 per cent of small and mid-sized firms offered formalised training for newly adopted technologies. Only 17 per cent said they got the most out of their workflow and research tools and more than three-quarters claimed this impacted negatively on their time efficiency.”

Before purchasing a practice management platform, make sure you check the level of training and tech support your vendor can provide before and after implementation.

You might face a bit of resistance from staff who find the switch challenging. The best way to mitigate this is to work out a clear and comprehensive training plan that suits your firm’s approach to practice, and makes everyone feel included.


Future growth: Can we continue to use the system as we grow and build our firm?



Technology moves quickly, and you need to be confident the system can grow and evolve with the changing needs of your firm into the future. Think of it as selecting a long-term business partner rather than just a software provider.

Social proof: What do your customers think of the product?



It’s no secret that when we see other people recommending or raving about something, we’re more inclined to try it too. To marketers, it’s ‘social proof’, but it’s really just a good old customer review or testimonial.

Getting feedback from your vendor’s current customers – not just about the product, but also about their service – will help you decide if the platform and the provider are a perfect match for your firm’s requirements and operating style.


Budget: What will this cost and what solutions do you have for our firm size, type and practice area? What’s the likely ROI?



Finally, before selecting a practice management platform, make sure you understand all the costs involved, and what return you will see on your investment.

Besides checking the cost of the platform itself, make sure you also ask how the price varies for firms of different sizes and types. That way, if your firm expands in future
and offers more services, you’re not surprised by the cost of upgrading your platform. And most importantly, ask your vendor about any hidden costs.

Assessing the real-world benefits of the proposed platform will also assist with calculating ROI. For example, can you quantify how much time and effort it will save as a result of fast document production, lawyer mobility and less duplication of tasks across the board?

According to Thomson Reuters’ research, time spent manually managing a law firm rather than automating critical tasks reduces profits due to inefficient processes, poor workflow, and a waste of lawyers’ and administrative staff’s time.

The Thomson Reuters’ study also revealed that law firms relying on outdated, manual processes waste hundreds of hours each year, and manual timekeeping inaccuracies cause major billable time losses.

Asking your vendor the right questions will help you navigate these practical issues, save time and money, and start you on the right foot with your brand new system so you are ready for profitability and growth in the future.

Editor's Note


Leading Your Firm
If you would like to learn more about this topic, join us for our upcoming webinar “Choosing a Practice Management System for Your Firm” presented by Steven Tyndall and Jackie White of NextLegal on Wednesday 23 November at 1pm (AEDT). This webinar is part of ALPMA’s Leading Your Firm program, generously supported by our Major Partner, Thomson Reuters. This webinar is free for ALPMA members or $99 for eligible non-members.


About our Guest Blogger


Michael Vassilieff
Michael Vassilieff is Head of Sales – Law and Solutions at Thomson Reuters .

With experience in a variety of industries from both a sales and commercial level, Michael brings a clear and measured approach to assisting law firms gain the most from their business processes and systems to help approve efficiency through automation and use of technology. Michael has a natural passion for establishing and harbouring key executive relationships ensuring law firms are able to perform beyond their expectations.






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