A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

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



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