A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Four steps to creating a culture of service excellence

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

By Carl White, Director, CXINLAW


Law firms’ websites all promise client service excellence. Yet their perceptions of client service and how that might manifest at every client touchpoint at their firm is rarely objectively assessed or addressed.

So, how does your law firm look and sound to prospects and clients? Findings revealed by a joint ALPMA/CXINLAW survey, No Second Chances, found that ”78% of firms failed the ‘first impression test’ ie only one in five firms gained an instruction or recommendation from their new enquiries.

Is it any wonder that firms find their enquiry conversion rate languishing below 10%? This low rate highlights that there are serious opportunities for growth slipping away at first contact. Even more concerning, many firms don’t even measure their new enquiry conversion rates, yet continue to spend significant amounts monthly to generate new leads.

ALPMA president Andrew Barnes said “We exist in very competitive times. Law firm differentiators are not easy to identify, let alone leverage. Firms who rely on the personal element of relationships will do well to introduce client experience excellence into their thinking.”

Successful firms treat new enquiries as the start of the relationship and an opportunity to ‘be there’ for someone who has made the time to call them. A good client experience continues through every interaction to build rapport and gain an understanding of your client’s needs. Get it wrong and the result is the unnecessary loss of new opportunities and ‘promotors’ of your firm.

In a world of competing priorities, the commercial imperative to invest in client service excellence can seem elusive. The reality is that for those investing in a strong service culture (as part of their marketing spend, not in addition to) have seen month on month gains in new matters between 20% to 135% with boosts to revenue of between 20% to 35%.

Developing a culture of client service excellence requires a F.I.I.Tness program:

1. Focus



Compare your firm to the world of service providers, not just other law firms. Every one of us has experienced great, mediocre and bad customer service, and so have your clients. Their experience of great service is the benchmark they will hold you to.

Don’t rely on your own view of the firm’s service levels or on end of matter client surveys.

Invest in an objective assessment and evidence of your firm’s client experience before embarking on any change program. This evidence should cover:

  • first impressions (will we work together?);
  • heart of the matter (how are we working together?); as well as
  • end of the matter (will we work together again?)

The assessment should analyse not only your team’s people skills but also look at your processes, systems and documentation. For example, how often is the language used too familiar or too technical.

2. Inspire



Next, share these results with your team in a way that engages and inspires them so that change is driven from within teams rather than from above. Identify leaders of client service excellence and empower them to activate and inspire their colleagues. A well-developed, proven change program will see individual staff members’ be drawn to take on distinct roles in the change program.

These staff become the firm’s champions of client service and potentially, future leaders. A change program that engages the team, rather than be driven from the top, is one that will endure.

3. Innovate



Client service excellence isn’t just about how to greet clients at your reception, nor your fee earners’ tone and manner. It extends to every touchpoint, including correspondence (formal, informal and regulatory) and processes and then assessing if these touchpoints show ease, empathy and effectiveness.

Everyone has a role to play in identifying how to improve your firm’s client service as staff are often very aware of ‘nuisances’ to client interactions. These nuisances can range from how clients ‘find’ the office once in the building to the length of and delays in client correspondence. Staff tend to ‘work around’ these rather than raise ideas for change for any number of reasons eg too busy, prefer not to rock the status quo, is it not their role etc.


Empowering staff to identify areas for improved client service delivers innovation to differentiate your firm as well as productivity improvements to your staff.

4. Train



Client experience excellence requires new skills and smarts, so train your teams to boost and sustain performance. The starting point is often being clear about the clients you want to work with.

Training should be part of a program rather than a one off training session and include team lead templates and documented service standards to improve client interactions. These become part of your new staff induction program.

But don’t let dust settle on these documents. Allow your internal champions to review and revise them in line with changing client expectations and improved insight into client service experience.

Client expectations change over time as do your staff, so to stay F.I.I.T. test your firm’s client service experience annually.



About our Guest Blogger 


Carl WhitePassionate about the impact of Client Experience Excellence in professional services, Carl White entered the legal sector with Ashurst (UK and Europe) in 2002. He co-authored the highly-regarded ‘Customer Experience in Law’ report in 2012 and led the market-leading Australian research in 2015 that examines the Client Experience Advantage for law firms, in association with ALPMA.

In 2015 Carl was invited to become a Faculty Member of the Queensland Law Society tutoring client service. He has also taught and presented at Leo Cussen Centre for Law, New South Wales Law Society, LIV, NZLS, the 2015 ALPMA Summit and regional forums.

In 2017, Carl was elected as Vice President of the Continuing Legal Education Association of Australasia for CPD Professionals.

As a founding director of CXINLAW in the UK and Australasia, Carl has a background in employee engagement, customer experience management, organisational development and training within law and 15 years’ experience in retail operations.

To find out more about client experience training programs or our free monthly webinars on Client Experience Excellence, contact Carl White at carl.white@cxinlaw.com

Member Q&A with Dion Cusack

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

In this ALPMA member Q&A, we interview Dion Cusack, Corporate Services Manager at K&L Gates, and recently elected ALPMA Vice President, about his role and view on the legal sector.

What does your role as Corporate Services Manager entail?

My responsibility includes property, facilities, client services, office services, work place health and safety, file audits, risk, quality and business continuity for K&L Gates across Australia.  Basically, it is my job to make sure that everyone at the firm is supported and safe, to keep the lights on, to minimise our risk and ensure we comply with our quality standards.

What motivates you?

I am motivated by delivering the best and most efficient services I can for the firm.  This means I spend a lot of time researching, and working with other areas within the firm to ensure that we are implementing and maintaining best-practice processes and technologies that can support or enhance our service delivery.  This can often involve implementing changes to how services are delivered or provided at the firm, which is challenging and rewarding.   But I enjoy making things happen, bringing people along on the journey and keeping a strong, positive outlook.  My focus is on doing whatever needs to be done to within my domain to ensure the firm achieves its objectives in what is quite a challenging and evolving environment at the moment.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing law firms right now?

I think firms are facing challenges on several fronts - with increased competition from global and 'New Law' firms combined with pressure from clients to introduce alternative fee arrangements, reduce overall legal spend, and for law firms to provide greater overall value to their clients. Law firms need to reduce the cost of delivering services, at a work product level, and one way to do this is by utilising technology in new ways to introduce efficiencies, as will as ensuring that other business costs are contained.  Firms also need to focus on tangible ways to demonstrate their innovativeness.  All firms say they deliver quality services - but firms need to be able to clearly show and articulate their unique value to their clients.  

This challenge is not new, but remains ever relevant, in that firms also need to fight the war for talent and ensure they have a compelling value proposition for staff which goes beyond just remuneration.  This involves looking strategically at work/life balance and introducing flexible working models for both women and men, and providing tangible support to achieve this, such as technologies that enable working from home to be practical, including supportive leave and other policies.

What are you looking forward to in your role your as ALPMA Vice President?

I am very excited by the opportunities to expand ALPMA's presence in Asia and to extend our collaboration with other bodies with a shared interest in legal practice management and managers. ALPMA is very much focused on its community, and we will continue to look for new ways to encourage engagement and interaction within our community.  I think ALPMA also has a very strong role to play to as an authoritative voice to guide and lead law firms through these changing and challenging times.

Editor's note:


If you would like to know how your firm's compensation strategy compares to similar firms and obtain compelling insights to help you shape your employee value proposition, then participate in the ALPMA Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey

Participation is free and open to all Australian and New Zealand law firms until 31 March, 2017.  

Participate now








About our Guest Blogger



Dion has been the Corporate Services Manager at K&L Gates for the past eight years.  Prior to this, he held accountability for financial and operational management and performance across a variety of organisations and industries. 

He has been a member of the ALPMA Board since 2014, and was recently elected Vice President.  He also serves as the Victorian Chair of ALPMA. 

A seasoned professional leader, Dion's pragmatic and critical thinking skills enable him to achieve innovative, fresh, commercial outcomes that are well calculated, timely, appropriate and original.  

Complemented by skills in human resources, technology, client, brand, strategic development, governance, business improvement and change management, Dion has also acquired specialist skills in audit, compliance, insurance, risk and business continuity management, corporate and commercial law. 

In his spare time, Dion is the founder of a successful real estate investment, development and management firm.




Developing an effective remuneration strategy for your law firm - a mixed bag of lollies!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

By Emily Mortimer, ALPMA Board Member


Rewind back to when local shops sold mixed bag of lollies – remember the excitement of not knowing what you were going to get for your hard earned dollar? Will you get what you want – or will your friend get all the good ones? Well fast forward to the 2017 remuneration landscape and this is shaping up to be that exact same feeling.

Let’s look at why this is occurring. There has been limited movement in the market when it comes to legal remuneration recently. According to the results of the 2016 ALPMA salary survey, wage growth for the previous 12 months was 2.8%, down from 4.6% the previous year. This sluggish wage growth is consistent with the Australian economic climate and the changing legal landscape in which we work, so a sound and sensible approach to remuneration was appropriate. But are we ready to move on?

The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008 still looms as a hangover, we have lost a booming resources industry to a scaled back model, ‘new law’ is challenging the traditional law firm model and overheads and the costs of doing business are being very tightly managed by law firms. These are all realities to consider when preparing the remuneration strategy for your firm. However, whilst it is important to know what is happening in the market we all operate in, the real driving force in change in the 2017 remuneration strategy must be securing the talent your firm needs to operate effectively and profitably.

Again, take a trip back to 2011 (ish) – the year the industry battened down the hatches – some reduced graduate intakes, some scrapped clerk programs and there were a large number of firms who froze salaries altogether. Now return back to 2017 and the job boards are filled with lucrative offers for certain classifications of lawyers at 4-6yrs post-qualification experience some with some fairly hefty lures of high remuneration not seen since well before the GFC. 

How do you deal with sections of your firm which are underperforming due to tough market conditions but where you need to retain key talent? Think your standard 2%-4% pay increase is still going to cut it? The legal landscape continues to change but we need to respect this is the norm and standard remuneration models cannot continue as they always have and data driven decisions have become key when preparing for remuneration forecasting. 

The salary surveys, and particularly this year’s ALPMA Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey, provide a solid foundation to building your remuneration strategy - but what can you do between now and when the results are released?

1. Budget Forecasting


As the person who will drive the remuneration process, have early discussions with those in your firm who are responsible for the budget forecasting. Where is your firm revenue forecast for 2017/2018? What overheads need to be managed? What are charge-out rates going to be set at?

2. Do your homework


What are your firm’s current salary ranges? Are your salary bandings sitting in the low, mid or high percentile based on last year’s survey results? How does this align with your firm’s market positioning? Where can your firm afford to sit with its 2017/2018 remuneration strategy? Spend some time on job boards and talk to specialist legal recruitment agencies to see what talent is sought after in the market.

3. Risk Manage


Remuneration strategy has a strong element of risk management. You want to ensure your best talent is rewarded for their contribution - you don’t want your best talent looking on those filling job boards - but do you know your risk ratio by mismanaging your remuneration strategy? What about those who have the potential to be top talent…those in the middle? How do you stop them from going elsewhere for being overlooked for not being there quite yet?

4. Get the low down


Employees will tell you what they expect. Some will have done their homework (or some will have had recruiters tell them what they are worth!) and present solid business cases for their remuneration expectations to be met. Others will pick the top of the band and hope for the best. Whilst others may just sit back and hope for the best. So you need to ensure that your development discussions hold the opportunity to find out what employees expectations are. Some firms have a hush-hush policy on remuneration being discussed in a development review – don’t make life hard for yourself. Arm yourself with as much anecdotal and empirical data as you can, and you will find yourself having less discussions post distribution of remuneration outcomes.

5. Be realistic


Start discussions with partners and employees as early as possible. Firms can only afford to pay so much before they start to have to look at reducing overheads, which can lead to unwanted redundancies. If your remuneration process is going to struggle to keep up with what the market is showing through job boards and anecdotal conversation, then explore and communicate your firm’s strategy early so there is no surprises. Are there signs of improvement - just not enough confidence to know the good results are staying? 

One approach to all this could be to consider a partial remuneration review for July and another in January 2018. What are the benefits that your firm offers that those with high salaries can’t emulate? Money isn’t everything and sometimes we need to remind employees of the non-monetary advantages that we have in our individual firm environments.

So will your firms be handing out fantales or will it be the disappointment of a bag of black cats you give away this year….only time will tell?

Editor's Note

2017 Salary Survey imageThe 2017 ALPMA Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey is now open for participation by all Australian law firms. The survey provides a comprehensive, independent review of salaries paid for legal, management and support roles at Australian and New Zealand law firms, broken down by location and firm size so you can compare compensation strategies with like firms.  The survey also reveals the hottest HR issues and challenges for the legal industry in Australia.

This year's New Zealand Survey is proudly supported by McLeod Duminy. The Australian survey is proudly supported by In2View Recruitment, IPA, Kaleidoscope Legal Recruitment and KBE Human Capital.  

It is free to participate, and all firms that complete the survey will receive a complimentary copy of the research report, valued at $550 for non-participating ALPMA members or $2,200 for non-members. The survey is open until 5pm, Friday 31 March.




About our Guest Blogger


Emily Mortimer
Emily Mortimer is an ALPMA Board Director and member of the board’s Salary Survey Sub-Committee, along with Emma Elliott (ALPMA WA) and Mark Beale (ALPMA NZ). In this role, Emily has provided significant input into the questions covered in the survey, drawing on her extensive legal industry and HR experience. Emily also currently serves as the Chair of ALPMA’s SA Branch, and has been a long-standing member of the ALPMA SA Branch Committee.


The Other 50%

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

By Kirsty Spears, Specialist Legal Recruiter for McLeod Duminy 


The picture of US President Trump signing an Executive Order that will largely affect women, without a single woman in the room has become infamous and highlights why achieving gender diversity remains an ongoing problem.


The 2016 ALPMA/ McLeod Duminy Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues research indicates a mere 16 per cent of NZ law firm equity partners are female. The figure rises only slightly to 17% in Australia. This despite female law graduates outnumbering male law graduates for more than ten years to date in both countries.

gender imbalance AUs & NZ

But this is simply not translating into leadership. Roughly two thirds of non-partner lawyers in firms across the region are female and it can’t be a recipe for success if law firms are effectively picking leaders from one third of the talent in the firm.

Research shows the gender gap won’t just correct itself, even when the numbers seem to force the issue. The opportunity missed is not just for women; it is also for firms and their clients because:

  • clients increasingly want firms to reflect their own efforts on diversity. E.g. a recent utility company pitch placed a great deal of emphasis on diversity and in effect ruled out firms that didn’t have strong policy in the area;
  • female in-house counsel want the opportunity to do business with other women; and
  • there is strong evidence that there are economic benefits to a diverse leadership team because different perspectives create a better strategy.

Often the solution to helping/encouraging women into more senior roles is framed simply as needing more flexible work arrangements, but the wider issue is more complex than that. In fact, flexibility is the easiest change to make as long as there is an appetite for it and it works for all parties.

For example, the Managing Partner of a firm we work with realised that he spent more than a quarter of his time working remotely without it affecting his productivity and so he implemented a policy to allow others to do the same. The rule is simply that clients aren’t adversely affected.

Firms are getting better at investing in technology to enable employees to work remotely. There are great success stories and a new generation coming through that value time more than anything and expect connectivity as an every day part of their working environment.

There’s also a major shift for men these days as their partners increasingly choose not to, or are financially unable to stay at home and look after the kids. She is equally likely to have a successful career. Men also value family time and want to be able to be home for bedtime and stories.

There are a few practical things a firm can do to encourage better gender diversity:

Role models – there is some evidence that the women who do get to the top regard simply being an example as enough and they effectively ‘pull up the ladder’. Research by the American Bar Association also shows that from a very early stage in their careers, more resources are dedicated to developing male associates. There needs to be a specific program aimed at female associates where senior staff are accountable for measurable results. It is not enough to ‘take someone under their wing’.

Unconscious bias – this comes about mostly at the recruitment and promotion stages. It comes in two forms. Affinity is looking for people in your own image and confirmation is a reflection of one’s own beliefs. This needs to be something that is acknowledged and recognised.

The best way to combat it is to have formal processes, set steps and strong criteria. There needs to be more behind the decision-making than someone ‘doesn’t have what it takes’. An easy first step is to include several different people in the process in the first instance. More extreme measures can include blind CVs and electronic screening.

Male vs. Female traits – stereotypically male traits, e.g. assertiveness, logical thinking etc., could more or less describe most people’s idea of the perfect lawyer. As well as challenging
those stereotypes, we need to start valuing traditionally feminine attributes e.g. language skills, empathy and the ability to multitask.

Giving women a platform to show off their skills – Females tend to wait for recognition whilst males are quicker to ‘boast’ about their achievements. Giving women a platform to show off a little will help them recognise their own strengths and bring them to wider attention. It also enables the firm to make the most of their talents.

During performance reviews, men tend to be good at looking after their own paths, whereas women tend to look after the firm. Most reviews look at billings, but when looking at overall team contribution, they tend to be nice things to talk about but not objectively measured. Firms need to look at how to better measure overall contribution because those who are more team orientated are likely allowing the big billers the space to work.

It seems law firms necessarily recruit more women because they enthusiastically join the profession. So doesn’t it make sense more than ever for these firms to ensure they are getting the very best out of their most valuable assets?

*Source: ALPMA/McLeod Duminy NZ Legal Industry Salary and HR Issues Survey Report 2016

Editor's Note

McLeod Duminy have partnered with ALPMA to support the 2017 Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey in New Zealand. Participation is free and now open to all law firms in New Zealand. Participants receive the comprehensive report, benchmarking salaries for more than 60 roles at law firms, for free (normally $550 for ALPMA members or $2,200 for non-members). For more information about how to participate in the survey click here.



About our Guest Blogger


Kirsty SpearsKirsty Spears is a specialist legal recruiter for McLeod Duminy, based in Auckland. She has almost twenty years legal recruitment experience in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. 

You are welcome to contact her on +64 27 458 9888 or kirsty@mcleodduminy.co.nz










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