A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Creativity is the key to adapting and innovating in the changing legal landscape

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

By John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack

There’s no denying the increase in the push for technology adoption in the workplace (and outside of it) since the turn of the century. Almost two decades in and this push has evolved into a necessity, leaving late adopters at risk of falling behind. According to not-for-profit organisation P21, the key skills of the 21st-century are communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity – the 4 C’s. In anticipation of this year’s ALPMA summit, ‘Sailing the 4 C’s’, ALPMA and InfoTrack surveyed over 100 firms in Australia and New Zealand to gain insight into how well Australasian law firms were embracing the key 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

According to the research results, lawyers and law firm leaders are better at critical thinking than they are communicating and collaborating, while most are ineffective when it came to finding creative solutions. These results are not surprising, but they indicate that the legal industry as a whole still needs to modernise its mindset.

Creativity is not ‘arts and crafts’; it’s the starting point for innovation and the key to not just surviving but thriving in the new legal landscape. You should be thinking creatively when it comes to the other C’s as well – how can you differentiate yourself when it comes to communication, collaboration and critical thinking? What new things can you bring to your firm as a business to provide a better service to your clients?

The survey results indicate firms are all at different stages of the journey and looking for ways to improve these skills. As an innovative technology company, we live and breathe the 4 C’s and understand how each component impacts your success. Bearing this in mind, I’d like to share with you some tips on how you can further embrace the 4 C’s in your legal practice.

Communication

How do you open communication while maintaining focus and minimising noise?

  • Create an inclusive culture where staff feel safe sharing ideas. When you make an effort to understand your staff, their working style and what motivates them, you create an environment for open communication. At InfoTrack we’ve conducted employee profiling workshops which have helped our employees not only better understand their own working style, but how they can enhance communication with their colleagues.
  • Create clear outlines for afterhours communications to minimise noise. Ensure your employees know when and why to use certain channels. I’ve worked with many firms who have policies around what certain communications mean at certain times. For example, if you send an email afterhours, know that it won’t be read until the next day. If you text afterhours, know that you’re interrupting someone. If you call afterhours, know it will be treated as an emergency. Set these boundaries to avoid entering a never-ending loop that can cause burnout.
  • Set aside specific time for staff to talk to partners. This is a common strategy I’ve come across that is a great way to encourage more efficient and effective communications. I’ve known some principals who set aside specific hours each week to open the floor to questions from anyone, either via conference call, open door policy or simply being available on their phone during their commute to or from work.

Collaboration

As we become more digitally dispersed around the world, the need for effective collaboration increases. Clients are used to doing almost everything online and that includes legal services now. The younger generation of employees at your firm expects collaborative software and online tools.

How do you maximise collaboration in the digital age?

  • Use platforms that enable you to provide your clients with transparent and mobile service. Many firms are beginning to use portals which enable clients to view all documents and searches related to their matter online.
  • Move processes online to allow for document sharing and better integration across your firm. A lot of firms are beginning to implement Office 365 and other platforms that enable online collaboration across teams.

Critical Thinking

As lawyers, you are pros at critical thinking when it comes to legal projects, but you often forget to use that same critical eye when it comes to business decisions.

How can you implement critical thinking from a business perspective?

  • View technology as an enabler and figure out how you can make it work for you. I’ve been travelling across Australia to educate the market on e-Conveyancing and it’s a classic example of scalable technology that firms of any size can adopt. There’s a way for every single firm to make it work for them, it’s just about giving it a try and working with suppliers to find the solutions that fits your firm.
  • Approach new opportunities with solutions not problems. I’ve been in a number of boardrooms with major law firms while they’re deciding if they should invest in new technology. Firms generally fall in one of two camps; they come to the table with 100 reasons why not to implement it, or they come in determined to find a way to take advantage of a new tool and differentiate their business.

Creativity

Of the four key 21st century skills, creativity was the least strongly-valued skill. Effectively adopting creativity in your law firm gives you a competitive advantage in the overcrowded sea of competitors.

How can you foster creativity in your firm?

  • Turn everyone into a thought leader, don’t just rely on partners to lead the way. Empower your employees to suggest process changes, to research new tools, to get their voices out there and to always be looking for ways to improve the business.
  • Differentiate your firm and develop new ways to drive more business. I’ve seen firms who’ve implemented iPads at reception that can show clients their matter and a list of all related documents. Others have created bespoke client portals and others are digitising processes to provide a more modern experience for their clients. When you can provide clients with a quality, modern, streamlined experience, they’ll recommend you to their friends.

In an industry that’s constantly being disrupted, the 4C’s are pivotal to your success because they underpin innovation and allow you to be adapt to the changing market. The survey revealed that many firms are focusing all their efforts internally and failing to rely on partners and suppliers in this journey; remember that you’re not it in alone. Lean on your suppliers and demand more from them. Invest in vendors who are investing in their technology and providing you with new solutions that are innovative, flexible and make your life easier. The right vendors will help you develop the 4C’s.

When you’re looking at new suppliers, thinking about new projects or implementing new processes, make sure you ask yourself:

Is this going to help me differentiate my business?

Is this going to enhance the way I interact with my clients?

Is this going to enable me to innovate?

Is this going to help me problem-solve more effectively?

Editor's Note

research front coverThe ALPMA/InfoTrack 21st Century Thinking at Australasian Law Firms research measures how well Australasian law firms are embracing the key 21st century learning skills of creativity, critical-thinking, communication and collaboration, as defined by the influential P21 organisation. You can download your copy of the results here


About our Guest Blogger

John AhernJohn Ahern is CEO of InfoTrack, proud principal partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit.

John joined InfoTrack in 2015 as the Chief Technology Officer taking charge for establishing the company’s technical vision and leading on all aspects of InfoTrack’s technology development. John was appointed to the role of Chief Executive Officer in May of 2015 where he is now responsible for maintaining the extensive growth of InfoTrack in the Australian market.

John has over 20 years' experience in the Information Sector, having worked in a number of engineering, sales and executive positions. With a strong technical background, he has vast experience in designing and developing products and has delivered platforms from inception to production.

Rod McGeoch's 15-Point Credo for Leadership

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Rod McGeoch

The 2017 ALPMA Summit kicked off in Brisbane today with a hugely inspiring keynote presentation from Rod McGeoch AO, distinguished business man, leader of Sydney’s successful Olympics 2000 bid, and Co-Chairman of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum. 

Rod shared war stories from across his distinguished career ending with his 15 point personal credo, that he has generously agreed to share in this special blog post live from Summit.

Rod's Credo For Leadership


1. You must know your real strengths and weaknesses, not what you or others perceive are your strengths and weaknesses.  You must know whether you are at your peak in the mornings in in the evenings. Then plan around your peak performance times.

2. You must be aware that you do not get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate.

3. You must never say “Get it any price.”  Get it, and get the best price.

4. Timing is the most important thing; it is the only thing. You know it is better to be approximately right at exactly the right time, than to be exactly right at completely the wrong time.

5. You learn to operate by the 80/20 rule: you expect 80% of the result with 20% of the cost in 20% of the time. By the 80/20 rule, you achieve five times as much as those who strive for perfection.

6. You put your family first and your business second.

7. You read biographies. You seek mentors. You ask yourself what your mentors would do in each situation, not just what they would say.

8. You never apologise for wanting only exceptional people to work for you. And you pay those people well.

9. You congratulate employees publically but criticise them privately. You write 'thank you' notes and send them to your employees’ homes.

10. You put up whiteboards about production figures and costs.  After all, how would you like playing in a football game every day with no scores?

11. You never ask anyone to deliver what is beyond them.

12. You do not compete with the economy. The economy is the excuse people use for under performance. 

13. You protect your reputation. It is your most important asset.

14. You work long and you work smart. You work five to nine not nine to five.

15. You manage by walking around. You never tire of going to the shop floor where your people are. You ask them what you can do to help them do their job better.

You celebrate success and involve everyone in the celebrations.

Editor's Note:

You can watch Rod's inspiring presentation (and other presentations from the 2017 ALPMA Summit) - and share this with colleagues at your firm by purchasing the 2017 ALPMA Summit On-Demand package, proudly supported by BigHand.

About Rod McGeoch

Rod McGeoch has had a remarkable career at the forefront of business, sports administration and the legal profession. He unites exemplary senior level management experience with an unparalleled commitment to achievement.  Perhaps best known as the leader of Sydney's successful Olympics 2000 bid, he is Chairman or Director of a wide range of major corporations and past Chairman of Corrs Chambers Westgarth, one of Australia's largest law firms.

Rod McGeoch was described in an ABN AMRO report as one of Australasia's most influential Directors; his appointments included Chairman of Vantage Private Equity Group Limited and BGP Investments/Holdings plc. He is also a Director of Ramsay Health Care Limited and a member of the Board of Destination NSW and Sky City Entertainment Group Limited.

He is Co-Chairman of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum, a past President of the Law Society of NSW and a Member of the Order of Australia, awarded in recognition of his invaluable services to the legal profession.

Are you well-connected? Embracing technology and tips for choosing legal technology for your practice

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

By Karen Lee, Principal of Legal Know-How, Legal Industry Advisor, SAI Global

The future is connectivity

The dictionary definition of connectivity is the state of being connected or interconnected. “The future is moving towards connectivity” is not an understatement. Did you know, by 2026, cars will communicate with each other and share information about road and weather conditions? They will also be connected to infrastructure such as smart highways and traffic lights, so they can propose a change of plan en route based on real-time conditions.

Connectivity and technology

With this in mind, would you consider driving a well-connected car, or would you opt not too? This pretty much is a rhetorical question as it has an obvious answer.

In a recent PwC report on the future of banking in Australia, the leading multinational professional services firm identifies that changing technology is one of six powerful forces that are reshaping the banking industry. Among other things, the report said that banks need to be more deeply connected to customers.

This, indeed, is true. Australians are known for being fast adopters of new technology, and in May 2017, European fintech company TransferWise found 78 per cent of Australians did their banking online. No doubt we have all observed that some banks have revamped the manner in which they offer products as well as services on mobile devices.

“The future is connectivity” spells true not only for the banking industry, but also other industries, including the legal industry.

Connectivity and legal practice management

Is connectivity relevant to legal practice managers? The answer is a definite yes. The Law Society of New South Wales’s 2017 FLIP report noted that “legal services and the legal profession are evolving in the context of increased connectivity.” FLIP is short the Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession. The FLIP report provides recommendations to enable lawyers to adapt to changes that are taking place. It also looks over the horizon in an effort to gauge what might lie ahead. One of the FLIP report’s findings is that connectivity raises new and great opportunities and threats for lawyers.


Undeniably, lawyers who are well-connected to technology enjoy many benefits. Recently, Lawyers Weekly

has a cover story on the “rebooting” of the legal profession. It reported that law firms are incorporating advance technology such as blockchain and e-signatures into their service propositions, and the “big wins” of embracing technology include increased client retention rates, flexibility and employee satisfaction, together with the ability to offer a more effective and efficient way of doing business. As you can see, being well-connected to technology also means you are well-connected to clients and staff. It also enables access to data, information and knowledge. Importantly, as we have highlighted in an earlier ALPMA blog post, the ability to generate useful commercial information (which impacts on the ability to create new knowledge) is at the heart of a law firm’s competitive advantage. Imagine this – you can extract and analyse data which can potentially be converted into insights, then present this knowledge in a format that enables decision makers to act, and you do this better than others in the market. Isn’t this a real competitive advantage?


In terms of threats, the Lawyers Weekly article reported that technology such as robo-lawyers and artificial intelligence are seen by some as taking jobs away from lawyers and damaging the way clients are advised. One can certainly argue that technology may pose a threat to the traditional way lawyers do business, but it is fair to say that technology also is an opportunity for lawyers to do business in a new and different way.

Lawyers cannot not embrace technology

We already know that technology is relevant to the business of law, but did you know that it is also relevant to the ethics of law?

Earlier this year, Dr Eugene Clark argued that lawyers cannot ethically avoid using technology tools. Dr Clark, as Dean and Professor of Law of the Sydney City School of Law, said lawyers must take responsibility for the digital security of client and other information, they must know about encryption and the risks and benefits of cloud computing, and they must be responsible for keeping up to date with technological advances and the issues they raise in relation to the delivery of legal services.


So, you know you must embrace technology. But how do you choose legal technology for your practice? What are the key things you should consider?

Tips for choosing legal software

Some people (such as lawyers) and some organisations (such as law firms) are scared of technology, and this leads to its slow adoption. Often, after a bit of investigation, the real reason for not embracing technology is not a fear of technology, but a fear that technology would not meet their needs. Here are some check points to help you choose a technology solution that will meet your needs:

  • Does your service provider offer a range of generic solutions which you can adopt at any time? For those who feel jumping into a completely new software system seems like a daunting proposition, starting first with a more generic solution could be a quick win and a confidence booster. May be all you need or all you are prepared to invest in for now in is an easy and reliable way to access people and company information. Once you realise that conducting your searches using certain technology will reduce the time spent sourcing and analysing the information by 49%, then trying a data visualisation tool to display people and company information and addresses their associations in an interactive visual workspace will not intimidate. In fact, once you have a taste of what technology can do, it can be exciting to learn how you can further leverage technology to improve efficiency!
  • Does your service provider offer a range of specific solutions which you can tailor to suit your needs? Look out for custom solutions with software integration that offers the specific functionality you need for your practice, be it workflow automation or document management.
  • Is it easy to use? Look out for legal software solutions that do not need expensive hardware or installations. For example, something that everyone can access through their ordinary web browser is highly flexible.

Choosing the right legal technology that meets a law firm’s needs can be a minefield at times. By selecting a service provider who can help you stocktake what you currently have and guide your transition into using more and better technology, you will be off to a good start. 

Editor's Note 


SAI Global are proud to be a Gold Partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit. To find out more about embracing technology and tips for choosing legal technology for your practice, join Richard Jones, Head of Segment and Strategic Sales, Property Corporate and Justin Cranna, National Key Account Manager at the 2017 ALPMA Summit Partner Connections sessions on Wednesday 13th September at 5pm at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. The Partner Connection presentations are free to attend and part of the public opening of the 2017 ALPMA Summit Trade Exhibition, the largest gathering of legal vendors under one roof in the Southern Hemisphere. If you (or your colleagues) would like to attend the free open afternoon from 3.30 to 6.00pm, simply register here. You do not need to be attending Summit to come along.

About our Guest Blogger

Karen LeeKaren Lee is the founder of Legal Know-How and a legal industry advisor for SAI Global for 2.5 years. 

SAI Global Property is a division of SAI Global, which provides organisations with information services and solutions for managing risk, achieving compliance and driving business improvement and operational efficiency. SAI Global Property supports a range of Australian industries with information and data services and business process outsourcing services that enable our customers to operate their businesses more efficiently and with less operational and financial risk.

SAI Global are proud to announce our strategic partnership with Practice Evolve, a full legal and conveyancing practice management software capable of managing all areas of your practice on one platform.

As an ALPMA member, we offer a complimentary discovery session to review your current systems, understand your processes and drive efficiencies throughout your business. Register for your technology check here.






Who's got time for time management?

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

By Dermot Crowley, Productivity Author 

I ran a Lunch ‘n Learn presentation recently for a leading investment firm. The topic was essentially how to manage your time more effectively using technology. Twenty people turned up (out of hundreds in that particular office). Most of the attendees were junior staff and EAs. The joke around the room was that the people who really needed this were too busy to come. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard that one over the years. Many feel like they can’t afford to take the time to get organised. I believe we can’t afford not to.

In today’s busy workplace, driven by email and meetings, our time is the most precious resource we have at our disposal. While you might pride yourself on your organisational abilities, the truth for many executives, partners, managers and workers is that the workplace has changed, and how we need to organise ourselves has also changed. What might have worked a few years ago no longer makes the cut. So if you are not keeping your productivity skills and tools up to date, you will get left behind. Here are some of the productivity issues that may be killing your productivity.

Email overload

One of the biggest productivity issues of our age is email overload. We receive way too many emails every day, and often have a sizeable backlog in our Inbox. This causes stress and a reactive workstyle. Merlin Mann, the person who coined the phrase ‘Inbox Zero’ suggests that it is not really about how many emails are in your Inbox, it is about how much of your brain is captured by your Inbox. Getting on top of email is the first step to getting your head out of your Inbox and into more important and valuable work. Don’t use your Inbox as your filing system, and stop using it as an ineffective action list.

Calendar imbalance

Most of us have moved from paper diaries to an electronic calendar to manage our time. The challenge that this brings is that others now have visibility over your schedule, and will happily fill any free space with more meetings. Many executives I work with complain that they are in meetings from 9.00am to 5.00pm, and then have to catch up with the rest of their work from 5.00pm to 9.00pm. If we don’t protect time in our schedule for priorities outside of meetings, there is a risk that our time will get spent by other people. What would the ideal % split between meetings and other work be for you? What is the reality? What do you need to change?

Task fragmentation

As mentioned, you probably use an electronic calendar for all of your meetings. Yet you also probably use a range of systems and tools to remember what you need to do outside of meetings. Your Inbox, your head, a task list, post-it notes. Are your task management and prioritisation processes up to scratch? Or are you just getting by, lurching from one urgent issue to another? Taking some time out to get your priorities organised is a great use of your time. I recommend using the task system alongside your calendar in a tool like MS Outlook or Gmail.

Digital ignorance

No excuses here. You have the technology at your fingertips, but have you learned to leverage it? Do you really know how to get the most out of cutting edge tools like MS Outlook, OneNote or your smart phone? These tools were built to get your organised in the modern workplace, yet most barely scratch the surface when using this technology. Do yourself a favour, and get some training and you will unlock hours in your week.

Editor's Note

Want to learn how to use technology in a smarter way?  Dermot is presenting a Pre-Summit Workshop, "Personal Productivity in the 21st Century Workplace" on Wednesday 13 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. This highly practical and inspiring session will help participants to create a productivity system that will boost their productivity and leverage their technology. You do not have to be attending ALPMA Summit 2017 to attend this workshop. The workshop costs $395 for ALPMA members or $495 for eligible non-members. Places for these workshops are strictly limited so register now! We would also like to welcome our Pre ALPMA Summit Workshop Partner Law In Order.

About our Guest Blogger

Dermot CrowleyDermot Crowley is a productivity thought leader, author, speaker and trainer. Dermot works with leaders, executives and professionals in many of Australia’s leading organisations, helping to boost the productivity of their people and teams. He is the author of Smart Work, published by Wiley.








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