A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Blockchain & Smart Contracts…Why is it important, and what can I do with it?

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

By Ashley Kelso, Senior Associate, AustraLaw


There are a number of technologies at the moment that are on the verge of bringing a wave of innovations to many industries. These include:

  • Machine learning
  • Internet of things
  • Blockchain and distributed ledger
  • Smart Contracts
  • IPFS (decentralised storage of data)

We in the legal industry must at least gain a working knowledge of these technologies if we are to leverage them, give effective advice to our clients, and address the risks that they entail.

Most of the above technologies are fairly self-explanatory:

  • Machine learning allows us to train a computer by trial and error to perform repetitive analytical tasks (this holds major potential to allow smaller firms to punch above their weight)
  • The internet of things is about feeding data from sensors to an internet-connected server and then performing some action or analysis on it (the weather app on your iPhone is an example)
  • Decentralised storage is basically a cross between bit torrent (peer-to-peer file sharing) and dropbox (cloud-based storage). i.e. files are sourced from ‘the cloud’ by reference to their content rather than their location on a server. So if an identical copy of the file you are after is located on a computer nearby, your computer doesn’t have to pull that same content all the way from a server in the US.

However, smart contracts and blockchain technology require a little more explaining. As smart contracts are built on blockchain (e.g. Ethereum) and distributed ledger (E.g. Corda) technology, it best to start with an explanation of blockchain.

Blockchain – how does it work?


As an engineer I always found it more effective, when dealing with complex ideas, to communicate them visually through diagrams and drawings. Blockchain technology is a complex idea. This video provides an excellent visual explanation of what a blockchain is and what it is useful for.


Blockchain as a register of transactions


As the video demonstrates, blockchain provides the benefits of:

  • A trusted common register of information that is highly resistant to forgery
  • Decentralised recording of transactional data (good for data preservation, but also a privacy issue)

The importance of reliable common registers to record the exchange of property rights between parties will be well familiar to those involved in conveyancing and sale of business work.

Smart contracts


The first blockchain technology was Bitcoin. This simply tracked the creation and exchange of bitcoins between users. However, it is the next generation of blockchain technology called Ethereum that has really got people interested. This is because Ethereum allows users to customise the kinds of transactions that are performed, recorded, and tracked on the Ethereum blockchain.

Users can do this by writing smart contracts and loading them onto the Ethereum blockchain. In simplistic terms, a smart contract defines the items of value that parties to the contract will be exchanging, and the rules by which they will be exchanged. (i.e. Define the things whose state will be tracked, and how their state will change based on the information that the contract receives).

What do smart contracts look like?


To avoid talking too much in the abstract, here is an example of a smart contract from the Ethereum website.  It is written in a programming language called Solidity.
In basic terms, the ‘functions’ become actions that users can perform on the contract – for example, to tell the contract to process a transaction between two parties, or to check the balance of an account. Ethereum provides an application called the Ethereum Wallet that allows you to load your contracts on to the Ethereum blockchain and provides a user interface to interact with your contracts.

Risks and benefits of smart contracts


Smart contracts are the reason that people are talking about blockchain. Benefits include:

  • Automatic execution of the contractual effect of events (i.e. reducing the legwork of contract administration)
  • Automatically generates a record of all transactions that is highly resistant to forgery
  • Ability to create entire trading environments and schemes to exchange customised items of value (e.g. could be used to implement a private carbon credit scheme)

Negatives of smart contracts on Ethereum include:

  • Privacy of contract data
  • Difficult to prevent a party from exploiting a bug in the contract code
  • Charges Ether to process transactions (Ether is the currency of Ethereum)

There is a rapidly growing developer community around this technology; AustraLaw has already had an enquiry about drafting a smart contract; and a quick glance at the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance site demonstrates keen interest from major corporates (including Thomson Reuters). Exciting and uncertain times lay ahead.

More information


Corporates experimenting with blockchain technology

  • The Commonwealth Bank participated in a successful demonstration of the use of smart contract-IoT system which allowed payment to be trigged once a shipment of cotton reached a geographical location.
  • The Queensland Treasury Corporation and the Commonwealth Bank have demonstrated the ability to use smart contracts for the auction and issuance of bonds. 

About our Guest Blogger

Ashley KelsoAshley Kelso is a senior associate at AustraLaw. He holds degrees in mechatronics engineering and law. Prior to becoming a lawyer he worked in project management and systems engineering roles in the Department of Defence. This background allows him to communicate effectively across multiple disciplines and industries to assist clients more efficiently with their ADR and contract needs.

Ashley has a keen interest in applying the tools and methodologies of engineering to optimise the quality and efficiency of legal services.





Invest in Yourself

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

By Stephanie Beard, Human Resource Manager, Harwood Andrews


"What can you do to ensure that you are ahead of the game and you can play above the line?"

Don’t wait for someone else to provide you with opportunities for your professional development, take responsibility for your own career path. Here’s how:

Never stop learning

One thing that we can take control of is how much we want to continue to learn.

It is a competitive world we live in, and committing to professional development can set you apart from your competitor. It can be your point of difference.

It also builds confidence and self-belief. Look for things that are going to give you a broad perspective. Read as much as you can. Social media also provides a fantastic platform to follow thought leaders.

Take control of your career path

The first step is simply to write it down! You need to answer the following questions:

  • Where you are now?
  • Where you want to get to?
  • What you need to do in between?

Really identify where you want to be and how you are going to get there… then fill in the gaps.


But before you do this, you must identify your strengths and the areas where you need further development. Ask yourself the following questions and be honest with your assessment.


Some questions might be -

  • How do I rate my ability to do the job? Where are the gaps? What do I need to focus on?
  • Can I build relationships easily, am I liked and respected?
  • Do people want to follow me? If not, why not?
  • What do I need to do to improve my leadership and interpersonal skills?
  • How do I rate my personal drive?
  • How much time am I prepared to commit to this?


Back this self-review up by seeking out some feedback from other people that you trust, both internally and externally - mentors, HR Managers, Principals and supervisors can all offer valuable insights to help you progress your career.


Review and Adjust

Review your progress and, if necessary, adjust your goals. Start undertaking professional development targeted at addressing your weaknesses and supporting your desired career path. This does not have to be overwhelming - you can start with small goals. Remember that professional development doesn’t take away time, it adds value. It is an investment in yourself and your future – you deserve it!


Professional development comes in many forms

Professional development is not just about advancing your technical skills in what you are doing; it is a whole range of things. Don’t forget to look at your less tangible skills. While it is important to continue to develop and enhance your technical skills, don't neglect building stronger interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, communication and negotiation skills. The importance of these softer skills in moving your career forward cannot be under estimated.

Have the courage to put yourself outside of your comfort zone; this is when you will grow both personally and professionally.

It can be as simple as joining a professional membership association within the industry that you are working in, learning and consulting with your peers or attending networking events. Speak to your mentor, shadow someone that you aspire to be and learn from them.  Read as much as you can - this is a must!


What have I done?

I have been a member of ALPMA for many years, which has enabled me to deepen my understanding of the legal sector - from understanding trends in the macro environment to driving change in the micro firm environment. It has also given me the opportunity to meet some wonderful like-minded people, where I have formed some great friendships and working relationships with people who I know I can trust and rely on for assistance and support.

I regularly attend conferences where I have been inspired by great speakers from all over the world. Sometimes that is just what I need to reignite my passion and to continue being the best that I can be. You can learn so much at a conference, and it provides a broader perspective. No matter what you are doing, you need to understand the business from a holistic approach. I always walk away from these events with some key take-aways which I can take back to my work place.

I have been involved in the ALPMA Summit Committee for the past three years, where I have been able to learn from my fellow committee members who work in different areas of the legal industry - which has provided a broader perspective. This has also given me the opportunity to chair a panel session and to present at national level. This was outside of my comfort zone, but I felt that real sense of achievement by doing it.

I am a certified member of AHRI, the national body for human resource management and I am involved in the Geelong Regional Committee for AHRI.

I read a lot. I follow the top fifteen thought leaders and coaches in the world on Twitter and LinkedIn. I take the opportunity to read and share articles on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Personally, I also invested time in formal study which I paid for myself. I have undertaken two Masters Degrees, an MBA (with a major in HR) and an MBC (Masters of Business Coaching). Undertaking these studies has enabled me to form lots of networks with people outside the industry that I work in. I left school at 16 and returned to study in my early 40’s. Anyone can do it if the motivation is there. Full time work, study and managing a home life was difficult to balance, but I was determined to succeed because I wanted to!

Share your knowledge

Don’t forget to share your knowledge when you do get the opportunity to attend a seminar or a conference, or you have read an inspiring article. You can do this in many ways. Sharing articles on your intranet, writing a report to your Board after attending a conference or taking the opportunity to present at a lunch and learn session. This will help you demonstrate the firm's return on investment in your professional development, help position you as a thought-leader at the firm and encourage others to seek out new ideas.

I have done all the above and, as a result, my firm has sponsored me to attend both the ALPMA Summit and the AHRI National conferences for many years. I know that I am a better HR Manager because of attending seminars, conferences and participating on committees. It is a win/win for both myself and for the firm as I gain a better understanding of what is happening from a global point of view in the world of business and I share that knowledge.

This is the challenge:

Having read this post, ask yourself “What am I going to do to invest in my personal development?"

Take responsibility for your own career now. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you, by then it might be too late!


About our Guest Blogger

Stephanie BeardStephanie Beard is the Human Resource Manager of Harwood Andrews where she provides both strategic and operational support to the business. Stephanie holds a Masters of Business with a major in Human Resources Management together with a Masters of Business Coaching. She is a passionate HR professional who works closely with the CEO and shareholders of the business to build a positive and supportive culture where everyone can be the best that they can be.





Want to know the one simple thing that might save your firm?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

By Leticia Mooney, Director, Brutal Pixie



Did you mindfully design service to be a strategic element of your firm? Chances are you didn’t, or haven’t. But designing the service may well make the difference between a firm that survives the ‘lawpocalypse’, and one that doesn’t.

Nobody has the solution to the problems we believe that our businesses are facing. Marketers tell us to do one thing, technologists another, business gurus something else. We seem to be in an age when we have to be doing many things outside of core business, just in order to survive. Some lawyers believe robots will take their jobs, others that robots are the promised land.

So, where in all of this thinking, are the people you are serving?

Somewhere in the middle of all of the things we ought to be doing, we have to deliver services to people. We have to do what we promise and what we’re good at. The challenge for law is to stop looking at its own bellybutton, and start gazing deep into its customers’ eyes. Just being a firm with great lawyers won’t be good enough in the long term.

If your firm is like the vast majority of businesses in Australia, the delivery of your service has been something of a default. Working out where that default has come from can be quite tricky.

Generally, though, the style of service that we put in place in our businesses comes from one of two places:

  1.  Prior examples, in other firms or businesses in which we’ve worked, where things were done a certain way (and seemed to be the way things are done)

  2.  Prior bad examples, of the kinds of things we hated and swore we would do differently.
But beyond this point? Most of our time is spent thinking about what we want to do. We spend our time thinking about the work that we need to complete, about how busy we are, about how much more business we need.

It’s pretty rare that we focus those questions on the people who come to us. We don’t often stop to wonder what they need to do, the work that they need to complete, about how busy they are, and what your service means to them.

Enter, service design.

Service design is the bridge between strategy and customer experience. It happens when you stop and ‘rethink, reimagine, and re-create every stage and aspect of interaction between customers and your company, regardless of what is being sold and whether a transaction actually occurs’.[1]

A consistent business is not consistent by accident, but by design. It requires us to be proactive in every sense. It’s a removal of friction, from the customer end. More importantly, great service is a result of it being woven into the fabric of your business. It’s not something that is at the whim of management, intentions, or even the culture. If you don’t create it, it doesn’t exist.

Law isn’t designed to think this way. Most firms, which are ultimately run by lawyers, have never been introduced to this level of detailed corporate strategy, or this level of product design. Most business models, even in law, learned from manufacturing: Where ‘metrics are based on the quantity and quality of finished goods’[2] rather than the value of your interaction with customers.

That interaction is where the service happens. The quality of that interaction is the point on which the longevity of your firm rests. It’s not in the technology, the way you bill people, or even what kind of niche you target; though, your service design will consider all three. In the 21st century, what will make the difference between your firm and another one will be in how beautifully you’ve designed the service to remove friction from people’s lives.

You won’t instinctively know how to measure that value. In fact, it’s likely that even if you do have a clear corporate strategy for your firm (which many don’t), that you won’t have designed the service within it. Even the most customer-focused enterprises somehow seem to leave the client stuff out of their strategic documents; ultimately, it’s their downfall.

Customer journey maps are the plans and activities of the hour, it seems. But knowing who your customers are, where they come from, and how you capture them is literally just the surface. Delightful service design goes beyond that work and reworks the interactions at every stage, at every touchpoint, on that journey. It also considers service over a client lifetime, and not just ‘how do we bring them in’.

By going right back to the basics of great relationships, and standing in your clients’ shoes, you will be able to truly shift your practice or firm, and position it more strongly in the face of an uncertain future.

[1] The Art of Customer Delight, Strategy+Business, 1 Nov 2016. URL: https://www.strategy-business.com/article/The-Art-of-Customer-Delight?gko=e9da8. 
[2] ibid.

Editor’s Note


2017 ALPMA SummitWant to know more? Leticia is a speaker at the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13 – 15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. She will be talking about using creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication to rethink how you relate to your clientele.

You can learn more about delightful service design, and how to start reimagining the service of your firm at her upcoming online workshop.



About our Guest Blogger

Leticia MooneyLeticia Mooney is the Director of Brutal Pixie, a company that partners with law firms to improve how they relate to people. Leticia is passionate about making communication human, and believes that it's in our humanity that we'll find our success.










Should I stay or should I go?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

By Michelle McColl and Maura McConnell, Co-Proprietors, In2view Recruitment


There are promising signs that the employment market is picking up in the legal sector.

According to the results of the latest ALPMA Australian Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey, an increasing number of Australian and New Zealand law firms plan to hire new staff in the next twelve months.  In Australia, this number has jumped by 20% - with 51% of firms indicating they plan to recruit new staff in the next 12 months, compared to 31% last year.


For the first time since the survey commenced, the number one HR issue identified by Australian firms was employee retention and talent management, closely followed by 'finding good staff'.


A more buoyant employment market obviously presents both an opportunity for those who are considering changing jobs and a threat to employers.

Counter Offers


As recruiters, we are seeing an increase in the number of counter offers offered to employees who have been offered a job elsewhere to encourage the staff member to stay.  Counter offers can be presented in a number of ways, such as a salary increase, promotion, opportunity to earn a bonus or other incentives/benefits.

 

Managing Counter Offers

 
If you find yourself in this position, there a number of things to consider:


Counter offers add a layer of complication to the recruitment process, and leave you wondering whether maybe you owe something to your current employer, and that maybe things will improve if you stay.


Consider why?


The first thing you should do is consider why the offer has been made by your employee.


Typically, counter offers are made because:


  • replacing you will be an expensive and time consuming exercise;

  • your employer will lose all your knowledge, experience and expertise;

  • your employer requires you to complete the project on which you are currently working;

  • your employer does not have the time and resources to re-train a replacement;

  • losing staff may reflect badly on your manager/employer.

Consider what next?


You need to consider that now your employee knows you have been considering leaving, relationships may be strained moving forward.  Following your resignation, your loyalty and commitment to the business will be in question, and you may be treated differently. 


Your employer may begin seeking a replacement, regardless of whether you stay or leave.


Also consider why you are being offered this new package now, rather than prior to your resignation?


It is also important to reflect on why you felt motivated to move in the first place.  In what ways is your new employer an improvement on your current employer?  Why do you want to work for them?  What opportunities does the new position offer that cannot be matched by your current employer?


Finally, research reveals that most people who accept a counter offer are likely to leave their job within six to 12 months in any case. 


Are you just deferring the inevitable if you accept the counter offer?


In the end, the decision will come down to what is best for you and your career moving forward.  Good luck!


Editor's Note

ALPMA 2017 Salary & HR Issues surveyIf you would like to learn more about the 2017 legal employment market, salaries offered for legal, management and administrative roles at Australian and NZ law firms, bonuses and benefits paid and the biggest HR challenges facing law firms, then purchase the 2017 ALPMA Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey Report.  This survey is available for $550 (incl GST) for ALPMA members or $2,200 (incl GST) for non-members.  If your firm participated in this research, you have received a complimentary copy of the report.





About our Guest Bloggers


In2view
Michelle McColl and Maura McConnell are the co-proprietors of In2view Recruitment, which opened its doors in 2008.  Between them, they have in excess of 40 years’ experience in the recruitment industry, gained across many industry sectors.  In2view are ALPMA SA Corporate Partners and the SA State Partner for the 2017 ALPMA Australian Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey.







4 ways collaboration will shape the legal industry in 2017

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

By John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack


InfoTrack recently interviewed a number of industry leaders on their predictions for the legal industry in our 2017 Legal Predictions eBook. One of the common themes across the board was the important role collaboration will play in the future of the profession from technology through to continued support for mental health.


Collaboration is also one of the key learning skills that will be central to the 2017 ALMPA summit - working effectively and efficiently with others, sharing knowledge, talent and experience to achieve desired outcomes. As the disruption and digitisation of the legal industry continues, methods of collaboration will evolve to shape the profession in new ways.

Cross-blending of professions


Today's lawyers have more diverse academic and professional backgrounds than ever before. The traditional arts degree is no longer the norm, and those entering the profession are bringing varied skill sets. Firms have begun to recognise the value in other specialised backgrounds that can translate to higher levels of understanding and communication. This can help differentiate service and create stronger rapports and trust with clients who can have confidence that they're dealing with someone who has more than just legal expertise.

Whether it's construction, computer programming or biology – different backgrounds are providing the next generation of lawyers with diverse skills and knowledge that they can share with others. Educators area also recognising the need for more diverse skills, with universities beginning to collaborate with technology providers to ensure that students are on top of the latest tools and understand how to integrate them into their practice.

Online collaboration


All the surveys we’ve conducted with partners over the past year indicate that firms are investing more in technology because they recognise that it is allowing for new levels of collaboration between lawyers, other professionals and clients. The InfoTrack/IPS Legal IT survey found that 2/3 of firms are offering client collaboration platforms and 95% recognise the importance of a mobile and flexible work environment. Firms are implementing tools to allow for easier collaboration not internally but with clients as well.

The property market is a perfect example of increased online collaboration. Governments across Australia have accelerated the digital transition of the property market. New e-Conveyancing technology is allowing lawyers, conveyancers, real estate agents, buyers and sellers to collaborate online to complete the contract, signing and settlement of property with greater speed, transparency, and convenience for all parties.

Cloud computing


The move to the Cloud will accelerate in 2017. The InfoTrack/IPS survey revealed two thirds of firms already have business-approved cloud strategies in place and 97% are considering key platforms that are cloud-based or fully hosted via SaaS arrangements. Firms have greater faith in cloud security as trusted providers have proven they're experts in data sovereignty

The Cloud helps with mobility, collaboration and business continuity by allowing firms a naturally connected model that can work on any device from any locations. It allows for a system that's scalable to changing client demands and volumes.

Mental health


All of the experts in our 2017 Legal Predictions project agreed that mental health is still a serious issue in the profession. Though New Law is introducing more flexible business models, competition is fiercer than ever and the pressure is high. Law is a naturally isolating and high pressure occupation. The "sink or swim" mentality leaves practitioners prone to anxiety and depression. Though there is more awareness and support, it's still an issue that is hard for many to discuss or be open about. Mental Health Month in October is a great way to bring these issues to the forefront and have firms work together to develop strategies and programs to continue to tackle this important issues. It will take collaboration both within firms and across the profession to continue to fight the stigma that surrounds mental health and create a more open environment.

The need for collaboration will continue to grow as the legal landscape evolves and becomes more global. The ability to work with anyone, anywhere will increase opportunity for shared knowledge, experience and learning.

Editor's Note

2017 ALPMA SummitInfoTrack are the Principal Partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit, Sailing the 4C's, being held 13-15 September in Brisbane.
Registration is now open for the 2017 ALPMA Summit, and there are great savings for those who register early! Register now!
This year's Summit will help you ensure your firm is well-positioned for success in the 21st century. Our theme, Sailing the 4C's, focuses on the critical 21st century learning skills of Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking and Creativity, as identified by the influential P21 organisation.




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.

Embedding 21st Century Skills in Your Firm

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

By Ann-Maree David, 2017 ALPMA Summit Chair



By now, we all know that the legal industry is in the midst of unprecedented disruption. Successive ALPMA Summits have focused on all that is new and evolving - modes of working; technology; systems; understanding clients as customers; NewLaw. The focus has been on helping firms understand what is coming.

In 2017, our focus as legal industry leaders needs to go deeper and become reflective, examining how to effect change, to innovate, to participate in and ultimately thrive amidst constant and rapid-fire of a changing legal landscape.

We need to ask ourselves – ‘how well is my firm prepared to weather this storm?’

‘Have we set ourselves on a pathway for success or are we just paying lip service to the idea of change – while continuing on with business as it has always been?'

And we need to accept that this requires fundamental changes to everyone’s mindset, to the firm’s culture and to the very way that it does business.

The ALPMA Summit Committee too has been reflecting on these issues. And to this end, our 2017 program centres on four core 21st century skills:

creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking, as defined by the influential P21 organisation.

If you think we’ve swapped the annual Summit for a HR forum on soft skills, think again!

While these are each core interpersonal skills and competencies essential for succeeding in the ‘Gig economy’, they also speak directly to an organisation’s systems and processes, its strategy and value proposition and, most importantly, the management style of every successful organisation’s leadership team.


Let me explain further.

Creativity


In the “old” world of work, professionals built mastery in specific skills – for example, law; finance and accounting; economics. Obviously, those skill sets remain valid and valued. However, when a problem falls outside a specific skill set, creativity and innovation are required to build pragmatic solutions.

Creativity is more than coming up with new ideas; that is merely imagination at play. Creativity requires grunt, a willingness to take risks, and a commercial appetite for investing in ideas to allow them to become reality, perhaps after many iterations. In what has become a truly commoditised world, creativity is what distinguishes one organisation from all the rest.

Creativity is most often seen as a feature of culture. Take a look at some of the innovative giants of our time – Google, Apple, Tesla. Or closer to home, the Big 4 accounting firms and NewLaw firms which are now evolving into our strongest competitors and in some cases led by your former partners or employees. Creative problem solvers are drawn to organisations that promote autonomy and an innovative mindset and encourage and reward thinking and doing things differently.


Creativity also goes to the core of strategy: changing the conservative way of doing business, opening the corporate mind to new drivers and new behaviours to proactively participate in disruption rather than simply be disrupted or, worse still, be left behind as collateral damage. And while often perceived as “freewheeling” and without bounds, creativity should be viewed for what it can generate if resourced appropriately in terms of time, money and training.

Collaboration


Many law firms are still structured to leverage individual skill for the firm’s benefit and to measure and reward solo efforts in terms of productivity, billability and performance. Yet today, collaboration in and between cross-functional teams, workplaces, companies, sectors and countries is the norm.


Thanks to heightened connectivity, there is a very real expectation that individuals may work flexibly and/or virtually. They need to be capable of self-direction but at the same time equipped with strong team-building and participation skills. And while the ability to work together evidences successful work practices and processes, it is the end result of that collaborative effort that affects the bottom line. Collaboration across diverse networks both internally and externally featuring unique expertise and perspectives will give rise to a greater variety of ideas, solutions and innovation than can be generated alone.


Adding clients and even competitors to the collaborative mix is gaining traction in some areas of laws, as firms scramble to retain clients demanding better value and deeper understanding of their business from law firms.

Critical Thinking


Critical thinking is part of a suite of higher-order thinking skills which also includes problem solving. Critical thinking can be described as the systematic process of identifying, analyzing and solving problems. It entails reflection and independent thought rather than reliance on intuition or instinct. It can be distinguished from the traditional experience of learning or accumulating facts or knowledge, the aim of which is simply retention. Critical thinking encompasses making sense of what has been learned and then applying it to new situations.

Critical thinking as a skill is becoming ever more valuable as the rapidly changing and complex world throws up more and more novel situations and problems which cannot be resolved using a traditional mindset. Critical thinking is also essential to cut through the masses of information and data that are so readily available online.

But critical-thinking doesn’t just happen spontaneously! It is a learned skill that needs to be nurtured and encouraged, embedded within the firm DNA. It has to be ok for your most junior staff to question your Managing Partner on why things are done in a particular way – and then supported in creating and implementing a better way.

Ask yourself – ‘when was the last time that this happened at my firm?’

Communication


Oral and written communication sits at the very core of any legal practice. However, in the 21st century, the framework of business and interpersonal communication has fundamentally changed. Once considered effective if there had been a simple transmission of information from one source to another, today communication involves a complex system of synchronous and asynchronous messaging often between a myriad of parties from all over the world, across multiple technology platforms operating 24 x 7, 365 days per year (and not just when your firm is open!) This is an evolving feast – and achieving cut through in this clutter requires new skills and a completely different approach from simply sending out a newsletter once per quarter and banging up a website.

21st Century Leadership


Most importantly, each of the 4C's speak to leadership. Law firm leaders and management teams are having to respond to unprecedented threats and opportunities. They have two choices: assume a defensive posture or adapt and thrive. Modelling traditional leadership qualities such as confidence and courage and optimism – and embracing collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication - sends messages which reach far beyond internal stakeholders to influence corporate brand and, ultimately, the market for your services.

Is it time for you firm to embrace 21st Century skills?

Editor’s Note



2017 ALPMA SummitWant to learn how to help your firm embed 21st learning skills into its operational DNA? Then take advantage of early bird savings, and register now for the 2017 ALPMA Summit ‘Sailing the 4’C’s’ to be held from 13 – 15 September at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre. Check out the website to learn more about the fantastic line-up of speakers, exhibiting at Summit, the social program and much more!

Register now.

About our Guest Blogger



Ann-Maree DavidAnn-Maree David is an Executive Director of The College of Law, the largest provider of practice-focused legal education in Australasia. She has worked in the legal profession for over 30 years, in public and corporate sector roles and in private practice as a solicitor.

Ann-Maree has held a career-long passion for developing and delivering education and training programs to enable all involved in the delivery of legal services to thrive both personally and professionally. She is a longstanding member of ALPMA, and a regular contributor to both the Queensland Branch’s monthly seminar program and the annual ALPMA Summit Program Committee which she chairs.

In addition to leading the College of Law’s Queensland campus, Ann-Maree is President of Australian Women Lawyers and chairs the Queensland Law Society’s Equalising Opportunities in the Law Committee.



Innovative payment technologies and how your business can benefit

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Compu-stor ad

By Bessie Hassan, Money Expert, finder.com.au


New payment innovations have created a cashless society where customers can now make payments using their wallets or mobile devices. As these modern payment methods become the norm, it’s essential that businesses adapt quickly in order to remain competitive.

Whether it’s contactless payments, mobile wallets, or providing the infrastructure for in-store finance, there are now multiple ways customers can make transactions to suit their needs and it’s up to businesses to make these readily available.

While these payment technologies provide greater convenience for the customer, they also provide businesses with higher conversion rates and rich insights related to customer behaviour. Combined with this, the payment methods also allow businesses to provide a higher level of customer service with greater security.

Here are a few new ways to pay, and how your business can benefit.

1) Higher conversion with interest-free payments & in-store finance


Providing interest-free payments means your customer can make purchases either online or in-store that they pay back interest-free. Both Afterpay and Openpay have partnered with countless retailers, so it’s worth jumping on board if you haven’t already done so.

With in-store finance, you can partner with credit providers or you can offer your own finance in-store. For instance, you can promote credit offers such as CreditLine from Latitude Finance that’s currently available at several retailers.

Having the option of interest-free payments and in-store finance could see your sales volume grow as customers may be more likely to convert. It removes friction of a complicated and lengthy checkout process and providers customers with the resources to complete a transaction.

2) Value-add with ‘tap and go’ mobile payments 

Updating your payment technology to accept contactless and mobile payments is a good way to appeal to customers’ changing spending habits.

This is how it works: for purchases valued under $100, customers can ‘tap and go’ using their debit or credit card, and if they have Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, they can pay using their mobile phone.

There are some features of mobile payment systems that provide you with valuable information, such as WAP billing. Online purchases made through WAP billing can provide richer media to customers such as games and apps, and it can provide additional features including previews and delivery details. Providers such as Bango and Netsize are the most common players in this space.

3) Tailored marketing with digital wallets


As you can access consumer’s credit card information, shipping address, and other payment data, supporting mobile payments will give you greater consumer behaviour insights.

What’s their preferred payment method? How much are they spending, on average? Where do they live? This information can help you target your marketing communications at a higher level which allow for a more efficient allocation of resources.

In the next few years, new payment methods will only become more advanced so it’s important that you’re across new developments in this area. Whether it’s providing in-store finance options through instalment plans or providing the technology to facilitate mobile phone payments, there are many ways you can embrace new payment methods to provide a superior customer experience and reap the financial benefits.

About our Guest Blogger


Bessie HassanBessie Hassan is the Head of PR Australia and Money Expert at finder.com.au - Australia's most visited comparison site - and often features on national radio, TV, and throughout online publications sharing her best money-saving hacks and property advice. Bessie is passionate about helping Australians find better, whatever it is they're looking for.








Marketing for the modern firm

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Compu-stor advert


By Rafe Berding, Manager of Brand and Communications, GlobalX


Many traditional law firms continue to rest on their laurels and well earned goodwill when it comes to generating new business. However, more than ever firm growth and new client acquisition can be attributed to having a sound digital marketing strategy. Whether you work in a top-tier or boutique firm, these strategies are integral to assist in driving continuous business development and growth.

In saying this, digital strategies are not autonomous in their application, and must be collaboratively combined with traditional marketing elements to achieve true multi-channel marketing communications.

Indeed, the Australian legal landscape is continuing to evolve faster than ever, with innovation in the sector delivering challenges and opportunities at every corner. The emergence of new technology and integration capabilities is presenting disruption as we adopt and change. Technology is also changing the way we offer legal services, creating new forms of competition and changing client expectations on how we do business.

That said, law firms must also stay on top of the latest ways to reach clients and showcase their unique value proposition.

Multi-channel marketing to the modern-day consumer


Both traditional and digital marketing must be implemented as a unified strategy.

Multi-channel marketing and communication establishes a broad presence across a myriad of platforms to reach prospective clientele. With Australians consuming more information than ever across multiple platforms in shorter cycles, it is essential we have targeted and diverse marketing and advertising activities.

5 tips to boost your multi-channel marketing communications


1. Be Present – Have an online presence


If you haven’t already built an online presence for your business, it’s time to start. Having an online presence is critical for your business - no matter how large or small. It is imperative you have a modern website that reflects your brand, it is up-to-date with your services, contact details and overall unique value proposition.

2. Be reached – Invest in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)


There is no point in having the best website and social media platforms in town when you have no traffic being directed to your brand. To put it in perspective Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year.

Approximately 90% of consumers use search engines to research a product or business. Here is a breakdown of the search engines used.

Australian Search engine usage snapshot:

Google: 94.4%

The rest: 5.6%

To ensure you are ranking on page 1 of Google or any other search engine for that matter you need to invest in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of influencing the visibility of your website in a web search engine's unpaid results — often referred to as "natural," "organic," or "earned" results. In layman's terms this means being higher up the search results listing, preferably at the top of page 1!

Find out more by visiting Google’s free Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide.

3. Be Social – Implement Social Media


With over 65.8% of the Australian population actively using Facebook each month it is important your business is set up on the social media platforms your clients use.

*Australian Social Media usage:

  1. Facebook – 16,000,000 active users

  2.  Instagram – 5,000,000 active users

  3. LinkedIn – 3,600,000 active users

  4. Twitter – 2,800,000 active users

Setting up social media accounts for your business are free and easy to do.
Learn how you can set up a free Facebook business Page in a matter of minutes, from a mobile device or a computer.

*All figures represent the number of Unique Australian Visitors [UAVs] to that website over the monthly period – unless otherwise stated above. Source – SocialMediaNews.com.au

4. Be consistent with your message - Have a Communication Strategy


Having a web and social presence is one thing, but consistent and palatable content via these platforms is the kicker. A mix of thought and industry leadership, product and service announcements and telling your business story is essential across all platforms.

Planning and measurability of this regular content ensures consistency and that you understand the mix, message and value. Communication is constant through technology. Because of this, information should never be delayed in getting to its intended recipient. Providing consistent and current communication means your clients will stay informed and educated. In return, your business will earn their respect, trust and opportunity to win their business.

5. Be agile with paid promotion – boost your digital presence as required


AdWords
Once you have established your web and social media presence and have your content strategy in place you have the option to boost your visibility with paid promotion or advertising.

AdWords is an advertising service by Google for organisations wanting to display ads based on key words to get to the top of search results on Google. The Adwords program enables you to set a budget, with users only paying when people click on the respective ads.


LinkedIn
LinkedIn offers the ability for you to promote or “sponsor” posts.

These campaigns are on a Pay Per Click (PPC) basis and can be easily targeted or displayed based by several demographics:

  • Location
  • Age
  • Company – by name or category (industry or size)
  • Job Title
  • Education
  • Skills
  • Group – all or a particular group, or exclude
  • Gender

Facebook

Facebook offers businesses “Promoted Posts,” these are an advertising option enabling the promotion of selected posts.

A Promoted Post is like any other regular post made on your Facebook business Page. From there you set a budget on a Pay Per Click (PPC) model. The post will then be shared and promoted to a set number of Facebook members.

Embrace digital tools to your advantage


Australia’s legal services market continues to change with the advent of modern-day technology. Today’s technology is indelibly changing the way we do business - from the services we offer, our pricing structure, all the way to how we communicate and prospect for new business.

Equally, our customers’ behaviour is dramatically changing from the way they appoint us, to the way in which the relationship communicates. By leveraging the latest digital tools and strategies in conjunction with traditional marketing and business development activities you can ensure your business is in the best position to be present, reachable and relevant.


About our Guest Blogger



Rafe BerdingRafe Berding is Manager of Brand and Communications at GlobalX. GlobalX is one of Australia’s leading technology and legal support services companies - developing and supporting workflow software solutions for conveyancers and lawyers including Matter Centre and Open Practice.

GlobalX’s online, software and legal support services are used by thousands of law firms across the nation each day. Rafe is part of a team of 250 dedicated professionals driving technological and industry change to empower the daily productivity of Australia’s leading legal professionals.







A powerful, cost-cutting IT solution for legal firms

Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Compu-stor advert


 By Shane Muller, Founder and Managing Director, OBT


With the rise of the digital transformation, “disruption” has become the new norm in the legal industry. But often, the biggest innovations come from improving, and “future proofing,” current systems. Savvy legal firms are doing just that, by adopting virtual IT solutions that cut costs, streamline operations and provide remote access securely. Gone are the days of enterprise solutions laden with features that staff simply don’t use.

Demand has made Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) a $30 billion worldwide market, and it’s only going to grow as enterprise platforms continue to drain IT budgets. More businesses in the legal space are embracing app and desktop virtualisation to give them a competitive edge in the rapidly changing legal landscape.

Here are 4 reasons why legal firms are making the shift to DaaS—and saving time and money in the process.

Streamlined pricing



DaaS is priced using a simple subscription model. Firms get predictable monthly costs, without the capital expense and time required to build everything yourself. In fact, businesses report 70% savings when using low-cost, thin clients to replace outdated PCs. Free yourself from costly enterprise platforms, and free up budget for more important undertakings in the process.

Simplicity



Enterprise solutions often require costly training, as well as an army of IT support staff to troubleshoot when something goes wrong. This takes away time and resources from more pressing projects and growth priorities. With DaaS, application updates are handled automatically and security is built into the solution.

Accessible, secure information



Private IT solutions silo information to devices. When devices are lost, all of the data is lost, too. Virtual desktops store everything securely in the cloud, which means the teams you manage have the freedom to work where they want, at the office or from home—without the risk of data breaches.

Flexibility



To grow and meet demand, businesses need IT solutions that provide agility. Being flexible saves you money by allowing you to scale up or down to match your firm’s current demand. DaaS provides firms with the flexibility to add applications and users at a moment’s notice.

As the legal industry embraces the digital transformation, four capabilities will hold the key to success: ability, stability, affinity and agility. To stay agile in the new tech landscape, firms are opting for a streamlined solution that maximizes budget, security and productivity.

About our Guest Blogger


Shane MullerShane Muller is a business industry pioneer who has more than 25 years’ experience in the IT industry. Since Shane established OBT in 1999 it has grown exponentially to become a leading private cloud services provider. OBT is a multiple winner of the Microsoft Australian Hosting Partner of the Year award, and the 2017 CRN Impact Award for Optimising Investments. Shane is married and in his spare times enjoys the outdoors, fine wine and his involvement in a range of community activities.









How do you financially rate your firm?

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

ICON visual marketing ad


By Andrew Chen, Partner - Business Advisory, Crowe Horwath


“On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate the financial performance of your firm?” 

It is interesting the variety of responses that I receive when I ask partners and firm management this question and then ask them “why?”.

Typically, the responses are given in the context of the current economic conditions the firm is facing, internal issues or a partner’s objectives.

How would the partners of your firm rate the financial performance of the firm? Do some of the following responses sound familiar?

  • We grew revenue by 10% again
  • Partner profits exceeded expectations at $600,000 per partner
  • The firm was valued at $5 million
  • Staff productivity is at 85%
  • Profit per point is on budget
  • Cashflow is great our firm lock-up is now 60 days.
  • We just hired a new a partner and opened a new office in Brisbane

In contrast, for a firm not travelling financially well, the responses typically centred around the firm not meeting budgeted fees, the reasons why and the level of partner profit draws not being quite where they should be.

Understanding how your firm rates financially is important so that you know the true financial picture. This can be achieved by using a composite of measures that highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the firm, but also provides the firm with actionable insight to change its future direction.

Most firms produce monthly and annual financial statements including a Profit and Loss Statement and a Balance Sheet in order to comply with tax and other record keeping requirements. But we tend to analyse them in isolation, and track measures specific to particular balances or reports. While there is nothing wrong with that in itself, it does not show the true picture of a firm’s performance.

It is important to analyse the financial relationship between a profit and loss and balance sheet together to truly know how your firm financially rates.

I have come across a number of similar instances where a partner has said: “The profit per partner was $350,000 and we had a great year, but each partner had provided effectively $800,000 of equity funding to the firm”. In my book, that’s not a particularly good outcome.

Create a firm scorecard



Create a firm scorecard with your firm’s key KPI’s with targets and compare them to benchmarks from the recent ALPMA/Crowe Horwath Financial Performance Benchmarking Study ‘Financially propelling innovation & growth’. From the results summary,you can rate the performance of your firm, and assess if it is above expectations or performs poorly.

1) Gross Profit Margin % (GP)



I was quite surprised at the number of firms that do not budget or report their gross profit margins. This may have something to with how a firm’s accounting system and payroll systems are initially set up, and an acceptance of the reporting produced by these systems.

It is an ideal measure to see how profitable the firms legal service are produced, which then should direct you to whether you can afford those pay rises, increase productivity or change staff mix or simply need to grow fees.

The recent ALPMA/Crowe Horwath Benchmarking study results indicate that the average GP in June 2016 was 57.8% and it has hovered around this percentage for the prior 3 years.

2) Profitability % (before interest and tax)



Everyone looks at the bottom line, but not always before interest and tax. This measures the operating performance of the firm as a return on revenue. It enables your firm to be compared to the performance of other firms regardless of how the firm is funded.

3) Return on the funding capital %



This measure is also commonly known as the return on capital employed. [Profit before Interest & Tax / (Working capital + Non-Current Assets)]

Is the profitability percentage an adequate return for the amount the partners have invested in the firm and the firm has borrowed from the bank? If the answer to this question is no, then this could be a reflection of large work in progress and debtor balances, low gross profit or excessive overhead costs.

This measure provides your firm visibility on whether the partners are leaving excessive profits in the firm; bank debt is growing due to poor working capital management of WIP and debtors; or whether there is a committed investment for growth.

4) Revenue generated on funding capital % (Financial Resilience Index)



We see this measure as an indicator of a firm’s financial resilience and how effectively the firm is able to grow fee revenue off the back of the funding from the bank and the partners. That is the firm’s ability to support fee growth with no extra funds from the bank or profits left in the firm by the partners. On average, firms in the ALPMA/Crowe Horwath study generated for $2.7 of fee revenue for every $1 of funding.

Increasing the value of the firm

 

If these four key measures are moving in the right direction year on year, the value of the firm increased which is a reflection that the firm’s strategic plans are working!

Other measures and indicators improved such as lock-up days, partner draws increased, bank debt reduced and overheads were contained.

For participants in the ALPMA/Crowe Horwath study that rated highly in the above four measures relative to their peers, it was no surprise that the results also showed they were being innovative and were also investing in marketing campaigns and new technology.

How does your firm financially rate on these measures?

Editor's Note


2016 Financial Performance Benchmarking Study Results
For further insights, download the results summary from 2016 ALPMA/Crowe Horwath Financial Performance Benchmarking Study of Australian Law Firms, "Financially Propelling Innovation & Growth".













About our Guest Blogger


Andrew ChenAndrew Chen is a Partner of Crowe Horwath’s Business Advisory team and has provided business advisory, taxation and accounting services to a broad range of clients for 25 years.

Andrew helps business owners identify key financial issues affecting their businesses and then develops tailored solutions to make their businesses more profitable and sustainable.

Andrew’s significant experience in advisory and tax accounting services comes from working with businesses of all sizes. He specialises in advising legal and professional service firms on establishing business structures; financial management in areas of internal accounting functions and tax administration; financial reporting and KPI performance measurement; budget and cash flow forecasting; tax planning; salary packaging; and tax return preparation.

Andrew is a regular speaker on financial management and taxation issues at industry events. He was a key speaker for Macquarie Bank’s National Legal Firm roundtables. Andrew lectures at the College of Law and also contributes to industry publications including those for the Australian Legal Practice Management Association and Australian Dental Association.



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