A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

How to execute on your firm's New Year resolution

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

By Alistair Marshall, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates


Many of you probably put together an aspirational list of hopes, dreams and targets for your business whilst enjoying a glass of something nice over Christmas and the New Year. But we all know that most resolutions are forgotten by the third week of January, so I am here today as your conscience, to make sure you deliver on your New Year’s resolution for your practice and get 2017 off to a flying start.

7 ways to ensure 2017 is your most successful year ever



Here are my top seven ideas that you can initiate immediately to bring in work:


  • Pick up the phone to five clients you have not heard from recently, and ask them how they are going. Maybe send them an article you have written, or some relevant research that would be useful to them.

  • Go and visit your top five clients from 2016, and see what else they may need assistance with. Can they refer you to other individuals within their contact sphere?

  • Reach out to five prospective clients from your pursuit list, who match your ideal client profile. If you don’t have the names of specific organisations and individuals, then you will really struggle to make much progress.

  • Buy lunch or dinner for your best five referrers of work. Good things happen when you get out from behind your desk and go and talk to people.

  • Get yourself a speaking gig at an event that will be attended by potential clients. It is a great way to be seen as the expert in your field.

  • Write a thought leadership piece and send it to your database – make sure it’s on a topic of significant interest and value to them and their networks.

  • Attend or host a networking event involving as many of your business contacts as possible.


Over the years, I have learned that when it comes to business development, the more proactive you are, the “luckier” you become at generating more revenue!

And remember that what gets measured, gets improved, so track your efforts and results. For most individuals in professional services firms, key performance indicators tend to relate to financial results, client satisfaction, improving staff morale, and making efficiency gains with internal processes to help profitability.

How are you and your team going to track your progress against these goals?

Whilst no one measurement should be considered more important than another, the number of billable hours produced in the calendar year is usually a critical measurement for most firms.

Winners make it happen; losers let it happen. To hit your New Year goals, you need to start taking action now.

About our Guest Blogger


Alistair Marshall

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








5 ways your law firm can make more money in 2017 and beyond

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

By Evie Farah, Director, Empire Consulting


As a Consultant who has dealt with hundreds of law firms over the years, it is apparent that competition is fierce. Many sole practitioners are breaking away from the bigger firms and starting out on their own. These lawyers are used to having an Accounts Department who bill for them, a Secretary to type up correspondence and a Receptionist to answer the phone. Once they are out on their own they are responsible for all of these roles including many others. How does a lawyer make time to do billable work as well as run a successful business?

This problem is not unique to sole practitioners though. I have visited larger firms and the only word I can use to describe them is: chaos. There is no structure or cohesion. Staff are so busy with a constant influx of work that there is no time to develop the business or streamline its practices.

Over the years, I have developed simple key changes that law firms can implement to help them run the business side of their law practice so they aren’t consumed with frustration. Here are a few to get you started:

1. Be visible online



A Google consumer survey showed that 96% of people seeking legal advice use a search engine. So if you don’t have an up to date website, how are your clients going to find you?

Just having a website is not enough though, get it optimised! This is particularly beneficial when people enter non-branded searches. An example of a non-branded search is someone in Cronulla searching ‘help me divorce my husband’. If you happen to be a family lawyer in Cronulla and your website is optimised, you will increase your website’s position on the list of results.

As 62% of legal searches are non-branded, optimisation could mean the difference between a potential client finding you or your competitor down the road.

2. Get your IT sorted



Do you still have a dusty server sitting in the back corner of your office? Did your IT Consultant just quote you $10,000 for a new server? In this day and age everything is moving towards being cloud based. Meaning your data is hosted offsite, in a remote and safe location.

Apart from the enormous cost of updating servers every few years (and helping your IT Consultant buy that second Ferrari), cloud technology allows you to work away from the office. Meaning you could draft that affidavit on the couch while the little one takes their nap, or send emails while waiting for your flight.

Also, think about how old your desktop or laptop computer is. If it is slow and clunky, how much of your billable time is it wasting? There are now plenty of affordable options available and this simple update of your hardware can result in improved efficiencies for the entire practice.

3. Invest in good practice management software



Good practice management software helps your firm grow and saves you money. I have had the opportunity to utilise and explore quite a few. Some will offer amazing accounting capabilities but then require you to code and import your own firm precedents. Others will have a great precedent suite but fall short on time recording and accounting capabilities.

Rather than go with the cheapest product, compare your options to find the one that offers capability in more than just one area. Also, choose one that specialises in small-medium law firms. A firm of 200+ users has vastly different needs than one of 2-5 staff members. If you want to be able to save on numerous admin staff, it is imperative to purchase and utilise a practice management system that allows you to keep everything in one place and easily track your progress.

In the short term, the investment might feel steep in respect of anticipated returns. But if you begin on the right foot, the long-term benefits will far outweigh the cons.

4. Be mobile



Clients might be reluctant or unable to travel to your office. If you are mobile, ie. have a laptop and a comprehensive checklist with a list of all the questions to ask the client, you will look professional and organised. Once people see how accessible and committed you are, they will be more inclined to refer you to family and friends. Word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools any business can have.

Mobility also means that staff can work from home. Think of the infrastructure costs that can be saved if staff are not required to work from the office all the time. Furthermore, your job offer will be more attractive if it can offer potential staff the flexibility they desire.

5. Reduce office waste



Is your floor covered in files that are completed? Do you have an office filled to the top with boxes of files that should be sent away for storage? Imagine what your clients think when they see this!

As your obligation is to keep a file for 7 years, it is a good idea to think about a storage system. There are companies you can enlist to take your files on a regular basis, store them in secure facilities and provide you quick and easy access as and when you need them.


About our Guest Blogger


Evie FarahEvie Farah is a Director of Empire Consulting. She possesses over 15 years’ experience in the legal industry and understands the needs and challenges of a law firm. Evie helps law firms streamline their practice and improve efficiency and profitability.

Evie is also a LEAP Certified Consultant who worked internally at LEAP for over 3 years before branching out into her own consulting business. Evie’s extensive knowledge of LEAP software ensures your firm will benefit from her comprehensive understanding of all LEAP products. Evie’s expertise and experience is second to none. She prides herself on her quality service and attention to detail. For more details on how Evie can help you please visit www.empireconsultingservices.com or email her directly at evie@empireconsultingservices.com


Personal Reflections on 2016 by ALPMA President, Andrew Barnes

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

By Andrew Barnes, CFO, Lantern Legal Group and ALPMA President


When I think back on our year with ALPMA it is difficult not to dwell on the success of our Summit, held in September at Etihad Stadium Melbourne. The event is growing from year to year and this year to have record levels of attendees and trade exhibitors being added to an exceptional program was something we are very proud of as an Association.

On day one there was something for everyone, but many people still think back to the power of the speech given by Catherine McGregor about her life, her challenges, her opportunities. How she interwove so many relatable snippets into one incredibly moving story was a highlight. We were also fortunate to have:


  • The inimitable Ron Baker as MC
  • Dr George Beaton again reminding us that to stand still will probably mean we go backwards
  • Matthew Burgess taking us down the ‘Lean Startup’ path and challenging us to change and ‘fail fast'
  • Dr Bob Murray reminding us that ‘praise is the biggest weapon in a leader’s arsenal for change’
  • Steve Wingert and Andrew Price talking about change management in law firms in real, relatable language


In 2016 we have maintained our commitment to undertaking research projects aligned with our six pillars of Learning and Development and also the Thought Leadership Award presented annually at Summit. There is often so much that falls from these projects that it can all be quite overwhelming, but our position at ALPMA is that these are not one-size-fits-all and that there is something for every firm to take away and work with. Firms have different cultures and different life cycles and therefore do not fit neatly into the outcome synopsis in research projects. I suggest you have another read and choose something to work with … small steps are better than no steps!

Our research for 2016 is summarised here:


  • Finding quality staff remains the top HR challenge for law firms, more work to be done on diversity and inclusion at firms etc 


Any thoughts at this time of year always extend to thanking our fantastic team of volunteers on our Board and various committees across Australia and New Zealand. Thanks also to our support staff across the Association who do so much behind the scenes to bring our programs to life. We remain absolutely committed to ALPMA’s core promise to members. We are continually pleased with the way our membership engages with the association and enables us to remain aligned with their expectations. As our Board tries to navigate a way through an ever-increasing competitive landscape for professional development providers, we strive to balance immediate member needs with those of an Association who is more frequently competing to hold its’ profile and standing on a national and regional (international) basis. Thanks to everyone who have contributed in some way to us having a great 2016!

As we look forward to 2017 we can expect more than just business as usual. We have provided branches with extra budget funds to develop local initiatives and enhance the offering. This should ensure the core promise to members remains a focus and that there is a greater value proposition through the branch networks. Our National Learning & Development group is planning new workshops to complement existing programs. Our Summit committee has already commenced planning for Summit 2017 in September in Brisbane. We continue to work on collaborative relationships with groups such as the Australian Law Management Group (particularly after the success of our joint foray into Singapore in November), College of Law, CPD for Me and others in this space. It is a challenging time for Associations such as ALPMA but with those challenges come opportunities and we look forward to exploring these opportunities with our members.

Thanks for being part of ALPMA in 2016 and I wish you and your friends and families the very best for the festive season.


Editor's Note

This is the last ALPMA blog post for 2016. We look forward to the weekly posts resuming on January 3, 2017.

About our Guest Blogger

Andrew BarnesAndrew Barnes is the President of ALPMA. He is the financial controller for The Lantern Legal Group Pty Ltd, which practices under the firm names of Sladen Legal and Harwood Andrews.  He works closely with the principals to deliver strategic planning, reporting and budgeting initiatives and applies his robust commercial skills to drive continued business improvement.  Andrew worked in public practice, as well as financial services and broad industry roles prior to joining the firm in 2003




Super changes present new opportunities

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

By Andrew Proebstl, Chief Executive, legalsuper


On 23 November 2016, after months of negotiation and amendment, the Federal Government finally succeeded in having a raft of significant changes to superannuation passed by Parliament.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison has said that 96 per cent of individuals with superannuation “will either not be affected by these changes or will be better off.”

That said, it is definitely worthwhile keeping up-to-date with the changes, most of which come into effect on 1 July 2017.

The immediate decision facing many superannuation fund members will be whether or not to take advantage of the current contributions caps by topping up their super before the end of the 2016/17 financial year.

Members considering doing so, but who are unsure of how to do so without exceeding the caps, should contact their super fund(s).

To help ALPMA members make the best decisions regarding their superannuation, here are the main changes to super, and the implications of those changes.

Changes that impact the amount of concessional contributions you can pay



Concessional contributions (or before tax contributions) include employer superannuation guarantee contributions, contributions made under a salary sacrifice arrangement and personal contributions for which a tax deduction has been claimed.

A reduction in the annual cap on concessional contributions you can make


From 1 July 2017, the annual cap on concessional contributions will be lowered to $25,000 per annum, down from its current rate of $30,000 for those aged less than 50 years and $35,000 for those aged 50 and over.

Catch-up concessional superannuation contributions


From 1 July 2018 (not 2017 as previously indicated by government) those with total superannuation balances of $500,000 or less will be able to make catch-up concessional superannuation contributions, subject to unused concessional contribution caps being carried forward on a rolling basis for up to five years.

This change is intended to boost the super savings of those with a lower superannuation balance due to lower contributions in the past, interrupted work patterns or an irregular capacity to make contributions.

For those earning over $250,000, a doubling of the tax on concessional contributions


From 1 July 2017, those with more than $250,000 of income and superannuation contributions (adjusted for other benefits) will pay an additional 15 per cent tax on their concessional contributions on those super contributions that exceed the $250,000 threshold.


The proposed new 30 per cent rate of tax continues to be less than the marginal rate of tax if earning greater than $250,000.

This change extends the existing approach whereby those with more than $300,000 of income and superannuation contributions pay 30 per cent tax on their concessional superannuation contributions.

This change will impact higher income earners, who constitute around 1 per cent of superannuation fund members.

Expanded eligibility to claim tax deductions for superannuation contributions


From 1 July 2017, the Government will improve the flexibility of the superannuation system so that more Australians can utilise their concessional contributions cap, by allowing people under 75 to claim an income tax deduction for personal superannuation contributions to an eligible fund. Personal contributions for which a tax deduction is claimed will count towards the concessional contributions cap.

However, to take advantage of this change, people aged between 65 and 74 will need to first satisfy a work test. (The work test was originally slated for removal but will now be retained)

Changes that impact the amount of non-concessional contributions you can pay


Non-concessional contributions (or after tax contributions) include amounts you pay to your superannuation fund, or your spouse’s superannuation fund, from your after-tax income (that is, from your take home pay or accrued savings outside of super).

$100,000 annual non-concessional contributions cap


From 1 July 2017, the current annual non-concessional contributions cap of $180,000 will be reduced to $100,000 per annum. However, superannuation fund members still have until the end of the current financial year to take advantage of the current $180,000 non-concessional contribution cap. Members under age 65 also have until the end of this financial year (i.e. 2016/17) to consider taking advantage of the ‘bring-forward rule’ which allows up to three years’ of non-concessional contributions to be made in the one year. This means that members who are in the position to do so can potentially make up to $540,000 worth of non-concessional contributions (the $540,000 figure being 3 x $180,000) by 30 June 2017. From 1 July 2017 the ‘bring-forward rule’ effectively reduces to $300,000 the amount of non-concessional contributions that can be ‘brought-forward’ across a three year period. However, the amount that can be brought forward, and the period to do so, will be reduced for those with total superannuation balances of $1.4 million to $1.6 million. From 1 July, 2017, those with total superannuation balances of $1.6 million or more will be ineligible to make non-concessional contributions at all. If the bring-forward provisions were triggered in the 2015/16 or 2016/17 financial years and the full bring forward amount was not utilised, transitional bring forward caps will apply.


The above rules replace the original announcement of a lifetime cap of $500,000 per person for non-concessional contributions which will no longer be proceeding.


Changes that impact retirement products (including superannuation pensions)



Removal of tax exemption for transition to retirement (TTR) pensions


Currently, individuals can commence a TTR pension at their preservation age (between 56 and 65 years of age, depending on their date of birth) even though they have not yet retired. No tax is paid by the super fund on the investment earnings from assets supporting these TTR pensions. Although some income tax may be paid by the individual on receipt of the pension payments up to age 60, once an individual is aged 60 and over, withdrawals are tax-free.

From 1 July 2017, the government will remove the tax exemption on investment earnings of TTR pensions and they will be taxed at 15 per cent (as is the case for investment earnings on superannuation assets). This change will apply regardless of when the TTR commenced. There are no changes to the tax arrangements for individuals upon receipt of these pension payments.

$1.6 million superannuation transfer balance to retirement products cap


From 1 July 2017, the government will introduce a $1.6 million cap on the total amount of superannuation an individual can transfer into retirement products, which includes superannuation pensions.

The cap will be applied to current retirees and those who have yet to enter retirement.

Current retirees with more than $1.6 million in retirement products (including superannuation pensions) have until 1 July 2017 to either remove the excess or return it to an accumulation superannuation account, where 15 per cent earnings tax applies or 10 per cent if capital gains.

The Government expects this change to impact less than one per cent of superannuation fund members. It also believes a $1.6 million retirement product balance could support a retirement income stream of around four times the single Age Pension.

Changes that benefit those with lower incomes



Low income superannuation tax offset


From 1 July 2017, the Government will introduce the Low Income Superannuation Tax Offset to replace the Low Income Superannuation Contribution when it expires on 30 June 2017.

Individuals with adjusted taxable income of $37,000 or less will receive an effective refund of the 15 per cent contributions tax paid on their concessional contributions, up to a cap of $500.

Superannuation balances of lower income spouses


To help lower income spouses increase the superannuation they accumulate, from 1 July 2017 the income threshold for the receiving spouse (whether married or de-facto) will be increased from $10,800 to $37,000, thereby helping more families to support each other in accumulating superannuation.

A contributing spouse will be eligible for an 18 per cent tax offset worth up to $540 for contributions made to an eligible spouse’s superannuation account.

If you have any questions about these changes to superannuation and how they may affect your retirement savings with legalsuper, please contact us on:

Phone: 1800 060 312 Monday to Friday between 8am and 8pm (AEST)

Fax: 1800 614 431 Email: mail@legalsuper.com.au

About our Guest Blogger



Andrew ProebstlAndrew Proebstl is chief executive of legalsuper, Australia’s super fund for the legal community. Qualifying as a Chartered Accountant while working with Arthur Andersen, Andrew has broad experience across the superannuation industry with fund administrators, investment managers, custodians and other superannuation funds.

Andrew is a member of the Policy Committee and former Director of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees. He is also a former member of the Victorian Executive of the Associations of Superannuation Funds of Australia. He regularly presents at superannuation industry conferences and writes regular superannuation columns for law societies across Australia.

legalsuper is an FY16 ALPMA Australian Corporate Partner


7 strategies for building a high performance culture

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

By Fiona Crawford, GM Human Resources, InfoTrack



‘High performance’ gets thrown around a lot these days as a new buzz word, but few businesses know what it is or how to define it. Everyone seems to be striving for it but many find it hard to articulate what exactly it means for their business. It is not as complicated as it seems – here are some simple steps to cultivate a high performance culture in your firm.

Define what high performance means for your business


High performance is something that should have a unique definition for every firm. What are your firm’s values and how do you expect your employees to fulfil them? What do you want to drive and motivate your employees? How will you define their success? Take the time to map this out – what are the characteristics you would expect from a high performance employee at your firm?

At InfoTrack, we have developed an employee value proposition defined by ‘effort over obligation’ – we expect our employees to come into work with a motivation and effort that overshadows any feeling of obligation. If employees are thinking about obligation, they’re missing out on opportunity - we are always thinking about opportunity and where it can next come from. We don’t dwell on what we are obliged to do and that’s why our workforce is brimming with ideas and innovation, and opportunities never pass us by.

Recruit the right people

Once you’ve defined what high performance means to you, you need to recruit the right people. A robust recruitment process should include clearly defined roles and expectations and be run by someone who understands your firm and its values. It should include multiple interviews with different people within your firm, and interviews should be designed to screen for high performance indicators that you are looking for. At InfoTrack, myself and our CEO take time to interview as many potential candidates as we can because we understand how important it is to our business to hire the right people.

Be transparent about your strategy

Being transparent about your firm’s strategy and goals helps foster a sense of trust and mutual understanding. The more employees understand what you’re working towards, the more enthusiastic and involved they will be. When employees can clearly see how their work is adding to the end goals of the firm as a whole they have a greater sense of purpose. At InfoTrack we have companywide update each 4 months to detail our new strategy to our employees across Australia so everyone knows what part they’re playing to reach our goals.

Don’t underestimate the importance of succession planning

Succession planning is key - be open and honest about opportunities for growth and ensure that you speak to employees about their careers and where they see themselves in the future. The clearer vision an employee has about the future of your firm and their place in it, the more dedicated and motivated they will be. It’s important to ensure there are no single points of failure to keep a business running at top performance.

Track employee engagement

Engagement occurs when employees feel an emotional connection to your firm and its goals. Employees essentially want three things; a meaningful vision of the future, a sense of purpose and great relationships. The more engaged employees feel, the more productive they are, the better service they provide and the longer they stay in their jobs. Engagement fosters a collaborative, empowered, innovative, productive and overall positive environment.

There are a number of ways to track engagement – ensuring open communication with employees along with regular reviews and opportunities for feedback is key. Having a formal system in place such as employee engagement surveys helps to hold you accountable and creates a measuring stick. Employees will appreciate the opportunity to give feedback and will feel that they are being listened to.

Seek out diversity

Diversity should be seen as a necessity in any modern firm. Employing people with a wide range of backgrounds brings a unique mix of talents, perspectives and experiences to your workforce. Having a variety of different viewpoints challenges people to think outside the box and encourages creativity and innovation. Diversity helps to ensure your firm will continue to evolve and can be a significant differentiator in today’s competitive market. It can not only help attract and retain the right employees, but also the right clients.

Recognise achievements

The power of reward and recognition should never be underestimated. Achievements of all kinds should be celebrated, from individual milestones to team and firm-wide efforts. Whether it’s a work anniversary or winning a big case, make sure employees feel acknowledged and appreciated. This doesn’t mean you have to break out the cake for every achievement, sometimes a thoughtful email will do and other times a real celebration will be in order –just make sure you take the time give kudos when they’re due.

Always remember that your employees are your most important asset; they are the face of your firm, they are the ones interacting with your clients every day and they will define your firm’s future. A high performing firm requires a high performance workforce.


About our Guest Blogger


Fiona Crawford
Fiona Crawford is GM of Human Resources at InfoTrack, proud principal partner of the 2016 ALPMA Legal Management Summit.

Fiona has been driving the strategic people agenda to keep pace with the growth at InfoTrack since September 2015. InfoTrack recently won an Australian Business Award for Employer of Choice 2016, and has also been among the Best Places to Work in Australia for 3 years running.

Fiona has a wide range of experience with over 15 years’ human resources, training and coaching across a range of industries including sport, fitness, finance, hospitality and automotive. She has operated her own HR consulting business and worked on start-up HR functions, transformational cultural change programs, mergers and acquisitions, and strategic and operational HR initiatives. Her uncompromising commitment to high performance and continual improvement stems from her sporting background - a two-time medal winning Olympian in softball (Silver 2004 and Bronze 2000).


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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

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

1.       What has inspired you this year?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Editor's Note


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

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

Learn more about becoming a member.  


About our Guest Blogger

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

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

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






Championing incremental change at law firms

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

By Anthony Bleasdale, Managing Director, BigHand


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

Change is hard – but inevitable


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

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

Successful change can be incremental or transformational


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

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

Don’t be afraid to fail


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

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

Draw inspiration from others


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


Editor's Note

Summit on Demand

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


About our Guest Blogger

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

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




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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

By Alistair Marshall, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Overcoming the two big excuses


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What now?


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


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


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

Editor's Note

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

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




About our Guest Blogger

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


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





Prescriptive Conveyancing - The Big Red Button

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

By Chris Collinge, Partner/Director, Bytherules Conveyancing


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

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

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


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

Prescriptive Conveyancing


We needed prescriptive conveyancing.

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

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

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

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

Editor's Note


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

About our Guest Blogger

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

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



5 questions you should be asking your practice management platform provider

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

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


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

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

Implementation: What is the timetable for installation and rollout?



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

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

Important questions to ask include:

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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



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

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



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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor's Note


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


About our Guest Blogger


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

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






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