A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

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.

The Other 50%

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

By Kirsty Spears, Specialist Legal Recruiter for McLeod Duminy 


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


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

gender imbalance AUs & NZ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor's Note

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



About our Guest Blogger


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

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









Moving beyond slips, trips and falls in WHS: Managing psychosocial risks at work

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

ICON - Compu-stor advert


By Dr Rebecca Michalak, Principal Consultant, PsychSafe


In 1835, four hundredweight of mutton fell from an overloaded wagon onto a butcher servant, dislocating his shoulder, breaking his thigh, and causing a number of other injuries.

The incident lead to the landmark Priestley v Fowler (1837) common law case. The jury debated, amongst other things, whether the defendant engaged in 'pigheadedness' – in other words, whether the butcher knowingly over-loaded the wagon, thus causing or at the very least contributing to the accident.


The resulting judgment in favour of the plaintiff effectively paved the way for changes in the meaning and extent of employer and employee safety duties and liabilities, setting a precedent, and arguably underpinning our modern workplace health and safety legislative framework.

Workplace health and safety (WHS) standards have come a long way since 1835, and you would be forgiven for thinking that employers have workplace safety issues pretty much under control nowadays.

Air quality sensors have replaced canaries in mineshafts, warning signs galore adorn stairwells and lunchroom boiling water dispensers, and ergonomic keyboards and chairs are omnipresent.

“Safety” also appears as a core value on corporate vision and mission statements across the country, often alongside the ubiquitous statement that “people are our greatest asset.”

Unfortunately, more-than-decade-and-a-half in management and HR roles tells a very different story. Rhetoric abounds, and, in my experience, if one scratches just a little bit, the shiny surface of these safety claims is exposed, revealing a decidedly lack-lustre reality.

In law specifically, no natural – let alone subterranean – assets exist. Think about it. The law is a common good. Your business does not own this good. Your strategic competitive advantage lies in how you use this common good to produce products and services, which requires knowledge-workers.

In the absence of knowledge-workers, your business is essentially sans assets. Sans revenue. Pretty much sans a business (ok, yes, we have Lawbot, for contracts. But Lawbot depends upon knowledge-workers, to create and run Lawbot).


Strategically, for what the OECD classifies as a knowledge-based economy, our current approach to WHS is far less advanced than it should be, and that we’d ever like to concede. While humans are considered the most advanced species on earth, our approach to certain aspects of WHS is still back there hanging out with the hominina. Aka chimps.


Don’t get me wrong – we do seem to be across the need to prevent physical injuries. You can (probably) give yourself a tick.

However, employers appear decidedly stuck in the ‘slips, trips and falls’ WHS era. The requirement to ensure workplaces are not just physically but also psychologically and emotionally safe remain poorly, if at all, understood, aspects of WHS law.

Unsurprisingly, when it comes to risk management of factors affecting psychological and emotional safety, otherwise known as “psychosocial risks”, workplaces fare….. well….. Not So Well.

In my experience, organisations are more likely to have detailed risk management / disaster recovery / business continuity plans for a ‘two Boeing 767’s flew into the office block’ scenario than they are to have strategies to effectively manage psychosocial risks. Ironically including the psychosocial risks inherent to the fallout of said crisis of plane into building scenario (did someone say survivor post-traumatic stress disorder…?)

This failure exists despite a plethora of empirical data and anecdotal evidence that employees are exposed to these risks on a daily basis, if not multiple times a day. Recent research suggests poor interpersonal and/or leadership behaviours, including mistreatment, sexual harassment, incivility and bullying, are common, and for all intents and purposes, culturally pervasive in legal. As in amongst lawyers, risk exposure affects the majority, and for some risks, exceeds 90%.

The above in mind, I suggest leaders and managers need to stop, consider and strategise, because:

Psychological and emotional safety is AS important as physical safety



Not an add on; not a nice to have. A legislated requirement. Firm and officer liabilities for negligence offences for failing to provide a psychologically and emotionally safe working environment are the same as for failing on the physical safety front. The terms “significant” and “severe” spring to mind. While Priestley’s £100 is ‘only’ about $18,000 in today’s terms, a Category 1 Reckless Negligence offence can now attract a $3m fine for the employer, and 6,000 units in personal officer liability (in QLD that translates into $600K). And/or five years in jail. Take your pick. D & O insurance does not cover WHS breaches by the way. It’s a bit like crashing your car while drink driving; no insurer covers that scenario. Oh, and much like simply having unsafe scaffolding up on a construction site is enough to attract a WHS fine even if no one has fallen off it (yet), a psychological injury does not need to actually occur for you to be considered recklessly negligent in failing to provide a psychsafe working environment.

Resilience and mindfulness are psychosocial risk fire blankies



I have seen some fairly questionable safety conduct in my time – including walking in on someone disconnecting a 920 kg drum of liquefied chlorine gas sans breathing apparatus – and without closing the live flow valve off first.

I’m pretty sure my sprint exit from that chemical storage room would have given Usain Bolt a run for his money. No, seriously. I think I flew.

But I have to admit I am yet to see an employee douse an office in fuel and set it on fire, only to joyfully pull out a fire blanket and declare “It’s all good” or “This is fun!” whilst attempting to smother rampant flames.

Tiered (read: “legitimate”) risk management plans should include, but not rely solely on fire blankies.

Resilience and mindfulness strategies have their place. But these strategies really only come into their own after exposure to the risk. After 400 weight of mutton falls on your servant. This approach is a little bit like wanting to be an after-the-fact accessory. To grievous bodily harm, manslaughter, murder.

I’ve noticed the legal profession has an unnatural obsession with fire blankies. They should probably see someone about that.

Failure to primary prevent is costing you – and/or your insurers – money. A lot of it.



Evidence suggests merely being exposed to psychosocial risks negatively impacts all five aspects of job performance, translating into (*cough* SUBSTANTIALLY) lowered profitability. Employees who merely witness a risk exposure event also suffer psychologically and job-performance wise, causing a ripple effect.


Decade-long trends also show amongst other confronting stats, psychological injury claims are not only the single disease-related category of injury on the increase, these claims are, by a loooooong shot, the most expensive claim type.

In addition, poor mental health is considered the elephant in the room in approximately 1 in 3 professional indemnity claims.

It is unsurprising that Worker Compensation and Professional Indemnity insurers have started to cotton on to the “pfffttt, but that’s what insurance is for” attitude to psychosocial risk management. A more eyes wide open and move on from current ‘community’ or ‘number, not cost of claim’ approaches to setting premiums is underway.

After all, it is logical a car insurer would probably have an issue with someone deliberately driving their Ferrari into a wall at 140kph thinking “wahoo, this thing is fitted with airbags.”

Life and income protection insurers are also unimpressed with the exponential increases in TPD claims coming out of the legal profession by those who self-select out and then are declared psychologically unfit to work. In many cases, ever again.

The slips, trips and falls approach to WHS is decades out of date. When it comes to psychological and emotional safety, 1964 does not cut the mutton; Times have changed. Failing to recognize, respect and proactively integrate these changes into your firm’s risk management plan is not only a display of ‘pig-headedness’, but also akin to being as old as Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A-Changin”, and getting caught with your pants down. In public.

Does your firm have a psychosocial risk management plan? Is it tiered to cover primary prevention, early intervention and tertiary intervention strategies? Or do you rely on mindfulness and resilience strategies?



Editor's Note

psychosocial risk management imageWant to know more about managing psychosocial risks at your firm? You can watch Dr Rebecca Michalak's 2016 ALPMA Summit presentation Psychosocial Risks in Law Firms: Why Prevention is Better than Cure from ALPMA's On Demand Learning Centre for just $99, thanks to our 2016 ALPMA Summit On-Demand partner, BigHand.






About our Guest Blogger



Dr Rebecca MichalakDr Rebecca Michalak possesses over a decade of employment experience in senior management, consulting, and strategic human resources management roles in the private, not-for-profit, and public sectors. Rebecca's primary interests lie in strategic HRM, including values-based alignment practices, high performance cultures, change management, and psychosocial risk factor management. An expert in the field, she adopts a stress optimisation approach to employee performance that maximises productivity whilst minimising psychosocial risk to employees. Her perspective on managing human resources for strategic competitive advantage is knowledge-worker centric, and underpinned by social sustainability principles.

Dr Michalak holds a PhD in Business from the University of Queensland, a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Management Research from the University of Western Australia, and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with Honours (Organisational Psychology) from Murdoch University.

Rebecca is also a Certified Trainer and Assessor, a Certified Team Management Systems Practitioner, and University of Queensland Alumni Future Leader Program Awardee (2014). Her professional memberships include Member, Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology, Member, Australian Institute of Company Directors, and Certified Professional Member, Australian Human Resources Institute.

 

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




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).


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.



An innovative approach to flexible working

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

By Catherine Dunlop, Partner, Maddocks 


Law firms have long struggled with the issue of high turnover rates of its employees.

This stems from a combination of intense competition for talent, the demands made of lawyers, the increasing reluctance of younger lawyers to stay at the one firm for their career and the difficulties that many lawyers have in advancing their careers while accommodating the needs of their families.

In a bid to tackle these issues, the Maddocks Employment, Safety & People (ES&P) team formally started an initiative during FY15-16 to successfully improve its flexible working arrangements. The objective was to retain the talent of our staff by improving their access to a sustainable work-life balance and to actively manage how flexible work occurred in the team. 

Our team's innovative approach to flexible working was recognised when it was selected as the winner of the 2016 ALPMA/Lexis Nexis Thought Leadership Awards at the 2016 ALPMA Summit Gala Dinner at the Medallion Club, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne last week, ahead of finalists Hall & Wilcox, Bytherules Conveyancing and the Nexus Law Group.

Changing infrastructure and culture

To make this initiative successful, the Melbourne ES&P team made a number of significant changes to its infrastructure and culture.

We adapted our policies to ensure flexible working arrangements were accessible and transparent to the entire team.

We introduced a flexibility committee, which met regularly to discuss issues and suggestions for improvement. The team realised that it wasn’t enough to simply ‘allow’ people to work flexibly and that a genuine commitment to ‘encourage’ people to work flexibly while having a rewarding career was a way to keep all in the team engaged and happy at work.

We made two guides for staff. One is a one-page guide on preferences and availability of our team members working flexibly. The second is a more detailed guide on what best suits people based on their availability when out of the office. These guides are intended to maximise their time out of the office, so they don’t feel they need to spend their day tied to their phone and computer, but still keeps them available for client matters and urgent calls. Having these guides allows for transparency about when people are in the office, what suits them and when. It is particularly important for those with carer responsibilities, so that they can genuinely prioritise their time when they are away from work.

Removing barriers to change

To support this initiative, the team have also tackled other issues, which we believed may have posed a barrier to change. This included changing our model of work from time spent in the office to the tangible work achieved. We have also created quality control policies for work handovers, to ensure work is completed on time and there is no competition amongst staff or decrease in quality. We are ensuring the right coverage is available and they have implemented procedures to ensure clear and transparent communications around work responsibilities.

The team implemented formal one-to-one review arrangements for all staff, whether they worked flexibly or not, to see how they were finding the initiative. Staff were invited to talk about how they were working, if they had carer issues, and if they would like the opportunity to work flexibly. This also provided an opportunity for everyone to voice any issues that may have arisen out of other people working flexibly in the team, in a safe, confidential environment.

While the initiative sought to change the infrastructure for existing work practices, the team acknowledged that making a small change in someone’s availability can make a big difference to them and the people in their personal lives. One of the softer aspects of this initiative was to encourage and support everyone to take advantage of flexible working, even if they didn’t need to.

One male lawyer made a small adjustment to his hours so he could drop his child off at school one day a week and come in late. Similarly, one of the senior male partners made a preference to leave early once a week so he could cook dinner for his family on a designated night. Because this was formally acknowledged by a flexible working policy, it made people want to help him. Staff junior to him often encouraged him to leave early because they knew that Tuesday night was his night with his kids.

While this is a nice example of the soft benefits of this initiative, it demonstrates how adopting small changes affected the teams overall cohesion and comradery.

Leading from the top

The leadership shown by the team’s three Melbourne partners has also played a large role in the successful implementation of this initiative. Two out of three partners in the ES&P team have led by example, and work four days a week. We have also encouraged staff to have an email footer and an out of office that clearly indicates their availability. This has normalised flexible working practices and allows for the different arrangements people have on their days out of the office. 

As one partner describes it: 

‘We don’t have people sneaking out of the office and leaving their jacket draped over their chair as if they are still at work. All too often it is easy for people working flexibly to (mistakenly) feel guilty. We wanted to change that mindset and celebrate it.’


The results

Of the 28 people in the team, 13 of those are now working flexibly. This includes two partners, two special counsel, one senior associate, one associate, four team admins and one practice support lawyer. We also now have a male lawyer, who has child care responsibilities, working a nine-day fortnight to support his wife returning to full-time work. We have two job share arrangements.

More importantly, our employees are now thinking strategically about their work-life options within the firm and there is greater awareness of the options available to them, should they need it.

This initiative has led to immediate results.

The most striking is that not one lawyer has left the team in order to take a role either in-house or at a contracting firm (where the demands on a lawyer’s time can be less than those at a large law firm) and the ES&P team has recently seen a 100% success rate of women coming back from parental leave.

Our people are working from home, and from our clients' offices. Clear communication channels exist between staff and there is greater transparency around, and accessibility to, flexible working options. Flexible working is no longer perceived within the team as exclusively for women returning from parental leave.

Offering flexible work arrangements has allowed the firm to create a culture where people feel their skills and knowledge are valued over their availability. Our staff are encouraged to peruse meaningful and enjoyable lives both inside and outside work, without worrying about one taking priority over another. This in turn has seen our staff come to work happier, healthier and more productive.

The benefits of this initiative have helped us build stronger relationships with our clients. Many of our clients are senior in-house lawyers who work flexibly themselves. Recognising their work arrangements through our own experiences demonstrates to clients that our firm's values match their own. Lawyers who now work flexibly are able to better understand and adapt to the availability requirements of their clients, which has fostered greater trust and respect between clients and lawyers.

The successful implementation of this initiative has changed the culture of flexible working in our firm. Our lawyers know that working flexibly will not stop their career advancement and they are still encouraged to take on challenging and rewarding work.

Editor's Note:

Interested readers can learn more about Maddock's innovative approach to flexible working arrangements reading the media release announcing their win "Flexible working is the new normal in law" or by watching the video below:

WATCH VIDEO

 

About our Guest Blogger

Catherine DunlopCatherine Dunlop is a partner in the Maddocks Employment People & Safety Team and was the practice team leader of the Melbourne ESP Team in 2015-6. Catherine practices in work health and safety, inquests and inquiries, and safety and discrimination related employment matters including bullying. Catherine has acted in a number of high profile safety prosecutions and inquests and inquiries in Melbourne and Canberra. She was named Best Lawyers/Australian Financial Review’s Lawyer of the Year in OHS for Melbourne for 2017.

Catherine has a particular interest in flexible work arrangements and helps clients manage the challenges and opportunities of such arrangements. She enjoys mentoring younger lawyers and staff at Maddocks, particularly when they are returning from parental leave and/or are considering flexible work arrangements themselves. Catherine works 4 days a week at work most weeks and has a three year old son who keeps her busy the rest of her time.




Replacing the Annual Appraisal Agony

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

By Ron Baker, Founder, VeraSage Institute 


Appraisal is not the system that drives pay, careers, and status; it is an incidental effect of those dynamic systems. Appraisal is primarily the paper-shuffling that sanctifies decisions already made.  ––Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins, Abolishing Performance Appraisals

Human capital determines the performance capacity of any organisation. Today’s knowledge workers, unlike the factory workers of the Industrial Revolution, own the means of production. Ultimately, knowledge workers are volunteers, since whether they return to work is completely based on their volition.

Consequently, it is difficult to understand the continued reliance on the “annual agony”—the performance-appraisal apparatus. According to Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins, in their seminal book Abolishing Performance Appraisals, over 50 years of academic studies reveal scant empirical evidence of the effectiveness of performance appraisals at actually improving performance.

Despite these facts, firms cling to it an uninformed belief that there is no suitable replacement. Where did this ritual come from?

The Origins of Performance Appraisals


The modern antecedent of the appraisal process was explained by Peter Drucker in his book, The Effective Executive:

“Appraisals, as they are now being used in the great majority of organisations, were designed by the clinical and abnormal psychologists for their own purposes. He is legitimately concerned with what is wrong, rather than with what is right with the patient. The clinical psychologist or the abnormal psychologist, therefore, very properly looks upon appraisals as a process of diagnosing the weaknesses of a man.”

The appraisal tends to focus on weaknesses, not strengths—what psychologists call the “presenting problem.” But good leaders—like good coaches—design performance processes and tasks around a person’s strengths, and ignore—or make irrelevant—their weaknesses.

Deleterious Effects of Performance Appraisals


Performance appraisals have become, to borrow a term from the medical profession, an iatrogenic illness—that is, a disease caused by the doctor. An estimated ten percent of all hospital patients suffer from this type of disease. We need to apply the Hippocratic principle of primum non nocere (“first, do no harm”) to the performance appraisal process.

The following are some of the more serious negative effects of the performance appraisal (PA):

  • PAs are counterproductive to “driving out fear,” the one emotion that Dr. Edwards Deming believed needed to be eliminated to improve human performance;
  • PAs focus on the weaknesses of the worker rather than his or her strengths;
  • Learning is overshadowed by the evaluation and judgment inherent in the PA;
  • Even if PAs convey both strengths and weaknesses, it is human nature for negative feedback to drown out positive feedback;
  • Effective feedback should occur as needed, not on an arbitrary date on a calendar;
  • PAs are a symbol of a paternalistic boss-subordinate relationship based on command and control rather than the knowledge worker being responsible for his or her own development;
  • PAs impose a one-size-fits-all approach that impedes relevant, authentic feedback to different individuals;
  • Too much “noise” surrounds the PA process: discipline or termination, pay raises, bonuses, promotions, and the like, lessening the focus on performance improvement;
  • Ranking people against each other does not help them do a better job. Ranking people, also, by definition, creates “bottom performers,” regardless of the absolute value of their work;
  • PAs devote far too much scarce leadership attention to underperforming employees rather than top performers;
  • PAs are extremely costly to administer relative to their meagre benefits;
  • PAs provide no effective method for holding people accountable for future results, since they focus on the past;
  • Any self-acknowledged weakness by a team member can be used against them, deterring learning and self-development;
  • PAs confuse delivering effective feedback with filling out bureaucratic forms and check-the-box administrative activities that have no connection to strategic purpose or value creation;
  • PAs reinforce a requirement for human-resources departments to keep KGB-like dossiers on team members;
  • PAs create a false impression that a scientific and objective process is being applied to measure individual performance. Yet all PAs, in the final analysis, are subjective and based on judgment;
  • PAs obscure the fact that a firm is an interdependent system, and what matters is the performance of the whole, which is not merely the sum of its components;
  • PAs provide the illusion of protection from lawsuits and allegations of wrongful termination, when in fact they rarely offer that protection—and often backfire in litigation.
  • According to author Daniel Pink in “Think Tank: Fix the workplace, not the workers” (November 6, 2010), “Performance reviews are rarely authentic conversations. More often, they are the West’s form of kabuki theatre—highly stylized rituals in which people recite predictable lines in a formulaic way and hope the experience ends very quickly.”

Replacing the Performance Appraisal


It is time to move to a model where courage is valued over caution, and command and control is replaced with connect and cultivate. Ultimately, it is the intensity of interactions with intelligent people, along with great ideas, that attracts and develops talent—not the efficiency of a firm’s administrative processes.

Three strategic resources replace the performance appraisal system:

  • Key Predictive Indicators for Knowledge Workers
  •  The Manager’s Letter
  • After-Action Reviews

Key Predictive Indicators for Knowledge Workers


A critical distinction is being made between a key performance indicator and a key predictive indicator. The former is merely a measurement—such as the number of patents filed, or new clients—but lacks a falsifiable theory. The latter, by contrast, is a measurement, or judgment, guided by a theory, which can be tested and refined, in order to explain, prescribe, or predict. It is the search for cause and effect.

Knowledge work is not defined by quantity, but quality; not by its costs, but results. The traditional tools of measurement need to be replaced by judgment. And there is a difference between a measurement and a judgment: a measurement requires only a scale; a judgment requires wisdom.

So many firm leaders worry that if they get rid of objective measures, they will introduce subjective bias into the decision-making process. So what? To get rid of bias we would have to give up emotions and discernment, which is too high a price to pay. Neurologist Antonio Damasio has studied brain-damaged patients, demonstrating that without emotion it is impossible to make decisions.

Admittedly, the following KPIs raise rather than answer questions, but at least they raise the right questions. Better to be approximately relevant rather than precisely irrelevant. Enlightened organisations allow their team members to decide which of the following KPIs are most important to track and develop.

Client Feedback


What are the customers saying—good and bad—about the team member? Would you trade some efficiency for a team member who was absolutely loved by your customers? How does the firm solicit feedback from its customers on team-member performance?


Effective Listening and Communication Skills


It is easier to teach reading and writing, which are solitary undertakings, than to teach listening and speaking, which always involve human interactions. But how do you measure listening and communication skills?

Risk Taking, Innovation, and Creativity


How often do employees take risks or innovate new ways of doing things for customers or the company? Do they engage in creative thinking in approaching their work?

Knowledge Elicitation


Aristotle said, “Teaching is the highest form of understanding.” Knowledge elicitation is the process of assisting others to generate their own knowledge. Note that this encompasses more than simply learning new things; it involves educating others so that they are able to generate their own knowledge.

One of the most effective techniques for knowledge workers to learn any subject—especially at a very deep level—is to teach it. How often do the team members facilitate a “lunch and learn” about an article or book they have read or seminar they have attended? How good are they at educating their customers and colleagues?

Continuous Learning


What do team members know this year that they did not know last year that makes them more valuable? This is more than simply logging hours in educational courses; it would actually require an attempt to judge what they learned. How many books have they read this year? More important, what did they learn from them?

One of the objections we hear to investing more in people’s education is “they will leave, and possibly become an even stronger competitor.” This is no doubt true, although a company faces the risk of their leaving anyway. But what if you do not invest in their education and they stay?

Effective Delegator


Peter Drucker believed that up to one-quarter of the demands on an executive’s time could be consigned to the wastebasket without anyone noticing. Does your organisation encourage its knowledge workers to become effective delegators?

Pride, Passion, Attitude, and Commitment


If you thought some of these other KPIs were hard to measure, how would you measure pride? Although not a substitute for actual talent, pride in one’s work, customers, colleagues, employer, and values are critical to operate with passion and commitment.

High-Satisfaction Day


I am indebted to John Heymann, CEO, and his Team at NewLevel Group, a consulting firm located in Napa, California, for this KPI. An HSD is one of those days that convinces you, beyond doubt, why you do what you do. It could mean landing a new customer, achieving a breakthrough on an existing project, or receiving a heartfelt thank-you from a customer. Sound touchy-feely? John admits that it is. But he also says that the number of HSDs logged into the firm’s calendar is a leading indicator—and a barometer—of his firm’s morale, culture, and profitability.

We can’t measure a doctor’s beside manner—it has to be experienced. Efficiency metrics cannot count all the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment that employees decide not to contribute.


The Manager’s Letter


Another practical suggestion to hold people accountable for their future contribution is what Peter Drucker called the manager’s letter, as explained in John Flaherty’s book, Peter Drucker: Shaping the Managerial Mind:

[Setting objectives] is so important that some of the most effective managers I know go one step further. They have each of their subordinates write a “manager’s letter” twice a year. In this letter to his superior, each manager first defines the objectives of his superior’s job and of his own job as he sees them. He then sets down the performance standards that he believes are being applied to him. Next, he lists the things he must do himself to attain these goals––and the things within his own unit he considers the major obstacles. He lists the things his superior and the company do that help him and the things that hamper him. Finally, he outlines what he proposes to do during the next year to reach his goals. If his superior accepts this statement, the “manager’s letter” becomes the charter under which the manager operates.

Procter & Gamble utilizes what it calls the Work and Development Plan, in lieu of performance appraisals, which lays out the work to be achieved in the upcoming year, how it links to the business plan, the measures and timing for success, and expected results.

What makes the manager’s letter so valuable is its focus on opportunities, results, output, and value, rather than problems, inputs, costs, and activities. Performance appraisals can only report on the past, revealing problems, never opportunities.

After-Action Reviews (AARs)



The U.S. Army’s use of AARs began in 1973, not as a knowledge-management tool but as a method to restore the values, integrity, and accountability that had diminished during the Vietnam War.

Reflection without action is passive, but action without reflection is thoughtlessness. Combine experience with reflection, and learning that lasts is the result. What percent of your firm’s time is devoted to improving the work, not just doing the work?

The objective is not just to correct things, but to correct thinking, as the Army has learned that flawed assumptions are the largest factor in flawed execution.

But perfectionist cultures, however, resist this type of candid introspection, as they tend to be intolerant of errors, and they associate mistakes with career risk, not continuous learning. The medical world has an appropriate axiom for mistakes made: forgive and remember. AARs should not be used for promotions, salary increases, or performance appraisals.

Confronting People with Their Freedom


You can’t keep on doing things the old way and still get the benefits of the new way.  ––Thomas Sowell

Because knowledge workers are volunteers, we could learn a lot from the not-for-profit sector. They know how to leverage people’s gifts, whereas performance appraisals are more concerned with people’s weaknesses.

Management thinker Charles Handy has spent his career arguing that organisations are living communities of individuals, not machines. He offers a splendid metaphor in his autobiography, Myself and Other More Important Matters, which I believe is applicable to knowledge workers and the performance appraisal process: the theater.

“There’s no talk of “human resources,” everyone is listed on the playbill, and managers are for things (stage, lighting, etc.), not people. The talent is directed, not managed, by someone who departs after the project commences. The audience feedback is immediate, not one year after the performance.”

Author and consultant Peter Block says, “The real task of leadership is to confront people with their freedom.” Performance appraisals inhibit autonomy and responsibility; they are the buggy whip of the knowledge era—an example of yesterday holding tomorrow hostage. Do we have the courage to replace such an ineffective process?

Performance appraisals are, after all, an iatrogenic illness, which means: physician, heal thyself.


Editor's Note

ALPMA Summit


Ron Baker is the inspirational and challenging Master of Ceremonies for the 2016 ALPMA Summit ‘A Blueprint for Change’ held from 7 – 9 September at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, together with ALPMA Life Member and CEO of Coleman Greig Lawyers, Warrick McLean. Ron is also chairing a panel session on ‘Reinventing Performance Management’ which also features Jane Lewis, HR Director at Allens and Stephanie Beard, HR Manager, Harwood Andrews Lawyers, and helping delegates pull together the key take-aways from Summit in the final session “Creating Your Blueprint for Change”.


About our Guest blogger


Ron BakerRonald J. Baker started his CPA career in 1984 with KPMG’s Private Business Advisory Services in San Francisco. Today, he is the founder of VeraSage Institute—the leading think tank dedicated to educating professionals internationally—and a radio talk-show host on the www.VoiceAmerica.com show: The Soul of Enterprise: Business in the Knowledge Economy.

As a frequent speaker, writer, and educator, his work takes him around the world. He has been an instructor with the California CPA Education Foundation since 1995 and has authored fifteen courses for them, including: You Are What You Charge For: Success in Today’s Emerging Experience Economy (with Daniel Morris); Alternatives to the Federal Income Tax; Trashing the Timesheet: A Declaration of Independence; Everyday Economics; Everyday Ethics: Doing Well by Doing Good; and The Best Business Books You Should Read.




The How-to and Science of Optimism

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

By Dr Bob Murray, Principal, Fortinberry Murray

Gosh the world is a terrible place! Law firms are losing money, partners are in danger of being laid off, and digitisation, offshoring and in-housing are decimating the ranks of support staff. And on top of all that the world is over-populated, inequality is rampant, the natural world is ravaged and jobs are getting scarcer. Populist strong men (or women) and ideologues are either running countries or running for the top jobs. I could go on—it can get worse. No wonder the rates of pessimism and depression are on the increase.

Being pessimistic has even become fashionable. It wins votes, people can relate to it. But the extent of it in today’s environment is damaging. Pessimism about people’s individual and social future is behind many, if not most, of the terrorist attacks and the failure of some pretty big law firms. It also contributes to the rising stress levels and the pandemic of mood disorders in the workplace generally and in law firms in particular.

The problem is, of course, that effective strategic planning, BD and a whole range of other things in the business of law depend on a healthy and realistic optimism for optimal success.

But it’s possible to create an optimistic team, an optimistic firm, as well as an optimistic family, even while recognising that the larger picture of the world as a whole is not that cheerful. It’s that kind of limited, but very useful, optimism that I want to outline here.

The science of optimism

Let me start with a bit of science—I am, after all, a scientist (both a behavioural neurogeneticist and a clinical psychologist if you must know). 

Human beings are born optimistic. Young children are generally incredibly optimistic. Like self-esteem, life satisfaction and other individual attributes, optimism is in our genes. However life experience teaches us to taper this optimism with a degree of realism, or even pessimism. Also not everybody is born with the same genetic balance: some of us are naturally more optimistic or pessimistic than others. The profession of law seems both to attract and engender pessimists. But the general rule still applies—even lawyers were born optimistic.

One of the other things that we now know about optimism is that it is both contextual and catching. In fact pessimism and optimism are both highly contagious. If you surround yourself with optimistic (or pessimistic) people you will almost inevitably catch their mood. Some researchers say that since you choose the people you surround yourself with, perhaps your level of optimism or pessimism is also a matter of choice.  However if you are in a pessimistic profession, that choice might not always be possible.

We have also found out over the last few years that stress, particularly workplace stress, is an optimism killer. Yet, according to research conducted five years ago by the futurist think-tank the Hudson Institute in the US, workstress was projected to increase by 200 percent between then and 2020.

The good news revealed by science is that with a few rather simple changes we can enormously reduce the level of workplace stress.

How can you increase optimism in your team?

Okay, so what can a law-leader do now to increase the level of optimism in his or her team or his or her firm?

There are five necessities for the successful creation of an optimistic team or firm and they can be conveniently remembered by the acronym PACTS. My partner, Dr Alicia Fortinberry, and I came up with these as a result of our research into optimism and the resulting programs for the public we ran at the University of South Florida. We published our findings in our book Creating Optimism (McGraw-Hill, 2005). Since then we have successfully helped many firms and corporations create optimistic forward- looking teams

Not surprisingly PACTS holds true for families as well. They are the basis on which all well-adjusted children are brought up.

PACTS stands for:

  • Purpose: To be optimistic we need to feel that our work has a socially meaningful purpose. If we’re just in it for the money we may just get more pessimistic.
  • Autonomy: We need to feel that we have a measure of control over our working conditions.
  • Collegiality: We need to feel that we are part of a small mutually supportive group.
  • Trust: If we don’t trust those we work for and with only pessimism is possible.
  • Strengths: A culture of effective praise and looking for what people do well is essential to an optimistic team or firm.ix

A leader who is able to get all of these right will create a team, or firm, which will outshine and outcompete all the others. 

Editor's Note 


Interested in learning more on how to build optimism at your firm?  Dr Bob Murray is a keynote speaker at the 2016 ALPMA Summit 'A Blueprint for Change' which will be held at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne from September 7 - 9.  His fun-filled and lively presentation "Building Optimistic Teams and Firms" will guide you through the steps that will lead to optimism and resilience in individuals, teams and firms. 

Early bird registration closes at midnight tonight so register now to secure great savings on your 2016 ALPMA Summit registration!




About our Guest Blogger


Dr Bob MurrayDr Bob Murray is an internationally recognised corporate consultant with over 20 years’ experience. He has worked for a wide variety of major and mid-sized Australian professional service firms and Global 500 corporations. Clients include premier Australian and overseas law firms such as Allens Linklaters, Ashurst, Herbert Smith Freehills, K & L Gates and other top tier companies such as KPMG, Macquarie Bank, PwC, Ford, Caterpillar, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, BHP Billiton, Wesfarmers and Stockland.

He is also a noted scientist in the field of behavioural neurogenetics, having won the prestigious 2012 American Science Achievement Award for his work on personality and motivation. He is regularly interviewed on TV and radio and is quoted in such newspapers and magazines as The Sydney Morning Herald, the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, The Australian and Time Magazine (which ran a feature article about him and his work).

As well as the above he has worked for Hill Samuel Bank in the UK in the area of mergers and corporate restructuring for which he was made a Fellow of the British Institute of Management.

Bob has an MBA as well as a PhD in clinical psychology. He coaches CEOs and corporate and firm leaders in Australia, China, the US and Britain. As an ex-actor, he is an entertaining and inspiring speaker as well as being deeply knowledgeable in his field.  He was voted 'Best Speaker' at the 2015 ALPMA Summit.



The firm of the future is in fact the firm of now

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

By Matthew Burgess, Director, View Legal


The evidence has been collected.

The submissions have been heard.

Judgment has been handed down - the incumbent law firm business model is broken.

The great lawyer bubble

 
One of the first people to starkly address the fundamental problems at the heart of the legal profession was Stephen Harper and his book 'The Lawyer Bubble'.

The book details why the legal profession, similar to most other professions, will struggle in the short term to reinvent core aspects of their business model, particularly in relation to time billing, in the short term.

While a myriad of reasons are provided, perhaps the most compelling is the fact that universities across the western world have become factories for producing professional service firm graduates, who specialise in the areas rewarded by time billing such as:

  • long hours;
  • rote learning;
  • technology adverse; and
  • engrained arrogance, particularly in relation to solutions that undermine the traditional personalised bespoke service offering (such as alternative business models, offshoring, outsourcing and automation).

Catalysts for change

Harper argues that any change to the 'BigLaw' business model from within the profession will require the university system to start rewarding students who are able to demonstrate more innovative attributes than those outlined above.

Just as importantly, the owners of the incumbent firms must themselves create a demand for this style of graduate.

Another leading thinker, Clayton Christensen (in The Innovator's Dilemma), predicts that the prospect of the incumbent firms having the vision to truly cannibalise their existing business model is at best remote.

Maister still matters

While much of Harper’s work was ground-breaking at the time, the framework for many of the answers to what law firms should be doing right now to re-engineer their businesses was provided a generation ago by another US consultant, David Maister.

Maister categorised the delivery of all professional services, including the law, into four broad categories, each of which has the prospect of being highly profitable.

The price is right


The price sensitivity goes from least to most through the following four components:

  • unique services (or as Maister describes them ‘brain surgery’);
  • experiential services (or as Maister describes them ‘physiotherapy’);
  • brand name services (or as Maister describes them ‘nursing’); and
  • commodity services (or as Maister describes them ‘chemist’).


Arguably, due to the internet, there are two further categories further down the value chain:

  • wholesale; and
  • online, with product produced only on demand.


Ultimately, the internet has increased the rate at which all technology disruption has historically taken place.

What the winners do

Winning firms understand that success ultimately depends on being:

  • differentiated or unique;
  • of demonstrable value; and
  • delivered in a way that is difficult to replicate.
Sustaining innovation is ultimately just as important as any disruptive one; the challenge is that both types require different visions, metrics and practices.

The disruptive business model requires funding, resource allocation and working environments that are significantly different from those of the traditional firm.

History doesn’t repeat; although it does rhyme

History shows the vast majority of traditional firms are unable to allocate resources away from the primary revenue source, because of their focus on short-term profitability and the need to avoid any perception that there is a 'cannibalising' of the core business model.

The key to a sustainable and successful business model is being self aware enough to know that unless they cannibalise their existing lines of revenue, competitors certainly will. Further, those competitors will have complete disregard for the ongoing profitability of the incumbent firms.

Primarily due to the embedded restraints of being a start up, innovative firms find ways to:

  • monetise ideas quickly;
  • minimise upfront cash expenses;
  • understand that a product in market is always better than a delay to launch in order to ensure the quality is better - in other words, if you are not embarrassed by version 1 of the solution, you have launched too late;
  • recycle and reuse what they have immediate access to; and
  • understand that everything can look like a failure during the 'middle part'.

What will the changes look like?

To give some insight to what we believe a ‘firm of the future now' looks like, 10 examples from our business are listed below – five that we have abandoned and five that we have embraced.

Five things abandoned

  • Timesheets – with timesheets, all we ever focused on was what was chargeable – without timesheets, we now focus on what is valuable.
  • No leave policies – leave policies are a hangover from the industrial age – it is time to move on.
  • No individual budgets – while we certainly have team goals, these are never broken down into individual monetary targets. Our targets are aligned around our performance in the eyes of customers. If we get those right, everything else flows (including money).
  • No performance reviews – again, a very poor hangover from the industrial age.
  • No diversity goals – seeking to mandate minimum percentages of certain genders, cultures, religious beliefs or sexuality disguise much bigger problems with the underlying business model.


Five features embraced

  • Guaranteed fixed pricing – the definition of a competent service provider is someone who can devise a scope of work and provide an upfront fixed price that they are willing to refund in full if the customer is not satisfied with the performance.
  • ROWE – if you do not know what this is, Google it or click here and join the movement.
  • Solution choreographed teams – we work with whomever and on whatever terms are best to achieve the client’s objectives.

  • AAR – again, if you do not know what it is, Google it or click here, and embed it into your business today.

  • Diversity of thought – when two people in business are constantly of the same opinion, one is irrelevant. Raise diversity in every sense of the word and arbitrary politically correct percentages become irrelevant.


Editor's Note


Interested in learning more? Matthew Burgess is a keynote speaker at the 2016 ALPMA Summit, 'A Blueprint for Change' which will be held at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne from 7 - 9 September.  Matthew's presentation will deconstruct why the 'Firm of the Future' concept is gaining such traction and provide an insiders account of how to create a true firm of the future someone who has twice in the last 5 years re-written the professional services firm rule book. 

Register now for fantastic early bird savings!

About our Guest Blogger

Matthew BurgessMatthew Burgess founded what is regarded as Australia’s first virtual law firm and more recently arguably Australia’s most innovative legal solutions platform (the law firm named View Legal).

Having been a partner and lawyer of one of Australia’s leading independent law firms for over 17 years, View was established in mid 2014 and has from this time been actively disrupting the traditional law firm model.

Matthew regularly consults to other professional service providers on business model innovation, with his business book ‘The Dream Enabler’ a key foundation to this offering.







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