A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Don't Automate - Obliterate!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

by Gene Turner, Managing Director, LawHawk

In a recent LinkedIn post, Tim Boyne (a founder of legal tech company LawVu) made a deliberately provocative statement:

“On average, less than 5% of the tasks lawyers do every day require a law degree. In some areas of law it's less than 1%. That means ~ 95% of the $Trillion NZD legal industry is up for grabs. There’s gold in the streets. Right now that bounty still belongs to traditional law firms and they're reaching for their trusty clubs and slingshots ready to go to war for it. The problem is that the venture backed LegalTech industry is building a high tech, robotic arsenal of weaponry the likes of which the world has never seen. There have been over 700 LegalTech startups created in the last few years. Each one of them looking for a piece of that action. Interesting times, and well worth everyone in the industry spending a little time thinking about how they'll maintain relevancy moving forward.”

Tim wanted a response, and he got it, including the following: 

  • Derision from a young lawyer, because Tim was not a lawyer, and therefore shouldn’t presume to comment on the topic of law; 

  • A comment by a partner of a law firm that her firm can already do whatever the legal technology (any of it apparently) does, better, and at a lower cost; and

  • Requests to know where the 95% figure had come from, and doubts as to whether it was accurate. 

  • There were assumptions that legal tech suppliers are looking to take work away from lawyers, rather than work with them; that legal technology is primarily for the high-end legal market, given that they have the most money; and that legal technology is still something that is coming, rather than here and available today. 
In response to these points, I would say: 

  • We should never dismiss an idea just because it did not come from a lawyer.  In this case, Tim has 10 years of experience managing IT for a law firm, and knows very well how law firms work.  But would it matter if he didn’t?  As ALPMA members know very well, non-lawyers such as practice managers and IT specialists already add a lot of value and ideas to the legal profession.  In the legal tech space, many vendors are looking to bring improvements to law which have already been proven in other sectors and we should be encouraging those ideas. 

  • Legal technology and law firms should not be mutually exclusive. Most of the legal technology suppliers I know would prefer to partner with law firms and help them use the “robotic arsenal of weaponry” to provide better services at better value, but many law firms don’t want to know about them.  Why? 

  • Law firms need to continuously try to improve the way they work, as any business does.  Everything can be done better – often dramatically so. Just a small amount of curiosity would allow law firms of any size to trial many of the technologies that are now available, and to see how much they can help to save time, reduce risk, improve quality, and win more work.  

  • It doesn’t matter where the 95% figure came from, or if it is totally accurate. As Warren Buffett has said, “It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong”, and I bet it is approximately right. Even if it was only 50% that would be substantial.  But take a minute to imagine if it is as high as 95%.  If new technology means that up to 95% of what the organisation does could be done at least as well – if not better – at lower costs, wouldn’t that be awesome?!  Any business owner should be excited by those type of opportunities for their business. 

  • Let’s not forget all the “legal” and “non-legal” (whatever that distinction means) work that law firms currently do not get, and never will if they keep working as they currently do, but could if they provided services clients wanted at a price they were prepared to pay.  Technology will enable law firms to understand and respond to their clients’ real problems and integrate into wider business processes in very profitable and enduring ways.  The potential market for lawyers’ services is far greater than what lawyers currently serve. 

  • Legal technology is absolutely not just for the large law firms, and you don’t need a lot of money to start using it today.  In fact, many of the solutions are cloud based and as available right now to small firms as large. Some legal technology such as document automation are far from new, having been available (but largely ignored by lawyers) for 20 years. 
Automation is essential for law firms.  It is already happening – with or without law firms - and those who adopt it will be able to offer profoundly different services to those who don’t.  Instead of cautiously seeking incremental improvements to the traditional ways lawyers work and focussing mainly on risks, lawyers should embrace the opportunities it provides to completely transform what lawyers can do. 

In September, I spoke at the 2017 ALPMA Summit on the topic “Don’t Automate – Obliterate” where I looked at the opportunities legal technology is opening up for lawyers, and how they can use it to reinvent the services they offer to their clients.  

Despite many lawyers’ ongoing resistance to change, I was pleased to be able to point to progressive firms like Page Seager, who recently launched Page Create, as examples of firms who are looking to use technology to create better ways to deliver legal services and greater value to clients through innovation.  I also enjoyed meeting a number of lawyers and legal technology vendors who are excited by the potential to re-engineer the way legal services are provided.  

As Tim says, “Interesting times, and well worth everyone in the industry spending a little time thinking about how they’ll maintain relevancy moving forward.”

Editor's Note:

Want to know more about legal technology opportunities for law firms? Watch Gene's presentation "Don't Automate - Obliterate!" session from the 2017 ALPMA Summit On-Demand for just $99 (incl GST) or purchase the whole package for just $395 (incl GST), thanks to the generous support of our Summit Live and On-Demand partner, BigHand.  

About our Guest Blogger

Gene Turner
Gene was a corporate & finance partner of Buddle Findlay from 2009 until retiring from partnership in 2014. In 2011 to 2013 he was ranked as a leading lawyer in both M&A and banking as a result of leading a number of substantial transactions such as the very successful $700m acquisition by Infratil and the NZ Super Fund of Shell’s New Zealand business.

Gene is now managing director of LawHawk – a ‘new law’ venture providing advanced automated legal documents via the HotDocs cloud and helping lawyers provide better quality services to their clients, faster, at lower prices that are more profitable. In March 2017, LawHawk and Wellington law firm Succeed Legal released a free online will that anyone in New Zealand can use.

Gene is on the advisory board of The College of Law Centre of Legal Innovation.

Rise of the Machines: Driving Automation in Your Practice

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

by Matt Palmer, Marketing Manager, Actionstep

Lawyers could be replaced by artificial intelligence

This headline from February surely sent a few recent graduates into a panic.

Yes, the legal industry is in the line-of-sight of major technical disruption. It seems that soon, intelligent machines may replace our colleagues; keeping us company during those long nights at the office, reviewing our contracts, undertaking painful research, and hopefully continuing to make the coffee.

Despite the ‘doom-and-gloom’ headlines, AI is a huge opportunity for law firms, and builds on the shoulders of what automation has been doing for years - taking mundane repetitive tasks, handing them over to a machine, and allowing us to focus on what we do best. The result? Higher productivity, and an improved bottom-line.

Advanced AI is still an emerging technology, and not likely to reach the average law firm for a few years yet. But if you’re looking for some easy ways to save time (and money) today, here are a few smart tools you can use to make your firm more efficient:

Automate your client intake


Dealing with your busy day-to-day workload, as well as engaging with new prospective clients, and delivering a great first impression can definitely keep you on your feet.

Luckily, there are some smart tools that can help you automate the process, while still giving clients’ a personalised experience.

For starters, a customized form on your website can gather all of the information from a client you need to get started - such as the their personal details and general requirements.

This form may contain sensitive information, so ensure you're using an encrypted connection, and that the information is delivered to your firm in a secure manner (such as straight into your legal practice management system, which also eliminates manual data re-entry).

An automated, yet personalised e-mail, can then be sent to the client once the form is submitted. You could even include a link for the client to schedule an initial conversation in your calendar (with tools like Setmore or Timely).

Automating this part of your client intake is a win-win situation - freeing up your time, and delivering top-notch service to your clients.

Document and Email Automation

Law is definitely one industry known for it’s large amount of paperwork. So how can you spend less time creating documents, while still ensuring 100% accuracy of even the smallest details? That’s where document automation comes in.

Document automation technology allows you generate ready-to-send documents or emails in seconds. It does this by drawing on data already entered in to your legal practice management system.

Simple document automation can just insert the names of the parties involved, dates, and other details in the correct areas of a document template.

More advanced document automation can use conditional logic to add or remove sections based on the case details, and insert gender-specific pronouns.

If you wanted to go a step further, tools like Bundledocs can create professional PDF binders or document bundles in minutes.

Document automation helps your firm save time and money, stay competitive, and reduce the likelihood of errors.

Client Portal


For all of it’s benefits, email isn’t the most secure way to communicate and share files with clients. When you send an email, it can hop around the world from server to server, with each company having its own security and storage policies.

A ‘client portal’ allows your clients to log into to a secure area of your legal practice management system. They can then upload, download, or edit files, chat with you, and see the status of their case.

Automatic notifications can be sent to both you and client when required. This is great for both your clients’ and your firm, as it drastically reduces the inbound call volume of clients asking for a status update, and enables easy collaboration.

Workflow

Workflow technology allows you to build your processes into your legal practice management
system. Rather than just having a digital case file, workflow lets you easily see the progress on
a matter, automatically create and assign tasks at each step, and ensure nothing gets missed
before moving to the next stage of the case.

Workflow can greatly increase your productivity and compliance. Everyone knows what needs
to be done next, can see what might be holding things up, and automation can keep parties
informed along the way.

While you may be using some, or all of these tools in your firm, new technology continues to
disrupt the legal industry, but can help you increase profitability, sustainability, and efficiency.
So keep an eye on the future, and if you ever find yourself repeating the same process, ask -
How can I automate this?”. The machines are here to help*.

Happy automating!

*Accurate at time of writing this article. In the event of a hostile AI take-over, this sentence will be revised.

About our Guest Blogger


Matt Palmer is the Marketing Manager for Actionstep , a powerful all-in-one cloud-based legal
practice management system customised for Australian law practices. Actionstep focuses on
powerful workflow tools and automation to help lawyers achieve greater efficiency in their
practice.

With a background in business, marketing, and web development, Matt has worked with B2B
companies for over 5 years, helping them build effective digital marketing strategies. He also
consults with a number of small businesses looking to move into their next stage of growth. Matt
has a passion for connecting with customers, helping them solve problems, and developing
great user experiences.

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

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

The future is connectivity

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

Connectivity and technology

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

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

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

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

Connectivity and legal practice management

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


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

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


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

Lawyers cannot not embrace technology

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

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


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

Tips for choosing legal software

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

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

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

Editor's Note 


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

About our Guest Blogger

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

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

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

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






Effective communication, the key differentiator in a competitive marketplace

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

By Rebecca Nunan, Marketing Communications Specialist, LEAP Legal Software


Client communication is one business area which can highlight your practice’s reputation and presence in the legal industry. Both internal and external communication processes factor into how businesses and law firms can successfully share ideas and information, and in doing so can leverage the efficiency of the entire business. 

Client communication rates as the second highest cause of complaints received by the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner for 2015-2016. According to the OLCS, consumer matters complaints have increased by 7 per cent, with family law now making up 17.8 per cent of all complaints lodged. Conveyancing and corporate matters are ranked in the top six areas of law to receive complaints. Document handling is a common grievance for clients and, not surprisingly, the solicitor is the highest ranked practitioner named in the inquiry line. 

With complaints and client misunderstandings rising, it is not surprising that Lawcover’s annual review notes an increase in the number of insured law practices and solicitors and an increase in reported circumstances. Conveyancing matters attributed to the highest number of claim notifications for 2015.

With this in mind, let’s break apart the communication matrix!

Technology


Technology is an integral part of business operations across all law firms regardless of size or area of expertise. Today’s working offices are adapting and scaling up their technology to reflect the changes in the industry, and the demands of changing governmental processes and legislation. It can be hard to keep up while providing an efficient service to your clients – taking into consideration ongoing operational costs. According to PwC’s 2017 Global Digital IQ® Survey, “the human experience is a critical dimension of Digital IQ; to be successful in the digital economy, organisations must create agile, collaborative cultures that…focus adequately on customer and employee experiences”. The results highlight the desire for Australian businesses to improve customer service.

Information sharing is one segment of communication which is crucial to efficient matter management, and unfortunately this area is often the largest contributor to client dissatisfaction. Some causes for failing in clear communication processes are:

  • Large volumes of documentation which is delivered and retrieved from information systems and clients and not organised efficiently
  • Duplicate records for clients or matters which result in errors
  • Inefficient document sharing via email where documents are not secure, not attached, are excessively large, or get delivered to spam folders
  • Previous versions of documents are inadvertently shared.

The result is clients who continually call you to clarify next steps, and how you intend to assist in the process. Before we consider how to improve this situation, let’s delve into the everyday working of a matter.

Process-driven communication


Streamlined processes with supporting IT systems make all the difference to the efficiency of client work. Paperless or paper-light offices are becoming the norm for many law firms and some government departments, and sharing this concept with your clients is an important part of the step.

The first step a lawyer may take is to open an initiation template and draft the accompanying email, and then what follows is a streamlined cadence of emails, documents, telephone calls and invoices.

Online services and automation are revolutionising the way in which law firms operate; from matter management through to customer service surveys and protocols. The amount of data generated by lawyers is growing; consider all the completed forms, file notes, precedents, court rulings, emails and documents.

With the volume of data being collected increasing, failing to engage in process-driven communication can result in costly errors, such as incorrect documents stored, shared or emailed to the client.

Even for law firms who have established systems in place, there can be disharmony in the business when client communication break downs.

Communication and technology in harmony


Law firms can build trust with their clients by partnering with them to provide a superior service in addition to providing legal knowledge and advice. Providing superior service encapsulates a 360-degree viewpoint of client care; from legal knowledge, consultation, obtaining client data, priorities of the matter, exceptions, schedules, filing, outcomes and billing. These access points are crucial to providing superior client service - with technology spaning across these points, lawyers can be in control and be more active in processing a matter, not just responding to roadblocks.

Effective communication and competitive edge in one practice management platform


A centralised system that hosts your matter details and information in one, single location, with precedent automation and the ability to seamlessly save correspondence, is essential. The system should update matter cards immediately and the two-way sharing of data should be accessible from mobile devices. This will in turn enable you and your fee earners to respond to client queries expediently in real time.

In a competitive market where law firms now actively seek out clients, it is essential to be recognised as a leading firm that adopts cutting edge technology. Firms who differentiate by providing exceptional client service through effective communication will benefit from long-standing business relationships and increased profitability.


Editor's Note

2017 ALPMA SummitLEAP Legal Software are proud to be the Digital Partner for the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13-15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. This year’s Summit focuses on developing the key 21st century skills of collaboration, communication, critical-thinking and creativity at law firms. Join more than 300 law firm leaders and managers for an action-packed three days of professional development, networking and fun. Register now!

About our Guest Blogger


Rebecca NunanRebecca Nunan is a marketing communications specialist at LEAP Legal Software in Sydney.

Rebecca is a marketing executive with more than seven years’ experience working in the legal industry. Her experience working for local and international law firms has provided insights into best practices for running a successful firm – with a competitive approach to delivering exceptional client service. 






The importance of being curious!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

By Matthew Hollings, Senior Business Development Manager, Law In Order


For all the hype around increased technology adoption within the legal industry, it is still incredibly common to find the more traditionalist approaches still being applied to even the simplest of legal functions. Review of email data, or .pst files, being one of the more typical examples we see at Law In Order.

However, I always look to remind myself that going back a few years, to my time as a practising lawyer, I too was none the wiser as to the alternative ways I could potentially approach and undertake some of the legal tasks I carried out day to day, such as the review of emails. The standard (manual) approach; of printing, ordering, reviewing, flagging, indexing and then producing a volume(s) of relevant documents, was the one that, despite its inefficiencies, was still widely considered as effective, and certainly the agreed approach. And because that approach didn’t make the task practicably impossible, there was no incentive to change.

But there is one thing that my time in the legal technology industry has taught me and that is to question everything, preferably well before the platform burns below you. We are currently in a golden age of technology, and one which is having significant impact on the legal industry. Those who begin to be, and remain curious are those who will stand to benefit from the adoption of technology, and ultimately stay ahead of the game.

I certainly regret not questioning more as a lawyer; had I maintained the same curious outlook I had as a student, I may have discovered that our approach to things like email review, could have been completely transformed, automated and accelerated.

Having had many conversations with lawyers and legal professionals, at varying levels, and from various areas of practice, I know that remaining curious is sometimes difficult to do given all the other pressures you face on a daily basis. However, at Law In Order, we see first-hand how those that are committed to gaining a better understanding of available technology tend to be seeing tremendous benefits in their day to day work. Those benefits can stem from something as simple as the email review acceleration, through to more advanced solutions such as process automation and machine learning.

So as a lawyer, or someone working within or related to law (whether that be in private practice, in-house or government), make it your responsibility to drive technology exploration and adoption in your day to day work, in your practice group and in your firm – stay curious!

Editor's Note

Law in Order are the proud Pre-Summit Workshop Partner for "Personal Productivity in the 21st Century Workplace" by Dermot Crowley on Wednesday 13 September at Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. This highly practical and inspiring session will help participants to create a productivity system that will boost their productivity and leverage their technology. You do not have to be attending ALPMA Summit 2017 to attend this workshop. The workshop costs $395 for ALPMA members or $495 for eligible non-members. Places for these workshops are strictly limited so register now! 

About our Guest Blogger


Matthew HollingsMatthew Hollings is a Senior Business Development Manager at Law In Order. Law In Order is an international legal solutions provider who specialize in legal document production, managed discovery services and eCourt/eTrial technology.
Matt joined Law In Order following his experience as a lawyer in the litigation team of a national law firm and one of Australia’s leading financial institutions. At Law In Order, Matt is tasked with driving change within the legal teams of private practice firms, government agencies and corporates. By using his prior experience as a lawyer he aims to educate the modern legal professional about alternative technological workflows available to them that look to solve the daily challenges posed by an increasingly complex legal landscape.



How to successfully navigate the information-rich digital world

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

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By Whit Lee, Executive Director, Strategy & Legal Software Solutions, LexisNexis Asia Pacific


We live in an age of information, powered by technology. Where once a collection of Encyclopedia Britannica was required to find the answer to an obscure question raised in a lively pub discussion, now all that is needed is a 4G signal on one of the many devices inevitably resting on the table.

There are immeasurable benefits to technological development; for one, the wealth of our individual knowledge has grown colossally. But value doesn’t lie in information itself. Even a mountain of data and information does not necessarily equate to better intelligence and decision-making. Value comes from applying analytical and critical thought processes to that information.

The loss of analytical thinking


Over the last few years, studies have started to emerge revealing that we are gradually adapting to respond to information in an automatic, uncritical way. A generation of ‘digital natives’ will be entering the workforce in the coming decade, remarkable for their intrinsic aptitude for technology, but worrisome for their lack of critical nous.

In a Stanford University study published in November 2016, students were asked to evaluate the reliability of information posted online in order to assess their ability to apply critical thinking. For those of us who grew up using libraries, the findings are somewhat alarming: 82% of younger high school students were unable to differentiate between sponsored ad content and genuine news posted online, and nearly 40% of older students believed that a photo of misshapen daisies proved that there were toxic conditions around the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan – despite it being a viral post with no identifiable location characteristics or source given.

We are inundated by information, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Z Generation find it hard to distinguish between fact and fiction. But what it does highlight is the importance of maintaining skills in analytical reasoning. In order to successfully navigate the digital world, we need to adopt a scientific approach of critical, rational and effortful thought. In short: we all need to think like lawyers.

The rise of the machine


Hollywood has long visualised the future of machines, and fact is now surpassing fiction…though some may say the advent of artificial intelligence is far less exciting than we have come to expect; machines will not be taking over the world. But we still need to be prepared for further rapid technological advancement.

We know that the digitally-powered information-overload is not going to slow, but what we will see in the future are tools powered by artificial intelligence that take the analysis of data out of our hands, presenting us just with the most accurate and relevant answers we require. So why maintain skills in analytical thinking ourselves? Well, an answer doesn’t necessarily equate to a decision. A human element will always be necessary to assess and evaluate answers – which are, of course, simply condensed pieces of information.

The analytical thought process of a human is inherently different to that of a machine, because a human can take into account personal experience, empathy, and external drivers across a wide range of topics. Intelligent machines will remove the ambiguity of confirmation bias and the fallacy of false news, but are devoid of emotional intellect; humans are what give information meaning.

In practice management, as artificial intelligence tools start to enhance workflows and provide improved outcomes for lawyers and clients alike, intellectual agility will still be required in the analysis of information in order to make decisions and take actions that best suit the business. So while investment is made in the latest technology, so too must investment be made in that almighty gadget we each possess: our brains.

The future belongs not to those who will build the digital world, but those who will work in collaboration with it to deliver excellence that has undercurrents of both machine and emotional intelligence.

Editor's Note

Thought Leadership Awards NominationsLexisNexis is the proud partner for the 2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards. If your firm has successfully implemented an innovative new initiative or is doing something different in response to the digital world, then enter the project for an award. Nominations are open until 21 June. Nominate online now.

Winners will be announced at the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13-15 September at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre. This year's Summit 'Sailing the 4C's' focuses on the four key 21st learning skills of Collaboration, Critical-thinking, Creativity and Communication. Readers interested in learning more about building analytical thinking skills at their firm should register before July 20 for early bird savings. Register now.


About our Guest Blogger

Whit LeeWhit leads the Legal Software Solutions (LSS) team, which delivers cloud-based and on-premise tools that drive improved outcomes for clients, helping them to make better decisions by combining world-class LexisNexis content with practice management workflow solutions.  Whit is also responsible for strategy and business development for the LexisNexis Asia Pacific business. As strategy lead, Whit is focused on how the organization is executing today as well as planning for tomorrow – ensuring we have the right resources allocated to deliver on both short and long term goals and that our investments in new products and solutions deliver value to customers. Whit holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee and an MBA from Harvard Business School.


The Dangers of Silent Malware

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

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By James Walker, Managing Director, Computer One


Ransomware masks a more serious threat, and your law firm’s network may already be compromised. Here’s how to know...

In early May 2017, the world witnessed the largest ransomware attack in history. Within 72 hours the WannaCry ransomware had encrypted files in more than 200,000 organisations across more than 150 countries - thanks to its novel use of an email entry point and then self-propagation through network protocols. It was the largest ransomware attack in history.

Or so we thought.

Less than one week later, on May 18th, came the news that WannaCry was not the first programme to take advantage of recently released National Security Agency exploits. Another variant, called Adylkuzz had already been infecting computers for three weeks, potentially on an even greater scale.

It was a benevolent kind of attack - this time


The creator of Adylkuzz had used the same exploits as WannaCry to create a botnet (an army of slave devices) and used it to mine the Monero cryptocurrency. Effectively, they had created a supercomputer capable of mining the currency quickly, making early gains that may later be worth millions.

And no-one even noticed.

It was only when researchers at Proofpoint looked into the WannaCry attack that it was discovered at all. Because although system resources were being stolen, Adylkuzz was generally a benevolent system infection, with the payoff for the creator not coming directly from the victims.

But its discovery underlines a new era for ransomware and corporate espionage.

A typical ransomware attack is messy and violent. It encrypts your files and demands a ransom as fast and as noticeably as possible. What it does, and what the creators want from you, is black and white.

Software that is designed to remain low-profile and undetected on your firm’s network for as long as possible represents a nastier kind of infection. Often called Advanced Persistent Threats (APT’s), the function and use of such software is not clear and the purpose of the attack can only be determined after detection and observation.

This kind of software goes hand in hand with secret file theft or erasure, secret recording of voice and video, untraceable physical security breaches and more. The creativity of the threat actor is the only real limit.

Every device connected to your network has the potential to be a spy on your conversations, actions and files. Every laptop has the ability to record sound and video. Every IP phone is connected to your network and could be compromised. Digital video cameras, physical access controls and more all have potentially dangerous exposure to your network and your firm's intellectual property.


Your firm may already have been infected. But here’s what you can do...


It’s not all doom and gloom. The development of this new kind of signatureless, pervasive but low-profile threat has spawned a new generation of cyber-security products specifically designed to counter APT’s.

Cisco Umbrella, for example, covers every endpoint in your network, looking for out-of-character network traffic. A laptop that starts transmitting packets of information to a remote and rarely-contacted network at 2am, or a printer that moves a lot of data outside business hours may be silently syphoning your firm’s secrets.

Umbrella compares the traffic it has observed to what it knows is “normal” for your system. It also checks every connection to an IP address against a database of suspect IP addresses forged from witnessing over 60 million IP requests every day – Cisco claims it sees nearly 2% of the entire Internet’s traffic, giving it a solid base of trusted vs. suspicious IP addresses.

If the destination IP address is already flagged, Umbrella can suspend the transmission and report it to your IT team. If it’s not flagged it can still generate a request for a deeper investigation, so that you can stop the exfiltration of data.

Another product, called Darktrace works along similar lines. Darktrace sits over your entire network, observing the behaviour of all the endpoints connected to the system. Developed by Cambridge mathematicians and former MI5 operatives, it observes a wide range of activities, connection requests and data transfers to identify suspicious activity and can even stop malicious activity autonomously, just seconds into an APT’s deployment.

There’s always the question: “Why would an attacker care about hacking us?”

All this concern over APT’s seems the stuff of spy thrillers that wouldn’t really apply in the context of most Australian law firms - until you put yourself in the shoes of the attacker. Inside information on new patents, details of messy celebrity divorces, and discussions around setting up foreign entities for listed companies are all valuable assets in the hands of someone who can make money from them.

Even if an attacker doesn’t intend to make money directly from the knowledge, threatening to expose your firm to serious reputational and economic damage by leaking stolen information is a serious threat that we know is already making attackers rich – you just don’t hear about it because ransoms are being paid quietly.

The economic motivation is clear and real. The tools are readily available and new, silent attacks are happening every week. It’s not a case of “if”, but “when”, your network will be compromised. 

And “when” may already be in the past.

Editor's Note


Interested in learning more about IT defences and the steps you can take to mitigate the risk of a data breach in your firm and the next steps to take should a breach occur? Then come along to ALPMA QLD's July practice management seminar "What your firm needs to know about the upcoming Mandatory Data Breach Notification" presented by James Walker, Managing Director, Computer One on July 19 in Brisbane. Register now for this event. 

About our Guest Blogger 

James WalkerJames Walker is the Managing Director of Computer One, an IT Services company that covers the full spectrum of delivery, from a Managed Helpdesk through to complex project management, Network Management and Information Security. Computer One has been working with legal firms for almost 15 years and has experience in solving a range of IT challenges faced by the legal fraternity, from software integration to security, network configuration and productivity enhancement.

Computer One is offering a free two week proof of value trial which could immediately identify if your network has already been compromised.  Contact Computer One on 1300 667 871 or sales@computerone.com.au to arrange.


Embedding 21st Century Skills in Your Firm

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

By Ann-Maree David, 2017 ALPMA Summit Chair



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Let me explain further.

Creativity


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

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

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


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

Collaboration


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


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


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

Critical Thinking


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

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

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

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

Communication


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

21st Century Leadership


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

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

Editor’s Note



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

Register now.

About our Guest Blogger



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

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

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



A powerful, cost-cutting IT solution for legal firms

Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Compu-stor advert


 By Shane Muller, Founder and Managing Director, OBT


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

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

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

Streamlined pricing



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

Simplicity



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

Accessible, secure information



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

Flexibility



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

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

About our Guest Blogger


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









Why spreadsheets are slowly dying (and good riddance)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Compu-Stor advert




By David Keeler, CEO, FilePro 


For nearly 25 years, Microsoft Excel has been the financial foundation of business. Yet, slowly but surely, services like Xero, Salesforce and Google Analytics have replaced the humble spreadsheet – software that processes data with greater speed, accuracy, accessibility and visibility.

Yes, spreadsheets will always have a role, e.g. processing data highly specific to your circumstances. But for reports shared across business models – be it revenue, contact details, website visits or cash flow – spreadsheets fall flat.

When it comes to running a law firm, many common, business-critical indicators are still reliant on spreadsheets. Automating these financial indicators has numerous advantages:


1. Visibility



Humans are designed to understand information in a visual way, i.e. not a spreadsheet. Probably the most infamous example of this bias is the Challenger Space shuttle disaster, where a part was damaged due to cold temperatures.

In retrospect, it was found that the Challenger team did, in fact, test these sealants under different temperatures – this is how the data was displayed. 


FilePro O-ring history 1



And this is what would have been clear should the data have been displayed in a visual format.


FilePro O-ring history 2


The lesson is clear – ensure that your practice management system displays your information in a clear, logical, and easy-to-understand manner.

2. Speed



Spreadsheets are clunky. Data is copied and pasted from one program to the other, results have to be double checked, and Excel takes time to master.

Your practice management system should be able to display billings, debtors, task list, new matters listing with a single click, and in real time, i.e. without waiting for systems to generate data at the end of the month and the excel expert to generate reports.

Which brings us to...

3. Accuracy



The manual nature of excel makes it prone to human error. In fact, data researcher Raymond Panko found, “that the average cell error rates (the ratio of cells with errors to all cells with formulas) is 5.2%”.

While automated systems such as Dashboard are not immune to human error, e.g. someone filling out a timesheet incorrectly, a fully-integrated approach removes many steps of manual data handling across systems and further reduces the risk of mistakes.

 

4. Accessibility



This is two-fold. Firstly, many spreadsheets are hosted locally and can only be accessed by one person at a time. Services like Office 365 are changing this, although they raise security issues around public v private hosting.

Secondly, spreadsheets aren’t tailored to who is looking at them – for example, a junior fee-earner shouldn’t see your firm’s P&L. Yet you may want them to compare their daily time sheets to their KPIs.


Firstly, check whether your practice management system is hosted locally or on a private server, preferably in Australia. Secondly, ask if it can create tailored reports based on who is looking – be it partner, practice manager or fee earner.



About our Guest Blogger

David Keeler
David has been involved with the legal profession for over 25 years. Originally an accountant and consultant, he became disenchanted with the quality of legal software and developed a solution to satisfy the requirements of his clients – ie FilePro.

After working with over 1000 firms, David has acquired a wealth of knowledge about what it takes to improve the productivity of a law firm, and ultimately, their profit.

If you’d like to learn more about FilePro’s Dashboard, visit our website or watch the video

FilePro video link


Feel free to contact me on a no-obligation basis to discuss any technology, workflow or productivity challenge you may be facing.





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