A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

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. 






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.


Managing Brand Integration

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

By Tineke Mann, eBusiness Manager, TIMG 


Mergers and acquisitions are common in the legal sector – but as many who have embarked down this path know, getting the post-acquisition integration right is not always easy! In this post, we share some of the key learnings from our acquisition of LitSupport in the hope that this will help you on your journey.

The Information Management Group (TIMG) embarked upon the challenge of successfully acquiring a complementary brand to enhance their service offering in early 2014. TIMG solve information management problems daily for thousands of businesses, large and small, in every major industry, across Australia and New Zealand. Our offering is simple; help clients store, manage, integrate and access important information securely, compliantly and effortlessly.

By December 2014, TIMG successfully acquired LitSupport; a leading organisation that specialises in providing secure and confidential information management services to law firms and corporate legal departments. The brainchild of Val Pitt some 20 years ago, LitSupport grew from a home-based business to a national organisation with over 130 employees and a service network spanning Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Why integrate?


Why would LitSupport embrace being absorbed into TIMG you may ask? 

“Times were changing. The legal industry was and is facing increasing pressure to improve performance and manage costs across all areas of operations” Val Pitt, Communications Manager, LitSupport said. “A union with TIMG enables us to deliver greater efficiencies and innovative solutions for our clients.”

TIMG similarly identified the need for innovation in the managed services and information management space. 

Chris Cotterrell, General Manager TIMG Australia recognised the need to provide a complete service offering to clients, ensuring they continued to grow and revolutionise the space.

“Investigations were completed by Ernst & Young, our parent company Freightways and TIMG management and it was decided that LitSupport offered the services we needed to compete in our industry, as well as offering an excellent cultural fit for both teams”.

The combined expertise in both companies has seen a positive outcome with TIMG now offering a full suite of services with greater capabilities to their clients. 

The integration challenges


The transition, however, has not been easy and has had opposing challenges for both parties in different ways.

Val acknowledges the positives and negatives that have accompanied the journey and acquisition of LitSupport within TIMG. 

“The hardest part for me has been letting go of decision making after twenty-one years of being the key decision maker. In contrast, the most rewarding part of the integration has been being part of a much larger organisation where accountability is shared and you are surrounded by many levels of support and expertise”.

The journey for TIMG has been focused on driving the acquisition from a strategic perspective, ensuring goals in the immediate future and in years to come are achieved. 

“There were areas we needed to tackle head on, areas that required a longer strategy to ensure a smooth transition, and areas we had little control over,” Chris said.

Mr Cotterrell explains how an earn-out period is still in place until 1 July 2017 and resulted in TIMG having limited authority for the first two and a half years of the acquisition which came with its own set of challenges.

Consideration factors in brand acquisition extend far beyond the immediate strategic vision. Chris Cotterrell explains: 

“Culturally, it’s difficult to integrate small owned business structures with a larger organisation that operate with a more corporate structure and related governance”.

“TIMG managers and those involved with LitSupport have been very excited about the service offering and the value this service will have for TIMG clients. TIMG has successfully signed an agreement with Ringtail to resell it as LitReview in line with the TIMG branding. This is an exciting development as legal and corporate clients will now have access to the most advanced eDiscovery tools” he continues.

Advice for others


With every acquisition, ensuring clear communication to clients is vital. 

“Branding and synergies will be the main focus in our immediate plans, with a five-year aim to triple the digitisation and processing revenue” Chris states.

As with all business changes, learnings will be had and will be different depending on the side of the table you sit at. 

Val recalls the experience: “I would not have changed a thing. I never look back – the future is way too bright. If I could offer advice to an organisation exploring the same avenue, I would encourage them to choose carefully, be prepared for change and commit to a successful merger”.

For TIMG the acquisition and integration challenges continue as the company continues to grow. 

At the start of the acquisition, integrating finance and payroll was prioritised; swiftly followed by the integration of CRM and job management to ensure client workflow remained unaffected.

“We should have taken a much more active role in cost control at that point of the journey. Costs blew out and bringing these back in line has been a painful process” Chris recalls. 

Internal considerations should also be allowed for, he said.

“More time should have been spent earlier with LitSupport staff to help them adjust to our wider vision. It’s taken almost three years to adjust the view that we are not two separate businesses, but one; TIMG.” 

As Chris highlights, people and their behaviours play an important role in any acquisition, and the management of these behaviours is time-consuming but necessary to provide clear vision and to set realistic expectations.

“If I could advise a business who were about to take on a similar journey, I would advise them to manage expectations, review systems and processes and don’t assume they will be compliant just because of certifications. 

Above all, make sure the cultures of the two businesses will work well together” Chis advises.

About our Guest Blogger


Tineke MannTineke Mann is the eBusiness Manager for TIMG, the information management service provider. Tineke is passionate about helping lawyers simplify their work-life through more efficient management of records and top data security. In addition to working closely with a range of clients tailoring solutions, she manages teams of eDiscovery experts, Online Backup specialists and in-house developers.









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
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 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

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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.




3 tips to implement outsourcing for your firm

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Compu-stor advert


By Robin Carter, Managing Director, Add Capacity


Outsourcing was definitely one of the buzzwords heard during the  ALPMA Summit 2016 “A Blueprint for Change” as one of the strategies for change to move a firm into the future. However in my experience, outsourcing legal work (offshoring) still remains a new concept to most firms, with partners and practice managers struggling to know where to begin and how to go about implementing it.


As one principal told me, he loved the idea but the biggest barrier remained “fitting this new jigsaw piece into the existing puzzle that is running a legal practice”. If this sounds like you, here are my top 3 things to consider to help make legal process outsourcing work successfully for your firm.


1. Know your 'Why'



The 3 most common problems our legal clients are looking for a solution to are:

  • Dealing with fluctuations in volumes
  • Productivity due to staff absence
  • Service level variation during busy periods and staff re-allocation
  • Costs of running the back office

Which of these is the main driver for you? While outsourcing offers clear cost advantages in replacing high fixed costs with lower variable costs, my belief is that outsourcing really benefits the firm when the overall objective is a commitment to move activities up the value chain toward higher levels of client service delivery.

Whatever your reasons, once you have this clarity on your why, you will make better informed decisions and be more committed to achieving the outcome.

2. Be prepared to invest



It might sound clichéd, but outsourcing really is a journey not a destination. Even with an experienced team who knows the process, every firm has their own way of doing things or slight variations. A great outsourcing service is an incredibly valuable asset that will keep paying dividends once set up, so it will require someone in the firm to oversee to get it right and keep it on track. Assign someone with great client relationship skills who has the patience and persistence to work through operational issues towards achieving the outcome.

Start with a trial period and review performance. One instance is not sufficient, you want to establish that you will be able to rely on your supplier to work together over a longer period, and this will require an assessment of a variety of factors from technical competence, price, communication and problem solving.

Focus on outsourcing one task or job, then systemising this and only when this is successfully running as you want, replicate the process across other tasks. The initial job will provide you with invaluable knowledge about both the team you are working with and your own internal process required to achieve a successful outcome, that will speed up implementing subsequent processes later on.

3. Get internal buy-in



Managing internal resistance to change may be the biggest hurdle you face in getting your outsourcing project off the ground. The most common unspoken (and sometimes spoken) fear that arises with staff when the word “outsourcing” is mentioned is fear that they are going to lose their jobs. Communicate your 'Why', get the buy-in of your staff with what it means for them, and have a plan for what they will do if part of their work is going to be outsourced.


The clearer these are articulated, the more likely that staff will come on board with the project and see outsourcing as part of a bigger picture towards positioning the firm for future growth, and therefore the security of their jobs. Look at your wishlist for improvement projects and have a plan for staff who will be affected for how their time will be re-assigned to new tasks. Actively involve staff in the process to get their ideas for activities which add value and ultimately add to productive revenue generation rather than just the busyness of getting the task done.


About our Guest Blogger

Robin Carter
Robin Carter is the founder and Managing Director of Add Capacity, an outsourcing company specialising in legal process outsourcing for small to medium sized solicitor firms. Add Capacity is also a LEAP certified bookkeeper.

Robin holds an LLB and is a qualified accountant, and has been involved in outsourcing for the last 3 years. He is passionate about enabling professional service firms to grow by releasing routine work and focusing more on value added client service tasks.  



How well does your firm manage information security?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

By Leticia Mooney, Director, Brutal Pixie 


The legal profession is one in which information security ought to be front-of-mind. The truth is that information security management feels difficult, gigantic, and not yet necessary.

As a content strategist, my daily trade is in information. I create it for readers, yes, but I also work in risk management, information governance, and digital projects like website rebuilds. In my long experience, it's extremely rare to work with a client who is serious about information security.

Information security management is a critical challenge



There are a lot of challenges facing the legal profession, but the most critical challenge is one that most don't want to face. Data security is about more than having the right cyber insurance in case of hacking or penetration attack. It's about prioritising its importance inside your firm, so that all of your projects have an information security layer to them.
Information Security Management is the unsexy brother of cybersecurity. It's less attractive because it asks you to really think about how you manage insecurity. It's the kind of thinking that gives you headaches before you even start, just like doing the hard thinking about strategic action and strategic growth.

Real-life example from a small firm



You might even think that this kind of thinking is unnecessary. Well, let me give you a real-life example. This firm I will give a fictional name: Let's call it Rosie's Family Lawyers. Rosie's had been working with a range of vendors to help her represent the firm accurately online. She had Search Engine Optimisation vendors, digital marketing vendors, a content strategy company. She also had other vendors: Business coaches, management advisors, and a range of others who have access to her online systems.

One day, Rosie got an email from someone in another country advising her that her website access details were available because a digital marketer saved them in his LastPass account. She did the right thing and sent it to me asking whether or not it was legitimate - because she didn't know the online space, nor the language to use. After being questioned, the person who sent the email advised that a group of digital marketers who buy SEMRush (which is search engine marketing software) purchased it on a cheap option. Access to SEMRush is provided in a LastPass account. And one of Rosie's vendors had accidentally saved her website details in that LastPass account. This meant that everyone around the world who had bought in on this 'group buy' option now had full administrator access, and it had to be removed.

With this information, we were able to track down the vendor and resolve the situation. Since then, Rosie's Family Lawyers are taking their information security much more seriously.

When she stopped to think about it, Rosie's firm had, in its rush to speed up its efficiency, neglected to think properly or clearly about its information security management. In the post-mortem of this event, in which we were involved, we realised that:

  • The back-end of her website held sensitive information about clients

  • That sensitive information was transferred to another database, which is cloud-based

  • The known people with administrator access to the website included at least five people who were not her employees, and with whom she had no formal confidentiality or information handling agreements

  • There are unknown people who might also have access (who include team members who work with her vendors).

What the firm learned from this experience



Rosie has since realised where the gaps are in her information security handling. Because she runs a small firm, she didn't think having policies was even necessary: It seemed a waste of time.

Without having done the thinking ahead of time, Rosie had no idea how to respond. If she didn’t have a trusted advisor like me, she would have tried to bumble through this territory all by herself. What she realised is that there was no structure around how vendors are engaged, or how they agree to work with (and handle or even access) client information in her online systems. She didn't have a structure for managing the information security knowledge of her staff. She didn't have any business systems, risk assessments, or evaluation processes that could help her if she was doing this on her own.

If I had asked Rosie how her firm performs against international standards for information security management, she would have laughed me out of the room. Knowing this, though, is a fantastic way to start thinking about what your firm needs to do first.

Here are some really common situations for which many firms don't have any structure:

  • Files held in cloud services like Dropbox, which makes the information subject to the laws of other countries

  • Cloud-based databases (Google Drive, Office365, and others) that may store your client information internationally, making that information subject to the laws of other nations

  • Automated information gathering on websites, and stored in website databases that don't have the right levels of security

  • Outsourced writers, marketers, advisors, web hosts... the list goes on.

What do you do if your information security management is poor?



The first and most common reaction is to shut all the online and cloud systems down - at a great cost to firm efficiency, and without thinking of the realities of 21st century business.

Shutting things down is not the solution. Embracing the opportunity to improve your firm is the right thing to do. To be blunt, you are better off to think, ‘What can we do?’ rather than, ‘We need to shut everything down'.

If you don't have a policy, your first step is to put one in place. Draft it and get your teams to comment. Inviting collaboration in policies like these results in policies that everyone in the firm can own, contribute to, and improve.

The second thing you need is support from your most senior leadership. If your firm’s staff don’t see support for it at the highest end, will they take it seriously? It’s very unlikely. Conversations about information security management can be added to team mentoring or coaching sessions, where you can ask for feedback, improvements, or suggestions.

You can also start identifying smarter ways of gathering and holding information, knowing that the current economy that makes outsourcing a real and valuable thing.

Cyber security software teams will happily tell you how many companies recover from data breaches, system lockdowns ahead of ransom demands, and other piratical events. It's extremely low: When you think about what would happen if all your systems were offline, and the reputation damage, it's very unlikely your business would recover.

But there is opportunity here, too. Instead of burying your head in the sand and hoping it goes away, own up to it and get things moving.

If you do just one thing today that moves your information security management forwards, you're one step closer than you were yesterday. The first place to start is with your policy and most senior management: Because once your leadership takes it seriously, everything else will start to fall into place.

About our Guest Blogger


Leticia Mooney
Leticia Mooney is the Director of Brutal Pixie, Australia’s only content strategy company that specialises in working with the legal profession. She is a content strategist and a qualified auditor for ISO standards.











Speech Recognition...the Way of the Future?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

By Mike Kelly, Director, Sound Business Systems

There is a resurgence of interest in speech recognition (SR) within the legal profession currently. This same interest incidentally is mirrored in other professions such as healthcare and in business generally. It is a trend that is likely to continue. Refer to the 2014 Gartner report where Speech Recognition is now positioned as one of the leading productivity tools of our age.

Penetration

SR is now penetrated far and wide within the legal sector. There are installations of all sizes…many sole practitioners and a number of firms with just one or two users. There are also an increasing number of firms with 5-10 licences and a few with 20 plus. It is difficult to be 100% certain but we estimate that there are close to 1,000 SR licences in the field today. The product is extensively used with email but also with precedents and templates and of course for substantial opinion or advice related matters.

Motivations

The motivations are varied. In many cases it is driven by individual lawyers or their Practice Managers...interestingly not too often by IT at this stage, but this is set to change in my view now that the technology is now main stream. My expectation is that we will progressively see the “institutionalising” of SR in firms by including it in staff indoctrination processes and making it either a compulsory tool or one that is available as part of the firm’s standard IT platform.

With some firms today there is no planned approach. A lawyer might just have read about it and want to try…referrals are an increasing driver. Others may be forced into it because of 
secretarial constraints or because while they might be used to self-creating documents they find the process of typing slow or tedious by comparison to what speech alone can deliver. Remember you can speak at least three times faster than you can type. In others it is a cold hearted ROI that drives SR.

SR is overwhelmingly used in what is called “front end” mode where a lawyer dictates and the transcribed text appears on their own PC. Initially the thinking was that “back end” deployment of SR, where the lawyer dictated but the text appears on the typist PC, would also be on interest but this has not taken off and in my opinion is unlikely to do so. With SR technology so accurate nowadays, secretarial involvement and the attendant waiting time involved, is a luxury few can afford.

SR is a productivity and efficiency tool

SR is an interesting and clever technology, but first and foremost it is a productivity and efficiency tool. It is not without cost when one factors in installation/training and support plus perhaps a wireless input device, but it will quickly pay for itself if deployed correctly. In one firm where we piloted just the one licence, it quickly grew to nine users and the annual savings of $170k in annual staff support costs is not insignificant. For a one off investment of just $12k this equates to a payback of weeks rather than months.

Because lawyers can produce our own documents on the spot, this can free up typists and secretaries. With the need for typing now diminished, this resource can be redirected into more productive areas as true personal assistants and authors in their own right.

Current scene

To my mind the traditional dictation/transcription market has plateaued. This applies to both desktop digital and network digital technologies. It is not something I like to admit because we enjoy a sizeable business in both areas, but that is my definite opinion. Lawyers no longer want to dictate, send a draft through to their secretary PA and then have it returned for final sign off. They will either type up an original themselves relying heavily on smart precedents or they will do the same things except they will use voice rather than the keyboard. With the advent of a specifically tailored NZ Legal SR software that is now so amazingly accurate there will be few mistakes and the old myth that lawyers won’t format and edit themselves is simply not true. The modern lawyer is quite adept at editing and formatting and as you’d expect in this age of instant fulfilment, get frustrated at what they see as the unneccessary and time consuming step of sending dictated work to a secretary, when they can start and complete a matter themselves in one session.

SR is used for the creation of standard forms type documents where it integrates with a firms precedent system, for the creation of an accurate first draft and invariably with the daily deluge of emails which are fast becoming bread and butter to practitioners.

We are seeing SR used by authors of all ages. While it is probably true that for many more established lawyers the preference is to continue to use a secretary/PA I am continually surprised at the cross section of users out there. Technology or age tends not to be a barrier…but there are other barriers of which a potential user needs to be aware.

Pitfalls

There are a few to be aware of:



  • Not all users or all work types suit SR. While age or technical knowhow is largely irrelevant there must be a certain enthusiasm to explore a more productive alternatives and accept a small amount of training. It is not sensible to consider a firm wide roll out without total buy in from all users.

  • While dictation speed, volume, background noise etc are not issues, the user must be able to dictate or compose their thoughts on the fly. In days gone by this skill was taught to most new graduates but nowadays it is not that common. However it’s not a bad skill to have for any lawyer, I think you’d agree, and like all skills it can be learned. If you are not adept at dictation, we recommend daily practice as a way of coming up to speed. Here are some tips on dictation.

  • The technology is quick to adapt to your voice and produce a highly accurate document but it does need training to extract most value. Don’t be tempted to scrimp in this area. Remember you are spending money to make money.

  • If you operate in open plan are you comfortable in speaking aloud in front of your colleagues? Keyboarding a document or email by comparison is totally private by and you are free to make mistakes or correct without anyone knowing. Do remember though that you can dictate quietly.

  • Proof reading your own dictated document can be a challenge for some. They find it far easier to offload this task to a qualified legal secretary.

New features and direction


Deep learning



Nuance who are one of the leaders in the SR field, designed their speech engine to work off of the principal of deep learning, which relates to artificial intelligence. What this means in practical terms is that it is more tolerant of accents, background noise and adapts your profile on the fly.

Virtual environments



Support for Citrix virtual environments and also TS. Fully Win 10 Office 2016/365 compatible.

Reporting



SR is now biting directly into the space occupied by the network dictation solutions employed by many large firms in that for multiple users it is now possible for IT to centrally administer,manage and maintain (modify, repair, upgrade, remove) the SR software licences and track employee usage, redistribute licenses based on employee use and manage or share customisations, including custom words, commands and auto-texts, across multiple SR users.


Look for a SR product that allows usage monitoring. Especially in a larger deployment this allows conclusions to be drawn in terms of how effectively SR is being uses. Great for anyone interested in the ROI of the SR investment and for highlighting training issues ets. 



In Summary


The takeaway from all this is that no longer do users have to worry about:



  • Accuracy (it’s quickly up to 95% plus immediately after installation)

  • Enrolment. Just takes 2 -3 minutes to adapt to your voice

  • Ease of use. Now very intuitive and able to use mousing as well as voice commands.

  • Computing power. Any modern computer will have with an I5 processor and 4GB RAM or better will do a fine job.

  • SR software can be loaded onto as many as four (4) separate devices meaning you can also store your profile in one place and have it synchronised between your office computer and your laptop.

  • With multiple users a firm can measure usage and identify competence and training needs.

  • SR can be trialed, so a leap of faith is not necessary.

For opinion oriented first drafts, general commercial law involving precedent and templates and for dealing with the mass of email traffic, SR is worth considering.

About our Guest Blogger

Mike KellyAfter a business career running steel and paper mills for Fletcher Challenge in the 80/90’s, Mike settled back to NZ in the late 1990’s and has been co-owner of Sound Business Systems (SBS) based in Auckland NZ ever since.  Sound Business Systems is a provider of Phillips, Olympus, Winscribe and Dragon SR technologies.  He spends his day to day working with law firms of all sizes on dictation and speech recognition related solutions.

The firm’s customer base is NZ wide and they deal with everyone from the sole practitioner right through to the largest firms in the country. They have a full team of specialists who install train and provide after sales support.  

Sound Business Systems have been an ALPMA NZ partner since the establishment of ALPMA in New Zealand.






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