A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

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.



How do you financially rate your firm?

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

ICON visual marketing ad


By Andrew Chen, Partner - Business Advisory, Crowe Horwath


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Create a firm scorecard



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

1) Gross Profit Margin % (GP)



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

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

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

2) Profitability % (before interest and tax)



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

3) Return on the funding capital %



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

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

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

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



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

Increasing the value of the firm

 

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

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

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

How does your firm financially rate on these measures?

Editor's Note


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













About our Guest Blogger


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

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

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

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


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.




Personal Reflections on 2016 by ALPMA President, Andrew Barnes

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

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


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

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


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


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

Our research for 2016 is summarised here:


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


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

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

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


Editor's Note

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

About our Guest Blogger

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




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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

By Alistair Marshall, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Overcoming the two big excuses


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What now?


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


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


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

Editor's Note

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

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




About our Guest Blogger

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


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





Business development for our changing times

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

By Ryan Smyth, Business Development Manager, Coffey Group


“Looking forward, 69% of firm partners expect to see negative legal fees pressure, 38% a downturn in investment and 46% disruption from low cost law firms.”  - Macquarie 2015 Legal Benchmarking

Makes grim reading.

However, as the saying goes, "every cloud has a silver lining". In that respect, I look at changing market conditions as a huge opportunity - no matter if you are a bull or a bear. 

Change presents opportunity…period!

So how can we access this opportunity? How can we be ready? What steps should we take? When should we take them?

Hopefully your practice is performing well and there are no clouds on the horizon. 

Even if this is the case, my experience across multiple businesses and geographies is that the following basic steps provide a platform for growth (and the start of a journey), either against a declining market or to significantly outperform a bull market - if you are lucky enough to be playing in one.


Set your vision


“Vision must remain constant.” Sally Carbon - Australian Olympian


What is the collective vision for your firm that will remain constant in the face of any market, no matter how difficult or dynamic? 

Your firm must have a vision. Every staff member should know it and it should resonate with them. Your vision should give staff the confidence that, as a collective, they are working toward something bigger, something better, something more exciting than just profits! 


Investigate and baseline your firm


‘Every battle is won before it is fought.’ – Sun Tzu, Art of War

In order to get where you want to be, you need to first understand where you are and where you’ve been.

Develop a set of baseline metrics and measures to understand exactly where your business is and where it is heading. Develop specifics objectives around your future desired state for 12, 24 and 48 months from now. This forms your starting point from which all progress will be measured.


With respect to business development, baseline your sales effort. Some of the key elements you may wish to understand are:

  • Win rate
  • Cost of sale
  • Client retention
  • Forward order book, weighted, unweighted, actual, book risk
  • Run rate
  • Commission size breakdown
  • Sales governance: Are you doing account planning, territory plans, sale call summaries, do you have a CRM, are you using it? What’s working for you, what’s not?
  • What does your business development team look like? Do you have one? Do you need one?

Strategy and tactics


‘Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.’ – Sun Tzu, Art of War

Strategically, where will you get the revenue you need to meet or exceed your desired state, over the next prescribed period?

spheres of strategy
One of the challenges of a changing market is that by the time we have a considered view,  the market has changed, our revenue has most likely suffered and we are looking at 3-6 months before we can successfully and sustainable acquire new clients. Three to six months of low billables is always going to be tough to swallow. 

You can mitigate this risk by undertaking a robust strategic planning process, including scenario planning at the start of each financial year.

You should also consider also how much time you are spending on strategy. 

A few years ago I met with Gary Stockport, Professor of Strategy at UWA, who challenged me about the amount of time I had allocated to strategic planning for our business.  As a key part of my role, I was reviewing our strategy each quarter, with the inevitable push at the end of Q3 to set up for the next financial year. I did the maths and I was spending less than 40 hours per year setting the direction for the businesses I led. I now spend three hours per week, every week, off site reviewing trends and strategy planning. It is absolutely at the top of my agenda.

Equip your firm with the tools for success


"If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles." – Sun Tzu, Art of War


In the same way you would equip your team with IT, a technical library, a company car etc, you must give your firm the tools, the systems and the processes to undertake effective business development. 

This will not only give your team the ability to go and engage clients effectively but importantly it will give them the confidence to go to market, and when they have confidence, they’ll do it more and they’ll do it better. Some of the tools you may wish to think about include:

  • Account plans
  • Annual sales plans
  • Proposal capture plans
  • Sales call summaries
  • Zipper plans
  • Pursuit capture plans
  • Annual survey quality 

The nature of the tools you adopt should be uniquely bespoke to the clients you have, wish to retain and the clients you wish to acquire.

Execute with the right team


It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffet

It’s all in the deal, period.

At the risk of showing any prejudice at this point, I suggest you take a good look at your sales team or the team currently conducting your business development. 

Are they the right team to deliver on the framework you have set out, do they have the necessary, experience, capability expertise, do they have the necessary time? 

If not, now is the time to make the tough calls. In terms of business development, at the sharp end of the sales cycle what we ultimately do is binary - we either win or we lose - there is no second place. With that in mind, make sure that from the outset your team is up to the task and equipped to sell effectively. 

It takes decades to hone your legal skill, experience capability, intuition etc., and building business development and strategic capability is exactly the same. However, if you adopt perhaps some of the approaches above, your business should be in better shape and better placed to take advantage of the inevitable change that could be just around the corner.


Editor's Note

If you are interested in learning more about this critical topic, then register for ALPMA's upcoming livestream broadcast "Business Development for our Changing Times" presented by Ryan Smyth on Thursday Oct 20. You can attend the live event in Perth, or watch the livestream broadcast online.  Register now.


About our Guest Blogger

Ryan SmythRyan is a leading and highly respected consultant, with over 15 years’ international experience in senior business development roles with professional service firms. He recently held the most senior sales role with an ASX listed firm with revenues in excess of $500m and has closed deals in Australia, the Middle East, Myanmar, China, Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom.

Ryan studied strategy at the Manchester school of Business, is a frequent blogger of business development approaches and tactics, and retains an advisory capacity with a number of tech start-ups.

Ryan is passionate about the ‘right type’ of business development, from tier one giants to start-ups, with a particular interest in supporting firms through a turn around or those in recession markets.”




Legal Innovation for Small Firms and Legal Teams

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

By Therese Linton, Managing Director & Principal Consultant, The BASALT Group 


Why do Law Firms and Legal Teams need to change and innovate?


Law firms and legal teams are facing challenges due to innovations, restructuring and changing client expectations that started after the global financial crisis and have gained momentum. In response, some firms are adopting innovative practices including Lean Six Sigma and Legal Project Management but these have yet to be fully integrated into an overall approach. In my work with lawyers and practice managers, I am regularly asked to explain the difference between Project Management, Portfolio Management and Process Management. These frameworks and tools are used by many organisations to achieve their strategic outcomes, improve profitability and to simply ‘stay in business’. Law firms are at a point where they will need to ‘change or die’ and research has shown that this is incredibly difficult for any human being in any circumstances – as bought to life by Alan Deutschman in his article for Fast Company in January 2005.


How new are these innovative practices really?


So exactly what are these innovative practices and how can law firms and legal teams use them to ensure the long term viability of their practices and maintain relevance to clients? Well they aren’t exactly ‘new’ as successful organisations have been using various methodologies, frameworks and tools for project management, portfolio management and process management to improve their returns and increase client satisfaction since the 1970’s. Indeed the concepts are best when they are tailored to the specific needs and nuances of law firms and legal teams. To this end, I have leveraged my experience in project, portfolio and process management to adapt the traditional frameworks and select the tools and techniques that will work the best in legal practice.


How do we decide which frameworks are best for us?


Put simply, you need to choose the right tool for the job or challenge that is being faced and these simple definitions help to identify the most appropriate practices to adopt and apply.


  • Legal Project Management: focusses on how to utilise legal project management techniques to improve management of individual legal matters. These frameworks and tools are in great demand from clients and senior executives who are familiar with the generic application of these techniques within their own organisations. These work best when there are teams of lawyers and other professionals working together to achieve major project based outcomes.
  • Legal Portfolio Management: focusses on how to apply legal portfolio management techniques to achieve efficient and effective allocation of resources and juggling of priorities across a suite of legal projects and matters. These are required in situations where individual lawyers are allocated to many matters at once and typically work solo on the matters. Benefits are obtained through more effective expectation management and allocation of resources to the highest priority matters.
  • Legal Process Management: focusses on how to standardise and improve the efficiency of legal processes by drawing on techniques from the field of Lean Six Sigma. These concepts are fundamentally different to project management and seek to improve the efficiency and reduce the defects contained within any process. This could be a practice management process such as invoicing or a legal process such as contract preparation. The effective application of process improvement tools and techniques allows firms and legal teams to achieve more with less and to improve client and stakeholder satisfaction.

What benefits can be expected?


There are many direct and indirect benefits that flow from the adoption of the above innovative practices. Here are some specific examples –

  • Legal Project Management (small firm of 20) – shortly after I ran a serious of LPM knowledge workshops and one on one coaching sessions for a small firm specialising in aviation matters, they were inundated by an unexpected increase in the number of matters and transactions. The Managing Partner observed that the solicitors who had adopted the LPM tools and techniques were much less stressed and much noticeably more productive than the solicitors who had not incorporated the new practices.
  • Legal Portfolio Management (mid-tier firm – workers compensation practice) – a workers compensation practice was able to improve resource planning and deliver more effectively against client driven deadlines by implementing an extremely simple Portfolio Resource Planning Tool, combined with forward visibility of major mandated milestones. This highlighted areas of congestion where matters needed to be reassigned in order to maintain client delivery and also provided visibility of areas where legal staff were significantly under utilised. Corrective action was taken to significantly improve overall utilisation and reduce stress due to overloading.
  • Legal Process Improvement – major firms such a Seyfarth Shaw and Dupont Legal have embedded Lean Six Sigma and process improvement techniques which have yielded large efficiency gains and significantly improve client satisfaction. Research in the area of process improvement has found that process efficiency can be improved by a minimum of 30% by addressing the root cause of quality defects and simple process redesign. A good example of this in action is Seyfarth Shaw, a US firm that has created SeyfarthLean,  a proprietry, value driven service model, which combines the core principals of Lean Six Sigma process improvement with creates tangible results, including:

    • More consistent, high-quality legal services
    • Increased efficiency
    • Improved communication and collaboration
    • Right-sized staffing approaches
    • Committed, transparent pricing
    • Reduction in overall cost of services

As you can see there is a lot to be gained from implementing these tools and methodologies to optimise your firm's legal processes, and I would encourage you to get started now! 

Editor's Note

ALPMA Summit
Want to learn more about how to apply these tools to optimise legal processes at your firm?  Therese Linton is leading a half-day Pre-Summit Masterclass Workshop ‘Legal Innovation for Small Firm Teams' on Wednesday 7 September in Melbourne that is designed to introduce you to best practices that can be applied within your small firm or legal team to achieve innovation, improve productivity and increase engagement with clients. You do not have to be attending the 2016 ALPMA Summit to attend to 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 

Therese Linton Therese Linton is Australia’s leading expert in legal project management with both practical and academic credentials spanning over 25 years of project management practice. For the last five years she has been working with groups of lawyers from diverse backgrounds ranging from major commercial firms through to boutique firms and in-house counsel to design learning programs and develop legal project management competencies.

Therese is a renowned and awarded Lecturer and Unit of Study Coordinator for Sydney University’s prestigious Masters of Project Management. She is also a Lecturer for the College of Law’s Masters of In-house Practice and regularly delivers practical workshops for the Law Society of NSW in legal project management.

Therese's qualifications and certifications include a Bachelor of Commerce (IT) Merit, UNSW; Executive Masters Program, Harvard Business School; Advanced Diploma of Project Management; Cert IV Training and Assessment; Six Sigma Black Belt; Certified Practicing Project Director (CPPD) AIPM






Get past the AI hype and into the AI help

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

By Fabian Horton, Director, Connect Law


It’s a real thing; but how much of it is real?

Everyone is talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI) again.  But is it really that big a deal? 

Well… yes.  And the fact is that AI is only going to get bigger and bigger - there is no doubt about that.  How fast that will happen though is anyone’s guess; though I’m thinking that it isn’t going to be like the last time we had an AI bubble. 

A report from Tractica, estimates that the market for Enterprise Artificial Intelligence systems will increase to $11.1 billion by 2024. That’s a lot of AI.

Get past the hype

The hype surrounding buzzwords such as ‘AI’, 'Deep Learning’ and ‘algorithm’ can illicit feelings of excitement or fear depending on how you envisage the future. 

Do you see an AI future utopia or dystopia?  Or, as I saw on one meme, will the AI future be with Ironman or the Terminator? 

For lawyers the question is more about; "will AI replace me?"

If you ask me, I would say that, for now, it’s not likely.  In fact, if history is anything to go by, AI will just make it possible for lawyers to do more work! 

Now I hear you say; "what about the law graduates that do all the work that AI will take over, like discovery?".  

Well, those law graduates will probably go onto train the computers so that the lawyers can do more work.  But whatever the future holds, we need to get past the hype and media hyperbole if we are to make intelligence decisions about our profession’s future.

So what are we talking about anyway?


As the old joke goes, ask five lawyers a question and you will get eight answers.  The same thing goes for asking the question "what is AI?".   Ask five software engineers what AI is and you will probably get an algorithm explaining it. Technically correct but practically useless. You can of course just use the ever faithful Google search or Wikipedia

For me and the work that I do in legal technologies, I like the Deloitte definition:

“AI is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.” 

In essence, AI is a broad field of technologies that can easily take on magical properties for the uninitiated. But when you break it down, you see that AI is just a suite of good science.  These technologies include; machine learning, natural language processing, speech recognition, and computer vision. And all of these technologies allow machines to do some pretty amazing stuff.

What are the real life applications?


With so much going on in the field of AI, both theoretically and practically, it is easy to get distracted. Here are a few examples of how AI is working with lawyers:

The here and now:

  • Virtual assistants: This is the tech you find in Apple’s Siri and Google Now. You should be using it now as this technology can help you run your practice. 

  • Technology Assisted Review (TAR): This is the technology used in e-discovery. Once the domain of big-litigation only, the price of e-discover is getting such that even smaller cases can take advantage of it.

  • Expert systems: Not really AI but a close cousin. These are rule based systems that assist in making legal decisions in both rudimentary and complex legal areas. There are a number of commercial providers out there already doing some great work.

What’s around the corner:

  • Advanced document analytics: AI is making headway into the realm of document review and analysis. The technology uses statistical and machine learning techniques, and natural language processing to help lawyers with large review tasks; particularly useful in large contract matters. The commercial companies that are producing this technology will be pricing their services competitively so practices should be alive to the potential cost savings.

Where to from here?

Ok, so you don’t have the big dollars to invest in the latest version of ROSS and you may not have the people power to set-up and run your own AI testing lab. So what can you do? 

Here are my suggestions of a few things that all firms (big or small) can do to take advantage of and prepare for the future:

1. Start thinking like a machine

That means get your firm's processes in order. Have operation procedure manuals for everything.  These will form the basis of running a machine assisted practice.  Get an expert in to help your lawyers understand the processes that they use every day. You will be surprised at how many assumptions and leaps of logic lawyers make.  And the more experienced the lawyer, the more they make. That’s why it’s called experience.


2. Understand your legal domains

Artificial Intelligence works best in a specific domain. Get your practice areas tight by ensuring that you have dedicated people who understand the intricacies of what they do. The days of the generalist are long gone.


3. Start thinking creatively

AI and other technologies are going to help lawyers in ways that we haven’t even thought of yet. So get your thinking caps on. You don’t have to be a computer programmer to come up with a great idea for a legal technology. You know the law. Now start solving problems. The technology is here to help.


It is no longer an option to practice law like we have before. Every industry is entering a new phase. To make it in the new legal world, technology must be part of your plan. So get past the hype, put your practice in order, check out the technologies, and start creating!  If you have a problem with any of these issues, then get some help. There are legal technologists everywhere just dying to talk to new people about their passion!

Editor's Note

ALPMA Summit

Interested in hearing more about the latest in legal technology? Fabian Horton is a speaker at the 2016 ALPMA Summit 'A Blueprint for Change', which will be held at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne from 7 - 9 September.  His presentation,  "Algorithms, AI and Apps, The Rise of the Robot Lawyer", will explain how technology can not only enhance your service offerings, but transform the way you interact with your clients and the law.




About our Guest Blogger

Fabian Horton
Fabian Horton is a lecturer at the College of Law, Melbourne, and a solicitor with extensive experience in legal technologies, online legal applications and social media. He operates his own private virtual firm and is currently undertaking his PhD researching how technology affects the law. 

Fabian is the foundation chairperson of the Technology and the Law Committee of the Law Institute of Victoria.








Dodgy dealings are big business

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

By Moses Samaha, General Manager, Commercial & Property Solutions, Veda


Suspicious business practices have been a hot topic in the media recently. The infamous Panama Papers – a leak of more than 11.5 million files from offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca – recently revealed how businesses and individuals can hide their dealings, avoid tax and even get around their obligations under legislation such as the Anti-Money Laundering / Counter Terrorism Financing (AML/CTF) Act.

In the case of the Panama Papers, Mossack Fonseca dealt with intermediaries for companies and organisations, which helped obscure the real owners of the money and assets being administered by Mossack Fonseca. While many of the accounts detailed in the Panama Papers are legitimate and legal, keeping ultimate beneficial owners obscured helps individuals and organisations indulging in illegal behaviour to go unnoticed.

Because of this, all the companies named in the Panama Papers leak – even those that have done nothing wrong – are now facing a hit to their reputations. The same is true for many of the businesses these companies are linked to, which are dealing with reputational damage by association.

On a local level, this event is a timely reminder for businesses of the importance of maintaining ongoing customer due diligence and understanding the beneficial ownership structure of any company they have a relationship with.

Who are you really dealing with?


Clearly, knowing who you are doing business with, managing the risk of fraud and ensuring you are meeting all AML/CTF obligations is of paramount importance. Ongoing customer due diligence is a necessity for businesses wanting to keep themselves safe – but, unfortunately, it’s one that some companies’ risk and compliance teams neglect.

The importance of regular checks can be lost as businesses focus on onboarding new customers faster, improving the customer experience and managing internal workloads.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that AML/CTF legislation is not strictly prescriptive on how frequently to undertake ongoing due diligence. The lack of guidelines on when to perform checks may contribute to the practice falling by the wayside.

What’s the worst that could happen?


For businesses that allow their ongoing due diligence to slip, the threat is two-fold.

Without a thorough understanding of a company’s structure and the individuals involved in the business, bad behaviour can go unnoticed until a scandal, like the Panama Papers, makes it public. By that time, it’s too late – businesses involved with companies named and shamed for dubious practices will inevitably come off looking worse for wear.

On an even more serious note, allowing ongoing customer due diligence to lapse creates loopholes for companies and individuals with criminal intent to slip through, hiding among institutions that are taking part in legitimate offshore activity.

The key to saving your business from reputational risk


It’s tricky to know if a business you’re working with is putting you at risk until after an incident occurs. But there are things you can do to protect yourself from getting involved with high-risk entities.

Thorough customer due diligence is the best thing you can do to ensure you’re not fooled by untrustworthy businesses. Upfront checks are a vital step in ensuring customers and business owners are and do what they seem.

But don’t think you can ‘set and forget’. Due diligence shouldn’t be a one-time exercise. Make sure you have regular ongoing customer due diligence processes in place to keep your information up to date.

Editor's Note

Want to learn more about how to protect your firm from reputational damage? Moses will be presenting "Tips to Avoid being the next 'Panama Papers' Event” at 5.45 pm on Wednesday 7 September, at the opening of the 2016 ALPMA Summit Trade Exhibition at Etihad Stadium , Melbourne. You can also attend other complimentary Partner Connection sessions to hear the compelling insights from our Principal & Gold Summit Partners. This is a great opportunity to also meet more than 50 market-leading legal industry vendors, conveniently gathered under one roof at the largest legal management trade show in the Southern Hemisphere. The public opening commences at 3.00pm – and you do not have to be registered to attend Summit to come along. If you would like to attend the public opening get a free pass.

About our Guest Blogger



Moses SamahaMoses Samaha has almost 20 years’ industry experience working across consumer and business market segments holding executive positions in product development/marketing, strategy and sales.
Moses has worked closely with the commercial credit industry for the past five years as head of Commercial Risk. During this time he revamped many of Veda’s services that are used today by customers and extended Veda’s capabilities into supplier risk with the successful acquisitions of Kingsway and Corporate Scorecard. More recently Moses took on the role to head the Commercial and Property Solutions business at Veda. This division is responsible for managing Veda’s cross company property storage and the relationship with key government relationships such as ASIC and AFSA.
Prior to joining Veda, Moses was part of the Executive Management Team heading up a number of functions in Telstra’s Innovation, Product and Marketing group.








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