A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Creativity is the key to adapting and innovating in the changing legal landscape

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

By John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack

There’s no denying the increase in the push for technology adoption in the workplace (and outside of it) since the turn of the century. Almost two decades in and this push has evolved into a necessity, leaving late adopters at risk of falling behind. According to not-for-profit organisation P21, the key skills of the 21st-century are communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity – the 4 C’s. In anticipation of this year’s ALPMA summit, ‘Sailing the 4 C’s’, ALPMA and InfoTrack surveyed over 100 firms in Australia and New Zealand to gain insight into how well Australasian law firms were embracing the key 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

According to the research results, lawyers and law firm leaders are better at critical thinking than they are communicating and collaborating, while most are ineffective when it came to finding creative solutions. These results are not surprising, but they indicate that the legal industry as a whole still needs to modernise its mindset.

Creativity is not ‘arts and crafts’; it’s the starting point for innovation and the key to not just surviving but thriving in the new legal landscape. You should be thinking creatively when it comes to the other C’s as well – how can you differentiate yourself when it comes to communication, collaboration and critical thinking? What new things can you bring to your firm as a business to provide a better service to your clients?

The survey results indicate firms are all at different stages of the journey and looking for ways to improve these skills. As an innovative technology company, we live and breathe the 4 C’s and understand how each component impacts your success. Bearing this in mind, I’d like to share with you some tips on how you can further embrace the 4 C’s in your legal practice.

Communication

How do you open communication while maintaining focus and minimising noise?

  • Create an inclusive culture where staff feel safe sharing ideas. When you make an effort to understand your staff, their working style and what motivates them, you create an environment for open communication. At InfoTrack we’ve conducted employee profiling workshops which have helped our employees not only better understand their own working style, but how they can enhance communication with their colleagues.
  • Create clear outlines for afterhours communications to minimise noise. Ensure your employees know when and why to use certain channels. I’ve worked with many firms who have policies around what certain communications mean at certain times. For example, if you send an email afterhours, know that it won’t be read until the next day. If you text afterhours, know that you’re interrupting someone. If you call afterhours, know it will be treated as an emergency. Set these boundaries to avoid entering a never-ending loop that can cause burnout.
  • Set aside specific time for staff to talk to partners. This is a common strategy I’ve come across that is a great way to encourage more efficient and effective communications. I’ve known some principals who set aside specific hours each week to open the floor to questions from anyone, either via conference call, open door policy or simply being available on their phone during their commute to or from work.

Collaboration

As we become more digitally dispersed around the world, the need for effective collaboration increases. Clients are used to doing almost everything online and that includes legal services now. The younger generation of employees at your firm expects collaborative software and online tools.

How do you maximise collaboration in the digital age?

  • Use platforms that enable you to provide your clients with transparent and mobile service. Many firms are beginning to use portals which enable clients to view all documents and searches related to their matter online.
  • Move processes online to allow for document sharing and better integration across your firm. A lot of firms are beginning to implement Office 365 and other platforms that enable online collaboration across teams.

Critical Thinking

As lawyers, you are pros at critical thinking when it comes to legal projects, but you often forget to use that same critical eye when it comes to business decisions.

How can you implement critical thinking from a business perspective?

  • View technology as an enabler and figure out how you can make it work for you. I’ve been travelling across Australia to educate the market on e-Conveyancing and it’s a classic example of scalable technology that firms of any size can adopt. There’s a way for every single firm to make it work for them, it’s just about giving it a try and working with suppliers to find the solutions that fits your firm.
  • Approach new opportunities with solutions not problems. I’ve been in a number of boardrooms with major law firms while they’re deciding if they should invest in new technology. Firms generally fall in one of two camps; they come to the table with 100 reasons why not to implement it, or they come in determined to find a way to take advantage of a new tool and differentiate their business.

Creativity

Of the four key 21st century skills, creativity was the least strongly-valued skill. Effectively adopting creativity in your law firm gives you a competitive advantage in the overcrowded sea of competitors.

How can you foster creativity in your firm?

  • Turn everyone into a thought leader, don’t just rely on partners to lead the way. Empower your employees to suggest process changes, to research new tools, to get their voices out there and to always be looking for ways to improve the business.
  • Differentiate your firm and develop new ways to drive more business. I’ve seen firms who’ve implemented iPads at reception that can show clients their matter and a list of all related documents. Others have created bespoke client portals and others are digitising processes to provide a more modern experience for their clients. When you can provide clients with a quality, modern, streamlined experience, they’ll recommend you to their friends.

In an industry that’s constantly being disrupted, the 4C’s are pivotal to your success because they underpin innovation and allow you to be adapt to the changing market. The survey revealed that many firms are focusing all their efforts internally and failing to rely on partners and suppliers in this journey; remember that you’re not it in alone. Lean on your suppliers and demand more from them. Invest in vendors who are investing in their technology and providing you with new solutions that are innovative, flexible and make your life easier. The right vendors will help you develop the 4C’s.

When you’re looking at new suppliers, thinking about new projects or implementing new processes, make sure you ask yourself:

Is this going to help me differentiate my business?

Is this going to enhance the way I interact with my clients?

Is this going to enable me to innovate?

Is this going to help me problem-solve more effectively?

Editor's Note

research front coverThe ALPMA/InfoTrack 21st Century Thinking at Australasian Law Firms research measures how well Australasian law firms are embracing the key 21st century learning skills of creativity, critical-thinking, communication and collaboration, as defined by the influential P21 organisation. You can download your copy of the results here


About our Guest Blogger

John AhernJohn Ahern is CEO of InfoTrack, proud principal partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit.

John joined InfoTrack in 2015 as the Chief Technology Officer taking charge for establishing the company’s technical vision and leading on all aspects of InfoTrack’s technology development. John was appointed to the role of Chief Executive Officer in May of 2015 where he is now responsible for maintaining the extensive growth of InfoTrack in the Australian market.

John has over 20 years' experience in the Information Sector, having worked in a number of engineering, sales and executive positions. With a strong technical background, he has vast experience in designing and developing products and has delivered platforms from inception to production.

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

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

The future is connectivity

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

Connectivity and technology

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

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

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

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

Connectivity and legal practice management

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


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

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


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

Lawyers cannot not embrace technology

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

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


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

Tips for choosing legal software

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

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

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

Editor's Note 


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

About our Guest Blogger

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

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

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

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






Effective communication, the key differentiator in a competitive marketplace

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

By Rebecca Nunan, Marketing Communications Specialist, LEAP Legal Software


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

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

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

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

Technology


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

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

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

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

Process-driven communication


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

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

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

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

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

Communication and technology in harmony


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

Effective communication and competitive edge in one practice management platform


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

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


Editor's Note

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

About our Guest Blogger


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

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






The importance of being curious!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor's Note

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

About our Guest Blogger


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



Innovate – learning to fail fast is the key to leveraging disruption in the legal profession

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

By Neil Shewan, Managing Director, Adelphi Digital


As a lawyer, you must get things right – the first time. Fail, and your career can be on the line. De-programming this thinking is critical for modern legal firms to navigate the disruption that is happening in service delivery. Legal firms are being challenged by changing business models, expectations of the millennial legal workforce, changing client service buying habits, and new technologies like block-chain and machine learning.

Innovation is about failing again and again (quickly) until you find a way to make it work. At most legal firms’ failure doesn’t go down very well. Failure is met with poor performance reviews, frowns, grumbles, and sometimes even job loss. Yet this is what we know from many scientific studies that have looked at how to create a culture for innovation: Encouraging risk taking (and therefore being comfortable with failure) is one of the top five most important cultural factors that needs to be present if you want to be a highly innovative organisation.

When I ran a workshop recently with a successful Melbourne legal firm it was critical to remove the fear of failure before their innovation team could hope to start experimenting with change, and learning from the outcomes.

At the workshop I was asked by one of the senior managers how “accountability” fits with the need to take risks. I am not a huge fan of the word accountability as it has negative connotations. I prefer the word “responsibility” - much more empowering. And from an innovation perspective, it is far more responsible to fail quickly and cheaply than to waste hundreds and thousands of dollars and months writing business cases that stack up on paper (have you ever seen one that doesn't?) but go on to produce a mammoth failure.

So, how do you put in place the foundations for innovation?

1. Accept that failure is mandatory if you want to be serious about innovation. No successful innovation in this world got there without having a bunch of failures along the road to success. I suggest you start with the Lean Start-up Methodology. The method is to create quick and low cost prototypes of your ideas that you can quickly learn from. If they fail, you adjust course and roll the learnings into the next iteration of the idea.

2. Get client/user input early. Once you have a prototype for an idea, bring in your clients and talk them through it. Get feedback on what works and what can be improved. Learn from it. Don’t feel like you need a fully featured “thing” at the outset. The first version of your next service/product/process should be just enough to get the idea across (we call it a “Minimal Viable Product” – MVP). The MVP should be low cost to produce, so that you can start over if you need to change direction.

3. Be ready to clear the way for your innovation team. The innovation team in your practice is likely to face a lot of roadblocks from the broader organisation. There will be resistance to change, people feeling threatened about their jobs and those happy to give you 99 reasons why it will fail or to tell you “we have done that before and it didn’t work”. Often businesses create a “skunk-works” where their team has space to experiment and learn, sheltered from legacy thinking within the business.

Editor's Note


Want to know more about how to develop a culture of innovation in your legal practice? Neil is presenting a Pre-Summit Workshop, "Building an Innovation Framework in Law Firms" on Wednesday 13 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. This highly interactive workshop will help you explore and develop the skills you need to lead innovation in your practice. You do not have to be attending ALPMA Summit 2017 to attend this workshop. The workshop costs $395 for ALPMA members or $495 for eligible non-members. Places for these workshops are strictly limited so register now!  We would also like to welcome our Pre ALPMA Summit Workshop Partner GlobalX.


About our Guest Blogger


Neil ShewanNeil Shewan is the Managing Director of Adelphi Digital’s Melbourne office. Adelphi has won over 80 industry awards in the area of digital business consultancy. Neil is head of user experience globally, working with a broad range of clients to innovate their business. Neil’s twenty years of background in customer and user experience, along with service design thinking – allows him to bring design, technology and business strategy together to create future ready businesses. Current and past clients include Sladen Legal, Victorian Government (Including the Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation), BHP Billiton, General Motors Holden and the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Neil works closely with businesses to identify and implement innovations that will not only help them survive the change around them – but more importantly provide true competitive advantage so they can thrive.




Cyber Security Awareness

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

By Ray Zwiefelhofer, President, Worldox 


You do not have to look far to read or hear of a major cybersecurity breach. It is becoming part of the constant information stream we receive. Because of this, it’s easy to desensitise and see this as IT’s problem. However, we all have a hand in preventing cyber security breaches and we all need to understand what we can do to help in this effort.

In late 2015 my colleagues and I were amused with the news that the US government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was hacked, and that the hackers stole records for 22 million people. We discussed this casually without too much thought and concern – just another hack. A few days later I received a call from my son, who had recently graduated college and started a job. His mother and I had been references for his background check for the job and he was calling to let us know that all of our information was compromised in this latest OPM hack! Instantly my casual observation of “another hack” became really personal, really quickly.

Like my personal experience, your firm is probably feeling more pressure as increasingly major law firms are being hacked. The FBI calls law firms ‘soft targets’ – easier to gain access to than large corporations - and they often store their clients’ valuable information.

Who is the hacker?


When we think of a hacker, we assume we are dealing with a bad guy somewhere who is intent on gaining access to our valuable information. While this is correct, it gets a bit more confusing when we talk about the accomplices in this breach. A hacker can only get into your secure network through some type of vulnerability. Contrary to popular belief, internal staff members assist in most hacks. This, of course, is mostly unintentional. 

Rather than expending countless resources on mass attacks against your network which, through proper IT practices, can be mitigated, hackers send innocuous-looking emails to your employees which are often harbouring links that install nefarious software on your network. If your organisation has poor password policies, the hacker gains entrance to your sensitive data with little fanfare, and probably will not be noticed by expensive back end monitoring software, until it’s too late.

All of us from the administrator to the end user, partner, and IT need to be actively involved in protecting the firm’s intellectual property. A user’s password written down on a sticky note taped to their monitor bypasses even the best security.

Convenience vs. Security


Even the best security products on the market can be rendered worthless if they are so complicated to use that users circumvent it – the concept of “Shadow IT.” Security measures must mitigate risk but yet also be straight-forward enough to understand that people can seamlessly include them in their workflow.


A password policy is a good example of this principle.  In the past, guidelines set by US governing bodies such as National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), have specified how a firm should handle passwords. It was important to follow these guidelines, as the firm’s clients often inquire how the firm handles certain policies. Clients want to have a comfort level with the firms they do business with and ensure their security practices are sufficient. 

Passwords guidelines found acceptable involved password length, complexity, and frequency changes. We all know from personal experience the hassle associated coming up with yet another password that has special characters, has not been used before, of a certain length - that has to then be changed every couple of months. This issue is near to my heart, as we have many of these rules in house because of the nature of our business. 

Very recently our IT manager explained to me that we need to shorten the timeframe of required password changes for all employees. I  nearly lost my mind as we currently change every six months with all of the complexity requirements recommended!  My answer to him was that, if we adopted this approach, many of our day to day staff would not be able to memorise their passwords and would be forced into bad practices such as writing them down, etc. 

I challenged him to find an easier way to protect us that would be just as secure. I remembered our cloud support team utilised dual factor authentication along with their passwords to provide an added layer of security for that department.  I suggested we do the same for everyone in our office including the day to day office workers. After a little research, we found a solution that was only a few dollars a month per employee and sent a code to their cell phone. This is really a better practice than complex passwords alone as, not only does a hacker need your employee’s password, but they would also need their phone and password for that. 

In summary, we minimised the need for constant and overly complex password changes with two factor authentication.

The above password issue just seems like common sense, doesn’t it? 

If you force complex frequent password changes, staff will write down their passwords somewhere and cleaning crew or others can easily access them. Although common sense says this is bad, we look at standard groups such as NIST and blindly follow along. A few months after the password interaction with my IT manager, a new guideline was published from NIST that shocked the industry:

“New NIST guidelines banish periodic password changes”


Yes you read that correct, NIST now recommends that we no longer force periodic password changes and we no longer should force complexity requirements. In the appendix in the same section of the document, the strength of “memorised secrets” is explored in a concise and accurate manner. You can read the full guidelines here

While I don’t feel better about being vindicated to my IT Manager by a national standards body, it reemphasises that we live in an ever-changing environment where you need to use practical common sense when implementing security policies and procedures.


Editor's Note

2017 ALPMA SummitRay Zwiefelhofer will be speaking about the "Data Security in the Legal Industry" at 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

Ray ZweifelhoferRay Zwiefelhofer has over twenty five years’ product solution experience within the legal technology market with expertise in AMLAW 250 and Fortune 500. He was a President, CEO and CIO at several software solutions startups and the CTO at a Fortune 500 company. Those companies include Bowne, Imagineer, Equitrac and Diebold. Prior to joining World Software, Ray was the Founder and CEO for nQueue, a global cost recovery company.
Founded in 1988, World Software Corporation® is an innovative leader in the Email and Document Management Systems (DMS) category. The company's flagship product Worldox® has an install base of over 6000 companies in 52 countries.


Legal Industry Innovation under the Microscope

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

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By Marc Totaro, National Manager Professional Services, Business and Private Banking, Commonwealth Bank of Australia

For some, the word innovation has become synonymous with some of the most cutting-edge changes within the legal industry, and a disruptive force in legal circles. For others, the prolific references to innovation have firmed its place as another corporate buzzword.

In today’s rapidly changing legal services market, we think that innovation is an important part of adapting to ongoing change. But to understand its place within business, we first sought to offer a definition that would unearth the common traits of successful innovation in the legal sector and quantify its value to individual firms.

So what does innovation mean for your business, how innovative is the professional services sector, and how can you put it into practice within your organisation?

In our latest research into the state of innovation within the industry, CommBank spoke to firms in the legal sector to understand the state of innovation and how well legal firms were performing.

To first define innovation, we looked to the Oslo Manual – an international set of guidelines used by the OECD and local government bodies such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics to collect and interpret innovation data.

Therein, innovation is defined “as a new or significant improvement in one of the following four key areas – organisation, product, process and marketing”.

This definition is important when compared to what innovation means to professional services businesses, with almost half telling us they equate innovation with improvement or new processes, ideas or products.

While this indicates that many firms have a high level understanding of the tenants of innovation, we also found that many are yet to enter the realm of genuine innovation when assessed against the international standard.

Innovation ‘Active’

Our research shows healthy levels of innovation amongst professional services firms, with 44% of businesses in the sector qualifying as ‘innovation active.’ This proportion was in line with the national average for businesses across all industries. The top performing industry was manufacturing, with 61% qualifying as ‘innovation active’.

While 44% of professional services firms were genuinely innovative, a further 33% of firms claimed to be innovating but were found to be simply putting in place improvements – a strong foundation to move into the realm of innovation, but nevertheless falling short.

The remaining 23% of firms were either not innovating or had abandoned their innovation plans.

When looking more closely at the four key areas of innovation - organisation, product, process and marketing – we found that firms were more likely to have implemented organisation-based innovation, and less likely to be innovating within their marketing activities.

Business size also appears to factor into firm’s innovation activities with small and medium sized businesses with turnover up to $20 million more likely to innovate than those with greater annual earnings.

3 Key Characteristics of Successful Innovators

Our investigation of the attitudes, behaviours and characteristics of successful innovators shows that there are three breakthrough factors that typically distinguish innovation active businesses from their peers that are only improving:

1. Encouraging employees to ask questions that challenge the conventional approach

2. Adapting products and services to make the most of opportunities, and

3. Running experiments and piloting new ideas to test new ways of doing things

These three factors work to kickstart innovation and generate the initial successes that drive businesses to pursue the benefits that moving up the innovation curve can provide.

One of the largest behavioural gaps between businesses who are innovating and those simply making improvements is their drive to adapt their products and services for a changing market. They also seek to build a culture of innovation and encouraging them to ask challenging questions.

Editor’s Note:

Though Leadership Award NominationIf your firm has successfully implemented an innovative new initiative or is doing something different in response to the changing legal landscape, then enter this project in the 2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards. Nominations are open until 21 July, and winners will be announced at the 2017 ALPMA Summit gala dinner on Thursday 14 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. 



About our Guest Blogger

Marc TotaroMarc Totaro is the National Manager Professional Services, Business and Private Banking Commonwealth Bank of Australia 
Marc has over 25 years of experience in professional and financial services in Australia and the UK. He has overall responsibility for Commonwealth Bank’s professional services industry strategy and client experience. Marc has extensive relationship management experience across a broad range of industries.

If you would like to discuss the latest trends impacting the legal industry and your business, feel free to contact me on 0477 739 315 or email marc.totaro@cba.com.au, alternatively you can read our Legal Market Pulse for the latest developments in the legal industry.

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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.


Blockchain & Smart Contracts…Why is it important, and what can I do with it?

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

By Ashley Kelso, Senior Associate, AustraLaw


There are a number of technologies at the moment that are on the verge of bringing a wave of innovations to many industries. These include:

  • Machine learning
  • Internet of things
  • Blockchain and distributed ledger
  • Smart Contracts
  • IPFS (decentralised storage of data)

We in the legal industry must at least gain a working knowledge of these technologies if we are to leverage them, give effective advice to our clients, and address the risks that they entail.

Most of the above technologies are fairly self-explanatory:

  • Machine learning allows us to train a computer by trial and error to perform repetitive analytical tasks (this holds major potential to allow smaller firms to punch above their weight)
  • The internet of things is about feeding data from sensors to an internet-connected server and then performing some action or analysis on it (the weather app on your iPhone is an example)
  • Decentralised storage is basically a cross between bit torrent (peer-to-peer file sharing) and dropbox (cloud-based storage). i.e. files are sourced from ‘the cloud’ by reference to their content rather than their location on a server. So if an identical copy of the file you are after is located on a computer nearby, your computer doesn’t have to pull that same content all the way from a server in the US.

However, smart contracts and blockchain technology require a little more explaining. As smart contracts are built on blockchain (e.g. Ethereum) and distributed ledger (E.g. Corda) technology, it best to start with an explanation of blockchain.

Blockchain – how does it work?


As an engineer I always found it more effective, when dealing with complex ideas, to communicate them visually through diagrams and drawings. Blockchain technology is a complex idea. This video provides an excellent visual explanation of what a blockchain is and what it is useful for.


Blockchain as a register of transactions


As the video demonstrates, blockchain provides the benefits of:

  • A trusted common register of information that is highly resistant to forgery
  • Decentralised recording of transactional data (good for data preservation, but also a privacy issue)

The importance of reliable common registers to record the exchange of property rights between parties will be well familiar to those involved in conveyancing and sale of business work.

Smart contracts


The first blockchain technology was Bitcoin. This simply tracked the creation and exchange of bitcoins between users. However, it is the next generation of blockchain technology called Ethereum that has really got people interested. This is because Ethereum allows users to customise the kinds of transactions that are performed, recorded, and tracked on the Ethereum blockchain.

Users can do this by writing smart contracts and loading them onto the Ethereum blockchain. In simplistic terms, a smart contract defines the items of value that parties to the contract will be exchanging, and the rules by which they will be exchanged. (i.e. Define the things whose state will be tracked, and how their state will change based on the information that the contract receives).

What do smart contracts look like?


To avoid talking too much in the abstract, here is an example of a smart contract from the Ethereum website.  It is written in a programming language called Solidity.
In basic terms, the ‘functions’ become actions that users can perform on the contract – for example, to tell the contract to process a transaction between two parties, or to check the balance of an account. Ethereum provides an application called the Ethereum Wallet that allows you to load your contracts on to the Ethereum blockchain and provides a user interface to interact with your contracts.

Risks and benefits of smart contracts


Smart contracts are the reason that people are talking about blockchain. Benefits include:

  • Automatic execution of the contractual effect of events (i.e. reducing the legwork of contract administration)
  • Automatically generates a record of all transactions that is highly resistant to forgery
  • Ability to create entire trading environments and schemes to exchange customised items of value (e.g. could be used to implement a private carbon credit scheme)

Negatives of smart contracts on Ethereum include:

  • Privacy of contract data
  • Difficult to prevent a party from exploiting a bug in the contract code
  • Charges Ether to process transactions (Ether is the currency of Ethereum)

There is a rapidly growing developer community around this technology; AustraLaw has already had an enquiry about drafting a smart contract; and a quick glance at the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance site demonstrates keen interest from major corporates (including Thomson Reuters). Exciting and uncertain times lay ahead.

More information


Corporates experimenting with blockchain technology

  • The Commonwealth Bank participated in a successful demonstration of the use of smart contract-IoT system which allowed payment to be trigged once a shipment of cotton reached a geographical location.
  • The Queensland Treasury Corporation and the Commonwealth Bank have demonstrated the ability to use smart contracts for the auction and issuance of bonds. 

About our Guest Blogger

Ashley KelsoAshley Kelso is a senior associate at AustraLaw. He holds degrees in mechatronics engineering and law. Prior to becoming a lawyer he worked in project management and systems engineering roles in the Department of Defence. This background allows him to communicate effectively across multiple disciplines and industries to assist clients more efficiently with their ADR and contract needs.

Ashley has a keen interest in applying the tools and methodologies of engineering to optimise the quality and efficiency of legal services.






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