A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Should I stay or should I go?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

By Michelle McColl and Maura McConnell, Co-Proprietors, In2view Recruitment


There are promising signs that the employment market is picking up in the legal sector.

According to the results of the latest ALPMA Australian Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey, an increasing number of Australian and New Zealand law firms plan to hire new staff in the next twelve months.  In Australia, this number has jumped by 20% - with 51% of firms indicating they plan to recruit new staff in the next 12 months, compared to 31% last year.


For the first time since the survey commenced, the number one HR issue identified by Australian firms was employee retention and talent management, closely followed by 'finding good staff'.


A more buoyant employment market obviously presents both an opportunity for those who are considering changing jobs and a threat to employers.

Counter Offers


As recruiters, we are seeing an increase in the number of counter offers offered to employees who have been offered a job elsewhere to encourage the staff member to stay.  Counter offers can be presented in a number of ways, such as a salary increase, promotion, opportunity to earn a bonus or other incentives/benefits.

 

Managing Counter Offers

 
If you find yourself in this position, there a number of things to consider:


Counter offers add a layer of complication to the recruitment process, and leave you wondering whether maybe you owe something to your current employer, and that maybe things will improve if you stay.


Consider why?


The first thing you should do is consider why the offer has been made by your employee.


Typically, counter offers are made because:


  • replacing you will be an expensive and time consuming exercise;

  • your employer will lose all your knowledge, experience and expertise;

  • your employer requires you to complete the project on which you are currently working;

  • your employer does not have the time and resources to re-train a replacement;

  • losing staff may reflect badly on your manager/employer.

Consider what next?


You need to consider that now your employee knows you have been considering leaving, relationships may be strained moving forward.  Following your resignation, your loyalty and commitment to the business will be in question, and you may be treated differently. 


Your employer may begin seeking a replacement, regardless of whether you stay or leave.


Also consider why you are being offered this new package now, rather than prior to your resignation?


It is also important to reflect on why you felt motivated to move in the first place.  In what ways is your new employer an improvement on your current employer?  Why do you want to work for them?  What opportunities does the new position offer that cannot be matched by your current employer?


Finally, research reveals that most people who accept a counter offer are likely to leave their job within six to 12 months in any case. 


Are you just deferring the inevitable if you accept the counter offer?


In the end, the decision will come down to what is best for you and your career moving forward.  Good luck!


Editor's Note

ALPMA 2017 Salary & HR Issues surveyIf you would like to learn more about the 2017 legal employment market, salaries offered for legal, management and administrative roles at Australian and NZ law firms, bonuses and benefits paid and the biggest HR challenges facing law firms, then purchase the 2017 ALPMA Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey Report.  This survey is available for $550 (incl GST) for ALPMA members or $2,200 (incl GST) for non-members.  If your firm participated in this research, you have received a complimentary copy of the report.





About our Guest Bloggers


In2view
Michelle McColl and Maura McConnell are the co-proprietors of In2view Recruitment, which opened its doors in 2008.  Between them, they have in excess of 40 years’ experience in the recruitment industry, gained across many industry sectors.  In2view are ALPMA SA Corporate Partners and the SA State Partner for the 2017 ALPMA Australian Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey.







Developing an effective remuneration strategy for your law firm - a mixed bag of lollies!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

By Emily Mortimer, ALPMA Board Member


Rewind back to when local shops sold mixed bag of lollies – remember the excitement of not knowing what you were going to get for your hard earned dollar? Will you get what you want – or will your friend get all the good ones? Well fast forward to the 2017 remuneration landscape and this is shaping up to be that exact same feeling.

Let’s look at why this is occurring. There has been limited movement in the market when it comes to legal remuneration recently. According to the results of the 2016 ALPMA salary survey, wage growth for the previous 12 months was 2.8%, down from 4.6% the previous year. This sluggish wage growth is consistent with the Australian economic climate and the changing legal landscape in which we work, so a sound and sensible approach to remuneration was appropriate. But are we ready to move on?

The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008 still looms as a hangover, we have lost a booming resources industry to a scaled back model, ‘new law’ is challenging the traditional law firm model and overheads and the costs of doing business are being very tightly managed by law firms. These are all realities to consider when preparing the remuneration strategy for your firm. However, whilst it is important to know what is happening in the market we all operate in, the real driving force in change in the 2017 remuneration strategy must be securing the talent your firm needs to operate effectively and profitably.

Again, take a trip back to 2011 (ish) – the year the industry battened down the hatches – some reduced graduate intakes, some scrapped clerk programs and there were a large number of firms who froze salaries altogether. Now return back to 2017 and the job boards are filled with lucrative offers for certain classifications of lawyers at 4-6yrs post-qualification experience some with some fairly hefty lures of high remuneration not seen since well before the GFC. 

How do you deal with sections of your firm which are underperforming due to tough market conditions but where you need to retain key talent? Think your standard 2%-4% pay increase is still going to cut it? The legal landscape continues to change but we need to respect this is the norm and standard remuneration models cannot continue as they always have and data driven decisions have become key when preparing for remuneration forecasting. 

The salary surveys, and particularly this year’s ALPMA Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey, provide a solid foundation to building your remuneration strategy - but what can you do between now and when the results are released?

1. Budget Forecasting


As the person who will drive the remuneration process, have early discussions with those in your firm who are responsible for the budget forecasting. Where is your firm revenue forecast for 2017/2018? What overheads need to be managed? What are charge-out rates going to be set at?

2. Do your homework


What are your firm’s current salary ranges? Are your salary bandings sitting in the low, mid or high percentile based on last year’s survey results? How does this align with your firm’s market positioning? Where can your firm afford to sit with its 2017/2018 remuneration strategy? Spend some time on job boards and talk to specialist legal recruitment agencies to see what talent is sought after in the market.

3. Risk Manage


Remuneration strategy has a strong element of risk management. You want to ensure your best talent is rewarded for their contribution - you don’t want your best talent looking on those filling job boards - but do you know your risk ratio by mismanaging your remuneration strategy? What about those who have the potential to be top talent…those in the middle? How do you stop them from going elsewhere for being overlooked for not being there quite yet?

4. Get the low down


Employees will tell you what they expect. Some will have done their homework (or some will have had recruiters tell them what they are worth!) and present solid business cases for their remuneration expectations to be met. Others will pick the top of the band and hope for the best. Whilst others may just sit back and hope for the best. So you need to ensure that your development discussions hold the opportunity to find out what employees expectations are. Some firms have a hush-hush policy on remuneration being discussed in a development review – don’t make life hard for yourself. Arm yourself with as much anecdotal and empirical data as you can, and you will find yourself having less discussions post distribution of remuneration outcomes.

5. Be realistic


Start discussions with partners and employees as early as possible. Firms can only afford to pay so much before they start to have to look at reducing overheads, which can lead to unwanted redundancies. If your remuneration process is going to struggle to keep up with what the market is showing through job boards and anecdotal conversation, then explore and communicate your firm’s strategy early so there is no surprises. Are there signs of improvement - just not enough confidence to know the good results are staying? 

One approach to all this could be to consider a partial remuneration review for July and another in January 2018. What are the benefits that your firm offers that those with high salaries can’t emulate? Money isn’t everything and sometimes we need to remind employees of the non-monetary advantages that we have in our individual firm environments.

So will your firms be handing out fantales or will it be the disappointment of a bag of black cats you give away this year….only time will tell?

Editor's Note

2017 Salary Survey imageThe 2017 ALPMA Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey is now open for participation by all Australian law firms. The survey provides a comprehensive, independent review of salaries paid for legal, management and support roles at Australian and New Zealand law firms, broken down by location and firm size so you can compare compensation strategies with like firms.  The survey also reveals the hottest HR issues and challenges for the legal industry in Australia.

This year's New Zealand Survey is proudly supported by McLeod Duminy. The Australian survey is proudly supported by In2View Recruitment, IPA, Kaleidoscope Legal Recruitment and KBE Human Capital.  

It is free to participate, and all firms that complete the survey will receive a complimentary copy of the research report, valued at $550 for non-participating ALPMA members or $2,200 for non-members. The survey is open until 5pm, Friday 31 March.




About our Guest Blogger


Emily Mortimer
Emily Mortimer is an ALPMA Board Director and member of the board’s Salary Survey Sub-Committee, along with Emma Elliott (ALPMA WA) and Mark Beale (ALPMA NZ). In this role, Emily has provided significant input into the questions covered in the survey, drawing on her extensive legal industry and HR experience. Emily also currently serves as the Chair of ALPMA’s SA Branch, and has been a long-standing member of the ALPMA SA Branch Committee.


3 tips to implement outsourcing for your firm

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Compu-stor advert


By Robin Carter, Managing Director, Add Capacity


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


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


1. Know your 'Why'



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

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

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

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

2. Be prepared to invest



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

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

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

3. Get internal buy-in



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


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


About our Guest Blogger

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

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



How well does your firm manage information security?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

By Leticia Mooney, Director, Brutal Pixie 


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

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

Information security management is a critical challenge



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

Real-life example from a small firm



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the firm learned from this experience



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About our Guest Blogger


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











5 ways your law firm can make more money in 2017 and beyond

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

By Evie Farah, Director, Empire Consulting


As a Consultant who has dealt with hundreds of law firms over the years, it is apparent that competition is fierce. Many sole practitioners are breaking away from the bigger firms and starting out on their own. These lawyers are used to having an Accounts Department who bill for them, a Secretary to type up correspondence and a Receptionist to answer the phone. Once they are out on their own they are responsible for all of these roles including many others. How does a lawyer make time to do billable work as well as run a successful business?

This problem is not unique to sole practitioners though. I have visited larger firms and the only word I can use to describe them is: chaos. There is no structure or cohesion. Staff are so busy with a constant influx of work that there is no time to develop the business or streamline its practices.

Over the years, I have developed simple key changes that law firms can implement to help them run the business side of their law practice so they aren’t consumed with frustration. Here are a few to get you started:

1. Be visible online



A Google consumer survey showed that 96% of people seeking legal advice use a search engine. So if you don’t have an up to date website, how are your clients going to find you?

Just having a website is not enough though, get it optimised! This is particularly beneficial when people enter non-branded searches. An example of a non-branded search is someone in Cronulla searching ‘help me divorce my husband’. If you happen to be a family lawyer in Cronulla and your website is optimised, you will increase your website’s position on the list of results.

As 62% of legal searches are non-branded, optimisation could mean the difference between a potential client finding you or your competitor down the road.

2. Get your IT sorted



Do you still have a dusty server sitting in the back corner of your office? Did your IT Consultant just quote you $10,000 for a new server? In this day and age everything is moving towards being cloud based. Meaning your data is hosted offsite, in a remote and safe location.

Apart from the enormous cost of updating servers every few years (and helping your IT Consultant buy that second Ferrari), cloud technology allows you to work away from the office. Meaning you could draft that affidavit on the couch while the little one takes their nap, or send emails while waiting for your flight.

Also, think about how old your desktop or laptop computer is. If it is slow and clunky, how much of your billable time is it wasting? There are now plenty of affordable options available and this simple update of your hardware can result in improved efficiencies for the entire practice.

3. Invest in good practice management software



Good practice management software helps your firm grow and saves you money. I have had the opportunity to utilise and explore quite a few. Some will offer amazing accounting capabilities but then require you to code and import your own firm precedents. Others will have a great precedent suite but fall short on time recording and accounting capabilities.

Rather than go with the cheapest product, compare your options to find the one that offers capability in more than just one area. Also, choose one that specialises in small-medium law firms. A firm of 200+ users has vastly different needs than one of 2-5 staff members. If you want to be able to save on numerous admin staff, it is imperative to purchase and utilise a practice management system that allows you to keep everything in one place and easily track your progress.

In the short term, the investment might feel steep in respect of anticipated returns. But if you begin on the right foot, the long-term benefits will far outweigh the cons.

4. Be mobile



Clients might be reluctant or unable to travel to your office. If you are mobile, ie. have a laptop and a comprehensive checklist with a list of all the questions to ask the client, you will look professional and organised. Once people see how accessible and committed you are, they will be more inclined to refer you to family and friends. Word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools any business can have.

Mobility also means that staff can work from home. Think of the infrastructure costs that can be saved if staff are not required to work from the office all the time. Furthermore, your job offer will be more attractive if it can offer potential staff the flexibility they desire.

5. Reduce office waste



Is your floor covered in files that are completed? Do you have an office filled to the top with boxes of files that should be sent away for storage? Imagine what your clients think when they see this!

As your obligation is to keep a file for 7 years, it is a good idea to think about a storage system. There are companies you can enlist to take your files on a regular basis, store them in secure facilities and provide you quick and easy access as and when you need them.


About our Guest Blogger


Evie FarahEvie Farah is a Director of Empire Consulting. She possesses over 15 years’ experience in the legal industry and understands the needs and challenges of a law firm. Evie helps law firms streamline their practice and improve efficiency and profitability.

Evie is also a LEAP Certified Consultant who worked internally at LEAP for over 3 years before branching out into her own consulting business. Evie’s extensive knowledge of LEAP software ensures your firm will benefit from her comprehensive understanding of all LEAP products. Evie’s expertise and experience is second to none. She prides herself on her quality service and attention to detail. For more details on how Evie can help you please visit www.empireconsultingservices.com or email her directly at evie@empireconsultingservices.com


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




Super changes present new opportunities

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

By Andrew Proebstl, Chief Executive, legalsuper


On 23 November 2016, after months of negotiation and amendment, the Federal Government finally succeeded in having a raft of significant changes to superannuation passed by Parliament.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison has said that 96 per cent of individuals with superannuation “will either not be affected by these changes or will be better off.”

That said, it is definitely worthwhile keeping up-to-date with the changes, most of which come into effect on 1 July 2017.

The immediate decision facing many superannuation fund members will be whether or not to take advantage of the current contributions caps by topping up their super before the end of the 2016/17 financial year.

Members considering doing so, but who are unsure of how to do so without exceeding the caps, should contact their super fund(s).

To help ALPMA members make the best decisions regarding their superannuation, here are the main changes to super, and the implications of those changes.

Changes that impact the amount of concessional contributions you can pay



Concessional contributions (or before tax contributions) include employer superannuation guarantee contributions, contributions made under a salary sacrifice arrangement and personal contributions for which a tax deduction has been claimed.

A reduction in the annual cap on concessional contributions you can make


From 1 July 2017, the annual cap on concessional contributions will be lowered to $25,000 per annum, down from its current rate of $30,000 for those aged less than 50 years and $35,000 for those aged 50 and over.

Catch-up concessional superannuation contributions


From 1 July 2018 (not 2017 as previously indicated by government) those with total superannuation balances of $500,000 or less will be able to make catch-up concessional superannuation contributions, subject to unused concessional contribution caps being carried forward on a rolling basis for up to five years.

This change is intended to boost the super savings of those with a lower superannuation balance due to lower contributions in the past, interrupted work patterns or an irregular capacity to make contributions.

For those earning over $250,000, a doubling of the tax on concessional contributions


From 1 July 2017, those with more than $250,000 of income and superannuation contributions (adjusted for other benefits) will pay an additional 15 per cent tax on their concessional contributions on those super contributions that exceed the $250,000 threshold.


The proposed new 30 per cent rate of tax continues to be less than the marginal rate of tax if earning greater than $250,000.

This change extends the existing approach whereby those with more than $300,000 of income and superannuation contributions pay 30 per cent tax on their concessional superannuation contributions.

This change will impact higher income earners, who constitute around 1 per cent of superannuation fund members.

Expanded eligibility to claim tax deductions for superannuation contributions


From 1 July 2017, the Government will improve the flexibility of the superannuation system so that more Australians can utilise their concessional contributions cap, by allowing people under 75 to claim an income tax deduction for personal superannuation contributions to an eligible fund. Personal contributions for which a tax deduction is claimed will count towards the concessional contributions cap.

However, to take advantage of this change, people aged between 65 and 74 will need to first satisfy a work test. (The work test was originally slated for removal but will now be retained)

Changes that impact the amount of non-concessional contributions you can pay


Non-concessional contributions (or after tax contributions) include amounts you pay to your superannuation fund, or your spouse’s superannuation fund, from your after-tax income (that is, from your take home pay or accrued savings outside of super).

$100,000 annual non-concessional contributions cap


From 1 July 2017, the current annual non-concessional contributions cap of $180,000 will be reduced to $100,000 per annum. However, superannuation fund members still have until the end of the current financial year to take advantage of the current $180,000 non-concessional contribution cap. Members under age 65 also have until the end of this financial year (i.e. 2016/17) to consider taking advantage of the ‘bring-forward rule’ which allows up to three years’ of non-concessional contributions to be made in the one year. This means that members who are in the position to do so can potentially make up to $540,000 worth of non-concessional contributions (the $540,000 figure being 3 x $180,000) by 30 June 2017. From 1 July 2017 the ‘bring-forward rule’ effectively reduces to $300,000 the amount of non-concessional contributions that can be ‘brought-forward’ across a three year period. However, the amount that can be brought forward, and the period to do so, will be reduced for those with total superannuation balances of $1.4 million to $1.6 million. From 1 July, 2017, those with total superannuation balances of $1.6 million or more will be ineligible to make non-concessional contributions at all. If the bring-forward provisions were triggered in the 2015/16 or 2016/17 financial years and the full bring forward amount was not utilised, transitional bring forward caps will apply.


The above rules replace the original announcement of a lifetime cap of $500,000 per person for non-concessional contributions which will no longer be proceeding.


Changes that impact retirement products (including superannuation pensions)



Removal of tax exemption for transition to retirement (TTR) pensions


Currently, individuals can commence a TTR pension at their preservation age (between 56 and 65 years of age, depending on their date of birth) even though they have not yet retired. No tax is paid by the super fund on the investment earnings from assets supporting these TTR pensions. Although some income tax may be paid by the individual on receipt of the pension payments up to age 60, once an individual is aged 60 and over, withdrawals are tax-free.

From 1 July 2017, the government will remove the tax exemption on investment earnings of TTR pensions and they will be taxed at 15 per cent (as is the case for investment earnings on superannuation assets). This change will apply regardless of when the TTR commenced. There are no changes to the tax arrangements for individuals upon receipt of these pension payments.

$1.6 million superannuation transfer balance to retirement products cap


From 1 July 2017, the government will introduce a $1.6 million cap on the total amount of superannuation an individual can transfer into retirement products, which includes superannuation pensions.

The cap will be applied to current retirees and those who have yet to enter retirement.

Current retirees with more than $1.6 million in retirement products (including superannuation pensions) have until 1 July 2017 to either remove the excess or return it to an accumulation superannuation account, where 15 per cent earnings tax applies or 10 per cent if capital gains.

The Government expects this change to impact less than one per cent of superannuation fund members. It also believes a $1.6 million retirement product balance could support a retirement income stream of around four times the single Age Pension.

Changes that benefit those with lower incomes



Low income superannuation tax offset


From 1 July 2017, the Government will introduce the Low Income Superannuation Tax Offset to replace the Low Income Superannuation Contribution when it expires on 30 June 2017.

Individuals with adjusted taxable income of $37,000 or less will receive an effective refund of the 15 per cent contributions tax paid on their concessional contributions, up to a cap of $500.

Superannuation balances of lower income spouses


To help lower income spouses increase the superannuation they accumulate, from 1 July 2017 the income threshold for the receiving spouse (whether married or de-facto) will be increased from $10,800 to $37,000, thereby helping more families to support each other in accumulating superannuation.

A contributing spouse will be eligible for an 18 per cent tax offset worth up to $540 for contributions made to an eligible spouse’s superannuation account.

If you have any questions about these changes to superannuation and how they may affect your retirement savings with legalsuper, please contact us on:

Phone: 1800 060 312 Monday to Friday between 8am and 8pm (AEST)

Fax: 1800 614 431 Email: mail@legalsuper.com.au

About our Guest Blogger



Andrew ProebstlAndrew Proebstl is chief executive of legalsuper, Australia’s super fund for the legal community. Qualifying as a Chartered Accountant while working with Arthur Andersen, Andrew has broad experience across the superannuation industry with fund administrators, investment managers, custodians and other superannuation funds.

Andrew is a member of the Policy Committee and former Director of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees. He is also a former member of the Victorian Executive of the Associations of Superannuation Funds of Australia. He regularly presents at superannuation industry conferences and writes regular superannuation columns for law societies across Australia.

legalsuper is an FY16 ALPMA Australian Corporate Partner


7 strategies for building a high performance culture

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

By Fiona Crawford, GM Human Resources, InfoTrack



‘High performance’ gets thrown around a lot these days as a new buzz word, but few businesses know what it is or how to define it. Everyone seems to be striving for it but many find it hard to articulate what exactly it means for their business. It is not as complicated as it seems – here are some simple steps to cultivate a high performance culture in your firm.

Define what high performance means for your business


High performance is something that should have a unique definition for every firm. What are your firm’s values and how do you expect your employees to fulfil them? What do you want to drive and motivate your employees? How will you define their success? Take the time to map this out – what are the characteristics you would expect from a high performance employee at your firm?

At InfoTrack, we have developed an employee value proposition defined by ‘effort over obligation’ – we expect our employees to come into work with a motivation and effort that overshadows any feeling of obligation. If employees are thinking about obligation, they’re missing out on opportunity - we are always thinking about opportunity and where it can next come from. We don’t dwell on what we are obliged to do and that’s why our workforce is brimming with ideas and innovation, and opportunities never pass us by.

Recruit the right people

Once you’ve defined what high performance means to you, you need to recruit the right people. A robust recruitment process should include clearly defined roles and expectations and be run by someone who understands your firm and its values. It should include multiple interviews with different people within your firm, and interviews should be designed to screen for high performance indicators that you are looking for. At InfoTrack, myself and our CEO take time to interview as many potential candidates as we can because we understand how important it is to our business to hire the right people.

Be transparent about your strategy

Being transparent about your firm’s strategy and goals helps foster a sense of trust and mutual understanding. The more employees understand what you’re working towards, the more enthusiastic and involved they will be. When employees can clearly see how their work is adding to the end goals of the firm as a whole they have a greater sense of purpose. At InfoTrack we have companywide update each 4 months to detail our new strategy to our employees across Australia so everyone knows what part they’re playing to reach our goals.

Don’t underestimate the importance of succession planning

Succession planning is key - be open and honest about opportunities for growth and ensure that you speak to employees about their careers and where they see themselves in the future. The clearer vision an employee has about the future of your firm and their place in it, the more dedicated and motivated they will be. It’s important to ensure there are no single points of failure to keep a business running at top performance.

Track employee engagement

Engagement occurs when employees feel an emotional connection to your firm and its goals. Employees essentially want three things; a meaningful vision of the future, a sense of purpose and great relationships. The more engaged employees feel, the more productive they are, the better service they provide and the longer they stay in their jobs. Engagement fosters a collaborative, empowered, innovative, productive and overall positive environment.

There are a number of ways to track engagement – ensuring open communication with employees along with regular reviews and opportunities for feedback is key. Having a formal system in place such as employee engagement surveys helps to hold you accountable and creates a measuring stick. Employees will appreciate the opportunity to give feedback and will feel that they are being listened to.

Seek out diversity

Diversity should be seen as a necessity in any modern firm. Employing people with a wide range of backgrounds brings a unique mix of talents, perspectives and experiences to your workforce. Having a variety of different viewpoints challenges people to think outside the box and encourages creativity and innovation. Diversity helps to ensure your firm will continue to evolve and can be a significant differentiator in today’s competitive market. It can not only help attract and retain the right employees, but also the right clients.

Recognise achievements

The power of reward and recognition should never be underestimated. Achievements of all kinds should be celebrated, from individual milestones to team and firm-wide efforts. Whether it’s a work anniversary or winning a big case, make sure employees feel acknowledged and appreciated. This doesn’t mean you have to break out the cake for every achievement, sometimes a thoughtful email will do and other times a real celebration will be in order –just make sure you take the time give kudos when they’re due.

Always remember that your employees are your most important asset; they are the face of your firm, they are the ones interacting with your clients every day and they will define your firm’s future. A high performing firm requires a high performance workforce.


About our Guest Blogger


Fiona Crawford
Fiona Crawford is GM of Human Resources at InfoTrack, proud principal partner of the 2016 ALPMA Legal Management Summit.

Fiona has been driving the strategic people agenda to keep pace with the growth at InfoTrack since September 2015. InfoTrack recently won an Australian Business Award for Employer of Choice 2016, and has also been among the Best Places to Work in Australia for 3 years running.

Fiona has a wide range of experience with over 15 years’ human resources, training and coaching across a range of industries including sport, fitness, finance, hospitality and automotive. She has operated her own HR consulting business and worked on start-up HR functions, transformational cultural change programs, mergers and acquisitions, and strategic and operational HR initiatives. Her uncompromising commitment to high performance and continual improvement stems from her sporting background - a two-time medal winning Olympian in softball (Silver 2004 and Bronze 2000).


Prescriptive Conveyancing - The Big Red Button

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

By Chris Collinge, Partner/Director, Bytherules Conveyancing


How do you take a small six person firm located in a beautiful but relatively remote part of Queensland and turn it into a national firm? The budget is limited, the technology in its infancy and the industry still operates like it has done for many years.

That was the challenge we faced in 2011. Our first step was deciding to focus on one discipline, residential conveyancing. With that in mind we then developed a strategy for growing geographically but without having to open offices all over the country. A local presence is important in conveyancing, so we decided to build a business around experienced conveyancers working from home. We decided early on that they did not need to be licensed conveyancers. Indeed in QLD that particular qualification didn't exist anyway.

For some reason, the vast majority of conveyancers in our industry are women. Our decision to offer a work from home opportunity, along with the obvious work/life balance benefits that ensue struck a cord. We have been exceptionally lucky to recruit some highly experienced and knowledgeable conveyancers who may well have left the workforce had they not had this opportunity. With a combined 200 plus years of conveyancing experience in the business, there aren't many situations we haven't encountered. 


So, we had figured out how to grow geographically. We also had to ensure that the client received exactly the same quality of service, no matter where they lived and which conveyancer they used. As all of our conveyancers have many years experience, they all did things slightly differently. We had to make sure they not only followed the correct protocol for the jurisdiction they operated in, but we "wrapped" the service in our own unique and consistent service delivery method, with all the care and attention clients expect. All the time. No matter where they were.

Prescriptive Conveyancing


We needed prescriptive conveyancing.

This meant defining specific workflows, ensuring they were followed, and any exception automatically uplifted by the system. We split roles into administration and paralegal, and let the conveyancers focus on what they do best. This workflow based system is cloud based and everyone in the firm has the same access to the system irrespective of where they are. Compliance management forms a very big part of the system.

We were very proud that our project to develop prescriptive conveyancing was recognised as a finalist in the 2016 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards. 

We are now in 18 locations in QLD & NSW and have an aggressive growth plan that with a strategy that will be the first of its kind in Australia.

Our tagline is "impossibly easy conveyancing" and we continuously strive to make it so. In an increasingly competitive market we realise if we do not continue to innovate and invest, then we will not continue to grow.

Editor's Note


Watch the video featuring Chris discussing the objectives and challenges of this project and business, staff and customer benefits achieved from implementing this innovative project, recognised as a finalist in the 2016 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards, presented at the Gala Dinner at the 2016 ALPMA Summit in Melbourne. You can also check out videos on the innovative projects undertaken by our winner, Maddocks, and other finalists, Nexus Law Group and Hall & Wilcox.
 

About our Guest Blogger

Chris CollingeAfter moving to Sydney in 1998 Chris setup an Internet Service Provider for Businesses, a few years before broadband became available. Within a few years it had become an award winning business winning top Business ISP of the years for three years in a row, runner up in the best IT company to work for In Australia and #11 in the BTR Top100. Chris then invested in other IT related businesses until moving to Noosa in 2011 to become a partner in a local law firm, Bytherules Conveyancing Lawyers.

After working all his life in IT businesses, Chris recognised a great opportunity for a legal firm to adopt new technologies and work methods that he had applied to IT businesses in the past. Since then Chris and the management team have initiated and developed the work from home model that can only operate successfully once the IT infrastructure, processes and the right people are in place.



5 questions you should be asking your practice management platform provider

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

By Michael Vassilieff, Head of Sales, Law and Solutions, Thomson Reuters


A smart practice management platform can transform even the most disorganised law firm into a well-oiled machine. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

It’s important to explore your firm’s current systems and ask the right questions before implementing an entirely new platform. Here are five of the most important ones to help you make a decision.

Implementation: What is the timetable for installation and rollout?



Besides reviewing key features such as document management, trust and office accounting, time capture, billing, workflow and client relationship management, it pays to be clear on how the system will be implemented and rolled out across your firm.

Introducing an entirely new practice management system may seem like managing a heady and complex litigation case, but the right vendor will be able to walk you through the process and provide critical support along the way.

Important questions to ask include:

  • Can it be installed on-site or remotely?
  • Will there be any downtime?
  • Can it be customised and integrated with our current operating systems?
  • Will it fit with our practice needs and workflow?
  • How will our data be migrated and how long will it take?

Organising a planning team of lawyers or administrative staff who will use the system can help make the change smoother. This means your firm can get on without too much disruption and it will likely make for a happier team overall.

Training and support: Will you help us work through any problems with our staff?



The Law Society of New South Wales reports that a “common mistake made by law firms is their failure to commit to appropriate levels of staff training in new technology and systems”.

Their research found that only “11 per cent of small and mid-sized firms offered formalised training for newly adopted technologies. Only 17 per cent said they got the most out of their workflow and research tools and more than three-quarters claimed this impacted negatively on their time efficiency.”

Before purchasing a practice management platform, make sure you check the level of training and tech support your vendor can provide before and after implementation.

You might face a bit of resistance from staff who find the switch challenging. The best way to mitigate this is to work out a clear and comprehensive training plan that suits your firm’s approach to practice, and makes everyone feel included.


Future growth: Can we continue to use the system as we grow and build our firm?



Technology moves quickly, and you need to be confident the system can grow and evolve with the changing needs of your firm into the future. Think of it as selecting a long-term business partner rather than just a software provider.

Social proof: What do your customers think of the product?



It’s no secret that when we see other people recommending or raving about something, we’re more inclined to try it too. To marketers, it’s ‘social proof’, but it’s really just a good old customer review or testimonial.

Getting feedback from your vendor’s current customers – not just about the product, but also about their service – will help you decide if the platform and the provider are a perfect match for your firm’s requirements and operating style.


Budget: What will this cost and what solutions do you have for our firm size, type and practice area? What’s the likely ROI?



Finally, before selecting a practice management platform, make sure you understand all the costs involved, and what return you will see on your investment.

Besides checking the cost of the platform itself, make sure you also ask how the price varies for firms of different sizes and types. That way, if your firm expands in future
and offers more services, you’re not surprised by the cost of upgrading your platform. And most importantly, ask your vendor about any hidden costs.

Assessing the real-world benefits of the proposed platform will also assist with calculating ROI. For example, can you quantify how much time and effort it will save as a result of fast document production, lawyer mobility and less duplication of tasks across the board?

According to Thomson Reuters’ research, time spent manually managing a law firm rather than automating critical tasks reduces profits due to inefficient processes, poor workflow, and a waste of lawyers’ and administrative staff’s time.

The Thomson Reuters’ study also revealed that law firms relying on outdated, manual processes waste hundreds of hours each year, and manual timekeeping inaccuracies cause major billable time losses.

Asking your vendor the right questions will help you navigate these practical issues, save time and money, and start you on the right foot with your brand new system so you are ready for profitability and growth in the future.

Editor's Note


Leading Your Firm
If you would like to learn more about this topic, join us for our upcoming webinar “Choosing a Practice Management System for Your Firm” presented by Steven Tyndall and Jackie White of NextLegal on Wednesday 23 November at 1pm (AEDT). This webinar is part of ALPMA’s Leading Your Firm program, generously supported by our Major Partner, Thomson Reuters. This webinar is free for ALPMA members or $99 for eligible non-members.


About our Guest Blogger


Michael Vassilieff
Michael Vassilieff is Head of Sales – Law and Solutions at Thomson Reuters .

With experience in a variety of industries from both a sales and commercial level, Michael brings a clear and measured approach to assisting law firms gain the most from their business processes and systems to help approve efficiency through automation and use of technology. Michael has a natural passion for establishing and harbouring key executive relationships ensuring law firms are able to perform beyond their expectations.






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