A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Member Q&A with Dion Cusack

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

In this ALPMA member Q&A, we interview Dion Cusack, Corporate Services Manager at K&L Gates, and recently elected ALPMA Vice President, about his role and view on the legal sector.

What does your role as Corporate Services Manager entail?

My responsibility includes property, facilities, client services, office services, work place health and safety, file audits, risk, quality and business continuity for K&L Gates across Australia.  Basically, it is my job to make sure that everyone at the firm is supported and safe, to keep the lights on, to minimise our risk and ensure we comply with our quality standards.

What motivates you?

I am motivated by delivering the best and most efficient services I can for the firm.  This means I spend a lot of time researching, and working with other areas within the firm to ensure that we are implementing and maintaining best-practice processes and technologies that can support or enhance our service delivery.  This can often involve implementing changes to how services are delivered or provided at the firm, which is challenging and rewarding.   But I enjoy making things happen, bringing people along on the journey and keeping a strong, positive outlook.  My focus is on doing whatever needs to be done to within my domain to ensure the firm achieves its objectives in what is quite a challenging and evolving environment at the moment.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing law firms right now?

I think firms are facing challenges on several fronts - with increased competition from global and 'New Law' firms combined with pressure from clients to introduce alternative fee arrangements, reduce overall legal spend, and for law firms to provide greater overall value to their clients. Law firms need to reduce the cost of delivering services, at a work product level, and one way to do this is by utilising technology in new ways to introduce efficiencies, as will as ensuring that other business costs are contained.  Firms also need to focus on tangible ways to demonstrate their innovativeness.  All firms say they deliver quality services - but firms need to be able to clearly show and articulate their unique value to their clients.  

This challenge is not new, but remains ever relevant, in that firms also need to fight the war for talent and ensure they have a compelling value proposition for staff which goes beyond just remuneration.  This involves looking strategically at work/life balance and introducing flexible working models for both women and men, and providing tangible support to achieve this, such as technologies that enable working from home to be practical, including supportive leave and other policies.

What are you looking forward to in your role your as ALPMA Vice President?

I am very excited by the opportunities to expand ALPMA's presence in Asia and to extend our collaboration with other bodies with a shared interest in legal practice management and managers. ALPMA is very much focused on its community, and we will continue to look for new ways to encourage engagement and interaction within our community.  I think ALPMA also has a very strong role to play to as an authoritative voice to guide and lead law firms through these changing and challenging times.

Editor's note:


If you would like to know how your firm's compensation strategy compares to similar firms and obtain compelling insights to help you shape your employee value proposition, then participate in the ALPMA Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey

Participation is free and open to all Australian and New Zealand law firms until 31 March, 2017.  

Participate now








About our Guest Blogger



Dion has been the Corporate Services Manager at K&L Gates for the past eight years.  Prior to this, he held accountability for financial and operational management and performance across a variety of organisations and industries. 

He has been a member of the ALPMA Board since 2014, and was recently elected Vice President.  He also serves as the Victorian Chair of ALPMA. 

A seasoned professional leader, Dion's pragmatic and critical thinking skills enable him to achieve innovative, fresh, commercial outcomes that are well calculated, timely, appropriate and original.  

Complemented by skills in human resources, technology, client, brand, strategic development, governance, business improvement and change management, Dion has also acquired specialist skills in audit, compliance, insurance, risk and business continuity management, corporate and commercial law. 

In his spare time, Dion is the founder of a successful real estate investment, development and management firm.




Speech Recognition...the Way of the Future?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

By Mike Kelly, Director, Sound Business Systems

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

Penetration

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

Motivations

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

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

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

SR is a productivity and efficiency tool

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

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

Current scene

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

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

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

Pitfalls

There are a few to be aware of:



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

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

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

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

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

New features and direction


Deep learning



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

Virtual environments



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

Reporting



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


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



In Summary


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About our Guest Blogger

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

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

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





How to execute on your firm's New Year resolution

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

By Alistair Marshall, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates


Many of you probably put together an aspirational list of hopes, dreams and targets for your business whilst enjoying a glass of something nice over Christmas and the New Year. But we all know that most resolutions are forgotten by the third week of January, so I am here today as your conscience, to make sure you deliver on your New Year’s resolution for your practice and get 2017 off to a flying start.

7 ways to ensure 2017 is your most successful year ever



Here are my top seven ideas that you can initiate immediately to bring in work:


  • Pick up the phone to five clients you have not heard from recently, and ask them how they are going. Maybe send them an article you have written, or some relevant research that would be useful to them.

  • Go and visit your top five clients from 2016, and see what else they may need assistance with. Can they refer you to other individuals within their contact sphere?

  • Reach out to five prospective clients from your pursuit list, who match your ideal client profile. If you don’t have the names of specific organisations and individuals, then you will really struggle to make much progress.

  • Buy lunch or dinner for your best five referrers of work. Good things happen when you get out from behind your desk and go and talk to people.

  • Get yourself a speaking gig at an event that will be attended by potential clients. It is a great way to be seen as the expert in your field.

  • Write a thought leadership piece and send it to your database – make sure it’s on a topic of significant interest and value to them and their networks.

  • Attend or host a networking event involving as many of your business contacts as possible.


Over the years, I have learned that when it comes to business development, the more proactive you are, the “luckier” you become at generating more revenue!

And remember that what gets measured, gets improved, so track your efforts and results. For most individuals in professional services firms, key performance indicators tend to relate to financial results, client satisfaction, improving staff morale, and making efficiency gains with internal processes to help profitability.

How are you and your team going to track your progress against these goals?

Whilst no one measurement should be considered more important than another, the number of billable hours produced in the calendar year is usually a critical measurement for most firms.

Winners make it happen; losers let it happen. To hit your New Year goals, you need to start taking action now.

About our Guest Blogger


Alistair Marshall

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








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




Championing incremental change at law firms

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

By Anthony Bleasdale, Managing Director, BigHand


Never more than so right now have law firms been challenged to not repeat the mistakes of the past, to change at light speed and to adopt “innovative” approaches to ensure you stay relevant for current and future clients. The recent ALPMA Summit was full of ideas for firms keen to develop an effective blueprint for working smarter. Here are the key take-ways I took from Summit as a leader of a legal industry technology vendor and major Summit partner:

Change is hard – but inevitable


As Summit co-MC and CE0 of Coleman Greig, Warrick McLean said recently “driving change at law firms is hard for many reasons – but it is something that law firm leaders must excel at in order to ensure their firms remain competitive in a rapidly evolving legal landscape”. 

Law firms can be excused for not wanting to change, as it requires a step that maybe uncomfortable and resisted internally. Yet firms have to find ways to continue to prosper within an environment that is in a constant state of flux, facing an invasion (welcomed or not) of global firms and customers that are challenging law firms small, medium or large to think differently or be replaced. You only have to read the ALPMA/InfoTrack research on the changing legal landscape to see that most firms are embarked or embarking on a broad range of change initiatives.

Successful change can be incremental or transformational


Many speakers talked about change being a journey of many steps, and encouraged firms to get started with small projects utilising proven technology to make incremental improvements. These kinds of projects (like an implementation of voice recognition software!), well-executed, can build positive momentum for the next step in the journey. 
 
Quality vendors will be able to share insights on how you can improve your productivity, leveraging their legal industry expertise and experience to deliver great returns – without (necessarily) having to spend a fortune. My colleague, James Bible, wrote an article back in August on some thoughts to consider when running an innovation project.

Other speakers talked about joining with their clients to develop new, more collaborative ways of working and innovative ways of delivering legal service and advice tailored to their customer needs.

Don’t be afraid to fail


BigHand is lucky to be an organisation that is agile and responsive. Our clients and prospects often provide us with great ideas that lead to new product development. Not all of these see the light of day – but we don’t let this make us afraid to experiment. The same is true for law firms. You must be willing to fail along your way to success. As the old saying goes “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!’. 

The All Blacks rugby team failed in 2007 and vowed to make incremental change at the next World cup. Nine years on, they have lost but a handful of times, won two World Cups and have become the benchmark for change as an incremental journey, not a huge crash bang wallop!

Draw inspiration from others


Finally, draw inspiration from others. If you get a chance to hear Catherine McGregor speak (as she did at Summit), then go out of your way to hear her story. Never have I been so engaged by a key note speaker at any event! Catherine shared her compelling personal narrative of gender transition in a traditionally masculine realm – the Australian Defence Force. Hearing her talk about how she successfully navigated the challenges to make this change was both insightful and inspiring for those of us contemplating change much less transformative at our companies.


Editor's Note

Summit on Demand

Need some inspiration to help you drive change at your firm? Then watch the keynote presentations from the 2016 ALPMA Summit on-demand. Most sessions are now available to watch from the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre from $49.50 (incl GST), thanks to the generous support of BigHand, our Summit Live & On-Demand Partner.


About our Guest Blogger

Tony Bleasdale
Tony Bleasdale has a long history in the legal sector, working for a number of leading law firms, and for a range of vendors, most recently joining BigHand as Managing Director, Asia Pacific. He is passionate about driving innovation at law firms through knowledge management and process improvement through technology and working with firms to break down the barriers to achieve their objectives.

Tony also has a long involvement with ALPMA, having served as an ALPMA President, National Board and NSW Committee member.




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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

By Alistair Marshall, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Overcoming the two big excuses


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What now?


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


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


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

Editor's Note

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

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




About our Guest Blogger

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


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





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.





Business development for our changing times

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

By Ryan Smyth, Business Development Manager, Coffey Group


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

Makes grim reading.

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

Change presents opportunity…period!

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

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

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


Set your vision


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


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

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


Investigate and baseline your firm


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

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

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


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

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

Strategy and tactics


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

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

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

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

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

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

Equip your firm with the tools for success


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


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

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

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

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

Execute with the right team


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

It’s all in the deal, period.

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

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

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

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


Editor's Note

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


About our Guest Blogger

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

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

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





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