A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Resolving to do better

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

By Margaret Fitzsimons, Director, Trans4mation

So…….only 3 more sleeps until it is 2016. You have had a wonderful Christmas. Way too much food and drink. And now you are sitting back, contemplating what the New Year will have in store for you. Not just on a personal level, but for your business. You have been thinking lately that you really need to do some work ON your business and not just IN it, but life is so busy!

If your New Year’s Resolution is for your business to thrive in 2016, book out three or four hours in your diary and contemplate the following with your best brainstorming buddy:

  • Ask yourself whether you are running a practice or a business.  Answer this honestly.  The firms who are the most successful focus on being a business, first and foremost.

  • Consider how practice will change over the next five to ten years. Consider the impact of technology and globalisation and how the industry may be disrupted by new players. Think about different business models which may threaten your current business model. Determine what you think your future business model should be. Don’t be scared to think outside the square – that is how Uber was created! Be a disruptor if you can.

  • Look at where you want your practice to be based, which geographical areas you want to service and what services you want to provide. Remember, technology is going to threaten the current focus on geographical service provision so start thinking further afield now before another provider tries to snaffle your clients.

  • Determine what your point of difference is. Why are you different to any other practitioner offering a similar service? Now, come on, you can do better than ‘we are highly skilled and we provide excellent service’!

  • Document your business development plans for the year. Are you using digital marketing to your advantage? Is your website optimised for search engines? Do you have a significant personal network? How can you improve your referral networks? If you don’t have a formal marketing strategy, now is the time to get one. Get an expert to help if you can’t do it yourself.

  • Look at your staff structure. Are the right people sitting in the right chairs on the bus? If not, what is your optimum structure and how will you achieve it? If someone or a group of people are holding you back, do something about it. Who is actually driving the bus? Without a competent leader, nothing will be achieved.

  • Do you have the right KPIs in place for your staff? If you want to improve your overall net profitability, stop rewarding staff based on traditional revenue measures and start rewarding them on profitability measures. Think about implementing Cube Reporting which focuses on individual, team, location and specialisation profit contribution.

  • Have you got the right technology in place? Are you using the Cloud? Is your practice virtual? Do you have automated workflow and precedent systems in place? If you don’t have this, your competitors are already streets ahead in the game.

  • Review your pricing policies and mechanisms. The world is moving to value and fixed fee billing. Are you going to be left behind?

  • Are you efficient? Have you implemented a 'paper-light' office? Have you considered using offshore processing? Many of your competitors have been doing these things for a while now.

  • If this all seems too hard, work out the one initiative that will improve your business and work on that. It is better to do one thing well than do nothing at all. Remember that story about the tortoise?

Once you have worked out what you want to achieve, develop a project plan which details what needs to be done, by whom and when.   Make sure you regularly assess your implementation progress and measure your successes. Most importantly, celebrate all of your wins when you achieve them. 
May 2016 be a prosperous year for you. All the best!

Editor's Note:

Readers interested in learning more about Cube Reporting, can watch Margaret's on-demand presentation on "Net Profitability Reporting", free for ALPMA members or $99 (incl GST) for non-members. In this presentation, Margaret demonstrates how net profitability at differing levels of detail throughout a practice allows partners and managers to better understand the underlying performance of the segments of the business. She looks at the power of being able to identify and package the most profitable services within a firm and how to develop achievable strategies to work smarter.  CPD: 1 CPD Unit/ 1 NZ Hour Practice Management and Business Skills

About our Guest Blogger

Margaret Fitzsimons is the Director at Trans4mation. Margaret began her professional life as an accountant working for (what is now) PriceWaterhouseCoopers. She has more than 20 years’ experience in the professional services industry and has managed legal firms, two of which she was employed to transform. Margaret has a special interest in helping professional services businesses to realise their full potential by challenging the traditional methods of practice management. 

Margaret has extensive change management experience and has proven her business acumen by assisting the professional practices she has managed to achieve significant growth in both turnover and profitability.

Legal Project Management - the opportunity for mid-tier and boutique firms

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

By Peter Dighton, Director, Law Strategies

Legal Project Management (LPM) has been embraced enthusiastically by large firms in the USA as a way of preserving margins when clients are unwilling to pay time-based charges. Certainly the application of disciplined procedures to legal work, with the aim of achieving greater efficiency, is laudable. However when we drill down further it might be observed that the US brand of LPM is not designed to service clients more efficiently, but instead has been adopted as a way for law firms to maintain their profit margins in difficult economic times. 

The US approach is really about commoditisation of complex legal work, in the same way as an Australian firm might commoditise a repetitive exercise such as conveyancing. So for example a US firm that works on a high volume of, say, corporate mergers and takeovers, will analyse the data from the transactions it has acted on over the last few years to analyse the actual hours spent by its lawyers and then, to the extent possible, this is then broken down to examine the seniority of the lawyers concerned and how much work they undertook at different stages of the transaction. From there the past data is extrapolated to future transactions to enable the firm to provide fixed fee quotes with confidence. In addition, templates of standard tasks or “Springboard Maps” are generated to cut down on the time to be spent on the transaction. 

During execution of the work the supervising partner is alerted if a task is running over time and he or she will investigate the reason for the over-run, which might be attributable to inefficiency on the part of the lawyer or a miscalculation of the resources needed to execute an aspect of the job, or the reason may be attributable to the client, for example if there has been “scope creep”. The partner will then institute appropriate remedial action. 

There are a few problems with the American approach:

  • Every transaction is of course different; even if there is a reasonable frequency of a type of transaction, a firm on different occasions may be acting for different parties such as buyers, sellers or financiers who will have differing roles in the transaction
  • One might also wonder how reliable the analysis of previous data will be when the assumption seems to be that people who worked on previous transactions were both efficient and honest in their time recording (although funnily enough if the time was inflated in previous transactions that might lead the firm to stipulate a higher price in the future, meaning higher profits if the work is now executed efficiently)
  • Most pertinently to the Australian market, the size of the local market makes it difficult for even the largest Australian firms to rely on a high volume of corporate or commercial transactions and therefore the dataset on which a local firm bases its analysis might be quite thin. 
Not being able to follow the US approach is, in my view, not a problem but rather is an opportunity. A bespoke solution, specifically, preparing a Project Execution Plan (PEP) on a complex project or transaction, means that a firm is able to demonstrate to a client that it has thought about what is required, can execute it efficiently and can report against execution. Clients want more than glib platitudinous statements about a firm’s capabilities; usually technical competence is a given and clients are looking for tangible proof of efficiency. 

In particular preparation of a PEP showing how work will be undertaken is the type of transparent methodology that may provide mid-tier or boutique firms with an advantage over their larger competitors. It enables smaller firms to impress a client with both their understanding of the job and their attention to the process side of the work. It can help remove the perception that it is safer to use a “brand” mega-firm on top-end work. 

The planning process can be even more impressive if the client is asked to participate in the planning session (and if so the firm would be well-advised to have a dry-run beforehand!). Also if a smaller firm is not being considered for tender lists, it can try cold-calling businesses offering to do a free PEP on forthcoming projects as a way of getting a foot in the door. 

It should be emphasised too that LPM is not just about reducing fees; if waste is eliminated fees should come down, but if the work is monitored properly there will also be opportunities for firms to charge extra for variations to the scope of work. 
Preparation of a detailed PEP for a client on a transaction may be the best form of marketing a law firm can ever do. Moreover a properly prepared and executed work plan is likely to result in a happy client, thereby reducing the likelihood of disputes and leading to repeat business. Thus the emphasis in the US may be internal (maintaining margins) but the aim of Australian firms should be to adopt an externally focused (i.e. client-based) approach to discharge work efficiently and transparently. 

About our Guest Blogger

Peter Dighton
Peter Dighton is the principal of Law Strategies Pty Ltd., which is a legal and commercial project management consultancy with over 30 years’ experience on international resources projects.

Law Strategies has developed its own methodology for preparation of Project Execution Plans – “Incogito” .

How to use digital tools to win more work

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

By Kirsten Hodgson, Founder of Kaleidoscope Marketing 

Stop thinking of digital and social tools as being separate from traditional marketing and BD activities. 

They’re not. 

The recent results of the ALPMA/Julian Midwinter 2015 Research ‘Winning Work in a Digital World’ confirmed that law firms are, on the whole, using these tools separately rather than as a way to enhance the success of their existing activities. 

Unsurprisingly, the study found the top three ways law firms in Australia and NZ win work are via: 
  1. Referral relationships/networks
  2. Events 
  3. Client relationship management programmes. 
I don’t expect that to change. But each of these things could be even more effective if firms, and the individuals within them, leveraged digital channels as a part of these strategies. 

The authors put it well when they said “We expect this to change in the near future, as more firms come to understand the benefits of a well-strategised and resourced digital program for supporting their overall marketing and BD efforts.” 

How can I leverage digital channels to make my existing initiatives even more effective?

1. Referrals

Often people refer work to whoever is top of mind. 

A referral programme can and should have digital elements built into it. This could include setting up a joint group on LinkedIn to target common prospects or simply encouraging those within your firm to share content valuable to their referrers’ clients directly with their referrers (this can often be done with one click of a button online). We all get busy and go through periods when it can be hard to get out from behind our desks. In those instances, we can use those social networks, where our referrers are present (and email marketing), to stay on their radars. 

By regularly sharing content valuable to your referrers and their clients online, you are likely to grow your referrer base. Over the past two years, I’ve had good quality referrals from over ten overseas consultants as a result of my online activity. And the clincher? I haven’t even met the majority of these people in person (although have had Skype conversations with some). 

Another aspect of this is ensuring that when referrers recommend us, our online profiles present us in the best possible light. I’ve seen too many instances of professionals missing out on work (often that they didn’t even know was in the pipeline) because their online profiles just didn’t cut it.  Don’t kid yourself that your clients and prospects aren’t looking at sites such as LinkedIn to verify you because they are! 

2. Events

There are multiple ways you can leverage digital channels to improve your event programme: 

  • Ask your connections on LinkedIn and your followers on Twitter or other social media platforms the one thing they'd like to get from your session. This is a great way to get engagement with your event and will result in a much better session.

  • Use technology to run webinars and record these for viewing on-demand post event.  You could allow people to view these recordings free from your website - in return for completing a form and providing their email address/contact details. This then allows you to communicate with them on an ongoing basis throughout their buyer journey.

  • Invite people to your events via social networks and drive them to a landing page where they can register. 

  • Post insights from the event on your website, blog and social networks post event. Your call to action could then be to view the recording of the session. 

  • Run a mini online course via a landing page and a series of autoresponders you set up that people can work through at a pre-determined pace.  Many entrepreneurs do this extremely successfully - and it is a strategy that would also work well in professional services. An added benefit is you can include calls-to-action throughout the series, moving people through your sales pipeline and, because you capture their email address at the outset, you can keep in touch with them on an ongoing basis, allowing you to start to build a relationship and trust. 

3. Client relationship management programmes

A friend (who works in London for an international law firm) said that he’d recently conducted a client review and his client had asked him why none of the people the firm had previously seconded to the client were on LinkedIn. His client went on to say “we see these people as part of our team too and we want an easy way to stay in touch with them.” Setting up LinkedIn profiles for each of these people and having them join the client’s alumni group - not to mention connecting with those they know within the client’s organisation - would give firms access to a goldmine of information and insights they currently don’t have. 

The mini-courses and on-demand webinars mentioned earlier could be offered to key clients in order to take some pressure off their in-house legal teams. You could then use live online support sessions to enhance the value you offer. This is particularly helpful when your clients have offices in multiple cities and/or when their teams need quick access to content. 

Following clients online (both their organisations and the key people) allows you to understand more about them and may inspire further ideas about how you can help them. At the very least, engaging with their content generates goodwill and keeps you top of mind should an opportunity arise. 

These suggestions are by no means exhaustive. I’ve barely even scratched the surface. But my point is this: whatever you’re doing in terms of business development and marketing could be even more effective if you integrated digital into the mix. 

It’s a case of thinking "'how could using digital channels help me to achieve Objective X more easily?" 

For example, by using LinkedIn and/or tools such as Crystal to uncover information prior to a new business meeting, you can better plan your approach and determine the right colleagues to take along to the meeting. 

If you’re not thinking like this, then I guarantee you’re missing out on some of your ideal work. 

And in today’s market, can you really afford to let that happen?

Editor's Note

ALPMA members and research participants can also attend the results webinar at 1.00pm (AEDT) on December 8 for free, while eligible non-members pay just $99.00 (including GST).  

Register now to learn more about winning work in a digital world from JMA's resident business development expert, Alistair Marshall. 

About our Guest Blogger

Kirsten Hodgson is the founder of Kaleidoscope Marketing, helping professional services firms to grow their existing client base and attract more of their ideal clients through inbound marketing including harnessing the power of LinkedIn. She has led LinkedIn workshops throughout New Zealand, Australia and the UK, showing professionals how they can adopt social selling to grow their practices. 

Her books, The Complete Guide to LinkedIn for Lawyers: Connect, Engage and Grow your Business and The Complete Guide to LinkedIn for Accountants were published by LexisNexis earlier this year. She is a co-creator of ‘Grow your Practice with LinkedIn: for Lawyers’ an online training course, which has been CPD accredited by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in England and Wales. 

The 2015 Marketing and Business Development Report Card for Australasian Law Firms

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

By Amy Burton-Bradley, Partner at Julian Midwinter & Associates

Click here to download research

The newly-released 2015 ALPMA/JMA Winning Work in a Digital World research reveals that not a lot has changed for firms on the marketing and BD front since our 2014 study.

Firms are still grappling with the same big external and internal challenges:
  • competition for clients in a mature and saturated market – rated the single biggest challenge (21% of respondents)
  • firm differentiation (17%)
  • finding new sources of work (16%)
  • keeping up with online, digital, and social media (11%).
When asked about other challenges their firm faces, respondents reported a mix of internal issues around culture, strategy, and lack of resources, as well as external factors.

So where should firms focus to meet these challenges and thrive in a digital world?

Firm report card

The 2015 Marketing & Business Development Report Card for Australasian Law Firms (below), based on research results, highlights several critical success areas firms can focus on to improve results - and I have put together an action plan and some homework to help you address these issues at your firm.

1. Translate aspiration into action

“The major challenge is getting it all humming along in one meaningful, strategic direction. Saying no. Not being waylaid by Partner demands. Having enough hands on deck.” 

With competition for new work fierce in a mature and saturated legal market, it’s reassuring that 84% of respondents say marketing and BD is important to their firm. However, only 50% of firms have an overarching marketing and BD plan and only 32% agree their firm is strategic and disciplined in its approach to marketing and BD activities.

“[Our challenge is] coming up with a firm strategy and ensuring we adhere to it.”


Firms need to develop – and communicate – a clear marketing and BD plan. Communicating the plan will help with staff engagement and motivation. Remember to monitor the plan for effectiveness, and don’t be afraid to stop activities that are not working. For some simple tips on getting a plan together and sticking to it, click here.

2. Capitalise on client satisfaction

Clearly, a law firm can’t exist without clients, so it is encouraging that 77% of respondents agree their firm is focussed on client satisfaction. However, 64% do not obtain client satisfaction feedback in any systematic or formal way. 
This is a huge missed opportunity for firms. Collecting client data through a formal process can help you to:
  • keep your clients happy and make them feel special by asking for their opinion and feedback
  • give clients what they actually value (hint: it’s unlikely to be a 'latest news' section on your website)
  • head-off any grumbles before they become serious issues (like a bill dispute)
  • uncover what your clients’ changing needs are – giving you opportunities to design new services or refine your offerings
  • reward your lawyers and staff for a job well done, and to performance manage others
  • promote your firm using client data statistics and evaluations.


Set up a simple client feedback survey to ask your clients what they want and value. With a regular process in place, not only will you improve your attractiveness as provider of legal services, but you may also see improvements in client retention and satisfaction over time.  Learn more about the benefits of measuring client satisfaction. 

3. Win with in-person activities

Firms rated face-to-face marketing and BD activities as the most effective for generating new business enquiries. Research results showed that the top three most effective activities are: referral networks; events (such as seminars hosted by your firm); and client relationship management programs.

Strikingly, though, 56% of firms do not train their lawyers in critical marketing and BD skills, and we can see in the report card that more than half of firms do not have individual marketing and BD plans for their lawyers. As one respondent noted, their firm tends to rely on ‘passive’ marketing and BD activities, like referrals, to generate new business; ‘our staff are not comfortable with actively trying to market the business in more direct ways.’


Some ideas for developing younger lawyers’ skills and confidence include offering partner mentoring and opportunities to accompany partners to client meetings; encouraging attendance at client social and networking events; or engaging external BD coaches. Download JMA’s simple 10 minutes a day BD plan for lawyers (PDF) to help you get started.

4. Do more with digital

While a few firms indicate they do not use social media yet (‘fear of the unknown’), it is positive to learn 58% of respondents agree that their firm is prepared to be innovative and adopt new approaches to marketing and BD. 
The most popular activities firms are hoping to try in the coming 12 months include:
  • making use, or better use, of social media
  • upgrading website features and content
  • increasing client-focussed activities 
  • producing online video content. 
With few firms doing digital really well, there’s real scope for firms to extend their online presence and make smarter use of digital tools to differentiate and amplify messages in support of their in-person activities. Nearly all firms surveyed have a website, but only 13% of respondents rated their firm’s website as highly effective.


You can’t afford to ignore it any longer: 2015 is a digital world, and you must engage with it. Figure out where your audiences are, and investigate the right platforms and content to deploy in the battle to win new clients and more work in a digital world.  If you’re not sure where to start, our earlier blog post will give you some ideas.

You should also download the 2015 ALPMA/JMA Winning Work in A Digital World research report for free to see how your firm's approach to marketing and business development compares to other law firms in the competition for new business. 

Editor's note 

Interested readers can also register to attend for the Winning Work in a Digital World webinar on Tuesday 8  December at 1pm (AEDST), where Alistair Marshall, Julian Midwinter and Associates' resident business development expert, will talk more about the most fruitful areas for firms to concentrate their marketing and BD efforts on and share ideas and practical tips to help you get positive behavior change and results for your firm.  Register now.

If you have a particular question you would like addressed at the webinar, you can submit your question here, and we will endeavour to answer as many as possible.

About our Guest Blogger

Amy Burton-Bradley
Amy Burton-Bradley is an experienced business developer, marketer, and copy-writer, who has worked with more law firm clients than she cares to remember!

She is a partner at Julian Midwinter & Associates, a business development consultancy that has helped law firms attract, win, grow, and retain new clients and business since 1993.

How to create client value in the digital era

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

By Karen Lee, Legal Industry Advisor, SAI Global 

I am sure you are well aware of the pressures on today’s law firms to provide more for less, while at the same time give clients more control and certainly of their money. As we advance further into this digital era, clients expect more – much more. Clients expect any money they spend is well worth the value they receive. The 2015 ALPMA/LexisNexis Research Preparing Australasian Law Firms for a Digital, Divergent, Differentiated Future found only 29% of firms are prepared for a digital future that will deliver this level of service and value to clients. Is your firm part of the 29%?

Your daily challenge is to not only stand up to these pressures, but also find workable solutions that will increase your firm’s operational efficiency, keep up with ever-changing technology, and still grow your firm’s profits. This is no easy task, but there is help.


Regardless of your firm’s specialisation, you always need (with or without the help of technology) to build an accurate picture of your client. This is not only needed for due diligence in terms of gathering all the facts for a matter or a transaction, but the portrait of your client is also needed for identification of opportunities and risks that arise. This helps put you one step ahead of the game at all times.

Consider the globalisation of the legal industry as a prime example of where visualisation in law is beyond merely helpful, but necessary too. Let’s say your Singapore office has just taken on a matter in Australia. You need to build a complete picture of your client and you need to be able to communicate that information to the relevant parties locally as well as overseas. With the right kind of software at your disposal, commercial information can be quickly standardised through pictures. A company is a company, a person is a person, a property is a property, no matter where you are in the world. This type of technology will help everyone involved envision the commercial information in the right way and they will be able to put it all in the proper context. This facilitates collaboration and offers the greatest chance of a positive outcome. This also translates to the ability to provide the highest level of service (and value!) to the client. 


Inefficiency is not an option when striving for the long-term success of a firm. The same research found that 72% of firms are changing their resourcing strategy to increasing operational efficiency. A key to making this change lies in automation, which relies on technology. 
Technology makes it possible to automate generic processes and standardise workflow. Let’s consider this example of having a will drawn up. With the exception of people who have amassed great fortunes in their lifetime, most wills are fairly standard. Over the coming years, the average person will no longer need to go to their lawyer to specify to whom they plan to leave their money and assets. Technology would enable them to do this quickly and easily and at a fraction of the cost. Wouldn’t you take advantage of this kind of opportunity?

Connecting the dots – legal technology, law firm efficiency and client value

You may find this statement surprising – there is actually no point in adopting new legal technology just for the sake of improving law firm efficiency. This is because efficiency has to lead to value for your clients, otherwise you are not focusing resources correctly and you are simply wasting your time.

There are a number of commercial information platforms available on the market that will help you visualise and automate your workflow’s. Investigate the benefits these have to offer your firm in terms of delivering more effective outcomes.

About our Guest Blogger


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

She has practised banking and financial services law for 17 years, including over 6 years spent in-house in leadership roles and over 4.5 years spent focused on legal documentation, precedents and knowledge management at a top-tier Australian firm and a magic circle global firm.

As the principal and a consultant of Legal Know-How, she utilises her top tier experience to provide expert advice to firms and businesses on a wide variety of legal and operational matters, as well as provide user-friendly knowledge management solutions to firms and businesses to enhance client/customer service. Her clients have gained significant value from using Encompass, a legal commercial information management platform.

Using robots for client service delivery at law firms - The Conveyancing Shop case study

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

By Sirpa Gunn, CEO, The Conveyancing Shop 

In 2015 we employed our first robot.

George came highly recommended by his previous employers, Auckland-based accountants, Wise Advice.

As with most new technologies, not everyone was convinced that George would be a good fit in our close-knit team. At first, our staff felt a bit skeptical and perhaps a little threatened by his presence. But as they witnessed the benefits he brought, they came to fully appreciate the change and to value his contribution.

George is a wheeled robot fitted with a screen for a face. George can be controlled remotely, so the screen can turn towards whomever is speaking. This allows us to have remote meetings with groups of people without asking them to crowd around a screen.
george the robot
We employed George as a time-saving device for our specialist lawyers. With four branches across Auckland, our specialist lawyers would often have to travel to speak to clients. With travel time, the meeting itself and catching up with staff in the other branches, our very valuable team members could spend over two hours attending a 30-minute meeting. This is certainly not the best use of time for a law firm partner. We found Skype didn’t work well for a lot of clients – they expected to see a specialist lawyer in person and huddling over a screen makes the meeting awkward and stilted. The reaction to George whizzing into the room was quite different – clients love him!

Initially, we had just intended George for our senior lawyers to have meetings in other branch offices. Our mobile legal executives then started taking him to meet with clients at their homes or workplaces. This lets our clients talk to lawyers back in the office to explain legal details like guarantees and loan documents. We even allow clients to login and use George to attend online meetings with us in our office.

While technology is a fantastic means of automating processes, there is a danger that it can negatively impact on the customer experience – nothing can replace personal interaction. Perhaps unusually, I believe law firms are in the customer service industry. We are there to use our legal knowledge to provide exceptional service to our clients. We keep this in mind whenever implementing new technologies – our goal is always to use technology to increase our face-to-face time, not reduce it. George certainly helps us to achieve that. The time saved on travel means our lawyers can take more time in meetings to make sure clients have all the information, and know their options. It has also freed us up to provide more value-added services.

George has become something of a talking point. He’s our team mascot – something new and fun that fits with our innovative reputation. 

Was George a good investment? Yes – he was a left-field investment, but one that’s significantly added to our clients’ experience. In the travel time saved alone he would have earned his keep within the first few months.

Editor's Note

Thought Leadership Eye Level

The Conveyancing Shop were finalists in the 2015 ALPMA/InfoTrack Thought Leadership Awards for their innovative use of George The Robot to reduce costs and improve service delivery at their law firm.

Check out the online discussion panel featuring the finalists discussing the challenges of operating in a digital, divergent and differentiated legal environment with ALPMA President, Andrew Barnes and InfoTrack Executive Chairman, Stephen Wood.

About our Guest Blogger

Sirpa GunnSirpa Gunn is a Conveyancer and CEO of the Conveyancing Shop Lawyers Limited. Sirpa oversees the smooth running of the firms four branches and Auckland wide mobile legal service.  After more than 10 years in this role, there is little she does not know about the industry and is regularly invited to present seminars and speak at events.

Sirpa has a Master of Management degree and, prior to establishing the Conveyancing Shop with Director Thada Chapman in 2005, she worked in international business and hospitality management. She believes her diverse experience has been a key factor in her success, as she has been able to adapt her focus on customer service to the legal industry and work on integrating technology to create a better client experience and increase the productivity of her firm.

Sirpa is a strong advocate for the rights of asylum seekers in New Zealand and sits on the board of the Auckland Refugee Council. She is also a partner of Rocket Practice, a consulting firm that assists Australian and New Zealand Accounting and Legal Practices adapt and thrive in the digital era.

How innovative technology can change the way law firms do business

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

By Ian Perkins, Managing Director,  lawlab

Investing in technology, changing service delivery and creating new service platforms for people will be standard legal practice within the next 10 years.

From humble beginnings in the NSW country town of Nyngan in 2001, somewhat geographically challenging when competing with big city law firms, we are now one of Australia’s most efficient high volume national conveyancers, with additional offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Darwin, servicing both our own clients and acting as an outsource provider to other law firms.

We were proud to be recognised as finalists in the ALPMA/InfoTrack Thought Leadership Awards for Project Rundl.

With more than 15 years’ experience in the conveyancing area, we’ve become known for our legal expertise in the property industry and our commitment to specialisation in conveyancing, while always focusing on providing outstanding customer service. To do this, we invested a lot of time, resources and money in technology development to create a way to make conveyancing easier and more transparent for all parties.

The geographical divide

To overcome the geographical challenge of being headquartered in a small town we set out to create an online network that connected everyone involved in a property transaction, including real estate agent, finance broker, conveyancer and buyer. Our goal was for all components of a property transaction to be completed easily and provide a better experience for customers. It was our aim to put the customer at the centre of the transaction. And that’s what we achieved when we implemented Project Rundl, a cloud-based transaction collaboration platform.

Innovative technology for streamlined property transactions

Rundl makes the property transaction process quicker, more efficient and more open. Gone are the days of long email chains and constant phone calls to chase up approvals, forms and sign-offs, and to get updates on where the process is at. 

The beauty of an online tool is its ability to speed up communications and document sharing between everyone involved in a property purchase or sale. This includes the customer and brokers, lenders, real estate agents, aggregators, accountants, lawyers and insurance firms.

Simplifying the customer’s journey from point A to point B and providing a streamlined, hassle-free service, at a realistic, fixed price were key reasons for implementing the project.

The way of the future

As technology advances, so does the need for businesses to become more agile in order to maintain a competitive edge. At the heart of it, great service at a reasonable price is what we see as the future of the legal industry, and in conveyancing we’re keen to be at the forefront of that development. Rundl allows us to provide that for our clients.

The idea behind Rundl was to create an open business network for delivering smart and efficient professional services. For customers, having an open, transparent platform is an extremely useful tool in the buying and selling of property. It means that they can be remote or busy and not have to worry about meeting face to face with any of the service providers involved in the transaction. 

Collaboration is key

Through the development process we’ve discussed, Rundl is an engagement tool that is capable of decentralising workplaces and cities. This is very important if you’re based in Nyngan, with a population of just over 2,000. Put simply, you could be located anywhere, but if you have a truly collaborative network, then where you are is not really important. The focus for our client facing relationship is via a secure social media style engagement.

Rundl can be adapted to other legal transactions

One of the exciting things about Rundl is that it isn’t just for conveyancing. It is easily adapted to streamline any legal transaction that involves a standard process requiring collaboration across multiple internal or external parties. Rundl bridges the paper and digital divide ensuring that clients and lawyers are not left behind in the drive to digitise legal and other transaction services such as litigation. 

Working towards better outcomes

In a time when many law firms are looking to outsource to improve efficiency, Rundl will also allow us to build better systems to make Australians more productive and cost-effective and eliminate the need to take our businesses offshore. Greater efficiencies will also allow lawyers to spend more time on the strategic high value work rather than being bogged down in routine tasks.

While the legal sector is known to be quite slow to change when it comes to technology, investing in technology will give us more employment opportunities within Australia, something I’m passionate about. 

For other law firms considering tech development, it’s important to understand the challenges associated with building software to be both effective and reliable. It takes time, dedication and a skilled team of tech talent, but ultimately, or at least in the case of Rundl, it has certainly paid off.

Editor's Note:

Lawlab were finalists in the 2015 ALPMA/InfoTrack Thought Leadership Awards.  

Check out the online discussion panel featuring the finalists discussing the challenges of operating in a digital, divergent and differentiated legal environment with ALPMA President, Andrew Barnes and InfoTrack Executive Chairman, Stephen Wood.

About our Guest Blogger

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins is the Managing Director of lawlab, a specialist Australian legal services provider that takes the guesswork out of property transactions. He has been a lawyer in the banking and property sectors since 1997 and is a content expert in the property space. 

No Second Chance: The Importance of First Impressions to Law Firms

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

By Carl White, Client & Brand Director, CXINLAW

How likely is a prospective client to instruct your law firm on the basis of their first impression?

That was the question we asked CXINLAW Mystery Shoppers who made contact with over 50 Australasian firms with real legal enquiries. What we found was that 78 per cent of law firms fail the ‘first impressions test’, with only one in five providers gaining an instruction or recommendation. 

There’s no doubt that the experience clients and customers receive when first making contact with you, quite apart from what legal knowhow is provided, defines how they feel about the firm, and what they choose to do. In fact, “how do we want our customers to feel?’ is Apple’s first question and one law can learn from.

In law, use of the term ‘sale’ is needlessly provocative - but what we are talking about here is ‘point-of-sale’ and the effectiveness of your firm in managing its first impression upon prospective clients. In this way your firm is really not too dissimilar from any high street retailer or service provider. Do come to terms with that quickly. It will kill your firm if you don’t.

As with a retailer, there is of course a commercial imperative in getting your point-of-sale right and we know that firms lose thousands of dollars by getting it wrong. So wrong in fact that 45% left shoppers just as likely to call competitors and a third, who made contact due to a recommendation, permanently deterred. In this respect the findings have been described by legal practitioners as “hard-hitting” and “harrowing”.

Every firm likes to deal with clients they can help and no firm willingly tries its best to annoy clients, much like budget airlines often appear to do. What’s extremely scary then, is the degree to which law firms are sending clients they have worked hard to attract, into the arms of their competitors, often without realising they are doing so. Do you know just how many prospective clients go “ouch” when making contact with your firm?

Here are some essential learning points from our findings and work advising law firms:

What’s your firm’s key perspective?

Customer service must be in the DNA of everyone in the firm with all roles and functions responsible for excellent delivery. The starting point is the assessment of the current experience of your clients. At point-of-sale this means thoroughly understanding both the ‘utility’ and ‘soft’ aspects of the experience they receive. It’s then about engaging your staff with the findings to ensure the client is in their ‘line of sight’ at every moment.

No train, no gain

We all know what great customer service is, we know how it feels and we like it when it’s provided. The issue is that ‘business as usual’ at work often means that we neglect, forget or are frustrated by the need to deliver service excellence. This is critically the case in law. 

A solicitor recently expressed how she learnt about client service as a law student but now that she worked as senior associate, being ‘professional’ did not necessarily mean service was at the top of her list. Dealing with a client’s matter is. This point resonated with every legal ‘professional’ in the room. Does it with you? Today, the professional skills and capabilities of lawyers and support people must include customer service. The same is true of all the firms systems and processes.


It’s skills Jim, but not as we know it

Clients can teach lawyers and law firms a lot about meeting their demands, if only they’d listen. What we know from our work at point-of-sale is that your customers respond to being treated with care and empathy. You also know this as a customer yourself. You may feel that both qualities are demonstrated when a client calls, but it’s unlikely according to our research. 

Most receptionists ‘process’ calls and most lawyers ‘transact’ rather than see this first conversation as an opportunity to get to know the client. Solicitors quickly ask the default problem-solving questions without introducing themselves, asking open questions to show interest in the caller and build rapport. New clients recognise service and service skills must be taught and embedded in the firm. Most firms have no formal service training and those that do win more work and keep clients. 

Help clients buy 

I’m alluding to sales again but do not mistake that for the need to employ used-car salesmanship. Ironically, firms often give prospective clients one thing to care about, and that’s how much things cost, so who is being ‘oily’ and is it any wonder that buyers focus on the money?

Your role at point-of-sale is to help us buy by offering exceptional customer service and articulating the value in using your firm, not to sell. It’s not about giving us free advice and it’s not about being pushy. For instance, most firms we called did not set a time to make a follow up call after a positive first conversation. You’re not a ‘sales dog’ if you do, you’re being courteous and service-orientated. By being helpful you’ll also convert more clients into profitable business, by the way.

ALPMA President, Andrew Barnes said in our new report, “We exist in very competitive times. Law firm differentiators are not easy to identify, let alone leverage. Firms who rely on the personal element of relationships will do well to introduce Client Experience Excellence into their thinking.”

Taking service development seriously presents an opportunity to turn failing at First Impressions into the greenest of green fields in your pursuit of growth. But only if you and everyone at the firm can see the world as your customers do.

Editor’s note

Interested readers can watch Carl’s compelling 2015 ALPMA Summit presentation "Understanding Your Customers' Experience" on-demand for just $99 (including GST) from the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre.


Readers can also download a free copy of CXINLAW research supported by ALPMA "No Second Chance: The Importance of First Impressions to Law Firms".

About our Guest Blogger

carl whiteCarl White is a founding director of CXINLAW in the UK and Australia. CXINLAW focus on the advantage firms gain with Client Experience Excellence and deliver client insight, strategic support and development.

Passionate about the impact of Client Experience Excellence in professional services, Carl White entered the legal sector with Ashurst in 2002. He co-authored the highly-regarded ‘Customer Experience in Law' report in 2012 and led the market-leading Australian research in 2015 which was supported by ALPMA. The research examines the Client Experience Advantage for law firms and used mystery shopping to assess law firm first impressions and likelihood of client instructions.

He has a background in employee engagement, organisational development and training within law and 15 years experience in retail operations. 

The principal focus of CXINLAW includes working strategically with firms to define service objectives, deliver client insight and improve performance against the indicators of Client Experience Excellence. Carl's role is an international one that underscores CXINLAW's commitment to being the leading Client Experience partner to the professions in Europe and Australasia. 

Australasian law firms: Positioned to win in a digital world?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

By Amy Burton-Bradley, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates

As highlighted in LexisNexis’ recent study with ALPMA, Preparing Australasian Law for a Digital, Divergent, Differentiated Future, the perennial challenge for any law firm is finding new clients and unlocking more business from existing clients.  After all, without clients, a law firm won’t survive – no matter how proficient their lawyers are.

Is your firm lagging behind in online, digital and social media?

Many of the 'younger' clients with whom firms deal (and who are moving up in the ranks of decision-making) have never been without the internet or email. Think about that for a moment. 

With smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices rapidly overtaking desktop PCs and laptops as the primary way the internet is accessed, digital, social and mobile is less a trend than a way of life. Australian smartphone penetration is almost 90%, according to the latest Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index findings.

But are law firms keeping up at a basic level? And how many are making the most of these new tools at a sophisticated level (e.g. developing their own apps)?

Firms will hopefully have addressed issues stemming from Google’s mobile search ranking changes earlier this year, and many firms expect to significantly ramp up their online presence through social media and digital lead generation strategies in the near future.  

For those firms that are not sure where to start, or who are not sure what to do next, I offer some advice and tips:

Where to start: your firm’s position and your website

If your firm is about to spend precious dollars, time, and effort attracting and enticing prospective clients and referral sources through social media, RSS feeds, blog and LinkedIn posts, I recommend you think before you Tweet!

I can’t stress enough the singular importance of housekeeping:  define your firm’s position first, then get your firm website in order, and only then consider expanding your online presence. 

Your website needs to be ready as an appealing landing place for visitors, whether they reach it through your social media channels, email campaigns, or traditional, “off-line” marketing.

Is your website positioned with a clearly articulated overarching value proposition?

This really has to be the first thing to focus on – I see far too many law firms without a clearly articulated position (see my article, Position your firm or die!). 

Beyond a clear position, your website needs to be able to answer the following questions for visitors: 

  • Who are you? 
  • What do you do? 
  • Can you solve my problem? 
Your content should be framed to respond to the way people search for and then absorb information.  That is, content should be rich with key words, terms, answers, and useful information helpful to prospective clients, referrers, and advocates.

The structure and presentation of your content is also crucial. Make sure your website pages are easy for users to discover (and easy for search bots to follow), with relevant page titles, headings and subheadings, and meta descriptions.

You might be an expert in section x of the Trade Practices Act, but is a non-lawyer likely to Google that precise term? Might they not instead search for “consumer law”, or “regulator problem”, or “trade practices legal problem”?

To see how effective your current website is, try Hubspot’s free website grader tool.  It will assess the crucial indicators of performance, mobile responsiveness, and security, and show you where you need to improve. 
If you score poorly, this assessment can be a great starting point to work through with your current website developer.

And if you conclude that visitors will arrive at your website and hit a dead end, it’s time for a content overhaul.

Expand your presence with social media

Once you’re confident that your firm’s website is up to scratch, you can start to develop your online presence through social media channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. These channels should ultimately lead visitors back to your website.

Don’t be tempted to rush in to social media by the relative ease and speed at which you can publish content. Firms should be aware of the risks of “digital sharecropping” – that is, publishing your content on sites that you don’t own (such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+). 

Your content is essentially owned by the platform, and not only are you subject to their guidelines and restrictions on what and how you can publish, but also you risk losing all of your content should the site disappear.

As Copyblogger advises, “spend most of your time and creative energy building assets that you control”. This is your firm website.

Editor's Note

In conjunction with ALPMA, Julian Midwinter & Associates is excited to kick-off  Winning work in a digital world, our second benchmarking study into Australasian law firms’ marketing and business development. 

The study will focus on how law firms are responding to their biggest challenges: acquisition of new clients and business; differentiation in a crowded market; and use of online, digital, and social media.

The online survey is open to all Australasian law firms until 6 October, 2015.  Participation is free, and all participants will receive a complimentary copy of the research results report.   The survey will take approximately 15 minutes to complete.  All information collected will remain strictly confidential and will be used for research purposes only.  No individual firms will be identified in any way.

Two lucky participants will also win a marketing and BD Benchmark Briefing session for their firm, facilitated by a consultant from Julian Midwinter & Associates (valued at $850).  

About our Guest Blogger

Amy Burton-Bradley is an experienced business developer, marketer, and copy-writer, who has worked with more law firm clients than she cares to remember! 

She is a Partner at Julian Midwinter & Associates, a business development consultancy that has helped law firms attract, win, grow, and retain new clients and business since 1993.

Member Q & A with Lachlan McKnight

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Member Q&A with Lachlan McKnight, CEO of LegalVision

Online law firm, LegalVision, was crowned the winner of the 2015 ALPMA/InfoTrack Thought Leadership Awards, at the Gala Dinner of the 2015 Summit last week, ahead of finalists RMB Lawyers, LawLab and The Conveying Shop.

In this ALPMA member Q&A, we interview Lachlan McKnight, CEO and founder of LegalVision, about their award-winning innovative inbound customer acquisition strategy.

Q: What are the challenges of being an online law firm?

A: LegalVision is a primarily online law firm, providing high-quality, cost-effective, fixed-price legal services to Australian businesses seeking legal assistance, advice or documentation. We are also a tech start-up, focused on disrupting the legal industry.

Being an online firm, we acquire most of our clients online. Paid digital marketing channels are increasingly expensive, meaning profit margins for all law firms spending on digital advertising are decreasing. We needed another strategy to generate customer visits to our website and business leads we could convert to clients – without having to pay for them. It was also important to clearly position legalvision.com.au as the pre-eminent online resource for small and medium businesses looking for legal information and guidance.

Q: How did you address these challenges?

A: We implemented an inbound content marketing strategy. This required a significant investment in creating a constant stream of legal articles for our website and designing landing pages which encourage business owners to contact us once they’ve read the article. 

Over the last year, we’ve had each lawyer spend 1/20th of their working month creating content. Convincing all of our lawyers that they could indeed write 10 legal articles in a day took - and continues to take - a considerable amount of time, and leadership ability. 

We’ve created over 1,000 pieces of unique content, a resource that Australian SMEs can now access completely free of charge. We’ve also hired a full-time head of legal content, and built an inbound client care team to deal with the huge number of queries coming through.

Q: What were the results of your inbound content strategy?

We now generate 20 organic new customer leads per day from our inbound content strategy. Combined with the leads received through other channels, this has allowed us to scale up our offering rapidly. 

The type of work that our articles generate is generally contained and project based, for instance commercial lease reviews. We’ve hired two to three lead lawyers each month in the first six months of this year, most of whom work flexibly and remotely and on a part-time or casual basis. We are proud of our ability to bring back talented lawyers into the profession who are looking for a more flexible lifestyle.

However, the greatest impact of our inbound content strategy has been on the new clients LegalVision has won through it. 

Many small and medium businesses struggle to afford high quality legal services, and many decide to not use a lawyer at all. Our inbound content strategy is all about letting them know there is an affordable way to receive high-quality legal advice.

Tens of thousands of small and medium businesses now visit our website on a monthly basis. Although they may not become LegalVision clients, they now have the opportunity to access free legal information in an easily understandable, digestible format.

Q: What does winning the ALPMA/InfoTrack Thought Leadership Awards mean to you?

We are thrilled to be honoured as legal industry thought leaders. Recognising this project, and LegalVision’s overall approach to the provision of legal services, also acknowledges that the transformation of legal services, often described as “new law”, isn’t just limited to those firms focusing on ASX listed clients. Our focus on SMEs, and on modern client acquisition methods, is truly innovative and provides a model for the broader industry to learn from.

It is also a terrific way to acknowledge of the hard work of our staff. Over the course of the last year, we have transformed legalvision.com.au into Australia’s most visited legal services website. For a business that only launched in December 2012, this is an outstanding achievement. 

Editor’s Note:

Interested readers can learn more about LegalVision’s innovative content marketing strategy at the ALPMA webinar “Winning Business Online” on Thursday 7 October, at 1pm. ALPMA members can attend free, while eligible non-members can attend for $99.00 (including GST). Register now

Check out the new online discussion panel featuring LegalVision and the other Award finalists, RMB Lawyers, LawLab and The Conveyancing Shop, plus the ALPMA President and InfoTrack CEO, discussing the challenges and opportunities associated with operating in a digital, divergent and differentiated legal environment.

About Our Guest Blogger

Lachlan McKnight, CEO LegalVision

Lachlan McKnight is the CEO of LegalVision. Lachlan previously worked as a corporate lawyer in London, Paris, Amsterdam and Hong Kong with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Norton Rose, two international law firms. 

Lachlan’s now settled in Australia and thoroughly enjoys building a business which is transforming the way in which Australian businesses access legal services. LegalVision are the 2015 ALPMA/InfoTrack Thought Leadership Awards winner.

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