A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Why spreadsheets are slowly dying (and good riddance)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Compu-Stor advert




By David Keeler, CEO, FilePro 


For nearly 25 years, Microsoft Excel has been the financial foundation of business. Yet, slowly but surely, services like Xero, Salesforce and Google Analytics have replaced the humble spreadsheet – software that processes data with greater speed, accuracy, accessibility and visibility.

Yes, spreadsheets will always have a role, e.g. processing data highly specific to your circumstances. But for reports shared across business models – be it revenue, contact details, website visits or cash flow – spreadsheets fall flat.

When it comes to running a law firm, many common, business-critical indicators are still reliant on spreadsheets. Automating these financial indicators has numerous advantages:


1. Visibility



Humans are designed to understand information in a visual way, i.e. not a spreadsheet. Probably the most infamous example of this bias is the Challenger Space shuttle disaster, where a part was damaged due to cold temperatures.

In retrospect, it was found that the Challenger team did, in fact, test these sealants under different temperatures – this is how the data was displayed. 


FilePro O-ring history 1



And this is what would have been clear should the data have been displayed in a visual format.


FilePro O-ring history 2


The lesson is clear – ensure that your practice management system displays your information in a clear, logical, and easy-to-understand manner.

2. Speed



Spreadsheets are clunky. Data is copied and pasted from one program to the other, results have to be double checked, and Excel takes time to master.

Your practice management system should be able to display billings, debtors, task list, new matters listing with a single click, and in real time, i.e. without waiting for systems to generate data at the end of the month and the excel expert to generate reports.

Which brings us to...

3. Accuracy



The manual nature of excel makes it prone to human error. In fact, data researcher Raymond Panko found, “that the average cell error rates (the ratio of cells with errors to all cells with formulas) is 5.2%”.

While automated systems such as Dashboard are not immune to human error, e.g. someone filling out a timesheet incorrectly, a fully-integrated approach removes many steps of manual data handling across systems and further reduces the risk of mistakes.

 

4. Accessibility



This is two-fold. Firstly, many spreadsheets are hosted locally and can only be accessed by one person at a time. Services like Office 365 are changing this, although they raise security issues around public v private hosting.

Secondly, spreadsheets aren’t tailored to who is looking at them – for example, a junior fee-earner shouldn’t see your firm’s P&L. Yet you may want them to compare their daily time sheets to their KPIs.


Firstly, check whether your practice management system is hosted locally or on a private server, preferably in Australia. Secondly, ask if it can create tailored reports based on who is looking – be it partner, practice manager or fee earner.



About our Guest Blogger

David Keeler
David has been involved with the legal profession for over 25 years. Originally an accountant and consultant, he became disenchanted with the quality of legal software and developed a solution to satisfy the requirements of his clients – ie FilePro.

After working with over 1000 firms, David has acquired a wealth of knowledge about what it takes to improve the productivity of a law firm, and ultimately, their profit.

If you’d like to learn more about FilePro’s Dashboard, visit our website or watch the video

FilePro video link


Feel free to contact me on a no-obligation basis to discuss any technology, workflow or productivity challenge you may be facing.




3 tips to implement outsourcing for your firm

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Compu-stor advert


By Robin Carter, Managing Director, Add Capacity


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


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


1. Know your 'Why'



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

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

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

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

2. Be prepared to invest



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

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

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

3. Get internal buy-in



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


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


About our Guest Blogger

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

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



Why law firm marketing is like dating

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Compu-stor advert





By Wendy Coombes, Brite Kite Marketing


Proposing marriage on a first date is a surefire way of cooling a budding romance in it its tracks. It is safe though to assume that our chances of “putting a ring on it” are vastly improved by a period of courtship.

So just as in the dating game, attracting and converting your ideal legal clients is a sensitive multi-staged process.

Attract



So how do we attract that ideal person into our lives, or, in the case of legal marketing, our ideal legal client to our firm? Having a clear picture of what your ideal client looks like and knowing where he or she congregates is a strong start.

In marketing speak we refer to this process as ideal buyer profiling. Unlike defining a target audience in demographic language, an ideal buyer profile is a “deep dive” into your ideal client’s psychographics. Things like:

  • Pain points (what do you help them solve)
  • Goals & Challenges
  • Information Sources (blogs, forums, social media, review sites etc)
  • Values (what is important to them)
  • What experience do they look for when searching for your services

By creating a clear picture of our ideal client, we can readily recognise them, fine-tune our products and services to better meet their needs and, importantly, we know where they hang out.

If you want to attract a rugby player it is no good hanging out at the cricketer’s arms, but you if your ideal date is a cricketer..., anyway you get the idea.

Engaging and Nurturing Builds Trust



According to an article in the Guardian, a survey in the US put the number of people who google their date’s name before a first meeting at 43%.

What will your prospect find when they Google you? Hopefully a thoughtful article written by you that demonstrates you are someone who understands them, speaks their language and understands their goals and challenges. That is a pretty good start for anyone actively playing the dating game (or wanting to attract their ideal clients to their legal business).

Chances are however that their search result takes them to your LinkedIn profile or a profile on your firm’s website. Not bad, but probably not that memorable either.

Fostering trust is the key to building and nurturing strong, loyal relationships. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer shows us that experts and people who are “like us” are amongst the most trusted.

It therefore makes sense for legal practitioners to make use of digital channels to demonstrate both expertise and empathy to attract and engage their ideal customer. One way of achieving that is by publishing relevant content (articles for example) that position you as a subject matter expert.

Being personal and attentive



Successful courtship is all about being sensitive to the other person’s hopes, dreams and needs and responding in a relevant and personal way. Considering that John Gray’s book “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” (first published in 1992) sold over 50 million copies, it’s obvious that many of us find this pretty challenging to manage in our personal relationships, let alone when it comes to marketing a law firm.

Unlike the physical world, when it comes to successfully building relationships through digital channels, technology and data are our friend. Marketing automation, in expert hands, can help personalize and enhance the experience your customer has with your legal brand. It also lets you educate prospects in a way they find valuable, relevant and timely.

Timing is everything



Too early and you run the risk of repelling your date. Too late and the bird might have flown. Know when it is the right time to invite your prospect for a telephone conversation or a coffee meeting is critical.

Here too technology is a legal marketer’s best friend. By keeping track of which information your prospect engages with, you are progressively building their profile and structuring a comprehensive picture. Based on the actions they take on your website, the relevant partner or BD associate will be notified that the prospect is ready to be contacted.


When this time arrives, you have a wealth of data at your fingertips which will make that first outreach call more personalized and relevant.

The proposal: Putting a ring on it



The proposal stage should only be a formality. If you believe that your prospect has any doubt at all about taking it all the way to the altar, it is best to keep your powder dry. Addressing concerns and possible objections in an upfront and friendly manner builds further trust and enhances your chances of hearing a resounding YES!


About our Guest Blogger


Wendy CoombesWendy is a marketing strategist and marketing automation expert who works with professional services providers to help them make smart use of digital marketing channels to grow their business.

She combines intelligent strategies with smart content and technology to deliver demand generation programs that are highly targeted, effective and relevant.

Her Sydney based inbound marketing agency, Brite Kite Marketing is HubSpot certified and offers marketing technology, inbound marketing and demand generation services.

Brite Kite are an ALPMA FY17 NSW Corporate Partner.

Wendy currently sits on the NSW State Committee of the Australian Marketing Institute.

You may connect with Wendy through LinkedIn or by sending an email to wendy@britekite.com.au


Moving beyond slips, trips and falls in WHS: Managing psychosocial risks at work

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

ICON - Compu-stor advert


By Dr Rebecca Michalak, Principal Consultant, PsychSafe


In 1835, four hundredweight of mutton fell from an overloaded wagon onto a butcher servant, dislocating his shoulder, breaking his thigh, and causing a number of other injuries.

The incident lead to the landmark Priestley v Fowler (1837) common law case. The jury debated, amongst other things, whether the defendant engaged in 'pigheadedness' – in other words, whether the butcher knowingly over-loaded the wagon, thus causing or at the very least contributing to the accident.


The resulting judgment in favour of the plaintiff effectively paved the way for changes in the meaning and extent of employer and employee safety duties and liabilities, setting a precedent, and arguably underpinning our modern workplace health and safety legislative framework.

Workplace health and safety (WHS) standards have come a long way since 1835, and you would be forgiven for thinking that employers have workplace safety issues pretty much under control nowadays.

Air quality sensors have replaced canaries in mineshafts, warning signs galore adorn stairwells and lunchroom boiling water dispensers, and ergonomic keyboards and chairs are omnipresent.

“Safety” also appears as a core value on corporate vision and mission statements across the country, often alongside the ubiquitous statement that “people are our greatest asset.”

Unfortunately, more-than-decade-and-a-half in management and HR roles tells a very different story. Rhetoric abounds, and, in my experience, if one scratches just a little bit, the shiny surface of these safety claims is exposed, revealing a decidedly lack-lustre reality.

In law specifically, no natural – let alone subterranean – assets exist. Think about it. The law is a common good. Your business does not own this good. Your strategic competitive advantage lies in how you use this common good to produce products and services, which requires knowledge-workers.

In the absence of knowledge-workers, your business is essentially sans assets. Sans revenue. Pretty much sans a business (ok, yes, we have Lawbot, for contracts. But Lawbot depends upon knowledge-workers, to create and run Lawbot).


Strategically, for what the OECD classifies as a knowledge-based economy, our current approach to WHS is far less advanced than it should be, and that we’d ever like to concede. While humans are considered the most advanced species on earth, our approach to certain aspects of WHS is still back there hanging out with the hominina. Aka chimps.


Don’t get me wrong – we do seem to be across the need to prevent physical injuries. You can (probably) give yourself a tick.

However, employers appear decidedly stuck in the ‘slips, trips and falls’ WHS era. The requirement to ensure workplaces are not just physically but also psychologically and emotionally safe remain poorly, if at all, understood, aspects of WHS law.

Unsurprisingly, when it comes to risk management of factors affecting psychological and emotional safety, otherwise known as “psychosocial risks”, workplaces fare….. well….. Not So Well.

In my experience, organisations are more likely to have detailed risk management / disaster recovery / business continuity plans for a ‘two Boeing 767’s flew into the office block’ scenario than they are to have strategies to effectively manage psychosocial risks. Ironically including the psychosocial risks inherent to the fallout of said crisis of plane into building scenario (did someone say survivor post-traumatic stress disorder…?)

This failure exists despite a plethora of empirical data and anecdotal evidence that employees are exposed to these risks on a daily basis, if not multiple times a day. Recent research suggests poor interpersonal and/or leadership behaviours, including mistreatment, sexual harassment, incivility and bullying, are common, and for all intents and purposes, culturally pervasive in legal. As in amongst lawyers, risk exposure affects the majority, and for some risks, exceeds 90%.

The above in mind, I suggest leaders and managers need to stop, consider and strategise, because:

Psychological and emotional safety is AS important as physical safety



Not an add on; not a nice to have. A legislated requirement. Firm and officer liabilities for negligence offences for failing to provide a psychologically and emotionally safe working environment are the same as for failing on the physical safety front. The terms “significant” and “severe” spring to mind. While Priestley’s £100 is ‘only’ about $18,000 in today’s terms, a Category 1 Reckless Negligence offence can now attract a $3m fine for the employer, and 6,000 units in personal officer liability (in QLD that translates into $600K). And/or five years in jail. Take your pick. D & O insurance does not cover WHS breaches by the way. It’s a bit like crashing your car while drink driving; no insurer covers that scenario. Oh, and much like simply having unsafe scaffolding up on a construction site is enough to attract a WHS fine even if no one has fallen off it (yet), a psychological injury does not need to actually occur for you to be considered recklessly negligent in failing to provide a psychsafe working environment.

Resilience and mindfulness are psychosocial risk fire blankies



I have seen some fairly questionable safety conduct in my time – including walking in on someone disconnecting a 920 kg drum of liquefied chlorine gas sans breathing apparatus – and without closing the live flow valve off first.

I’m pretty sure my sprint exit from that chemical storage room would have given Usain Bolt a run for his money. No, seriously. I think I flew.

But I have to admit I am yet to see an employee douse an office in fuel and set it on fire, only to joyfully pull out a fire blanket and declare “It’s all good” or “This is fun!” whilst attempting to smother rampant flames.

Tiered (read: “legitimate”) risk management plans should include, but not rely solely on fire blankies.

Resilience and mindfulness strategies have their place. But these strategies really only come into their own after exposure to the risk. After 400 weight of mutton falls on your servant. This approach is a little bit like wanting to be an after-the-fact accessory. To grievous bodily harm, manslaughter, murder.

I’ve noticed the legal profession has an unnatural obsession with fire blankies. They should probably see someone about that.

Failure to primary prevent is costing you – and/or your insurers – money. A lot of it.



Evidence suggests merely being exposed to psychosocial risks negatively impacts all five aspects of job performance, translating into (*cough* SUBSTANTIALLY) lowered profitability. Employees who merely witness a risk exposure event also suffer psychologically and job-performance wise, causing a ripple effect.


Decade-long trends also show amongst other confronting stats, psychological injury claims are not only the single disease-related category of injury on the increase, these claims are, by a loooooong shot, the most expensive claim type.

In addition, poor mental health is considered the elephant in the room in approximately 1 in 3 professional indemnity claims.

It is unsurprising that Worker Compensation and Professional Indemnity insurers have started to cotton on to the “pfffttt, but that’s what insurance is for” attitude to psychosocial risk management. A more eyes wide open and move on from current ‘community’ or ‘number, not cost of claim’ approaches to setting premiums is underway.

After all, it is logical a car insurer would probably have an issue with someone deliberately driving their Ferrari into a wall at 140kph thinking “wahoo, this thing is fitted with airbags.”

Life and income protection insurers are also unimpressed with the exponential increases in TPD claims coming out of the legal profession by those who self-select out and then are declared psychologically unfit to work. In many cases, ever again.

The slips, trips and falls approach to WHS is decades out of date. When it comes to psychological and emotional safety, 1964 does not cut the mutton; Times have changed. Failing to recognize, respect and proactively integrate these changes into your firm’s risk management plan is not only a display of ‘pig-headedness’, but also akin to being as old as Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A-Changin”, and getting caught with your pants down. In public.

Does your firm have a psychosocial risk management plan? Is it tiered to cover primary prevention, early intervention and tertiary intervention strategies? Or do you rely on mindfulness and resilience strategies?



Editor's Note

psychosocial risk management imageWant to know more about managing psychosocial risks at your firm? You can watch Dr Rebecca Michalak's 2016 ALPMA Summit presentation Psychosocial Risks in Law Firms: Why Prevention is Better than Cure from ALPMA's On Demand Learning Centre for just $99, thanks to our 2016 ALPMA Summit On-Demand partner, BigHand.






About our Guest Blogger



Dr Rebecca MichalakDr Rebecca Michalak possesses over a decade of employment experience in senior management, consulting, and strategic human resources management roles in the private, not-for-profit, and public sectors. Rebecca's primary interests lie in strategic HRM, including values-based alignment practices, high performance cultures, change management, and psychosocial risk factor management. An expert in the field, she adopts a stress optimisation approach to employee performance that maximises productivity whilst minimising psychosocial risk to employees. Her perspective on managing human resources for strategic competitive advantage is knowledge-worker centric, and underpinned by social sustainability principles.

Dr Michalak holds a PhD in Business from the University of Queensland, a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Management Research from the University of Western Australia, and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with Honours (Organisational Psychology) from Murdoch University.

Rebecca is also a Certified Trainer and Assessor, a Certified Team Management Systems Practitioner, and University of Queensland Alumni Future Leader Program Awardee (2014). Her professional memberships include Member, Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology, Member, Australian Institute of Company Directors, and Certified Professional Member, Australian Human Resources Institute.

 


  Subscribe to receive posts as email

Watch the ALPMA 2017 Summit On Demand, thanks to our Live & On Demand Partner BigHand

Recent Posts


Tags


Archive

Australian Corporate Partners


Principal Summit Partner

Thought Leadership Awards Partner