A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Sailing the 4C's to Innovation: Communication, collaboration, critical thinking & creativity

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

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By John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack

As principal partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit, InfoTrack is proud to be supporting firms to drive innovation in the transforming legal landscape. This year, we’re working with ALPMA to gather insights from the industry on how firms are applying the four key 21st century learning skills: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. If you haven’t had a chance to complete our survey yet, please participate now.

As a technology company, innovation is central to our culture and processes so we're always thinking of how we can use the 4C's to adapt and evolve. Here are some of the things we focus on that can easily translate to your firm.

Communication


1. Be transparent about your firm’s strategy

When you’re clear about short and long term goals it promotes strategic alignment across your firm. Whether you work with yearly, quarterly or monthly strategies, make sure to start each new cycle with a meeting where you lay your strategy out for everyone in the firm and give the opportunity for discussion and questions. Working towards a common vision creates a cohesive and determined team. Track progress of your goals on any online collaboration platforms or even on your office wall to remind everyone of what you’re working toward.

2. Learn how to adapt your communication style

Take the time to understand your colleagues and how to best communicate with them. Different working styles respond better to different types of communication. Often, the younger generation prefers constant updates and feedback because they’ve grown up with instant messaging and social media. Some people work better with detailed instructions whereas others just want to know the end-goal. Being aware of your colleagues’ communication styles and how they work best creates better working relationships and increase productivity.

Collaboration


1. Promote knowledge sharing

Don’t let people hold back knowledge out of fear of succession-planning themselves out of a job. Make sure your employees understand that the more they help each other, the further they’ll get as a team and individuals. The more you share, the more you learn; especially in a digital world where change is constant.

2. Encourage mentorship

This goes both ways; senior staff can help the younger generation by providing guidance and imparting knowledge. Junior staff can help introduce new ideas and new technology to the firm. Take advantage of the diversity that different mindsets and backgrounds bring to your firm by encouraging reciprocal mentoring.

Creativity


1. Set aside specific time for brainstorming

In today’s society, we’re all time-poor and that goes even further in the legal industry. You’ll never have time for blue-sky thinking if you don’t make a conscious effort to block it out in your calendar. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and your never-ending to do lists, but you’ll never evolve if you’re stuck with your head in the books 24/7. Today’s market is more competitive than ever and you need to adapt in order to keep a competitive edge.

2. Have a dedicated innovation budget

Everyone says they’re working on innovation, but there’s rarely follow through to show for it. Have an actual plan around innovation and invest in it – whether that’s an innovation team, quarterly innovation days, training or something else – make sure it’s part of your strategy.

Critical thinking


1. Use time-saving technology

There are a lot of technologies available to you now that cut down on the time you need to spend on administrative tasks and sifting through data. Take advantage of these so that you have more time to work on critical analysis and profit-generating activities.

2. Be open to new ways of working

Recognise that disruption is now a constant in the legal industry; new technology, new business models and a new generation are constantly shifting the way things are done. Learning to embrace some of that change and take it on in a way that works for your firm is critical to continued success. You don’t have to change everything all at once, but take time to consider which new concepts and processes will benefit your firm most and trial them out.

The above advice applies to all businesses – no matter your firm size or area of law - these are simple initiatives you can put in place today to drive innovation and build upon the 4C’s.

We look forward to seeing you at the 2017 ALPLMA Summit in Brisbane.


Editor's Note

The ALPMA/InfoTrack 2017 Research: 21st Thinking at Australasian Law Firms is available for participation by Australasian law firms until Friday 28 July.  Complete the survey by Friday 28 July to go into the draw to win a delegate pass to the 2017 ALPMA Summit, from 13 - 15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. Please note, you must be eligible to join ALPMA to win the pass and the prize does not include travel or accommodation.

The results will be presented at the 2017 ALPMA Summit.  Participants who complete the survey will receive a complimentary copy of the research report, which sheds light on collaboration, communication, critical-thinking and creativity at law firms.

About our Guest Blogger


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

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

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

5 Five Year Predictions

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

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By Joel Barolsky, Founder and MD of Barolsky Advisors and Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne Law School


The two questions that every small and boutique firm needs to ask are:

1. Where is the legal market headed over the next five years; and

2. What should we do about it?

This blog post attempts to address the first question. The second will be covered during my 2017 ALPMA Summit presentation.


Before launching into my five-year predictions, it important to stress that I’m focusing on the market for legal services for individuals, families, and the smaller-end of SMEs.

Prediction #1: The market will be bigger than it is today


One of the major benefits of growth of online legal providers, is that it’s made the law far more accessible and affordable. Everyone can now access simple legal agreements, forms and advice for relatively a low cost. The experience of fast-expanding legal enterprises in the USA, like LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and AVVO, points to market growth coming from new clients seeking legal advice for the first time. Technology and scalable delivery models are unearthing the latent demand for legal services. I’d expect a similar trend here in Australia.

The rise in Australian property value is also likely to expand the market over the next five years. This means the stakes, complexities and risks are much higher for the majority of family law, probate/estate and property matters, as well as many commercial transactions. The role and involvement of lawyers is only likely increase when interested parties have more to gain, or lose.

Prediction #2: Strong retail brands will emerge


Over a lifetime, a typical family may need legal advice for property purchases, employment issues, insurance claims, marital disputes, estate planning and settlements. In Australia, there are no trusted ‘lawyer-agnostic’ retail legal brands offering a lifetime service relationship. By lawyer-agnostic, I mean clients buying a brand rather than an individual. To me, this is a major gap in the market that someone is likely to fill.


Slater & Gordon was on this path prior to their UK troubles. The other leading personal injury firms seem to be sticking to their knitting for the moment. The onliners, like Lawpath and LegalVision, are still relatively small and appear to be undercapitalised for a major brand assault.

This opportunity may be pursued by major service providers like the banks, insurers or super funds. It could also emerge as an adjacent strategy from leading accounting and financial planning firms.

Prediction #3: Costs will decline (for the innovators)


One of my clients, a 12-partner corporate and commercial firm, recently outsourced their entire IT function and moved almost everything to the cloud. The managing partner stated that this approach has more than halved the costs of IT and eliminated most of the headaches. They are now exploring other outsourcing solutions across their firm.

Another client has shifted one-quarter of her permanent workforce onto contract and now engages these lawyers as and when she needs them. By ‘chasing demand’ with a flexible talent pool she has shifted demand risk and lowered her costs significantly.

Stanford Law School’s TechIndex lists 716 technology companies currently developing solutions for law firms to become more efficient and effective. I predict a 5 to 10% per annum productivity gain for those firms open to innovation and willing to experiment with some of these new tools.

A simple example is the new proof-reading and document drafting application, jEugene. For a low monthly subscription fee, jEugene can potentially save hours in preparing and reviewing legal documents. As a SAAS solution, it has few entry and exit barriers and is perfect for small and boutique firms.

Prediction #4: Disputes won’t be disrupted


While technology can improve case prediction, discovery, research and other process elements of disputes, there is a very human role to play in handling the strategic and emotional nuances of legal conflicts and litigation. Not only is there a strong human element, it’s an area where lawyers have a natural advantage given the structural constraints of the judicial system and regulators. This advantage is likely to be sustained for many years to come.

Prediction #5: Invisible competition will grow


Thomson Reuters data suggests that the larger firms in Australia have reduced their overall headcount by around 7% over the past three years. Many of those leaving have continued to practice as freelancers.

At the other end of the career spectrum, this year, Australia’s 39 law schools will produce over 7,500 law graduates. A significant proportion of these graduates will enter the legal market in some form as freelancers or contingent workers.

The growth of the legal freelancer is the greatest threat to small and boutique firms. These freelancers operate with low overheads and maximum flexibility. They use the same powerful personal branding and social networking tools as everyone else. They can also access sophisticated practice management, legal research and CPD services for minimal cost online. The advantages of firm over freelancer seem to be less significant by the day.

In conclusion


With so much change and progress predicted, those firms that just stand still will go backwards. The market will reward the innovators and punish the laggards. Which one do you want to be?

PS. See you in Brisbane on Friday 15 September 2017 at ALPMA Summit for Part 2.

Editor's Note

ALPMA SummitJoel Barolsky will be speaking about the "State of the Australasian Legal Market and strategic implications for small, focus and boutique firms" at the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13-15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. Registration is now open for the 2017 ALPMA Summit, and there are great savings for those who register early! Register now!


About our Guest Blogger


Joel BarolskyFor the past 28 years, Joel has helped law, accounting and other business advisory firms plan, innovate and grow.

In addition to heading up Barolsky Advisors, Joel is a Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne and a former Principal of Beaton Research & Consulting. Joel has advised over 100 of Australia’s leading professional service organisations. Over 70% of his client are repeat clients or come directly from referrals from existing clients.

He is a recognised thought-leader evidenced by regular conference keynotes, press mentions and the global reach of his blog, Relationship Capital. Joel’s teaching roles at the University of Melbourne include delivery of an intensive subject on the Melbourne Law Masters program called, ‘Management for Professionals’.

He has in-depth expertise in the fields of strategy, culture, change, organisation design and business development.


Incentivising the New Normal

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

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By Timothy B. Corcoran, Principal, Corcoran Consulting Group, LLC


Businesses that don’t merely endure but thrive over extended time periods tend to attract and foster leaders who establish and maintain tight alignment between business strategy and business execution. Unfocused businesses with unfocused leaders generate sub-optimal financial performance even when things are going well. But when permanent market disruptions occur, a certainty in every market segment, unfocused businesses with unfocused leaders tend to flail until they’re acquired, dissolved, or relegated to a shadow of their former strength. This is a lesson that many law firm leaders have learned.

As law firm leaders valiantly struggle to overcome the consequences of market changes and maintain market share, they face several obstacles: Law firm partners don’t enjoy losing the autonomy to run their practices as they wish; most firms take an undisciplined “whack a mole” approach to driving change, responding primarily to variable client demand; and there are minimal rewards for partners to change behaviour. We won’t address the discipline of change management here, other than to say this: Leaders can’t drive change if they lack a comprehensive understanding of their law firm ecosystem and how each business function connects and interconnects with others. Without a multi-faceted and multi-year master plan, the odds of landing on the appropriate formula are significantly diminished. But let’s assume such a plan exists. Now what?

Follow the Money


If we hope to thrive in the new normal, we need to know how we make money, and how this has changed given the market disruptions. Law firms tend rely on a scant few performance metrics, most of which are focused on production, most of which are wholly internally-focused, and most of which are inefficient proxies for what we really wish to measure: profitability. For our purposes, profitability isn’t a crass or one-sided measurement. It’s a scorecard that reflects how well the law firm has deployed its unique assets to meet a market need in a way that’s mutually beneficial to the buyer and seller. Calculated properly, profits are a measure of long-term client satisfaction, not of “beating” the client in an adversarial game.

So we must understand the building blocks of our business, working ever backward from aggregate results, to the practices and offerings generating those results, to the matter types and activities contained therein, to the efforts necessary to win more of these activities. When we truly understand all that we do, and what we do well, and where we can improve, we can start to identify the critical behaviours necessary to generate greater success.

Acknowledge Different Contributions


Many law firms were built by exceptional lawyers who were as accomplished at generating business as offering legal advice, who were exceptional mentors and coaches, who were as adept with strategy as with operations. This is not most of us.

A successful law firm is comprised of different roles, different skill sets, different contributions. It’s necessary to understand the combination of contributions that generates success. Otherwise we risk the false assumption that “Success is primarily driven by business generation” or its opposite fallacy “We’re successful because we have top practitioners.” Of course these are true, just as a dozen other factors play a critical role. Only by understanding the unique combination of contributions by different lawyers with different skills can we establish a roadmap for replicating our success. However, we must acknowledge a fundamental truth: some contributions are more valuable than others, and this value may differ by practice, by matter type, by business cycle, by client industry, by year. Our objective in identifying critical behaviours is to maximise the contributions of all lawyers, rather than dilute our performance by asking, or allowing, lawyers to pursue that which is not their highest and best use.

Drive and Reward


Law firm partner compensation schemes, whether lockstep or eat-what-you-kill, subjective or formulaic, open or closed, tend to share one overriding flaw: they fail to proactively and clearly define the behaviours expected of partners in order to drive such behaviour. Instead, rewards are issued at year-end, in a process oft-shrouded in mystery, to partners who may not know what specific actions were valued, and how their specific contributions were valued relative to their peers. Changing lawyer behaviours requires leaders to set expectations in advance and to identify the rewards associated with the desired behaviours. Lawyers, generally acknowledged as averse to risk and uncertainty, are more likely to be dissatisfied when the incentive scheme is opaque rather than transparent. Managing expectations in this manner also helps to reduce feelings of inequity, because partners know the rewards associated with various behaviours and those willing to adapt can access different rewards.

There’s an old saying: If your compensation plan and your business strategy aren’t in alignment, then your compensation plan is your business strategy. This isn’t a reflection of selfish partner behaviour. In fact it’s the opposite. Sensible partners trust that their leaders have established an incentive scheme that rewards lawyers for activities that are beneficial to the firm. When leaders expect partners to act against their economic self-interest “for the good of the firm,” this isn’t boorish partner behaviour. This is simply inept management. It’s the leaders’ obligation to create alignment. The goal: What’s good for the partner is what’s good for the partnership. Settling for anything less than that outcome, and what’s good for the partnership might be better leaders.

Editor's Note

2017 ALPMA SummitTim Corcoran is a keynote speaker at the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13-15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. His presentation "Incentivising the New Normal: Linking what's good for the partner to what's good for the partnership"  covers the importance of communication and how to embrace a collaborative approach. This year's Summit theme, Sailing the 4C's, focuses on the critical 21st century learning skills of Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking and Creativity. Registration is now open for the 2017 ALPMA Summit, and there are great savings for those who register early! Register now!

About our Guest Blogger


Tim Corcoran

Timothy B. Corcoran is a New York-based management consultant with a global client base. A former CEO and corporate executive with several multinational businesses, his specialty is helping law firm and law department leaders adapt and adopt time-tested business practices in order to profit in a time of great change. Tim is past president of the international Legal Marketing Association, a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, faculty and affiliated consultant with Legal Lean Sigma Institute, a member of the Association of Legal Administrators, a regular keynote speaker at legal industry conferences, and author of the widely-read Corcoran’s Business of Law blog. He was recognised by LawDragon in its 100 Leading Consultants and Strategists for 2016.


Legal Industry Innovation under the Microscope

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovation ‘Active’

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

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

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

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

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

3 Key Characteristics of Successful Innovators

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor’s Note:

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



About our Guest Blogger

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

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

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