A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Effective communication, the key differentiator in a competitive marketplace

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

By Rebecca Nunan, Marketing Communications Specialist, LEAP Legal Software


Client communication is one business area which can highlight your practice’s reputation and presence in the legal industry. Both internal and external communication processes factor into how businesses and law firms can successfully share ideas and information, and in doing so can leverage the efficiency of the entire business. 

Client communication rates as the second highest cause of complaints received by the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner for 2015-2016. According to the OLCS, consumer matters complaints have increased by 7 per cent, with family law now making up 17.8 per cent of all complaints lodged. Conveyancing and corporate matters are ranked in the top six areas of law to receive complaints. Document handling is a common grievance for clients and, not surprisingly, the solicitor is the highest ranked practitioner named in the inquiry line. 

With complaints and client misunderstandings rising, it is not surprising that Lawcover’s annual review notes an increase in the number of insured law practices and solicitors and an increase in reported circumstances. Conveyancing matters attributed to the highest number of claim notifications for 2015.

With this in mind, let’s break apart the communication matrix!

Technology


Technology is an integral part of business operations across all law firms regardless of size or area of expertise. Today’s working offices are adapting and scaling up their technology to reflect the changes in the industry, and the demands of changing governmental processes and legislation. It can be hard to keep up while providing an efficient service to your clients – taking into consideration ongoing operational costs. According to PwC’s 2017 Global Digital IQ® Survey, “the human experience is a critical dimension of Digital IQ; to be successful in the digital economy, organisations must create agile, collaborative cultures that…focus adequately on customer and employee experiences”. The results highlight the desire for Australian businesses to improve customer service.

Information sharing is one segment of communication which is crucial to efficient matter management, and unfortunately this area is often the largest contributor to client dissatisfaction. Some causes for failing in clear communication processes are:

  • Large volumes of documentation which is delivered and retrieved from information systems and clients and not organised efficiently
  • Duplicate records for clients or matters which result in errors
  • Inefficient document sharing via email where documents are not secure, not attached, are excessively large, or get delivered to spam folders
  • Previous versions of documents are inadvertently shared.

The result is clients who continually call you to clarify next steps, and how you intend to assist in the process. Before we consider how to improve this situation, let’s delve into the everyday working of a matter.

Process-driven communication


Streamlined processes with supporting IT systems make all the difference to the efficiency of client work. Paperless or paper-light offices are becoming the norm for many law firms and some government departments, and sharing this concept with your clients is an important part of the step.

The first step a lawyer may take is to open an initiation template and draft the accompanying email, and then what follows is a streamlined cadence of emails, documents, telephone calls and invoices.

Online services and automation are revolutionising the way in which law firms operate; from matter management through to customer service surveys and protocols. The amount of data generated by lawyers is growing; consider all the completed forms, file notes, precedents, court rulings, emails and documents.

With the volume of data being collected increasing, failing to engage in process-driven communication can result in costly errors, such as incorrect documents stored, shared or emailed to the client.

Even for law firms who have established systems in place, there can be disharmony in the business when client communication break downs.

Communication and technology in harmony


Law firms can build trust with their clients by partnering with them to provide a superior service in addition to providing legal knowledge and advice. Providing superior service encapsulates a 360-degree viewpoint of client care; from legal knowledge, consultation, obtaining client data, priorities of the matter, exceptions, schedules, filing, outcomes and billing. These access points are crucial to providing superior client service - with technology spaning across these points, lawyers can be in control and be more active in processing a matter, not just responding to roadblocks.

Effective communication and competitive edge in one practice management platform


A centralised system that hosts your matter details and information in one, single location, with precedent automation and the ability to seamlessly save correspondence, is essential. The system should update matter cards immediately and the two-way sharing of data should be accessible from mobile devices. This will in turn enable you and your fee earners to respond to client queries expediently in real time.

In a competitive market where law firms now actively seek out clients, it is essential to be recognised as a leading firm that adopts cutting edge technology. Firms who differentiate by providing exceptional client service through effective communication will benefit from long-standing business relationships and increased profitability.


Editor's Note

2017 ALPMA SummitLEAP Legal Software are proud to be the Digital Partner for the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13-15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. This year’s Summit focuses on developing the key 21st century skills of collaboration, communication, critical-thinking and creativity at law firms. Join more than 300 law firm leaders and managers for an action-packed three days of professional development, networking and fun. Register now!

About our Guest Blogger


Rebecca NunanRebecca Nunan is a marketing communications specialist at LEAP Legal Software in Sydney.

Rebecca is a marketing executive with more than seven years’ experience working in the legal industry. Her experience working for local and international law firms has provided insights into best practices for running a successful firm – with a competitive approach to delivering exceptional client service. 






The importance of being curious!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

By Matthew Hollings, Senior Business Development Manager, Law In Order


For all the hype around increased technology adoption within the legal industry, it is still incredibly common to find the more traditionalist approaches still being applied to even the simplest of legal functions. Review of email data, or .pst files, being one of the more typical examples we see at Law In Order.

However, I always look to remind myself that going back a few years, to my time as a practising lawyer, I too was none the wiser as to the alternative ways I could potentially approach and undertake some of the legal tasks I carried out day to day, such as the review of emails. The standard (manual) approach; of printing, ordering, reviewing, flagging, indexing and then producing a volume(s) of relevant documents, was the one that, despite its inefficiencies, was still widely considered as effective, and certainly the agreed approach. And because that approach didn’t make the task practicably impossible, there was no incentive to change.

But there is one thing that my time in the legal technology industry has taught me and that is to question everything, preferably well before the platform burns below you. We are currently in a golden age of technology, and one which is having significant impact on the legal industry. Those who begin to be, and remain curious are those who will stand to benefit from the adoption of technology, and ultimately stay ahead of the game.

I certainly regret not questioning more as a lawyer; had I maintained the same curious outlook I had as a student, I may have discovered that our approach to things like email review, could have been completely transformed, automated and accelerated.

Having had many conversations with lawyers and legal professionals, at varying levels, and from various areas of practice, I know that remaining curious is sometimes difficult to do given all the other pressures you face on a daily basis. However, at Law In Order, we see first-hand how those that are committed to gaining a better understanding of available technology tend to be seeing tremendous benefits in their day to day work. Those benefits can stem from something as simple as the email review acceleration, through to more advanced solutions such as process automation and machine learning.

So as a lawyer, or someone working within or related to law (whether that be in private practice, in-house or government), make it your responsibility to drive technology exploration and adoption in your day to day work, in your practice group and in your firm – stay curious!

Editor's Note

Law in Order are the proud Pre-Summit Workshop Partner for "Personal Productivity in the 21st Century Workplace" by Dermot Crowley on Wednesday 13 September at Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. This highly practical and inspiring session will help participants to create a productivity system that will boost their productivity and leverage their technology. You do not have to be attending ALPMA Summit 2017 to attend this workshop. The workshop costs $395 for ALPMA members or $495 for eligible non-members. Places for these workshops are strictly limited so register now! 

About our Guest Blogger


Matthew HollingsMatthew Hollings is a Senior Business Development Manager at Law In Order. Law In Order is an international legal solutions provider who specialize in legal document production, managed discovery services and eCourt/eTrial technology.
Matt joined Law In Order following his experience as a lawyer in the litigation team of a national law firm and one of Australia’s leading financial institutions. At Law In Order, Matt is tasked with driving change within the legal teams of private practice firms, government agencies and corporates. By using his prior experience as a lawyer he aims to educate the modern legal professional about alternative technological workflows available to them that look to solve the daily challenges posed by an increasingly complex legal landscape.



Innovate – learning to fail fast is the key to leveraging disruption in the legal profession

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

By Neil Shewan, Managing Director, Adelphi Digital


As a lawyer, you must get things right – the first time. Fail, and your career can be on the line. De-programming this thinking is critical for modern legal firms to navigate the disruption that is happening in service delivery. Legal firms are being challenged by changing business models, expectations of the millennial legal workforce, changing client service buying habits, and new technologies like block-chain and machine learning.

Innovation is about failing again and again (quickly) until you find a way to make it work. At most legal firms’ failure doesn’t go down very well. Failure is met with poor performance reviews, frowns, grumbles, and sometimes even job loss. Yet this is what we know from many scientific studies that have looked at how to create a culture for innovation: Encouraging risk taking (and therefore being comfortable with failure) is one of the top five most important cultural factors that needs to be present if you want to be a highly innovative organisation.

When I ran a workshop recently with a successful Melbourne legal firm it was critical to remove the fear of failure before their innovation team could hope to start experimenting with change, and learning from the outcomes.

At the workshop I was asked by one of the senior managers how “accountability” fits with the need to take risks. I am not a huge fan of the word accountability as it has negative connotations. I prefer the word “responsibility” - much more empowering. And from an innovation perspective, it is far more responsible to fail quickly and cheaply than to waste hundreds and thousands of dollars and months writing business cases that stack up on paper (have you ever seen one that doesn't?) but go on to produce a mammoth failure.

So, how do you put in place the foundations for innovation?

1. Accept that failure is mandatory if you want to be serious about innovation. No successful innovation in this world got there without having a bunch of failures along the road to success. I suggest you start with the Lean Start-up Methodology. The method is to create quick and low cost prototypes of your ideas that you can quickly learn from. If they fail, you adjust course and roll the learnings into the next iteration of the idea.

2. Get client/user input early. Once you have a prototype for an idea, bring in your clients and talk them through it. Get feedback on what works and what can be improved. Learn from it. Don’t feel like you need a fully featured “thing” at the outset. The first version of your next service/product/process should be just enough to get the idea across (we call it a “Minimal Viable Product” – MVP). The MVP should be low cost to produce, so that you can start over if you need to change direction.

3. Be ready to clear the way for your innovation team. The innovation team in your practice is likely to face a lot of roadblocks from the broader organisation. There will be resistance to change, people feeling threatened about their jobs and those happy to give you 99 reasons why it will fail or to tell you “we have done that before and it didn’t work”. Often businesses create a “skunk-works” where their team has space to experiment and learn, sheltered from legacy thinking within the business.

Editor's Note


Want to know more about how to develop a culture of innovation in your legal practice? Neil is presenting a Pre-Summit Workshop, "Building an Innovation Framework in Law Firms" on Wednesday 13 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. This highly interactive workshop will help you explore and develop the skills you need to lead innovation in your practice. You do not have to be attending ALPMA Summit 2017 to attend this workshop. The workshop costs $395 for ALPMA members or $495 for eligible non-members. Places for these workshops are strictly limited so register now!  We would also like to welcome our Pre ALPMA Summit Workshop Partner GlobalX.


About our Guest Blogger


Neil ShewanNeil Shewan is the Managing Director of Adelphi Digital’s Melbourne office. Adelphi has won over 80 industry awards in the area of digital business consultancy. Neil is head of user experience globally, working with a broad range of clients to innovate their business. Neil’s twenty years of background in customer and user experience, along with service design thinking – allows him to bring design, technology and business strategy together to create future ready businesses. Current and past clients include Sladen Legal, Victorian Government (Including the Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation), BHP Billiton, General Motors Holden and the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Neil works closely with businesses to identify and implement innovations that will not only help them survive the change around them – but more importantly provide true competitive advantage so they can thrive.




Cyber Security Awareness

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

By Ray Zwiefelhofer, President, Worldox 


You do not have to look far to read or hear of a major cybersecurity breach. It is becoming part of the constant information stream we receive. Because of this, it’s easy to desensitise and see this as IT’s problem. However, we all have a hand in preventing cyber security breaches and we all need to understand what we can do to help in this effort.

In late 2015 my colleagues and I were amused with the news that the US government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was hacked, and that the hackers stole records for 22 million people. We discussed this casually without too much thought and concern – just another hack. A few days later I received a call from my son, who had recently graduated college and started a job. His mother and I had been references for his background check for the job and he was calling to let us know that all of our information was compromised in this latest OPM hack! Instantly my casual observation of “another hack” became really personal, really quickly.

Like my personal experience, your firm is probably feeling more pressure as increasingly major law firms are being hacked. The FBI calls law firms ‘soft targets’ – easier to gain access to than large corporations - and they often store their clients’ valuable information.

Who is the hacker?


When we think of a hacker, we assume we are dealing with a bad guy somewhere who is intent on gaining access to our valuable information. While this is correct, it gets a bit more confusing when we talk about the accomplices in this breach. A hacker can only get into your secure network through some type of vulnerability. Contrary to popular belief, internal staff members assist in most hacks. This, of course, is mostly unintentional. 

Rather than expending countless resources on mass attacks against your network which, through proper IT practices, can be mitigated, hackers send innocuous-looking emails to your employees which are often harbouring links that install nefarious software on your network. If your organisation has poor password policies, the hacker gains entrance to your sensitive data with little fanfare, and probably will not be noticed by expensive back end monitoring software, until it’s too late.

All of us from the administrator to the end user, partner, and IT need to be actively involved in protecting the firm’s intellectual property. A user’s password written down on a sticky note taped to their monitor bypasses even the best security.

Convenience vs. Security


Even the best security products on the market can be rendered worthless if they are so complicated to use that users circumvent it – the concept of “Shadow IT.” Security measures must mitigate risk but yet also be straight-forward enough to understand that people can seamlessly include them in their workflow.


A password policy is a good example of this principle.  In the past, guidelines set by US governing bodies such as National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), have specified how a firm should handle passwords. It was important to follow these guidelines, as the firm’s clients often inquire how the firm handles certain policies. Clients want to have a comfort level with the firms they do business with and ensure their security practices are sufficient. 

Passwords guidelines found acceptable involved password length, complexity, and frequency changes. We all know from personal experience the hassle associated coming up with yet another password that has special characters, has not been used before, of a certain length - that has to then be changed every couple of months. This issue is near to my heart, as we have many of these rules in house because of the nature of our business. 

Very recently our IT manager explained to me that we need to shorten the timeframe of required password changes for all employees. I  nearly lost my mind as we currently change every six months with all of the complexity requirements recommended!  My answer to him was that, if we adopted this approach, many of our day to day staff would not be able to memorise their passwords and would be forced into bad practices such as writing them down, etc. 

I challenged him to find an easier way to protect us that would be just as secure. I remembered our cloud support team utilised dual factor authentication along with their passwords to provide an added layer of security for that department.  I suggested we do the same for everyone in our office including the day to day office workers. After a little research, we found a solution that was only a few dollars a month per employee and sent a code to their cell phone. This is really a better practice than complex passwords alone as, not only does a hacker need your employee’s password, but they would also need their phone and password for that. 

In summary, we minimised the need for constant and overly complex password changes with two factor authentication.

The above password issue just seems like common sense, doesn’t it? 

If you force complex frequent password changes, staff will write down their passwords somewhere and cleaning crew or others can easily access them. Although common sense says this is bad, we look at standard groups such as NIST and blindly follow along. A few months after the password interaction with my IT manager, a new guideline was published from NIST that shocked the industry:

“New NIST guidelines banish periodic password changes”


Yes you read that correct, NIST now recommends that we no longer force periodic password changes and we no longer should force complexity requirements. In the appendix in the same section of the document, the strength of “memorised secrets” is explored in a concise and accurate manner. You can read the full guidelines here

While I don’t feel better about being vindicated to my IT Manager by a national standards body, it reemphasises that we live in an ever-changing environment where you need to use practical common sense when implementing security policies and procedures.


Editor's Note

2017 ALPMA SummitRay Zwiefelhofer will be speaking about the "Data Security in the Legal Industry" at the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13-15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. This year’s Summit focuses on developing the key 21st century skills of collaboration, communication, critical-thinking and creativity at law firms. Join more than 300 law firm leaders and managers for an action-packed three days of professional development, networking and fun. Register now!


About our Guest Blogger

Ray ZweifelhoferRay Zwiefelhofer has over twenty five years’ product solution experience within the legal technology market with expertise in AMLAW 250 and Fortune 500. He was a President, CEO and CIO at several software solutions startups and the CTO at a Fortune 500 company. Those companies include Bowne, Imagineer, Equitrac and Diebold. Prior to joining World Software, Ray was the Founder and CEO for nQueue, a global cost recovery company.
Founded in 1988, World Software Corporation® is an innovative leader in the Email and Document Management Systems (DMS) category. The company's flagship product Worldox® has an install base of over 6000 companies in 52 countries.


Superannuation A Long Term Engagement

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

By Andrew Proebstl, Chief Executive, legalsuper 

A new report by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has highlighted the need for more work to be done to increase member engagement with their super funds.

The ASIC “Member Experience of Superannuation” Report (Report 529) released on 30 June is well worth a read as it presents both challenges and opportunities for employers.

You might be thinking: why is a report on the need to increase member engagement with super of interest to employers?

Financial stress is bad for business

For most Australians, their quality of lifestyle in retirement is largely dependent on how much super they have accumulated (along with owning one’s own home).

People with lower super balances are more likely to fear retirement and, over the course of their working life, be subject to increasing levels of financial stress.

Financial stress among staff in the workplace can lead to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, depression, risk-taking, illness, absenteeism, reduced productivity, poor decision-making and more.

This is concerning not only in terms of the impact such behavior may have on individuals and their families but also in terms of the potentially adverse impact on the business for which they work.

A report released last year by The Centre for Social Impact revealed that 2 million Australians are experiencing a high level of financial stress or vulnerability.

Similarly, the Australian Psychological Society’s series of “Stress and Wellbeing” surveys concluded that financial stress is felt strongly by a “concerning” number of Australians.

In addition, a lack of financial preparedness for retirement can also lead to staff who would otherwise have retired, and who want to retire, feeling they have no other choice but to stay on at work. Employees who find themselves in this situation are often less enthusiastic and productive.

The ASIC “Member Experience of Superannuation” Report maps three stages of the superannuation lifecycle – joining a fund, ongoing membership of a fund and changing or leaving a fund. The balance of this article considers how employees can be encouraged to better engage with their super in each of these three stages.

Joining a fund

An important threshold question for employers here is: why they have chosen their existing default super fund and whether or not it remains the most appropriate fund for their employees?

Usually employers choose a default super fund based on factors such as past performance and competitive fees and charges. How long has it been since you benchmarked the performance of your default fund, its fees and charges and its level of service and support provided to your employees with that of other super funds?

Most employees do not choose their own super fund which means their super will be paid to the default super fund chosen by their employer.

Also, unless members choose otherwise, their super will be invested in the fund’s default investment option, plus they will be provided an automatic level of insurance which may or may not suit their particular financial goals.

Employees can also make decisions about whether or not to make voluntary contributions to their super. Sadly, many people realise too late in their working life that if they had made additional contributions to their super (which are subject to caps) they would have been more likely to have accumulated sufficient savings to fund the retirement lifestyle they want.

In relation to insurance, super fund members have options to take out death, total and permanent disability insurance or income protection insurance, and to do so at different levels of cover.

The appropriate level of insurance for a person will depend on their individual (and family) circumstances. A one-size-fits-all approach is not optimal. Members who do engage with their super and make informed decisions about the appropriate levels of cover will not only benefit from having cover that better meets their needs, they will benefit from the confidence and sense of well-being that flows from knowing they have cover that provides increased peace of mind.

The most important decision members of super funds can – and should – make is how their super is invested.

As the ASIC Moneysmart says: “With super, it's easy to set and forget. But choosing a suitable investment option will have a major impact on how your super performs.”

Members of super funds can typically choose from a number of investment options – for example a Growth, Balanced or Conservative option. The Growth option is likely to aim for higher average returns over the long term whereas a Balanced option aims for reasonable returns, but lower than those of a Growth option, while a Conservative option would typically aim for lower risk and a lower return over the long term.

Typically, younger people, who will not access their super for some years will benefit from a Growth option. As members approach retirement, they may switch to a more conservative option. Of course, the appropriate investment option depends on individual circumstances and the role super plays in an individual’s overall financial planning.

Employers can encourage their staff to take an active interest in and ownership over these important financial decisions by:

  • Asking their super fund to run information sessions for staff and management,
  • Ensuring their super fund has useful and well-presented information on its website including easy to use calculators, and
  • Checking their super fund provides high levels of customer service and support for member inquiries.

ASIC’s report deals at length with the wide variation in the quality of super fund websites (including the reliability of the information contained therein) and the impact this can have on fund members.

Ongoing membership of a fund

One very good time to encourage staff to engage strongly with super arises each year when funds distribute their annual member statement, usually between August and December.

The statement will contain important information including the individual’s super balance; levels of insurance cover; investment option/s selected; and fees paid. Funds will often also indicate how the fund performed against various independent industry rating agencies medians.

At this time of the year, employers seeking to increase their staff’s engagement with super may consider the following types of strategies:

  • posting short notices in the staff newsletter or on the company intranet encouraging people to make the time to read their annual statement and consider contacting their super fund for an annual ‘super checkup’. Your super funds can provide you with suggested wording, and
  • inviting your super fund to conduct a workplace seminar for staff.

Another time of the year that lends itself to encouraging staff to engage not only with their super fund, but their own overall financial planning is when annual staff appraisals are held.

While not all businesses tie staff appraisals to salary reviews, many do and staff who receive a pay increase may be more receptive than at other times of the year to pay additional contributions to super with their increased salary.

Changing or leaving a fund


The factors to be considered, continually reviewed and acted upon, when joining a fund and participating in a fund also apply when changing or leaving a fund.

Is the fund performing well compared to the industry median? Are its fees and charges value for money? Does it provide high quality member service and support?

As well as these areas, the ‘Changing or leaving a fund’ section of the ASIC report covers topics including lost super and the consolidation of super accounts.

According to the Australian Tax Office, as at June 30, 2016, there was more than $14 billion in unclaimed and lost super waiting to be claimed.

The 2016 Westpac Lost Super Report found that almost half (48 per cent) of Australians do not know if they have lost super and more than four in five (83 per cent) are unlikely to do anything to find their lost super.

The Westpac report found that respondents put looking for lost super in the same bucket as smoking or exercise – they know they should do something but they just do not get around to it.

In relation to multiple super accounts, it is still often the case that when people change jobs they join a new super fund and do not close their previous accounts and consolidate them into one account. This proliferation of multiple accounts is one of the key reasons why so much super ends up becoming lost.

As a result of having multiple funds, people typically end up unnecessarily paying fees and charges on multiple accounts. They may also miss out on the full benefit of compounding interest working on a single larger amount of money in one account.

ASIC has provided a very timely reminder to individuals, employers and super funds that more needs to be done to encourage and foster member engagement.

From an employer’s point of view, the business case for doing so is strong.

The business case for super funds being more proactive in this space is equally strong.

Now may be the time to contact your super fund and ask about the types and levels of support they are willing and able to provide to improve overall member engagement with super as part of supporting your staff to better secure their financial future.

As the research shows, employees free of financial (dis) stress are far more likely to be more productive and happy in the workplace.

About our Guest Blogger


Andrew Proebstl

Andrew Proebstl is chief executive of legalsuper, Australia's super fund for the legal community. legalsuper is an ALPMA Australian Corporate Partner.

Qualifying as a Chartered Accountant while working with Arthur Andersen, Andrew has broad experience across the superannuation industry with fund administrators, investment managers, custodians and other superannuation funds.

Andrew is a member of the Policy Committee and former Director of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees. He is also a former member of the Victorian Executive of the Associations of Superannuation Funds of Australia. He regularly presents at superannuation industry conferences and writes regular superannuation columns for law societies across Australia. He can be contacted on ph 03 9602 0101 or via aproebstl@legalsuper.com.au






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