A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

New strategy for 2019? Read these five tips from successful firms in 2018

Monday, February 18, 2019

By Todd Keeler, Director, FilePro

In December 2018, Lawyers Weekly reported that law firms are experiencing a range of disruptive factors, “the most profound economically are those arising from technological shifts”.


While the article describes digitisation as “an incredible and little understood force”, at FilePro, we are starting to experience the opposite.


Namely: lawyers are now driving change, rather than being ‘disrupted’.


Rather than digital laggards, we’re working with firms who continue to evolve using technology as a core part of their long-term strategy – not make quick reactions to the buzzwords of ‘disruption’ and ‘innovation’.


So, as a technology provider keen to help more firms integrate technology with their core business strategy, here are five things I’ve learnt from firms who implemented successful strategies in 2018.

1. Technology and data aren’t afterthoughts

Now, we may be biased, but in our experience technology has to be integrated with your strategy, not be an afterthought.
Is your practice manager invited to your strategy sessions? How about someone from IT? If not, is there someone who will champion the use of technology, or at the very least has an understanding of the technology market?

For a number of the firms FilePro works with, technology is the enabler to deliver strategy and providers are more than just suppliers of their accounts team, they are a part of a mutually-beneficial relationship.

This has a secondary effect: firms that properly implement technology start to recognise data as a multiplier to increasing the value of a firm’s client experience and brand value. They start to plan and ask questions about how data is stored, used and shared.

2. They embrace the concept of continuous improvement

Rather than make radical changes to their firm’s technology, these law firms have learnt that introducing steady and consistent changes with adequate training and management is key.

There is such thing as too much change too quickly, and without proper education, introducing too many new processes and technologies will overwhelm your staff, and in the worst case, increase error and staff churn.

Instead, we advocate steady and continuous improvement.
To some, this may sound disruptive. But for your teams and clients, it’s the reality of today’s technology-led world. Clients want to walk into a law firm and see that lawyers are on the cutting edge of tech and doing things efficiently.

While technology is on the checklist of many clients, it also helps improve a number of processes – it enables fast and effective responses to changes in regulations, risks, processes, pricing, competition, client or staff needs.

Even better, technology-led change is no longer the exclusive domain of large or NewLaw firms. In fact, freeing up your staff from routine paperwork allows them to add extraordinary value through other avenues, such as stronger client relationships and networking. It also enables flexible work arrangements and, as a consequence, retention of quality staff.

3. Drive change from within the firm

If the introduction of technology is to be successful, then everybody needs to be on board.
All owners, partners and directors should lead the change by demonstrating the support and enthusiasm for the changes.

From the outset, your team should be involved – whether it’s planning a new process, installing a new system, or making any significant change to day-to-day work responsibilities. This may seem simple, but it’s surprising how often teams are first notified of a change after it has been made.

Begin by explaining the reasons for the change, then agree on:
  • The goals – ensure there are measurable targets and a timeframe
  • The mandatories of the project
  • Whether you have the competencies, tools and internal resourcing to create positive change
While it’s great to get everybody involved, delegation to internal champions is strongly advocated. As Fiona McLay states, ‘It is important to have one person with a mandate to implement change to be the driver and point of contact with the software provider.’

These champions will act as role models and gain the support of the entire team ­– enabling open and transparent communication throughout the entire process.

4. Accountability drives ongoing gains

Once they’ve set the goals noted above, successful law firms establish sustainable change by developing shared accountability between the firm and provider.

Agreeing on goals within your firm allows meaningful and open performance discussions – although this relies upon a transparent process to monitor progress. This will also create visible improvements in your client experience impact.

5. Lean on your technology provider

In my experience, technology providers often ‘set and forget’ their software. This isn’t the exception, but the rule.

Firm’s should not be left to figure out how to leverage their technology. This counterproductive practice takes lawyers away from working on their matters and clients.

Instead, we encourage law firms to lean on their providers to share their experience and technology – as an ongoing practice, not just at set up.

At FilePro, we work hard to do so. But if you’re engaging another provider, I would suggest you look for:
  • Onsite project management and training to all staff
  • Ability to customise prior to going live, e.g. report layouts, workflow and accounting
  • Their experience with mergers/restructures
  • How they help existing clients optimise software e.g. cleaning data and health checks
  • Which other firms they have dealt with, especially those of a similar size or location. Find out what they did that worked, and what they did that didn’t work.
Once systems are implemented, ask your provider to come back to visit in 3 or 6 months. Ask them what you’re doing well, and what you could be doing better. Discuss the results being seen, or not, based on agreed goals at the outset.

Overall, if you’re like many of the firms we’re working with, you’re more fearless in looking at change and should lean on your providers and work with them.

About our Guest Blogger

Todd Keeler is a Director of FilePro. With 20 years experience working with legal practice management software, he has a particular interest in bookkeeping and accounting, a key facet of FilePro’s fully integrated offering. Todd oversees a team working with over 450 law firms, in Australia and overseas. He works with firms of different sizes – from sole practitioners to FilePro’s biggest client, a multinational firm with 750 users.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/todd-keeler-a03a4b5a/

Web:  https://www.filepro.com.au/


The Key to Effective Communication

Monday, February 11, 2019

By Linda Murray, Executive Coach, Athena Coaching

Without question, the most important leadership skill to master is effective leadership communication. When done well, it’s inspiring, transformative and spurs employees to greatness. 

A study by Ken Blanchard's company indicates 43% of leaders believe that communication is their most important skill.  41% say their most significant mistakes as leaders arose as a result of miscommunication.

It’s clear then why impeccable communication skills ought to be at the heart of your business. Indeed on an individual level, for your leaders/partners and those in leadership roles, to experience a greater level of traction with all those who work for them, communication is the centrepiece for success.

If that did not already arouse a sense of challenge in you with respect to ensuring you and your firms’ leaders are communicating effectively, consider this. Law firms, and the legal system in its entirety, is by nature more conservative than many other professional services industries. They are steeped in tradition as you know and central to that is that the hierarchy can be very pronounced, often creating notoriously challenging environments for clear and effective communication.

Advocacy and advisory skills are not necessarily conducive to excellent communication in a business.

In my experience, while the desire for change is great in many law practices I have worked with, the ways of old can be difficult to shift quickly. Add to this that the more junior workforce, specifically up and coming lawyers, are typically, and indeed markedly, different in their needs for communication than those at partnership level. This can create a disparity that can feel difficult as practice managers to bridge.

Fear not. Although leadership communication is a key skill, and few truly master this subtle art, where there is a will, there is absolutely a way. The following three strategies can help you to improve your communication and increase your efficiency and effectiveness rapidly.


Communicating is not dictating

Many lawyers are exceptionally skilled in the oratory sense, they can craft a convincing argument about just about anything. Their advice and counsel is prized and highly valued. However, in my experience, they often fail at basic interpersonal communication for the very same reasons that they are so good at what they to.

This, coupled with a (at times) lawyers' natural disposition to be adversarial, given the nature of their work, can mean everyday communication can feel dictatorial and not an invitation for discussion, rather a one way discourse

Few other workplaces invite, nay celebrate, direct and lively debate in the way a law firm does. There is a high level of IQ that is expected or demanded and so with that  often comes ego. Overlay the natural hierarchy of a law firm, and you have a veritable powder keg for leadership communication to go awry. That "command and control" style of speech and robustness of discussion (again, essential for the legal profession), can be confronting and counterproductive in everyday office communication. It is often not helpful or welcoming for the creation of trust and safety, which is essential for a thriving communication culture. 

However, given the level of intelligence that is available to you, I also see an incredible potential for expedited change if this is brought to leadership as a group and explained simply and clearly as to what's not effective.

Change is inevitable, why not start with your partnership and leadership groups today?

Let's explore how this is enacted practically and simply from right now:

  1. We all know, communication is not just speaking “at” others, and delivering your message; it is a two-way street. To be an effective communicator, leaders must be engaged with others and must be as open to listening to others as they are to speaking.

  2.  Listening and creating safety by welcoming feedback and comments without the risk of sanction are as critical as what you are actually saying. Remember this is not an opening statement in the Supreme Court or an interrogation. It’s a dialogue, be mindful of treating it that way. 

  3. When someone does ask questions or gives you feedback, don’t assume that you know what they are going to say before they begin to speak. Don’t “jump ahead” in your mind and begin to prepare your response, but truly think about what the speaker is saying. Wait until the speaker has finished, and make certain that you understand their message before you begin to develop your response.

  4. It’s critical to establish a rapport with those engaging with you, reiterate or reframe what they have said, allow them a chance to confirm, and then engage with your response, while ensuring they are not diminished or made to feel small. 


Active listening 101: hint - it's not simply hearing someone

Lawyers are excellent listeners. However, active listening is a challenge for most people. It requires immense effort at first. In addition to the actual words that are used by those communicating with you, pay attention to the speaker’s body language, and other cues, to discern the true emotions and motivations behind the words that are spoken. These are markers for what they may not, due to lack of confidence or not having the words or even basic fear, be able to convey to you. Keep these same tips in reference to yourself. Be careful with the words that you choose, as well as the body language that you use, while speaking. Body language makes up over 50% of our overall communication. Show respect to yourself and others and make certain that your actions match your words and that you remain honest, authentic and genuine.


Clarity of messaging and staying true to your word

Effective communication doesn’t happen by accident. If you want your communications to be understood and well received, it takes care and effort. Clarity of messaging at a leadership level takes thought and time. Lawyers know and understand this, and will welcome the challenge to hone their oratory craft, you know this, so capitalise on it.

Choose your words and tone carefully; anticipate what you believe will be the thoughts, feelings and reactions of others and show empathy and concern for others as appropriate. Your message should be clear, and delivered with enthusiasm and passion; devoid of this it’s just a monotone monologue that cannot be received.

Actively seek the comments, questions and feedback of others to make certain that your message was received as you intended it to be.


Does your leadership communication measure up?

If you really want to improve leadership communication within your organisation and clear out the any blocks to mastering this art, it’s a good idea to periodically review the performance of your messages and other communications. Run anonymous 360 reviews. Take time to reflect on your conversations and on ways you could have improved your delivery, and acknowledge where you have transgressed into old behaviours.

If upon reflection, you find that your message was misunderstood, take action immediately to correct misimpressions. This is an especially important step to take if you find that you have misstated the facts or if you discover that your choice of words or delivery has caused miscommunication and led others to feel hurt or offended. Ownership of where you have made mistakes to those that are impacted is an incredibly powerful way of building trust and rapport and makes people feel truly heard and seen, both of which are fundamental human drivers.

Great leaders use leadership communication to build trust and mutual respect in their people and help them feel safe so that they are empowered to take risks and create things that are new and unique.



About our Guest Blogger

Linda Murray is the Founder, Facilitator, Speaker and Executive Coach at Athena Leadership Academy; the professional development hub for high performing and high potential leaders. 

Linda ensures that your leaders and your teams are engaged, motivated and empowered to achieve the best results for your business.

Linda has run her own successful businesses since age 22, so understands what it takes to maximise the performance of yourself and those around you.

Connect with Linda on social media

LinkedIn - www.linkedin.com/in/lindamurrayathena/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/AthenaCoaching
Twitter – https://twitter.com/athena_coaching
YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPZWA24o0iohBl1O0LQxEkw



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