A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Five things you need to know about the Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules

Monday, November 12, 2018

By Angus Macinnis, Director of Dispute Resolution, StevensVuaran Lawyers

If you’re not a solicitor, you don’t need to know about the Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules (ASCR), right? Well, actually, no. The ASCR (which have now been adopted in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory) affect the way in which solicitors work in a number of ways which are also critical to the management of legal practices. 

There are 43 Rules that make up the ASCR – here are the 5 that are most important to legal practice managers.

Rule 10 - Conflicts concerning former clients

Ceasing to act for a client does not mean that a firm can cease to be concerned about that client’s interests. If the firm (or solicitors who work there) hold confidential information concerning a former client, and the disclosure of information would be detrimental to the former client, then the firm can be restrained from acting for a new client if the former client’s confidential information is “material to the matter” of that new client.  

This issue needs to be considered not just when the new client comes in the door, but when considering which prospective clients to target for business development. There is not much use in bringing new work in the door if conflicts will prevent the firm from performing that work.

However, the Rule specifically provides that the firm will not be prevented from acting for the new client if “an effective information barrier has been established”. The construction of effective information barriers requires coordination of technical, educative, and compliance functions within a firm to ensure that the solicitors who are subject to the obligation, comply with the requirements of the Rule.

Rule 11 - Conflict of duties concerning current clients

Conflicts can also arise in relation to current clients with different interests, and the management of these conflicts will often be as much an issue of client relationships as it is one of law. It is (unfortunately) not uncommon for allegations of conflict to be raised by opposing lawyers for tactical reasons, and Justice Pembroke of the Supreme Court of New South Wales has noted that:

“Often in commercial litigation, third parties intermeddle for their own strategic reasons, asserting the existence of a conflict when, in truth, it has been dealt with, and there is no actual conflict, and in any event, it is none of the third party's business.”

If the firm has in place effective systems for identifying conflicts when the client relationship is first established, effective information barriers, and effective processes for identifying when informed consent needs to be sought, the firm will be in a better position to avoid work being lost through “meddling” allegations of conflict.

Rule 35 – Contracting with third parties

This Rule provides that if a solicitor instructs a third party on behalf of the client, and the solicitor is not intending to accept personal liability for payment of the third party’s fees, the solicitor must advise the third party in advance.

Depending upon the nature of the practice, there may be a number of different third parties who a solicitor engages (such as barristers or expert witnesses). 

This Rule will need to be considered in relation to a firm’s standard business conditions, as well as ensuring that the firm’s accounts function is aware of what expenses the firm is liable for in the event that the client either does not pay, or is slow in paying, the firm’s accounts. A failure to pay third party accounts for which a solicitor is liable can often result in a professional conduct complaint. 

Rule 36 - Advertising

Solicitors (and principals of law practices) must ensure that advertising, marketing and promotion is not misleading or deceptive, or offensive, or prohibited by law. In particular, the Rule specifically prohibits false or misleading impressions about specialist expertise, including by prohibiting the use of the expression “accredited specialist” (or any similar wording) unless the solicitor is accredited by the relevant Law Society.

You might think that it would go without saying that any business should avoid misleading or deceptive advertising. However, one difficulty in practice (which can lead to disciplinary complaints) involves the making of laudatory statements about the practice (and the experience of its practitioners) which go beyond what can be objectively justified.  

The lesson is that all advertising material needs to be tested by asking the question, “if we were asked to justify this, would we have a defensible answer?”

Rule 42 - Anti-discrimination and harassment

Rule 42 provides that unlawful discrimination and harassment (including sexual harassment) carries professional conduct issues for solicitors (in addition to the workplace law issues which arise for all employees.)  

In 2014, a Victorian solicitor’s practising certificate was suspended for eight months (although reduced to two months on appeal) following a finding of sexual harassment.

All workplaces need effective discrimination and harassment policies and training, and law firms are not excluded. It is not safe to assume that because solicitors might have a good understanding of other areas of the law, they necessarily understand how to avoid discrimination and harassment in practice.


Cooperation and co-ordination are the key aspects of running a practice whose lawyers are compliant with the ACSR – both between legal and non-legal staff, and between different non-legal staff (as is required to establish effective information barriers). 

It is lawyers whose professional conduct may be the subject of complaints if these matters are not effectively dealt with. But it is practice management professionals who will often be responsible for the implementation of the processes, so it is important that everyone in the office understands the way in which these obligations operate.

About our Guest Blogger

Angus Macinnis is a Director of Dispute Resolution at StevensVuaran Lawyers.

Angus has a broad commercial practice with a focus on dispute resolution, and in particular, on employment and work health and safety law, and regulatory compliance (including in professional disciplinary matters).

As well as assisting clients resolve disputes and respond to regulatory investigations, Angus provides training to his employer clients in relation to bullying, harassment, and anti-discrimination, providing tailored training to meet the differing needs of boards, line managers and employees. He also provides training and advice in relation to work health and safety, including training designed to enable officers to satisfy their due diligence obligations.

Legal markets and marketing: 10 trends to watch and watch out for through to 2019

Monday, November 05, 2018

By Heather Suttie, Legal Marketing & Business Development Consultant

The year 2008 marked a global financial crisis that was considered the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It also marked the end of the traditional law firm’s 20-year bull run.

Now, a decade later, 2018 will be a make-or-break year for many firms. Some will fail while others will fracture. Some are scrambling to save themselves while others remain mired in inertia. Firms wanting to be vital and solvent are overhauling how they do business. Smart firms have already retooled.

The Citi Private Bank – Hildebrandt Consulting 2018 Client Advisory Report reveals that, on average, legal industry revenue growth and profit per equity partner (PPP) growth will remain in the single digits, which will result in continued consolidation. Not surprisingly, the report also says strong brands in specific markets, fast response to client demands, and top talent will be important factors.

Issues of concern are not isolated to any particular type of practice or jurisdiction. Business is borderless and therefore, the legal services market is global in nature, which means that law firms worldwide are or should be in some state of flux.

To that end, this is a selection of 10 legal market and marketing trends to watch – and watch out for – through the remainder of this year and well into 2019.

1.  Complacency

Complacency continues even though surveys reveal that while the economy has recovered from the recession of ten years ago, the legal services market remains volatile primarily due to client expectations around greater value and lower costs along with more competition and technology.

Chronic problems include lawyers working under capacity resulting in vacillating revenues, undifferentiated law firm value propositions culminating in lack of market distinction, and firms not feeling enough financial pain to make changes.

There is a general propensity for law firms to cater to a what’s-in-it-for-me individualistic mentality rather than considering making changes by degree for the greater good that have long horizons and defined goals.

Yet, the danger of continuing to play the short game persists, which makes as much sense as thinking that by closing your eyes, whatever is frightening you will go away.

2.  Marriages of Convenience

Many mergers will be marriages of convenience rather than unions of equals. They will be between one firm wanting to acquire the usual trappings – clients, money and territory – and another needing access to expensive assets, primarily technology and infrastructure rather than investing in these resources themselves.

This “marrying up” is apt to end unhappily when the acquiring firm with its technology and infrastructure winnows out the clients, money, territory and talent it wants from the acquired firm.

3.  Failures

Failures are inevitable because too many undifferentiated traditional law firms are offering the same types of services and doing the same types of work in the same types of ways. Also, there’s not enough legal work to go around. As onc senior partner told me, “I’ll have been practicing for 40 years by the time I retire and there’s not 40 years of work behind me for others to do.”

In addition, corporate legal departments are bulking up with talent that exclusively serves the company, learns and understands its industry, culture, politics, people, needs, wants, and budgets. Dedicated in-house talent also has a relatively fixed cost due to being on salary, which lessens unpleasant financial surprises. 

4.  Leaning Out

Corporate counsel expect improved work processes from law firms that service them. Firms that appear on most-favoured lists – and want to remain there – must get lean and serious about taking action on client-centric issues.

These include, but aren’t limited to: partnering effectively with clients and continually communicating with them to ensure that their needs and wants are delivered on time and on or under budget, right-sizing client service teams, providing outsourcing options (see Low Cost Centres below), commoditising rote work, and proactively offering choice in billing structures.

5.  Fewer Bodies

Lawyers who don’t have an active, solvent practice will need to overhaul and rejuvenate their business fast. Firms wanting to be profitable will try to raise rates, which is likely to draw fire from clients. Therefore, firms will seek better profit margins by eliminating non-producing lawyers, including equity partners.

6.  Low Cost Centres

Low cost centres are a major factor in law firms wanting to win new clients and retain current ones. It has become a client expectation that a firm will have a low cost centre – either on-shore or offshore – operating as a back office for commodity work.

Many European firms have opened back offices and supply chains in low cost countries. In some instances, they have moved their infrastructure such as finance, IT, marketing, and business development to these countries in order to lower their cost of doing business.

Low cost centres may also take the form of legal service providers – human or machine – that work within the legal services supply chain to produce efficient, risk-level appropriate, client-oriented results.

7.  Big Four’s Big Bite

Competition will continue to be fierce and come from all forms of legal service providers. However, the super threat is the continuing advancement of the Big Four. 

Each of the Big Four professional services firms is armed with internationally recognised brands, legions of professionals of numerous descriptions, infrastructure that has been built up for the last 30 years or more, access to every significant business tool and system, and capital resources and financial acumen to run efficiently and effectively.

The Big Four are operating globally in the legal services market using a one-stop-shop platform that offers legal business services that complement and align with their core offerings of audit, tax, and accounting within their target markets and key industries. Their growth within the legal market will be exponential and potentially explosive.

8.  Industry Alignment

Clients don’t care about your practice; they care about their industry. This is why understanding your firm’s industry strengths are critical to remaining vital and solvent.

Industry alignment sends the unmistakable signal to target markets and clients that a firm reflects the world of business.

It also enables marketing and business development initiatives to fall into place with ease. This is because sector strengths are clear and irrefutable client industry data helps determine with precision how the firm’s time, resources, and money are best invested.

9.  Positioning

Firms with grit will ruthlessly examine themselves from the perspectives of their target markets and clients. They will then need intestinal fortitude to right size and reposition their offerings. This is when examining financials in terms of profitability and understanding industry strengths come to the fore since rightsizing may mean spinning off practices and teams better suited as independent boutiques.

Astute positioning leads to legal market differentiation. It is at this point where your legal market differences becomes both your strength and brand. 

10.  Fixers

Traditional law firms won’t fix themselves by themselves. If they could have fixed themselves, the legal industry would have been updated and upgraded long ago.

Solutions enabling the legal industry to survive and thrive will come from accountants, management consultants, engineers, technicians, professional services industry experts, and those with applicable business backgrounds some of whom may have legal understanding and know-how.


The legal industry is continuing to expand by creating new resources and ways to provide legal services that are exciting, encouraging and revitalizing. But there is also retraction due to enormous pressures, particularly on traditional law firms.

Only those firms that get out of their own way and retool with speed in the very near future will be vital, vibrant, and solvent in the years to come.

About our Guest Blogger

Heather Suttie is a legal marketing and business development consultant offering an independent mind and customised solutions to audacious lawyers, law firms and legal service provider that want change.

She works with a range of firms - Global to Solo and BigLaw to NewLaw - helping them claim a distinctive position in the evolving legal services sector resulting in greater market share, revenue, and profits.

Since 2001, Heather has become well known for legal market positioning, tightly targeted business development growth strategies, and innovative, high profile brand campaigns that enable distinction and open new markets.

Web:  https://heathersuttie.ca     |     LinkedIn:  https://ca.linkedin.com/in/heathersuttie

Developing a leadership mindset

Monday, October 29, 2018

By Ricky Nowak, CEO, Ricky Nowak & Associates

We know that the quality of leadership along with the decisions you make, can determine the success of your team or organisation – for better or for worse.  But have you given much thought to your leadership mindset and how it can affect your organisation?

What is a leadership mindset?

As you know, your mindset is your mental attitude which in turn determines your overall behaviour.  There are two kinds of mindsets – one which prevents growth while the other allows you and your organisation to succeed and prosper.  But which one are you?

Leaders with a fixed mindset:

  • tend to avoid challenges or opportunities that require innovative thinking and behaviour;
  • are more concerned with how they come across in the eyes of others than making mistakes;
  • feel threatened by the more successful colleagues or counterparts therefore often lack the ability to make final decisions out of fear.

If this sounds like you, then chances are you are inhibiting yourself and your success in some way, as well as limiting the progress and the achievements of others. Unintentional maybe, but the consequences can result in lost revenue, staff attrition and loss of morale.  Attaining less than your full potential is one of the greatest inhibitors of business growth and expansion.

Sadly, too often leaders stop learning and focus on working in the business rather than on growing the business resulting in a growth mindset that shuts down.  They stop wanting to learn how to become better leaders and perhaps feel they don’t want to be distracted by contrarian feedback. 

This is known as having a fixed mindset – one that can break the link in any business.

How to recognise a fixed mindset leadership style

Here are a few questions to ask yourself and then observe how people connect with you. Clearly the real truth about your effectiveness as a leader is about the results you get.

You should consider if you:

  1. really do have the ability to inspire others or whether people just do what you ask at a basic level and you find yourself following them up?
  2. have the ability to take ownership of your position without any apology and are ready to take the lead when difficulties arise?
  3. are afraid of being judged and constantly evaluated on your actions;
  4. have a leader’s mindset or just a mindset about leading that is based on past experiences, influences and behaviours.

How to recognise a growth mindset leadership style?

You likely have a growth mindset if you:

  • tend to love a challenge;
  • are willing to make mistakes in order to learn and grow and are not too fussed about mistakes as long as they can be addressed quickly;
  • enjoy learning from the successes of others and are stimulated by new perspectives and ideas;
  • excel in displaying and sharing the skills of others and collaborating with others to get even better results?

If this sounds like you then you have the ability to advance and achieve great victories.  Those under you will find you motivational and can learn a lot from the way in which you run your business or team. They are more likely to model this behaviour and mindset when they go up through the ranks. The added bonus about having a growth mindset is that it can often lead to being insatiably curious about things now and in the future.

If you’ve identified as having a growth mindset, give yourself a pat on the back.  If not, as they say ‘do the work’.

About our Guest Blogger

Ricky is a professional Facilitator, Keynote Speaker, and Executive Coach with over 30 years’ experience in executive and business training and development within Australasia. She has been successful in creating sustainable change and increased productivity for clients in diverse industries ranging from Engineering, Construction, Legal, Finance, Agribusiness, Urban Design, Technology, NFP, Government, Project Management, Mining, Medical and Mental Health, Transport and Logistics. Her unique style of presentation delivery and coaching has helped her diverse clients achieve outstanding commercial and professional results for themselves, their teams and their organisations.

She has trained, spoken or facilitated work over 3000 presentations to companies and individuals globally. She is a certified speaking professional, certified human resource professional, author of four business books, preferred Executive Coach for the Australian Institute of Company Directors and regular commentator on national radio and blogger for Australian Human Resource Institute.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rickynowak/     Web: www.rickynowak.com

Stress and project management: how to navigate when under a time crunch

Monday, October 22, 2018

By Dane O'Leary, Writer, Tech Journalist and Content Strategist

Ever since the Great Recession of 2008, many law firms have found themselves needing to make numerous changes in how they practice law so they can best serve their clients. Clients seeking legal counsel today want service that’s faster, easier, and cheaper. As a result, finding ways to strike a consistent balance between efficacy and efficiency is a priority for most law firms.

But even for experienced firms, that’s not an easy task. Law firms are often fast-paced environments. Like a clock, many law firms have lots of moving parts, and that’s before you account for the curveballs that can be thrown your way.

Scheduling issues with a client? A pile of legal documents that need to be completed and sent out? Numerous people in reception who aren’t on the schedule? An inbox full of important emails you haven’t had the time to read? Even when you have a dedicated person or team to monitor and track all these components to your firm, there can be a considerable amount of stress.

So, when it’s crunch time and there’s immense stress on your shoulders, how do you continue juggling numerous cases, clients, and maintaining your law firm without succumbing to stress?

Alleviate crunch-time stress with project management software

In essence, project management software gives you a singular place from which to observe and track projects big and small over time. It allows you to offload a lot of the stress that comes with being under a time crunch by inputting all your various tasks and projects to a digital space, making it much easier to appropriately allocate your time and resources.

Of course, not all project management tools are created equal. Some are more feature-rich and offer time-tracking and resource-allocation tools while others are simpler and more focused on project management specifically. For law firms, there are certain options that would be more effective while others target different industries. Since sifting through the different options can be confusing or even a bit overwhelming, we’ve compiled some advice for choosing a project management platform for your firm.

How to choose project management software for your law firm

As stated above, there are numerous project management programs from which to choose. If you’re not already familiar with this type of software and, thus, aren’t loyal to one program in particular, choosing the right project management software for your law firm can feel like taking shots in the dark. Fortunately, picking the right program for your firm can be broken into a series of simple, straightforward steps.

1. Assess the needs of your law firm

Not all law firms are the same. For one thing, each caters to a specific type of clientele, whether corporate accounts or individuals filing civil suits or any number of options in-between. But beyond the scope of law practiced, there are differences when it comes to day-to-day operations and how a firm functions as a provider of legal services.

It’s worth noting, though, that a project management program that has been extremely useful for one law firm might not be the best choice for another firm. Each firm is unique and has its own needs when it comes to project management.

So the first and most important step in choosing the right project management solution for your law firm is to assess the needs of your firm. Basically, besides needing a centralised system for tracking your various ventures, you need to identify any other requirements that should be addressed by a project management program.

If your firm has already been using a project management solution, you’ll have a basis for comparison and will know specific shortcomings of the current software that you want the new software to address.

But if your firm hasn’t been using project management software, there are a number of considerations to make when assessing the needs of your firm.

       Do you often need to refer to a detailed breakdown of who has contributed to a specific project or task?

       Do people at your firm frequently collaborate on a project or task?

       Has there been frequent confusion due to the details of a project and communication about a project being relegated to two separate channels? (eg. emails versus comments on cloud-stored files)

       Do you have trouble keeping track of who has access or needs access to specific digital resources?

       Does your firm currently use multiple channels for communication?

       Have there been problems with tracking and hitting deadlines at your firm?

       Does your firm use scheduling or calendar software that’s been frustratingly disconnected from your project management protocols?

       Are there any types of software your firm currently uses that you need or would like to have integrated into your new project management platform?

In effect, you want to ask yourself these and a number of other questions so that you can get an idea of the types of features you need in a project management application.

2. Create a small list of the most viable options

Once you’ve determined what your firm needs from project management software, you’re ready to begin narrowing down the numerous options to a short list of the most viable choices.

As you begin compiling your list of potential selections, pay special attention to the features they do and don’t offer. If you need robust communication tools in a project management platform, the programs that don’t have a focus on communication are unlikely to work for your law firm. Alternately, if your firm values integration with the calendar and schedule, you’d want to consider platforms that integrate with the scheduling software you use.

3. Test, compare and contrast those options

Testing those software options is probably the hardest part of choosing a project management software.

No matter how many user reviews and in-depth breakdowns of the software exist on the internet, there’s just no comparison with your own firsthand experience. After all, none of the individuals writing reviews have used the software in the very specific circumstances of your law firm.

Fortunately, many project management platforms are either free or offer a free trial, which means it’s likely you can test most or all of your contenders without significant financial investment.

There are a number of ways to approach testing each project management platform. Of course, the best way is to implement the program across your entire firm; however, between installing the program, teaching your team members how to use the program, and repeating this entire process for each software option, this requires a lot of effort.

Depending on the size of your firm, an alternative could be to assign each of your software choices to a specific team at your firm and allow those teams to use the separate programs at the same time. Then you can ask each team to compile their feedback and impressions on which to base your decision.

However, you choose to test the software, the goal is to be able to eliminate the poorest performers until you’re left with the best project management platform for your firm. With the best option in place, your firm will have a suite of tools and software features to help them stay productive and stress-free, even when it’s crunch time.

About our Guest Blogger

Dane O’Leary is a writer, tech journalist and regular contributor to TrustRadius where he shares his knowledge on the latest trends in B2B news and technologies. He has written editorials, articles, and blog posts for some of the most popular publications on the web, including Android Authority, Phone Arena, NeilPatel.com, and Millennial Magazine.

LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/daneoleary/   |   Web:  https://www.trustradius.com/

Becoming the market leader in your industry

Sunday, October 14, 2018

By Paul Brown, Chief Financial Officer, GlobalX

If you want to experience business growth, there are some very important items to consider. We all know you need to have your brand out there in one way or another, be it by having a social media presence, advertising material or making sure you show up on Google. What people seem to forget is that the above is simply to be considered equal to the competition. You must become the market leader to get ahead. 

Becoming the market leader breeds confidence in your brand so much so that customer decision lead-time dramatically shortens. This means never missing incoming leads, and increasing the likelihood of converting said leads. More than just keeping up, it’s important to surpass and dominate the industry and take a nice large chunk of the market share with you to truly experience reliable growth.

So, what’s the secret to making sure your brand is the headline act in your industry? The short answer is, be different. Maybe your point of difference doesn’t yet exist and that’s fine. We have some key principles which are sure to get your mind ticking when it comes to producing new ideas for boosting your brand to market domination.

Before you take on the world, take note of your customer service

So, before you get ahead of yourself and start marketing your brand to the masses, it’s important to first take a step back and make sure your customer service is the best in the industry. It’s important to exceed expectations at every point when it comes to interacting with your customers, because if you don’t do it right, then no amount of marketing will set you ahead of the crowd. 

There’s two ways to ensure your customer service is on point. Firstly, arrange an internal survey or discussion to ask your staff if there’s any ways they think your service could be improved. Secondly, find an avenue to survey a wide range of your customers, making sure you include the happy, unhappy and most of all loyal customers to see if they have any suggestions on room for improvement too. Don’t forget to make a plan to action the suggestions.

Talk the talk – but make it personal

Everything you do needs to interact with your customers on a personal level. From telling your story on Facebook to personalised emails and taking the effort to go to your client’s place of business, it’s important that you are never the person behind the brand, but that you are the brand personified. If you have a large company, it’s important that every last one of your employees is aligned with the ethos of your brand – if they’re not, then you will be confusing your customers. 

Value, value, value

If you truly want to attract the attention of your customers, then you better be willing to offer them value for nothing. In this day and age knowledge is at our fingertips, and Google is the source. If you’re the expert in your industry, then you better be giving your advice away for free. If this doesn’t make sense to you, try thinking about the fact that everyone has the ability to put an advert on television, but you don’t want to be like them, you want to be at the top of your industry. So, take the opportunity to offer some high value content online, and be prepared to give it away for free. Remember, honey always attracts more flies than vinegar.

Be willing to risk it all

If you’re trying to get to the top then you should be willing to take risks. Look at any large brand, they were always ready to put their money where their mouth is and try new things wherever possible, even if it meant risking it all. This is the key to truly standing out from the crowd. Be it by incorporating some kind of new technology, innovating the way you interact with your customers or quite simply doing something that’s never been done before, businesses need to run risks in order to reap the rewards.

So now that you’re ready to stand head and shoulders above the rest of your industry, be sure to make an action plan for building your business. The sky truly is the limit when it comes to just how far you can take your brand if you’re willing to combine imaginative thinking with hard work. Don’t forget with any new initiative, to keep your branding front of mind, so that with a million new initiatives, there’s a single thread running through all of them.  

About our Guest Blogger

Paul is the CFO of GlobalX, with experience in all areas and facets of accounting and finance operations. Exhibiting a high level of commercial acumen, Paul’s range of expertise includes change management facilitation and implementation, training and development of staff, business performance planning and project management.

LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-brown-714291122/

How to generate and qualify new leads for your law firm

Monday, October 08, 2018

By Quentin Aisbett, Director, OnQ Marketing

Law firms are bombarded with advice about transitioning from paper to digital. Much of the reasoning sits around cost savings. But have you considered revenue generation opportunities with your move to digital?

Specialist technology solutions for going paperless are launched seemingly every month, while regulatory changes (such as electronic conveyancing) place even more pressure on today’s firms.

Of course, going paperless can provide many benefits.

Firms can expect to:

       save time on data entry;

       remove transcription errors;

       make it easier to re-use data; and

       ultimately provide a better client experience.

But what’s often left out of the ‘benefits of going paperless’ discussion is the lead generation and lead qualification opportunities that digital provides.

One of the key digital assets law firms can implement is a client questionnaire. I see two types of questionnaires and each comes with varying benefits.

1. The existing client questionnaire

As an example, let’s take a family law firm providing divorce services. Those firms that haven’t yet gone digital are likely to be asking their clients to fill in a hard-copy form to provide information on themselves and their spouse.

We know there’s problems with that traditional approach:

       The questionnaire is huge and clients dread filling it all out.

       When it’s completed, the law firm is faced with the issue of how to get it back efficiently. A dozen pages scanned and emailed is painful. Do they drop it in? Or perhaps mail it back. None of those options are a great experience.

       The office admin then must transcribe the completed form, risking potential errors in the process.

2. The prospect questionnaire

This is when a legal client is online researching about their situation and trying to identify which firm is the right fit for them. They’ll find several legal resources online from Legal Aid to individual law firms. Often the information is presented to them is thin content lacking the depth they need. Or sometimes it will be presented in a way that's hard to follow and it doesn’t provide any real value to them.

A digital questionnaire is a terrific way to improve the user experience.

The potential client goes through the questionnaire and at the end is presented with a summary of their position.

This type of questionnaire presents your law firm with two key opportunities:

a)       You separate your firm from the rest

That’s because you’re likely to be one of only a handful of websites that provides them with a positive experience and clarity about their situation. This puts you in a better position than your competitors to secure the client or provide them with a quote. With an online questionnaire, the information a potential client submits can also be saved, so they don’t need to re-submit it if they decide to continue.

b)       It qualifies potential clients without you wasting time on a call or an appointment with them if you’re unable to assist them

The questionnaire can also be structured to identify good and bad clients, helping you to qualify them and to refer them elsewhere if necessary.

For example, the call to action the user sees at the completion of the questionnaire can be conditional depending on their answers to specific questions. If they’re not the right fit, you can suggest they seek out Legal Aid or another firm so that they aren’t wasting their time or yours.  Or if they are the right fit, you can encourage them to book an appointment with your firm or let them know you’ll have a member of your team contact them.

You can also use different types of prospect questionnaires to generate leads.

For example, if you’re practicing property law, you might want to develop a ‘Do I need a conveyancer or a solicitor?’ questionnaire. There are a ton of articles online addressing this very topic, so it will be difficult to rank another article prominently. But if you use a questionnaire instead, other websites addressing the topic will be likely to link to your questionnaire and this will provide additional traffic and search authority.

For example, many of the articles that cover that topic are from the real estate industry. The questionnaire can therefore become a lead-generating asset from that industry.

Some other questionnaires that could help the researching prospective client include:

        Do I need a lawyer?

        Should I be paying child support?

        Is it worth challenging a Will?

        Should I file for bankruptcy?

How to get questionnaires published on your website

There are third-party software solutions that will help you publish questionnaires on your site. There are many solutions in the market that are easy to use and allow you to embed questionnaires into your website.

However, I encourage you to contact your web developer to build your questionnaires for you. Ultimately, you’ll then have more control over their functionality and styling. 

About our Guest Blogger

Quentin Aisbett is a digital strategist and founder of Melbourne-based agency OnQ Marketing. He works with law firms and other professional services to drive their organic growth online.

He is a regular contributor to Inside Small Business and is an active participant in the Quora community.

Web:  https://www.onqmarketing.com.au   |   LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/quentinaisbett/

Audacious leadership – what’s holding your firm back?

Monday, October 01, 2018

By Ricky Nowak, CEO, Ricky Nowak & Associates

Australian leaders spend many millions of dollars and hours every year developing their own leadership capability and that of their teams, yet as a nation we are undecided about what leadership style really works.

Why do we struggle with audacious leadership?

Part of the reason is that more traditional businesses resist standing up and standing out than those willing to lead with the positive audacity of learning new ways and be willing to get it wrong. Yes, making mistakes is hard when we are scrutinised for it. Yes, being a student and not being a master is even harder – especially when we are used to being known as an expert. And most of all, being committed to learning and exploring options takes time and as the clock ticks over 6 minutes it’s easy to default and use money as an excuse for not extending themselves ‘right now’.

The word on the street is that the legal industry feels this where it hurts most – the financial side of business. Largely traditional, risk averse and conservative, many firms seem stuck between the legacy of the past and breaking through to the future way of working. The additional problem is young talent is already thinking as futurists and wants to bring in new advances in communication and engagement. So perhaps it’s time for the traditionalists to shift slightly off the dance floor and onto the balcony and mentor future audacious leaders to ensure their firms remain in business and keep their staff before they become someone else’s.

However, easier said than done and my belief is that many people find it difficult to let go of things like hierarchy in favour of a more inclusive style of leadership - perhaps the fear of losing their foothold Perhaps people are largely unwilling to stretch their thinking and behaviour outside

the traditional or they don’t feel the industry or clients will support them and resist doing business with them.

As such they go with what has worked in the past and hope things will be OK. But hope is not a strategy. It is a four-letter word that often ends badly.

Herein lies a deeper problem.

Is new talent the answer?

Young talent coming in to legal firms today do not want to simply hope they will have a career trajectory but rather strive to make their mark. No different from any one else who aspired to grow their career, right? Even us back in the day… right?

One could say the traditional pecking order now is like a precarious deck of cards – one that may look strong to your clients or outside world but the foundations may not be so firm, as young talent take to their keyboards rather than the key boardrooms!

But before we shift off our seats a little in favour or upcoming talent, we need to ask if they have the capability to lead with an unwavering sense of purpose and as experienced leaders, how can we equip them with the competence to lead as audacious lawyers not just confident lawyers. That’s our role – irrespective of whatever our jobs are: we as audacious leaders must give them more than knowledge on the job and provide them with exceptional experiences not just explanations.

What’s the key to building audacious leaders?

The key to this is around mindset where no ambiguity exists in thought or behaviour, and we show our commitment to them and our clients. This mindset is around total focus and is resilient enough to withstand and work through criticism, complacency or external or internal influences that may try and sabotage our vision.

Audacious leaders must demonstrate through stronger negotiation, communication and influence techniques that their passion is not hot air, and their intent is purposeful not fanciful. We either get good or get going.

We are saying we need to stretch our capacity and capability outside the typical transactions we do every day.  We are saying we need to give voice to our passions, convictions and do it with courage even when we feel our most vulnerable.

We are saying that we constantly evolve, become more nimble, responsive and adaptive. And yes, we are also saying it’s not easy. Perhaps it never was. But one thing for sure, things have changed.

So have we, so have our clients and so have our staff.

Today and tomorrow’s leaders will lead best by being audacious. In the positive sense. In a timely sense, and in a way that is uniquely yours.

About our Guest Blogger

Ricky is a professional Facilitator, Keynote Speaker, and Executive Coach with over 30 years’ experience in executive and business training and development within Australasia. She has been successful in creating sustainable change and increased productivity for clients in diverse industries ranging from Engineering, Construction, Legal, Finance, Agribusiness, Urban Design, Technology, NFP, Government, Project Management, Mining, Medical and Mental Health, Transport and Logistics. Her unique style of presentation delivery and coaching has helped her diverse clients achieve outstanding commercial and professional results for themselves, their teams and their organisations.

She has trained, spoken or facilitated work over 3000 presentations to companies and individuals globally. She is a certified speaking professional, certified human resource professional, author of four business books, preferred Executive Coach for the Australian Institute of Company Directors and regular commentator on national radio and blogger for Australian Human Resource Institute.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rickynowak/     Web: www.rickynowak.com

The 2020’s: time for law firms to take strategy more seriously

Monday, September 24, 2018

By Mitch Kowalski, Strategic Advisor on Legal Innovation

I remember meeting the Managing Partner of a large Canadian law firm and asking about his strategy for the firm. He was quick to respond, “Our strategy is to be the best in every area of law that we cover.” He seemed to be very pleased with himself. And perhaps rightly so; after all, lawyers hadn’t much use for sophisticated business strategies.

Traditionally our monopoly meant that we only competed among ourselves - and we predominantly differentiated ourselves based on quality of legal work, not on different customer experiences. And on a personal level, many lawyers define their own sense of self-worth on labels such as being the best or working with the best. And so, his pronouncement made perfect sense to himself and to his partners.

I, on the other hand, having had training and experience on boards of large companies where strategy was taken very seriously and where the key to success is competing on difference (not different shades of sameness), was stunned. In my mind, I started to pick away at his triumphant pronouncement.

There was the obvious problem of defining what the best means when it comes to lawyers - how does one objectively and accurately determine the best real estate lawyer or best corporate lawyer? Are they the smartest? The most efficient? The one who gives the most value for money? The one who gives the best customer service? And what exactly does it mean to be the best law firm?

Had I been cheeky enough to ask these questions, he might have realised that being the best is not a strategy at all. Most would scoff at a cricket or rugby team saying that its strategy this year is to be the best, or its strategy is to win more. Winning, or being the best, is the outcome of following a successful strategy – it’s not a strategy itself.

To paraphrase strategy guru, Roger Martin, strategy is the framework that holds together a set of integrated choices (where to play; what capabilities are needed; what management systems; what technology), that when taken together, not only give the law firm superior financial returns, but most importantly, give the law firm sustainable advantage over all competitors. Sustainable advantage means an advantage that’s not fleeting because it’s not easily duplicated by competitors.

As we know from sports teams and even law firms, quality is easy to duplicate - it can be bought, or it can be trained. Moreover, quality doesn’t differentiate firms in a market where there are numerous competitors all with the same quality.

Both Canada and Australia are awash in good quality lawyers, so the Canadian Managing Partner’s so-called strategy has little chance of setting his firm apart in such a market; particularly when his own lawyers are easily poached by some firm willing to give them a higher draw.

Having great lawyers is now merely table stakes, in a market place that now boasts law companies, legal process outsourcers, lawyers on demand, massive in-house legal departments, business technology applications that are revolutionising office environments, a new generation of workers that are proving less enamoured with traditional law firm careers, and well-funded legal tech cool kids building applications that can already provide different forms of legal services.

With these changes and opportunities comes the ability for law firms to take a much more sophisticated approach to strategy so as to create real sustainable competitive advantage that not only brings value to clients, but also entices and retains talent.

A successful law firm strategy must be based on something more than just having a bunch of great lawyers who do good work for a bunch of great clients. These ideas will form the basis of future blogs.

About our Guest Blogger

Mitchell Kowalski is the Gowling WLG Visiting Professor in Legal Innovation at the University of Calgary Law School and a strategic advisor to in-house legal departments and law firms on the redesign of legal service delivery.

He is a Fastcase 50 Global Legal Innovator and the author of the critically-acclaimed books, The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field, and Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century.

Twitter:  @mekowalski     |     Email:  mekowalski@kowalski.ca

Firm-Book; a snapshot of the risks of using Facebook in the modern practice

Monday, September 17, 2018

By Dugald Hamilton, Principal & Founder,  23LEGAL

Social media has become a part of our lives, whether we like it or not. Facebook posts of new babies, insta-blasts of the latest delectable cuisine you have just whipped up in your kitchen or a boomerang story of you and your friends enjoying a Friday night cocktail after a long week.

But what does this mean for your firm? Regardless of whether you use Facebook as part of your firm’s marketing strategy, this global phenomenon impacts your business. 

Facebook Terms and Conditions

You may be hard pressed to find someone who has read, and understood, the terms and conditions of Facebook (T&C’s). Yet we use these platforms daily (perhaps hourly in some cases) and blindly accept that these companies have our best interests at heart. 

The recent US elections and the large-scale data scraping undertaken by Cambridge Analytica [1] to attempt to manipulate the election should have sent alarm bells off across the Social Media world.  Yet we all still seem to use these platforms and probably haven’t given it another thought. [2]

These recent events should be seen as a chance to consider (or reconsider) whether it is worth the risk of using Facebook; both as a marketing tool but also simply accessing it on devices that also hosts your firm’s data and information.

We seem generally aware that when we are sharing data with Facebook, we give them the ability to access and use that data. Facebook call this “Provid[ing] a personalised experience for you”.  But is it really this simple?

Intellectual Property Licence

One key term which generally gets glossed over is what Facebook can do with your Intellectual Property. The T&C’s state:

you grant us [Facebook] a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free and worldwide licence to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings).”

Notably you allow them to translate and create derivate works from your content. You need to consider whether any derivative content will be consistent with your branding? Will it comply with your legal and ethical requirements when it comes to advertising legal services?  What if it doesn’t?

Generally, Facebook will only respond to orders issued out of a Californian Court [3]. So, there is a risk that you could be subjected to obligations or orders here in Australia (e.g. injunctions or other court orders) which ultimately you may need to seek the assistance of a foreign court to allow you to comply with such order.

Now you can end the licence with Facebook by deleting the Content or your Account, but if you have shared it with others (or if Facebook has) the content will subsist until those people also delete it.

Access to Data

As a user of Facebook, also grant them access to a wide (and possibly exorbitant) range of data.  This can stem from simply the data you upload or submit knowingly to Facebook (e.g. a photo or blog post) but also encompasses many other forms of data including, for example, meta data [4], location settings, device settings, signals and unique identifiers. 

One major area of concern which needs active consideration is that that you grant Facebook access to your cameras, microphones and even where you move your mouse on your computer screen [5].  There are reasons why founder Mark Zuckerberg covers his own webcam and microphone on his laptop with tape. [6]

The risk for firms is that if Facebook (or any other hacker) is recording, storing and using this data, you potentially put yourself at risk of breaching privilege, court orders and causing irreparable harm to your clients and your firm.  The reputational damage of a breach alone can cause significant irreparable harm to your brand, and this is before you consider the on flow of that risk to you having to notify your clients and respond to any claims as a result of that breach.

If you turn your mind to how many staff members use Facebook on their work computer, work phone or on their personal devices in their office, around clients or on firm business, the risk is ever present.

Commercial Terms and Conditions

In addition to the T&C’s, when you access Facebook for business purposes you are also subject to Facebook’s Commercial Terms and Conditions (CT&C’s).

Relevantly, these CT&C’s include terms such as:

  • Warranties that:

    • you can bind your firm when you use it for business;

    • your access of Facebook complies with all applicable laws, rules and regulations – this may arguably include the laws of other jurisdictions;

  • an indemnity in favour of Facebook for any damages (including legal fees) related to any claim brought as a result of your use; and

  • Depending on the service you use, you also agree to a wide range of additional terms and conditions which themselves can have a significant impact on your firm. [7] 

Five Tips for what should you do to minimise risk

Facebook, when used well, can be an essential tool in your Firm’s marketing arsenal.  When things go wrong however you need to fully understand what you have signed up for, the risks that flow from that.

So, here’s five tips on what can you do today to start to address this risk:

  1. Read the T&C’s and CT&C’s (and all other terms and conditions) in full so that you fully understand what you are agreeing to by allowing Facebook to be used on your systems;

  2. Begin the discussion about what risk your firm is willing to accept and whether using Facebook is right for your business;

  3. Develop, implement and enforce an appropriate policy for use of Facebook (and all social media for that matter) within your firm, your office and amongst your staff;

  4. Consider whether you can outsource any of this risk; say for example taking out cyber insurance;

  5. Stay up to date and continually review these ongoing risks.

All risk management strategies are designed to ensure that you are prepared to respond meaningfully and quickly to any issues which arise in and around your business.  The best time to prepare for that is today.

Meet the author, Dugald Hamilton at the ALPMA Summit in September

Rise of the Machines – The Essential Guide to Future Law Firms (Panel Member)

You are the Biggest Risk … Goodbye … but it doesn’t have to end this way

Dugald Hamilton, Principal, 23LEGAL

[1] (87 Million users (~300,000 Australian users) had their data accessed)

[2] (If you are concerned that you may have been caught up in the Cambridge Analytica data breach you can check via this link https://www.facebook.com/help/1873665312923476?ref=shareable )

[3] Consumer law breaches can be resolved in Australia; however, you are unlikely to be a consumer if you are using or publishing on behalf of your firm

[4] Meta data is a set of data attaching to files which describes and gives information about the data.

[8] See for example, Facebook Platform Policy, Self-Serve Ad Terms, Advertising Policies, Facebook Business Tools Terms, Pages, Groups and Events Policy, Facebook Commerce Product Merchant Agreement, Developer Payment Terms, Custom Audiences Terms as an example.

About our Guest Blogger

Dugald founded 23LEGAL to deliver traditional dispute resolution, restructuring, insolvency and commercial legal services but with a modern-world approach.  Prior to founding 23LEGAL, he spent 10 years working in high-end boutique law firms across Brisbane, specialising in litigation, dispute resolution, restructuring and insolvency.

This extensive experience provided him with a strong foundation to be able to assist you with the most complex of problems and to work with you to resolve it in the best way possible.

As a self-professed tech geek, he is passionate about the intersection of technology and law which can provide new and novel solutions to age-old complex problems.  He recently co-hosted the Sydney leg of the inaugural Global Legal Hackathon in February 2018 and is excited about the current legal tech landscape and the advantages is can bring to modern practice.

LinkedIn (23LEGAL):  https://www.linkedin.com/company/23legal/                   

LinkedIn (personal): https://www.linkedin.com/in/dugald-hamilton-8595b640/

Facebook (23LEGAL): https://www.facebook.com/23legal/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/_23Legal

Five things you can do right now to future proof your legal practice

Monday, September 10, 2018

By Fiona McLay, Special Counsel,  Rankin Business Lawyers

If you feel like there is a lot of talk about innovation and disruption in the legal services, but very little actual change in the way lawyers and law firms are operating day-to-day on the coalface, you might be right.

What is changing?

There has been a 484% increase in the number of legal service technology patents globally in the last five years.  In 2017 investment in UK lawtech start-ups was reported to have reached £16m, with 87% of lawtech start-ups aimed at providing legal services to business.

Dramatic changes in processing power and connectivity are making new ways of working possible. New alternative legal service providers, improvements in AI options and increasingly accessible automation tools are bringing irreversible change to the legal market.  

Is it “phoney” change?

A 2018 online survey conducted by ALMPA and Centre for Legal Innovation in Australia found that only half of all respondents identified technology, innovation or disruption as directly impacting changes to their role in the last three years.  Aside from 10% who were not sure, 40% said their role had not changed.

Why are law firms and legal departments not adapting?  Surveyed attendees at the Legal Innovation & Tech Fest in Sydney in June 2018 revealed that the top three roadblocks to innovation were:

  1. Not enough time

  2. Too many ideas, no prioritisation

  3. Not enough money

Getting started – innovation with training wheels

If those roadblocks sound familiar, the good news is that there are often opportunities to implement effective, low-cost innovations in a short time frame. 

1.   Working smarter

Asking “What is the dumbest thing you do?” will turn up bottlenecks caused by manual or inefficient processes.  Look for small ways to eliminate an unnecessarily time-consuming process or double handling. 

Start with the capacity of your existing software.  Are there better ways to use it to avoid common time-suckers like:

  • manage collaboration on documents;

  • manage email;

  • auto-respond to routine requests;

  • use shared calendars to manage resources and avoid scheduling conflicts.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel and pour money into developing a customised, bespoke IT solution. Employ products already designed to solve problems commonly faced by law firms and legal departments which can be used “off the shelf”.

It may also be worth revisiting something that didn’t work very well a few years ago.  For instance, speech recognition products which enable dictation straight to screen have improved greatly.

2.   Legal project management

The Thought Leader Experiment underway in the US suggests that 46% of general counsel surveyed highly value legal project management by law firms.  Using legal project management facilitates more accurate scoping, pricing and resourcing of work. 

Comprehensive process improvement is expensive, but most law firms have detailed records of exactly how many billable units go into the work they do.  It does not require upfront financial investment to use historical billing data to better scope, price and resource repetitive work.

3.   Alternative legal service delivery

McKinsey estimates AI will automate 24% of what lawyers do.  Even if you don’t have the budget to use AI tools, you should get familiar with the capabilities. 

There are a number of reasonably-priced products specifically designed to help Australian lawyers and in-house counsel automate routine document production.  They include products that will:

  • produce comprehensive legal documents from information entered into a responsive series of questions;

  • allow you to automate your own documents using drag and drop elements (no coding required);

  • do an initial review of agreements by comparing them to similar agreements you have used in the past;

  • proof read to detect unused definitions, capitalisation and cross-referencing errors in documents;

  • update authorities cited in support of legal arguments.

4.   Talent management

A global survey by Peerpoint in May 2018 indicated that 81% of current lawyers believe that many young lawyers entering the profession will feel that undertaking the path to partnership is not worth it.  Consulting offers an alternative way for experienced lawyers to continue doing challenging work but with more flexibility and variety than the traditional law firm model. 

Employee engagement initiatives are essential in a disrupted industry.  It costs nothing to thank people for effort, publicly recognise employee contributions and involve employees in interesting projects.

There are lots of opportunities for law firms to use new technology to deliver better and targeted training.  Low cost products allow easy creation and sharing of videos and screen recordings. 

Reviewing data can also reveal a hidden need for training or improvement.  For instance, you can check if documents which are not approved precedents are being continually copied and used as a template.

Although it is expensive to develop useful workflows, checklists and templates for particular work types, this is another area where the quality of the available products has improved significantly.  The investment enables junior staff to progress matters more effectively and capitalises on the expertise of senior team members.

5.   Having an authentic and credible digital presence

If you want to be able to engage with clients online you need to adapt to the continuing trend toward mobile devices and video content.  You can establish an active digital presence by regularly engaging with social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook without having to revamp the firm’s entire website.  There is no budget required to regularly share useful information with your network. 

You will need to be able to present complex information visually if you want to compete in an increasingly busy online space.  

“Ready.  Fire.  Aim”

Don’t let hype about Lawtech blind you to the impact of new tools and new ways of working on the future of the legal profession. 

Look for ways to begin a digital transformation requiring little or no capital outlay that will improve client satisfaction, the way your law firm or law department works, and the bottom line. 

Meet the author, Fiona McLay at the ALPMA Summit in September

 Rise of the Machines – The Essential Guide to Future Law Firms – Panel Discussion

Fiona McLay, Special Counsel, Rankin Business Lawyers

Snapshot of the 5 Lawtech Trends You Should Know About: A Guide for Non Geeks

About our Guest Blogger

Fiona McLay is an experienced litigator who acts for individuals and small to medium sized companies in a wide range of commercial litigation matters. 

At Rankin & Co Business Lawyers she helps people resolve disputes, both in their business and personal lives, in a way that minimises the expense and disruption that those disputes can cause.   

She has implemented practice management tools which improved functionality like customisable automation and paper-lite processes.  She is excited about the way technology is helping us to work more efficiently and focus on delivering great service. 

Fiona regularly shares useful info on LinkedIn, @BreakupBusiness on Twitter or @FionaMcLayLawyer on Facebook.

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