A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Your super should not be “set and forget” – it’s time to make a statement

Monday, September 03, 2018

By Andrew Proebstl, Chief Executive, legalsuper

With superannuation fund members across Australia receiving their FY2018 annual member statement, now is the perfect time to reflect, review your fund’s performance and make decisions about what you can do to improve your future super outcomes.

Your super account investment balance and working out how much you’ll need for retirement

Understandably, the first thing most people look at when they receive their annual super statement is how much money they have in their account.

This amount will be shown on your statement. Ideally, your statement will not only show your balance at the end of 2017-18 but also your balance at the end of previous financial years. That way, you can see, at-a-glance, the changes in your balance over time.

To help you forecast what your balance total could be upon retirement, your super fund should provide an online retirement planner calculator.  If they don’t, ASIC’s MONEYSMART website provides such a calculator.

Once you have determined your forecast balance using a calculator, the next step is to compare it to the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) Retirement Standard.

The ASFA Retirement Standard benchmarks, on a quarterly basis, the annual budget needed by Australians to fund either a “comfortable” or “modest” standard of living in the post-work years.

The latest standard, issued in March 2018, states that, in retirement, a single person aged 65 will need $27,368 per annum to lead a “modest” lifestyle and $42,764 to lead a “comfortable” lifestyle. Couples will need $39,353 and $60,264 respectively. (These figures assume the retiree/s own their home outright and are relatively healthy).

Should you be topping up your super?

If your analysis shows that you could fall short of your desired retirement balance target, you can consider making additional voluntary contributions to your super.

Your super balance includes both compulsory contributions paid by your employer (currently 9.5 per cent of your salary pursuant to the Superannuation Guarantee) and any additional voluntary contributions you have chosen to make.

If your Super Guarantee contributions are less than $25,000 per financial year, then you can choose to make additional voluntary contributions to super up to the $25,000 limit. These additional contributions (known as concessional contributions) are taxed at a concession tax rate of 15 per cent compared to your marginal tax rate, which in most cases will be higher.

If you decide to pay voluntary concessional contributions it is important to first check with your super fund to ensure these additional contributions do not lead to you exceeding the $25,000 contribution limit.  Contributions in excess of this limit can be taxed at a higher rate.

As well as making voluntary concessional contributions up to the $25,000 cap, employees can also make what are called non-concessional (after-tax) contributions. While non-concessional contributions are taxed differently to concessional contributions, these types of contributions also carry attractive taxation advantages. Your super fund can provide further information.

The current after-tax non-concessional contribution cap is $100,000 for each financial year. However, people under the age of 65 on 1 July in a financial year can contribute in excess of the $100,000 cap up to an amount of $300,000 in a single financial year pursuant to the “bring-forward rule”. This can be a valuable and significant way to boost your savings for retirement.

As the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) MONEYSMART website says: “If you can spare the money, you can really boost your super savings by making after-tax contributions. You will usually save more by investing through super than by investing in the same assets outside super.”

Investment options through super

One other significant aspect to consider when reviewing your current and future balance is the investment option in which your balance is invested. Your investment option will be shown on your member statement.

Most members are invested in their funds’ ‘default’ investment option. Speak with your fund to determine whether it is time to make a change. Often, younger members choose “aggressive” or “assertive” options (e.g. more highly invested in shares and property) while those nearing or in retirement choose a “balanced” or “conservative” approach (e.g. more highly invested in fixed interest and cash).

Insurance types and levels

Just as there are benefits in reviewing your investment options, it is also worthwhile reviewing each year the types and levels of insurance. Your circumstances will change and the appropriate level of death, disability (TPD) and/or income protection insurance for you and your family will therefore also change too.

Also, as part of looking after your dependents, it is well worth checking to ensure you have nominated a beneficiary for your super in the event that you die, and that you have indicated whether this nomination is “binding” or “non-binding”.

Fees and charges

There has rightfully been a spotlight in the media recently on the fees and charges some super funds charge.

Most super funds will have competitive and fair fees and charges and will readily be able to explain the basis for the levels at which these are set.

To help you evaluate the reasonableness of the fees and charges described in your annual member statement, the ASIC MONEYSMART website provides an excellent introduction to this.

Check your contact details and contributions

Each time you receive your member statement you should always check your contact details to ensure they are up-to-date, complete and correct.

At the same time, make sure that your employer has contributed the full amount required under the Superannuation Guarantee. Sadly, some employers, either through deliberate omission or oversight, fail in this regard. If you are not sure how to review your Superannuation Guarantee contributions (and other contributions such as your salary sacrifice contributions), your super fund will be able to assist.

Your fund’s performance

With superannuation being the bedrock for retirement for almost all Australians, people are entitled to know, and should want to know, how well their fund has performed compared to other super funds.

One independent superannuation ratings agency is SuperRatings , which reports that in 2017-18, the median MySuper investment option returned 8.7 per cent. By comparison, legalsuper returned an impressive 9.4 per cent during this period.

As part of your review of your annual member statement it is well worth checking to see if the statement provides investment performance information for your fund, including how your fund performed compared to other funds.

If your fund does not provide this information, or if they have not met or exceeded the median performance level, ask them why. If you are not satisfied with their response, it may very well be time to think about changing super funds.  Even small differences in return can make a material difference over time.

About our Guest Blogger

Andrew Proebstl is chief executive of legalsuper; Australia’s super fund for the legal community.  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

Better together - 10 reasons why collaboration in your firm is a good idea

Sunday, August 26, 2018

By Joel Barolsky, Director,  Barolsky Advisors

A vast majority of law firms are highly collegiate. Only a few are deeply collaborative.

A collegiate firm is one where the partners and legal staff enjoy each other’s company and are happy to cross-sell when opportunities arise. A deeply collaborative firm is where all practitioners and business service staff are committed to win and deliver together. Clients are ‘owned’ by the firm, the primary focus is on integrated cross-team solutions to solve clients' problems.

Recent research from Harvard and elsewhere points to 10 key reasons why better collaboration in law firms is a good idea.

#1 Collaboration helps reconcile the tension between provider specialisation and breadth of client problems

There are two megatrends in the world of professional services that are moving at 90 degrees to each other.

In the pursuit of differentiation, advisers are becoming more and more specialised and focused on narrower areas of expertise.  At the same time, many client problems are getting broader and more complex. For example, a client issue like cyber-security may require expertise from legal, technology, change management, marketing and risk perspectives.

Better intra- and inter-firm collaboration is one of the few strategic options available to reconcile these two trends.

#2 Collaboration helps make the whole more than the sum of the parts

The past decade has seen a massive growth in the number of specialist freelance lawyers in Australia and New Zealand. Many freelancers are Tier 1 refugees or experienced practitioners seeking more flexible lifestyles. Their ability to set up shop has been enabled by new inexpensive and powerful cloud-based software.

In the battle between a ‘solo specialist’ in a high fixed overhead law firm and independent freelancer, the latter will almost always win. They simply have far greater price-setting discretion.

Conversely, a collaborative firm that pools its capabilities will usually outmuscle the one-(wo)man-band. In this instance, the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

#3 Collaboration fosters cognitive diversity which yields more creative solutions and better client outcomes

There is a saying that ‘two brains are better than one’. The truth is, if the two brains think in very similar ways and/or have very similar knowledge, then the benefits are marginal. In contrast, research shows that cognitive diversity yields far better results than cognitive similarity, as measured by the speed of problem-solving and the creativity/quality of the solutions.

A collaborative firm that brings diverse perspectives to solve client problems will outperform its peers over time. This collaboration includes involving business service professionals from HR, IT, marketing and finance.

#4 Collaboration is strongly correlated with higher client loyalty

There is far greater client ‘stickiness’ when you have three or more practice groups collaborating to service a particular client organisation. This multi-practice glue is based on:

  • The firm’s knowledge of the client leading to better understanding of needs and more opportunities to add value;

  • Lower transactions costs; and

  • More hooks or connections with ‘many-to-many’ personal relationships, as compared to one-to-many or one-to-one models.

#5 Collaboration yields higher revenue for individual partners

A recent Harvard study indicated highly collaborative partners out-performed comparable solo-specialists in the same firm by a factor of four – see Exhibit 1. While the study is limited by not being able to identify and compare two identical practitioners, it does point to the benefits of those willing to span boundaries and network widely across the firm.

Source: Smart Collaboration, Heidi Gardner, Harvard Business School Press, 2017

#6 Collaboration means higher margins

Complex multi-disciplinary problems are at the other end of the commodity continuum. Clients are far more likely to pay a premium when they’re getting a highly tailored solution to address a critical issue in their organisation. What’s more, an integrated bespoke solution cannot be easily compared to offers from other firms.

#7 Collaboration means better lateral hire integration

When a lateral hire joins a firm, they typically face two types of journeys: [1] they are invited onto incumbent clients’ matters and they share their clients with their new colleagues, or [2] they’re not.

Recent research indicates that those that experience journey #1 tend to remain within the firm and become highly successful partners within three years. Those that experience journey #2 become isolated, unproductive and often leave.

#8 Collaboration facilitates higher employee engagement

Generally, professionals will jump out of bed and rush to work if they feel like their work matters and they’re mastering their craft.

Working on complex multi-disciplinary client problems is messy but fun. Ask any lawyer in your property team if they’d prefer to process another simple lease agreement or join a cross-practice team exploring rental yield optimisation across a large industrial park portfolio?

#9 Collaboration can improve utilisation

It is common practice in many firms that mid-level and junior practitioners stick almost exclusively to one practice team. Resources are tightly held and protected within a practice.

In highly collaborative firms, resources are shared more flexibly to optimise overall firm capacity utilisation, to even out workloads and to lower cost-to-serve.

While allocating solicitors to specific practices helps with building specialist skills and experience, some resource fluidity could have enormous benefits for the firm and the individuals involved.

#10 Collaboration is key in a legal world moving towards open networks and ecosystems

Working collaboratively can be thought of as a strategic capability or an organisational ‘muscle’. In most firms, the collaboration muscle starts out weak and with little stamina. Collaboration is clunky and takes effort. It goes against the grain of most lawyers who place a premium on their autonomy. It’s often easier to get things done when there are far fewer people involved.

However, building the muscle or capability to collaborate within a firm will often result in a greater ability to partner with others outside the firm.

There is much evidence that the legal world is moving to open networks and ‘ecosystems’ involving multiple parties. These include competing law firms, in-house teams, legal process providers, law companies, legal technology providers, multi-disciplinary firms, consultants, freelance networks, the bar, the judiciary, legal educators and regulators, to name just a few.

It is now not uncommon to have up to seven different entities collaborating on a project to solve a client problem or to realise an opportunity.

In conclusion

There is little doubt that strengthening and conditioning your firm’s collaboration muscle will become a critical success factor. It’s time to hit the gym.

Meet the author, Joel Barolsky at the ALPMA Summit in September

Smart Colloboration in Law Firms

Joel Barolsky; Director of Barolsky Advisors, Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne and Creator of the Price High or Low app

Being collegiate is just not enough these days. In order to grow, firms need to break down internal silos and become deeply collaborative with everyone working seamlessly to solve clients’ problems.

Professor Heidi Gardner of Harvard Business School recently completed a 10-year study into collaboration in professional firms. Her findings indicated a 7-fold revenue difference between a collaborative approach and a cross-selling collegiate model.

This presentation will define ‘smart collaboration’, share the results of Gardner’s study, identify the common barriers to collaboration, outline various strategies and tactics firms can adopt to become more collaborative and provide pointers for successful implementation.

About our Guest Blogger

Joel Barolsky is Managing Director of Barolsky Advisors, Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne and Creator of the Price High or Low smartphone app designed to help you with pricing your projects.

LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joelbarolsky/ 

Twitter:   https://twitter.com/Barolsky  (@barolsky)

5 innovative strategies to help you build and retain the workforce of the future

Monday, August 20, 2018

By Kim Seeling Smith, CEO,  Ignite Global

Firms thriving on 'perfect' conditions proclaims the AFR headline from June 28. The article reports that their 2018 Law Partnership Survey finds that, after several lean years, both revenue and profits are strong and the future looks very bright.

Unfortunately, this normally great news for the industry is matched by less than optimistic predictions about the second major trend reported in the AFR on the same day - disruption. This reporting is taken from the 2018 Emerging Legal Professions Survey conducted by ALPMA and the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) at the College of Law.  

According to this survey, law firms are under-prepared for the disruption that we are already seeing from smart contracts, cloud computing, the expansion of in-house legal teams, increased competition from both boutique, specialised firms as well as the re-emergence of a legal presence within multi-disciplinary practices such as the Big 4 accounting firms.

Your success as a Practice Manager will be predicated on your ability to build and retain a future-focused workforce during this period of unceasing change. This workforce will include traditional roles such as specialist lawyers, paralegals and business support and operations people - as well as an increasing number of non-legal professionals required to deliver new services or existing services in a new way.

Unfortunately, this challenge is happening in parallel with a dire skills shortage.

The growth in the working age population in Australia over the next four decades is only about 15% of what it has been over the last four. And while market and technological disruptions require that we hire new skills, many Australian employers worry that our education system is not adequately equipping the workforce with the skills they need.

So, not only will we have fewer workers available to fill our jobs in the future — many of those who are available will not possess the required skills to do these jobs successfully.

The combination of these factors has led the Australian Bureau of Statistics to predict that we will have up to 1.4 million jobs for which we cannot find suitable candidates by 2025.

Here are 5 innovative strategies you can begin to apply immediately to help you build and retain the workforce of the future:

1.  Treat prospecting for candidates like prospecting for new clients

  • Use workforce and succession planning to forecast future hiring and promotion activity.

  • Identify top talent in the market for all key roles in your firm and begin to develop relationships with them to recruit when the needs of your firm intersect with their career goals.

  • Identify and develop multiple, alternative sourcing strategies.

Doing this will give you access to more and better candidates and will ensure a steady pipeline of top talent. You’ll be able to choose from the best in the market - instead of the best available at that time, resulting in less stress for you and better utilisation for your teams.

2.  Update your hiring process 

A study by Hudson recruitment found that 44% of Australian hiring managers rated their last hire as “not good.” This isn’t a surprise since many hiring managers try to match a poorly written job description to even more poorly written CVs and end up going with their ‘gut feel’ - which can lead to a stomach ache for you! To update your hiring process:

  • Write compelling descriptions including an evocative purpose and outcome based, measurable KPIs.

  • Use these to structure and conduct Evidence-Based Interviews™.

  • Go beyond traditional interviews and utilise innovative hiring strategies such as real-life or scenario-based assessments, video pre-screens and gamification.

The cost to replace people ranges from 50-200% of their annual salary. Hiring the right person the first time will directly add to your firm’s bottom line.

3.  Generate engagement day 1

22% of employee turnover occurs within the first 45 days of employment. To make sure your new hires are not part of that statistic:

  • Begin on boarding immediately when they sign the contract.

  • On board the person, not the process:

    • Help them become as productive as possible as soon as possible, and

    • Help them become part of the team immediately upon joining.

Doing this will tangibly affect their engagement and productivity - and your retention figures.

4.   Build a healthy workplace culture

Mental health issues in the workplace are becoming more common and companies are spending considerable money on wellness initiatives. But the most effective wellness initiative is free:

Identify and rectify toxic teams and toxic managers immediately.

Look no further than glassdoor.com to see how toxic cultures increase employee turnover and decrease employee engagement. This isn’t a quick fix, but the lasting impact will decrease everyone’s stress levels - including your own.

5.   Talk to your staff regularly about what matters to them most

In January 2016, The HBR published the results of a 10-year study on what, “Great Executives Know and Do.” This study shows that the most important characteristic of leaders at all levels is a deep connection with their direct reports.

Connection begins with conversation, but most managers don’t talk to their staff enough, about the right things or in the right way.

5,000 exit interviews teach us that your staff prioritise only 8 things. We call these the 8 Currencies of Choice™. Use this wheel to conduct regular, meaningful conversations about what they need to be fully engaged and productive and deliver on those needs - or manage their expectations when you can’t.

Implementing these 5 strategies will help you build and retain the future workforce you need to confidently help your firm navigate this period of tremendous disruption - allowing you to take advantage of the ‘perfect conditions’ heralded by the recent AFR survey.

These strategies will also greatly enhance your own personal brand and career opportunities as you become known as an innovative, future-focused practice manager who helps build revenues, save costs and creates a happy, engaged and productive workforce today, tomorrow and beyond.

Meet the author, Kim Seeling Smith at the ALPMA Summit in September

The Future Workforce in the Future Firm

Kim Seeling Smith – CEO, Ignite Global

Blockchain, smart contracts, cloud computing, the expansion of in-house legal teams, and increased competition from both boutique, specialised firms as well as the re-emergence of a legal presence within multi-disciplinary practices such as the Big 4 accounting firms.

These pose both opportunities as well as threats for today’s legal practice management teams. In order to leverage these opportunities and manage the threats we must be able to attract, engage and retain a workforce that is agile, innovative, creative and solutions oriented.

In the midst of an increasingly competitive ‘War for Talent’ brought about by changing demographics and shifting required skills. Ignite Global’s proprietary, LIGHT Up Your Workforce® model will leave you with 5 key strategies to embrace these new paradigms and to help you build the workforce of the future.

About our Guest Blogger

Kim Seeling Smith has personally conducted over 5,000 exit interviews. She knows why your staff leave -  and what you can do to keep your best and brightest.

Kim is the CEO of Ignite Global, the employee retention specialists whose work has been recognised by Richard Bransons 100% Human at Work Initiative. She is the author of Mind Reading for Managers: 5 FOCUSed Conversations for Greater Employee Engagement and Productivity and has appeared in the BRW, HR Director and Forbes Online.

Kim has judged 4 international HR awards and has worked in 8 countries across 30 industries.

Web:   www.IgniteGlobal.com

LinkedIn:   https://www.linkedin.com/in/kimseelingsmith/ 

Twitter:   @LtUpYrWorkforce

Maybe it's you!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

By Grevis Beard, Co-Founder & Director, Worklogic

You may be familiar with the saying, people don’t leave their organisation, they leave their boss. In fact, one Gallup study actually revealed that one in two had left their job to get away from their manager.

So if you are managing a team, take a little time to consider how your team are behaving. You may be the worried well, and your team is thriving, with your staff genuinely and proactively seeking your guidance, raising ideas for how to further improve processes, and sharing knowledge. If so, all well and good! No flight risks there, and sounds like you are an open and approachable manager.

On the other hand, if your staff appear to be disengaged and unmotivated, your team turnover is high and your staff appear to be actively avoiding you, then you will seriously need to consider whether aspects of your management style and behaviour are causing this dynamic.

So what is your style?

Here are a few questions to get you thinking:

  • Are you truly approachable? Is your door not only physically open, but is it “psychologically open”? Do your staff proactively approach your room or space and feel comfortable being there? If there is nervous hovering, ask what is driving that?

  • Do you genuinely wish to hear what your team’s ideas and opinions are? Or are you a “my way or the highway”? Think about whether, even subconsciously, in meetings or one-on-one situations, you tend to shut down conversations or “move things on” if you are not hearing what you want to hear?

  • Are you an effective decision maker, or are you an avoidant one? Do you put off making decisions, such that the team “works around you”, and you are actually out of the loop?

  • Are you unable to control your emotional response to what is any type of “bad news” or feedback from a demanding client? How visible is this? Do you even know that is how you are coming across? And whilst you may think that you are able to hide your feelings of extreme responses from your staff, you may not be as effective at this as you think (or hope).

If any of these ring any bells for you, then that’s great that you have insight.

Too often, managers are in denial about their part of a dynamic and can be prone to “blaming the team” rather than reflecting on how the current workplace culture of the team has been influenced by their own management style. Everyone can always, of course, further improve how they engage with their staff. Where you may be exhibiting the traits above (whether it is of unapproachableness, command-and-control, avoidance, emotionally labile), think about:

  • Taking time to hear, listen and respond to staff concerns. Practice that now. It will take time to “turn the boat around”. Seek feedback over time from your staff about this and indicate that you are trying to be more available. Sounds confronting, but your staff will be impressed by your candour.

  • If your team are wise, then demonstrate that by hearing what they have to say and implementing any suggested improvements. No-one has a monopoly on innovation.

  • Reflect on obtaining a conflict management coach for dealing with your emotional extremes when in a “conflict” stressor zone.

Each of these can further help you on your way to improving how you engage more productively, and happily, with your team. Good luck!

Meet the author, Grevis Beard at the ALPMA Summit in September

Shape Up: How to Deal with Toxic Behaviour at the Top

Grevis Beard, Co-Founder and Director, Worklogic

We all know that culture is a critical enabler of future success for law firms. And we're all aware of the significant influence that firm partners and leaders have on setting the culture of the firm. But what do you do when a senior partner, leader or rainmaker is modelling bad behaviour, and setting a tone which is damaging morale, performance and employee retention – and potentially your firm’s reputation?

In this presentation, Director and co-founder of Worklogic, Grevis Beard will explore:

  • 'Rainmaker' syndrome - the immunity of certain people who are seen as irreplaceable, and seem to get away with anything

  • How the culture of an organisation can allow bad behaviour to thrive

  • Leadership: what gets traction, compared to what’s needed

  • The fallout of tolerating bad behaviour

Grevis then will share five practical steps you can take to shape the future culture of your firm.

About our Guest Blogger

Grevis is a co-founder and director at Worklogic; an Australian market-leader in identifying, preventing and resolving workplace misconduct. 

He co-authored “Workplace Investigations” (Wolters Kluwer, 2018). Together with co-director Rose Bryant-Smith, Grevis has also written “Fix Your Team”, published this August 2018 by Wiley.

Fix Your Team” gives managers the tools to rectify team dysfunction. 

Connect with Grevis on LinkedIn:   https://www.linkedin.com/in/grevis-beard-44aa4027/

Courageous conversations are your competitive advantage

Monday, August 06, 2018

By Linda Murray, Speaker & Executive Coach at Athena Coaching 

Courageous conversations challenge your confidence and your communication skills, but once mastered, give you a powerful marketplace advantage. These are the conversations which lead to peak performance in your team and establish your firm at the top of your profession.

Courageous conversation defined

A courageous conversation involves emotion… sometimes a lot of emotion! It might be one that involves confrontation or one you don’t want to have. Generally, these conversations make you feel uncomfortable or even catch you off-guard making you feel unprepared or even a little nervous.

For these reasons many people try to avoid such conversations. As you have probably noticed, no matter how deeply you hide your head in the sand, the need doesn’t go away. It might even escalate if you leave the matter unresolved.

Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations says, “Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can. Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person. It could be. Participate as if it matters. It does.”

How do courageous conversations give you a marketplace advantage?

When you possess the skill of having the conversations which other people aren’t – the difficult or delicate conversations they’re avoiding – you’re immediately ahead of the game. Your competitive advantage is created when you deal with people and talk through the issues which can make or break a team and business performance.

Mastering the art of courageous conversations builds relationships where people feel safe and valued and help you to gain their trust. Done well, courageous conversations create strong connections between people. People who feel connected are happier, more engaged and more confident. They work harder and contribute more. They’re willing to exceed expectations because they trust and feel trusted in return.

These conversations are your opportunity to build deeper, more effective relationships with the people around you, and that includes your clients. Remember, we all prefer to do business with people we know, like and trust.

The payoffs include a productive team, excellent performance, greater marketplace impact, stronger client loyalty and a more profitable bottom line.

The goals of a courageous conversation

Unlike normal conversations, courageous conversations are structured and have a clearly defined purpose. Whether you’re prepared for it or not, understanding the goals will help you manage:

  1. to discover the other person’s point of view and why it exists;

  2. to show your understanding, gain their trust and lay the groundwork for an open, honest and collaborative conversation;

  3. identify and agree on the gaps and work out the best action to take.

It’s important to understand these conversations aren’t about right and wrong; they are about differences in understanding and how to overcome them.

3 tips for conducting a courageous conversation

1.  Courageous conversations take skill and strategy to win a good result and these three tips are key to a good resolution. Learn to manage your fears

The conversation may not be easy and you might be uncomfortable. In some cases, you might even find that you’re in the wrong. It’s quite reasonable to feel hesitant or ever afraid of these conversations when you first start having them.

Focus on the benefits of the conversation. After all, if you don’t deal with the issues, they will continue and might even get worse, becoming a distraction and leaving a negative vibe. However, once the issues are bought to light and talked about, you have the beginnings of a resolution.

2.  Listen to truly understand

Become curious. Set your intent to listen to understand, not to agree or defend. Discover the intentions or the reasoning behind the action, rather than just talking about the results, especially if they’re negative. People are good and intend to do the right thing, so credit them with that.

3.  Be factual and honest

The key here is to avoid using critical or emotionally-laden language. Focusing on the facts as you see them gives you both something concrete to work on, particularly if one of you has misinterpreted them or missed vital information.

Working with the facts removes the emotion and negativity, allowing you to look for resolution. When you express yourself honestly, your authenticity shows. Make no mistake; people can tell when you’re being sincere and they’ll respond to it even if they don’t like what they must hear.

Courageous conversations are the game changers; the new currency in business, and your future results depend on it. Are you ready and willing to step up?

Meet the author, Linda Murray at the ALPMA Summit in September

"Courageous Conversations: You Shape the Future Firm with Every Conversation You Have"

Linda Murray, Executive Coach, Athena Leadership Academy 

Being masterful at Courageous Conversations is nothing short of an unfair competitive advantage. In fact, I believe Courageous Conversations are the game changers; the new currency in business.

Shaping the future firm does start with you, and it happens with every conversation you have. You know those uncomfortable conversations we hope will disappear if we avoid them ... yet they tend to grow?! Let me show you how having the courage to truly connect with the people around you will reveal a whole side of people, connection and business you’ve been missing!

This keynote will entertain, educate and inspire you to rethink how you approach conversations. When you truly understand what drives our interactions, you can know a more about people than they realise they are giving away! All you need is the tools you will learn and the courage to give it a go. The concepts you will learn during this keynote are immediately applicable in all areas of their life – both at work and at home.

After all, we communicate all the time. The result ... you will be a better colleague, leader, direct report, partner, parent, friend. 

About our Guest Blogger

Linda Murray is the founder, Speaker and Executive Coach at Athena Coaching and 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

We can do better for our firms’ people

Monday, July 30, 2018

By Justin Whealing, Partner, Eaton Capital Partners

The law is a people’s profession, yet we often treat our own shabbily. Justin Whealing looks at how there is a strong business case for putting your people first.

The law firm environment contains many inherent contradictions.

Externally, there is political uncertainty home and abroad, nationalist sentiment is on the rise globally, Donald Trump is tweeting merrily and markets are fluctuating.

Internally, law firm competition is white hot, global law firms continue to arrive into what is a crowded market, law firm mergers are commonplace and clients continue to put pressure on rates and resources via secondment opportunities.

You would think that with such a perfect storm, law firms would batten down the hatches and look to make do with what they have got.

But the contrary is true.

Law firms are hiring, and many of them are doing so in large numbers.

What did a recent “Law Firm Partnership Survey” reveal?

At Eaton Capital Partners, in conjunction with The Australian newspaper, we have just put the finishing touches on the Law Firm Partnership Survey for January to June 2018.

Survey participants included many of the biggest global and national firms in the marketplace, as well as a number of mid-tier and boutique firms.

For the first six months of this year, 27 of the 34 law firms featured in this survey saw an increase in the number of lawyers hired below partner level compared to the last six months of 2017.

Law firms are tough. They survive through cyclical downturns, changes of government, technology and scandal.

Private practice lawyers are both in demand when the party is raging and also needed when the bottom falls out of the market. They are stoic beasts, and their structures are resilient.

From this position of structural strength, the greatest weakness within law firms is how it treats its people.

Law firms often demand a level of personal resilience that is unreasonable, and quite often make demands that stray into the unconscionable.

Changing behaviours

The high rate of depression amongst lawyers is a continuing blight on the legal profession.

In terms of looking for a good place to start to arrest this, I think the following guidelines from the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation should provide the bedrock of what a harmonious and respectful law firm should look like. 

  1. People receive feedback at work that helps them grow and develop

  2. Supervisors are open to employee ideas for taking on new opportunities and challenges

  3. People have opportunities to advance within their organisation

  4. The organisation values employees’ ongoing growth and development

  5. People have the opportunity to develop their “people skills” at work

Law firm leaders recognise that law firm culture needs to change; they are just unsure of the best way to go about it.

Putting people first is a start.

If you ask law firm leaders what the most important part of their brief is, you will be surprised by their answers.

In 2016 I surveyed 20 law firm leaders

Participants included Danny Gilbert from Gilbert + Tobin, Peter Slattery from Johnson Winter & Slattery, John Nerurker from Mills Oakley, Dunstan de Souza from Colin Biggers & Paisley and Tony O’Malley from PwC.

When I asked these law firm leaders what the most important part of their job was, 60% of respondents nominated the ‘strategic’ focus, with the next best response being the ‘people’ focus.

“Our people deliver our service to clients, so they must be at their best”, commented one managing partner.

For people to be at their best, they need to feel valued.

That starts with law firm leaders establishing clear and transparent policies with regards to promotion and remuneration.

Law firms should be a meritocracy.

It is not acceptable to deny promotions to your cohort after lawyers reach or exceed previously agreed benchmarks.

Law firms do this too regularly, trying to shift the goalposts when a successful lawyer is ahead of the game.

At a partner level, it is imperative that a partner’s remuneration is not just based on tenure, practice size, and billable hours.

Money changes everything, especially behaviours.

By linking a percentage of partner remuneration to cultural goals, such as mentorship and collaborative behaviour, you will have a happier, more productive and empowered workforce.

“Large firms depend on culture. Without it they are just a web of mutual self-interest,” said another managing partner in the 2016 Survey.

In discussions about what the law firm of the future might look like, the emphasis is too often on the use of technology.

It is people that make a law firm, and the best law firms frame policies that reward good behaviour and good performance. The definitions of ‘good performance’ also need to be clear, as do the timelines that frame policies around career progression.

Successful law firms of the future will attract the best and brightest if they feel they are being valued. They will then stick around if that law firm lives by the policies it puts down on paper.

About our Guest Blogger

Justin Whealing is one of the foremost experts on the Australian legal profession and a leading commentator on the Asia-Pacific legal industry.

Justin was formerly the editor of Lawyers Weekly for many years, where he helped position it as Australia’s premier online legal publication.

Since joining Eaton Capital Partners in 2015, Justin has played an instrumental role in the growth of the business and that of its clients.

He is one of Australia’s foremost partner search experts, having sourced partners, including managing partners, for international, national and boutique firms in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.

He has also assisted international firms in establishing Australian practises.

Justin continues to produce numerous thought leadership pieces and compile extensive surveys, and his research is regularly featured in national publications such as the Australian Financial Review and The Australian.

Outside of work, Justin enjoys spending as much time as possible with his wife and three daughters,  listening to Bob Dylan and PJ Harvey and stretching the legs where you can hear the kookaburras and not mobile phones.

LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/justin-whealing-a342b523/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/JustinWhealing

What comes after Generation Z? Introducing Generation Alpha

Monday, July 23, 2018

By Mark McCrindle, Social Researcher and Demographer

Australia is in the midst of massive generational transition. Today’s grandparents are part of the Baby Boomers, born from the late 1940’s to the early 1960’s. This generation is followed by Generation X, born from 1965 to 1979 who, at the oldest edge, are moving through their mid-life. Today’s new parents and those entering their peak fertility years are part of Generation Y, born from 1980 to 1994. Today’s children and teens are Generation Z, born from 1995 to 2009 and Australia is home to almost 5 million of them.

From 2010 Australia has seen the start of a new generation and having worked our way through the alphabet, we call this new generation, the first to be fully born in the 21st Century, Generation Alpha.

They have been born into an era of record birth numbers, and there are around 2.6 million of them nationally. When this generation is complete, in 2024, Generation Alpha births will total almost 5 million over the 15 years from 2010, compared to 4 million births of the Baby Boomers for the 19 years from 1946.

The oldest of them commence Year 3 next year and will be the most formally educated generation ever, the most technology supplied generation ever, and globally the wealthiest generation ever.

They are a generation of “upagers” in many ways: physical maturity is on-setting earlier so adolescence for them will begin earlier and so does the social, psychological, educational, and commercial sophistication which can have negative as well as positive consequences. Interestingly for them while adolescence will begin earlier, it will extend later.

The adult life stage, once measured by marriage, children, mortgage and career is being pushed back. This generation will be students longer, start their earning years later and so stay at home longer. The role of today’s parents therefore will span a longer age range and based on current trends, more than half of the Alphas will likely be living with their parents into their late 20’s.

Generation Alpha have been born into “the great screenage” and while we are all impacted by our times, technology has bigger impacts on the generation experiencing the changes during their formative years.

The year they began being born was the year the iPad was launched, Instagram was created, and App was the word of the year.  For this reason, we also call them Generation Glass because the glass that they interact on now and will wear on their wrist, as glasses on their face, that will be on the Head Up Display of their driverless cars, or that will be the interactive surface of their school desk will transform how they work, shop, learn, connect and play.

Not since Gutenberg transformed the utility of paper with his printing press in the 15th Century has a medium been so transformed for learning and communication purposes as glass; and it has happened in the lifetime of Generation Alpha.

Meet the author, Mark McCrindle at the ALPMA Summit in September

Leading Teams in Changing Times

Mark McCrindle: Social Researcher and Demographer

This session will look at the implications of the big trends transforming Australasia on client expectations, staff engagement and brand perception. In this era of complexity and message saturation, the importance of thought leadership, brand experience and communication that cuts through is essential.

These times create the need for leaders to create a culture of collaborative innovation through effective and engaging leadership. Mark will deliver insights into how to best communicate, lead and futureproof organisations in this era of unprecedented disruption.

About our Guest Blogger

Mark McCrindle is a social researcher with an international following. He is recognised as a leader in tracking emerging issues and researching social trends. As an award winning social researcher and an engaging public speaker, Mark has appeared across many television networks and other media. He is a best-selling author, an influential thought leader, TEDx speaker and Principal of McCrindle Research.

His advisory, communications and research company, McCrindle, count among its clients more than 100 of Australia’s largest companies and leading international brands. Mark’s highly valued research and reports, presented through infographics, data visualisations, videos, media input, resources, and blogs, have developed his regard as an expert demographer, futurist and social commentator.

Mark brings a fresh approach to his research-based boardroom briefings, executive workshops, strategy sessions and keynotes. Armed with the latest findings and presented in a customised and innovative way, Mark is an in-demand communicator.

Mark McCrindle, BSc (Psychology), MA, is the author of three books on emerging trends and social change. The ABC of XYZ: Understanding the Global Generations, Word Up: A Lexicon and Guide to Communication in the 21st Century and The Power of Good.

Twitter: @markmccrindle   |   Facebook: @mccrindleresearch   |   Linked in: linkedin.com/in/mccrindle

Your clients hire you to be effective, not efficient

Monday, July 16, 2018

By Tim Williams, Founding Partner, Ignition Consulting Group

The executives on the front lines of your law firm must understand that you’re in the business of providing solutions, not services. Services can be procured from a lot of other sources, often at lower cost, and the professional buyers in client organisations know that. But if you present your offering as effective solutions to business problems, you’re putting your real value in perspective.

Behavioural economics teaches that one of the easiest and most powerful ways to enhance the perceived value of what you do is to reframe your offering. One of the most impressive examples of this principle is Howard Schulz’s reframing of the 50-cent cup of coffee into an experience that made a caffeine fix worth four dollars. Starbucks reframed the product as an experience and has been extracting incredible value from it ever since.

Before you jump to the conclusion that “This doesn’t apply to professional services,” stop and think about how little effort goes into framing the services of most firms. Visit a typical law firm website and you’ll see their offering isn’t really framed at all; it’s just a bullet-point list of widely-available services.

If what you sell are services, that’s what clients will tend to buy. If on the other hand, you package these services as solutions intended to produce positive business outcomes, your clients and prospects will place much more value on what you do.

Moving Up the Value Hierarchy

There is, in fact, a value hierarchy for professional firms. The least valuable offerings are services, which are associated with “labor,” are seen as widely available, and aren’t really scalable.

At the very least, consider packaging these services as programs - unique combinations of services designed to achieve a desired outcome that is important and relevant to current and prospective clients.

Taken one step further, these programs can sometimes be turned into products - branded solution sets that produce value for your clients (and recurring revenues for your firm) independent of any notion of labor or time spent.

Speaking of time, this is by far the worst way to frame what you do. Time (hours) simply represents effort, and no reasonable buyer of professional services would want to buy effort. While you may feel pressure from your clients to be “efficient,” this is only because you’re choosing to sell units of cost instead of units of value.

Under the hourly rate system, clients push for “efficiency” only because they don’t want to pay more than they have to for a particular output or outcome. If what you sell is the output or outcome itself, you’ll soon see that the emphasis shifts to where it really belongs: are we being effective?

Not Just Effective, But Efficacious

A better word still is “efficacious.” Yes, that’s a real word. In the pharmaceutical business, efficaciousness is an absolute requirement, defined as “the power to produce a desired effect.”  The concept of efficaciousness is infused with the kind of energy that can inspire teams inside professional firms to produce positive outcomes for their clients.

As Pine and Gilmore observe in their outstanding book The Experience Economy, if you just sell services you’re in the service business. But the goal of professional firms is to renovate, recharge and reform the business success of their clients. By recasting the skills and talents that reside in your business, you can move up the value chain to where you really belong: the transformation business.

About our Guest Blogger

Tim Williams leads Ignition Consulting Group, an international consultancy devoted to helping professional services firms create and capture more value. Tim is a noted author, international speaker, and presenter for major industry associations and business conferences worldwide.  As a career marketing professional, Tim’s seminars and keynote presentations have taken him literally around the world, including North and South America, Europe, Asia, India, and Australia.

Tim is author of the book, “Positioning for Professionals: How Professional Knowledge Firms Can Differentiate Their Way to Success.” He is also a regular contributor to business and marketing publications worldwide, in addition to writing for LinkedIn, where he serves as a global Linkedin Influencer. 

Twitter: @TimWilliamsICG  |  LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/TimWilliamsICG  |  Web:  http://www.ignitiongroup.com/

Merger fever in the air

Monday, July 09, 2018

By Sam Coupland, Director, FMRC

2018 is shaping up as the year of the merger.  Somewhat understandably the legal media only report the larger mergers and there have been three of them – one concluded and two announced - and we were not even at the end of March. 

Far greater numbers of smaller firms are entering into or examining some sort of merger.  Over the past 12 months I have been involved with a number of these mergers or sales and this year I already have another two on my books.  Some logical questions are:

  • What are the motivations for firms to seek mergers?
  • What is the reception of target merger partners?
  • What are the likely outcomes?


Motivations for mergers will vary from firm to firm.  On the positive side, firms with an expansion mindset see acquiring a firm or practice group as the fastest and cheapest way to grow their business. They will usually have a support structure that can accommodate – both physically and managerially – an additional practice or two which provides economies of scale. 

At the other end, an acquisition or merger can provide a firm with a circuit breaker for some of their managerial challengers or deadlocks. This could be anything ranging from succession to disparity in contribution or a hollowing out of market share.

Those firms who see succession as a looming issue, cite their lack of success in developing or retaining likely internal successors. The hope is that by joining with another practice there will be a larger pool of talent that can service the clients as retirement of the partners looms and the newly merged firm (or one of the youngsters) will have the financial resources to purchase the equity of the retiring partners.

There are a lot of moving parts in this scenario and the likelihood of success is based on the idea that a larger merged firm will have the staffing and financial resources to effect an outcome.

The reception of targets

In my experience all potential targets I approach are happy to talk. Nothing is lost from a discussion about what is possible and humans are naturally curious; particularly if they think someone is interested in them. It is not that different from the school yard.

A meeting of the minds is the first step before any information is shared.  The crucial question is ‘do I want to be in business with this person’?  More often than not the answer is yes, or ‘I am not against being in business as long as the deal stacks up’.

Likely outcomes

Assuming the threshold issue of cultural fit has been cleared it then boils down to the financials and many perfectly good mergers have floundered on the rocks once the due diligence is complete.

The right financial fit is important. I have been involved with a smaller firm that sought to be acquired by one of Australia’s national firms. There was a good fit in terms of complementary practice areas and experience of the partners.

Where it fell down was the smaller firm was profitable in its existing lean structure but the modelling showed when the gross fees were put into the structure of the larger firm the profitability of the partners would be halved. 

As attractive as the brand of the larger firm was to the smaller firm’s partners, the financial haircut was too much for them to swallow. Ultimately they ended up merging with a similar sized firm with an equally lean structure.

In most cases, discrepancies in profitability between merger parties will exist but the merged entity should be able to deliver economies of scale (or cost savings by removing duplication) with the result that the financial might of the merged entity is greater than the sum of its parts.

There are of course many factors that need to be taken into consideration for a merger to be successful and a quick internet search will provide you with any number of comprehensive due diligence checklists if you don’t already have one. 

What I wanted to convey in this article is appetite for mergers, or at the very least exploring the opportunities, is high and firms who are considering their options should explore the market without fear of rejection.   

Meet the author, Sam Coupland at the ALPMA Summit in September

Getting your structure right

Sam Coupland - Director, FMRC

The difference between those firms that thrive and those that don’t often has more to do with personnel structure than anything else.

This session will explore the optimal ways to structure your practice groups to enhance profitability; the impact of structure in assessing performance; trends in partner compensation and successful succession.

About our Guest Blogger

Sam Coupland

Sam joined FMRC in January 2000 and became a Director in July 2006. His client facing roles span direct consulting and management training. Sam’s consulting work is predominantly providing advice to smaller partnerships. Sam is considered the foremost authority on law firm valuations and would value more law firms than anyone else in Australia. He has developed a robust valuation methodology which calculates an accurate capitalisation rate that assesses the risk profile, cash flow and profitability of the firm.

Connect with Sam on LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/sam-coupland-b216474a/

Technology is changing the landscape of legal correspondence

Monday, July 02, 2018

By Whit Lee, Executive Director Strategy & Software Solutions, APAC - LexisNexis

Anyone who has stood in line at the post office recently will know that the need for a postal service isn’t waning as quickly as experts once predicted with the digital age, and yet email services aren’t going anywhere soon. A Radicati report on email statistics predicted that by the end of 2019, the world will be seeing 246 billion emails sent and received worldwide every day. That figure indeed makes it sound like the postal service is fighting a losing battle.

There are those too that predict email itself will be obsolete around the same time as the postal service, but even Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of business communication disrupter Slack, commented that, “Email is not going away anytime soon.” However, he agrees (and has built success on the fact) that the way in which businesses and consumers communicate is changing.

At LexisNexis, we know both the legal and the technology industries. We can see how particular technologies are changing the shape of the legal profession by enhancing the ability of lawyers to do their jobs, rather than replacing their jobs entirely.  But technology can disrupt a traditional way of doing things and industries must respond by evolving.

The move from postal delivery letters to correspondence by email

Readers will recognise the changing trend in legal communication where letters have progressed from being physically sent via the postal service or courier, to becoming digital attachments within emails. Lawyers have swiftly adopted this practice, and it is now time to look to the next evolution in this area: utilising the body of an email itself as a vessel for legal correspondence.

In the realm of practice management software, technological developments should focus on improving productivity and outcomes through enhancing the user experience. Many practice management software solutions can now leverage precedent tools to convert letter precedents from Microsoft Word documents to email templates quickly and easily. Using the body of an email to deliver legal correspondence increases productivity by reducing the burden of administration tasks, but it also raises several questions around the future of legal correspondence – for example, can email be used to officially deliver legal notice?

Now regulation and legislation needs to keep up with technology

There is no doubt in our collective minds that email has already become the norm for legal correspondence, but we are in the murky area of change – in Australia, at least – whereby best practice has not yet been formulated, and the regulations around using email as an official method of correspondence are still being decided across the jurisdictions. It remains that some documents must always be served by a personal service or via post. Many questions remain unanswered. Special reports – such as this one from PWC 2 years ago – are attempting to un-muddy the water around this issue, indicating there is a growing desire in the legal industry to adapt to and adopt new technologies and ways of doing things.

Automated notification on the increase – from push notification to pull services

Push notification tools – including email – on phones and computers are inundating workers in all industries, and recent times have seen a move toward “pull” services – whereby would-be target audiences seek information themselves without being prompted. These kind of communication tools are already available in legal practice management software, where clients can update themselves on the status of their matter.

Another technology being swiftly adopted by the legal profession is the use of digital signatures. Whereby once looking after clients located out of town, state or even country was a time-consuming affair of sending original documents back and forth for signatures, lawyers and clients can now sign documents digitally by utilising several digital signature technologies.  By sending an email with a special attachment, clients are able to click a special link to sign in and confirm their identify online. And voila – the process of obtaining a legally binding signature has been simplified and accelerated.

But there are many questions around using email for legal correspondence that run deep, and a comprehensive legislative change is required before full-scale adoption of digital communication in the legal profession can take place. In the meantime, lawyers have the opportunity to be a part of the change, and to adopt technology for legal correspondence where it makes sense. Our advice – only line up at the post office or book a courier for important things that truly will get you in trouble for missing… like sending birthday gifts to the in-laws.

About our Guest Blogger

Whit leads the Legal Software Solutions (LSS) team, which delivers cloud-based and on-premise tools that drive improved outcomes for clients, helping them to make better decisions by combining world-class LexisNexis content with practice management workflow solutions.

Solutions that Whit is responsible for include Lexis Affinity. Whit is also responsible for strategy and business development for the LexisNexis Asia Pacific business. As strategy lead, Whit is focused on how the organization is executing today as well as planning for tomorrow – ensuring we have the right resources allocated to deliver on both short and long term goals and that our investments in new products and solutions deliver value to customers.

Whit holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Connect with Whit on LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/whitlee

  Subscribe to receive posts as email

2019 ALPMA Summit

Recent Posts



Australian Corporate Partners

Principal Summit Partner

Thought Leadership Awards Partner