A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Why the legal profession can benefit from innovation

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

By Guest Blogger, Nils Vesk, Innovation Architect at Innovation Blueprint


Innovation -  while not front of mind for most legal practice managers - really is an effective and viable way to deal with the challenges that practice managers are facing in today’s economic climate and business environment.

While I may not work with legal firms every day, the legal practices I have worked with have given me more than a few insights into the challenges that practice mangers can face. There are many spoken and known challenges that are occupying valuable head space for legal practice managers. A few of these problems include practice management, increased competition and the challenge to create a unique selling point (USP).

The Innovation Challenge for Legal Practice Managers


It seems as if everyday not only is there is a new practice popping up to compete with our practice, but it's also difficult to differentiate ourselves from our competitors in a meaningful way other than through our brand identity and graphic design treatments. 

Then let's not forget the everyday challenges of running a practice:
  • There is the knowledge management challenges.
  • Developing people's knowledge skills.
  • Creating effective knowledge portals, collection systems and the sort.
  • The never ending compliance work that we need to do to keep operating.
But what I think is really keeping practice managers up at night is despite your Herculean effort ensuring everything is running smoothly, people still want more. You keep on top of compliance, you actively recruit and retain the right people in the firm and you make sure you run a tight ship by minimising operating costs and looking at increasing revenue. Yet partners still want more.

Your partners don't really care about how hard you've been working. They want a better return on the business and if that isn't enough, the clients want more too. Despite delivering what your clients ask for, they seem to want something else (of which we're not quite sure what the 'else' actually is).

The world has changed for everyone in professional services and that includes the legal profession.


I have come to understand through experience that Innovation is a simple solution help you with those practice management issues and to help you satisfy your partners and meet your clients unmet needs.

A good way to explain this is through the following model. Let's start with Level 1 where most organisations start from:

Level 1 - Compliant


While the term 'best practice' maybe something our marketing team love to use in their marketing material, the reality is, this is nothing new. I mean really? What practice doesn't operate a 'best practice' methodology? Level 1 best practice essentially means you are being compliant with the rules and regulations and generally meeting the obvious requirements of your clients.

It goes without saying that nearly every legal practice would be delivering this day in day out. For every dollar spent you're getting the same 'rate of return’. Your return on effort is a factor of 1. The currency for the 'rate of return' may be dollars, it may be client satisfaction or it may be in stakeholder or employee satisfaction.

The bottom line is that you're not wasting money, you're solving the problems that your clients come to you with as well as solving the day to day compliance challenges of running the practice.

Level 2 - Efficient Practice Management


The good news is many smart practice mangers go beyond Level 1 by starting to think about being more efficient. If a partner keeps asking for more return, then it makes sense to look for efficiencies in the business. The smart practice manager starts to look for efficiencies by innovating around systems, templates and processes that are in play. If they don't exist, you go out and create them. Every time we have a great checklist or template to use, it saves us time and saves us money. Your 'rate of return' on effort spent has increased to factor of 1.2. There's a little less heat coming from the partners, but there's still more that you can do.

Level 3 - Effective Practice Management


The smart practice manager doesn't just stop at tweaking and improving efficiencies, the smart practice manager is also effective. When you begin to innovate on your resourcing structure by ensuring you have the 'right person doing the right thing at the right time' you become more effective. The result is immediate, the 'rate of return' on effort can increase to a factor of 1.5. 

Level 4 and 5 - Innovative Practice Management


Now without knowing each one of your individual practices, I'm sure that many of you are actively operating not just 'best practice' but also 'smart practice' activities. Congratulations, you are already innovating.

However, what really distinguishes the difference between a ‘smart practice' and an 'innovative practice' is when we start to be more leveraged and strategic. We actively start looking at ways that we can emerge a process we already have in place. "Can we use this process somewhere else in our business with a little modification?" "Could we leverage this IP from this process into another part of our client’s business operations?”

Being innovative around identifying what we are already doing and looking for opportunities is one of the reasons why an ‘innovative' practice manager can see a 'rate of return' on effort to a factor of 2. The 'innovative practice' manager doesn't stop there, they then start looking at ways that they can be more strategic. What strategies can we implement that will help build not just our clients business but our own practice? The 'rate of return' on effort can come in a factor of above 2.5. 

Identifying New Opportunities for Value


Notice the shift in thinking across each one of these levels?
Level 1 is all about solving existing problems, Level 2 and Level 3 is all about looking for new problems that we can solve while Level 4 and 5 is all about identifying new opportunities. Our clients are looking for (while they might not openly say it) value added service. They don’t just want the legal work done, they want to know how can you help them make money and save money, rather than them just being charged for money. 

Hopefully by now you can see the reason as to why even lawyers need to be innovative!

Editor's Note:


ALPMA Member's can view the live recording of Nils' recent presentation "Innovation - Ideas with Legs" in the Seminars On Demand section of ACCESS ALPMA, our member-only secure zone.  Eligible non-members can apply for a Free Guest Pass to explore ACCESS ALPMA free for 30 days.

About our Guest Blogger


Nils Vesk is a professional designer turned 'Innovation Architect' at Innovation Blueprint.  For over 15 years Nils has been applying design thinking to the business of innovating. Obsessed with creating ideas that can change the world, Nils helps organisations create game changing ideas that become commercial innovations.  

Nils is the author of two books and has mentored some of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs. His clients include some of the worlds fastest growing companies who use his methodolgies to accelerate business growth by showing them how to create brilliant ideas and where to apply innovation while making it practical and profitable.

Lead with Your Thinking: How to Become a Legal Industry Thought Leader

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

By Guest Blogger, Shelley Dunstone, Principal, Legal Circles

Achieving change in a law firm can be challenging.  Law firm managers don’t always have as much scope as they would have in an industrial company.  All the owners are in the building with you, and they need to be convinced before you can start.  At the very least you have to satisfy a management committee.  And lawyers tend to be risk-averse and traditional in their thinking.

It is frustrating when people don’t buy into your idea, or if they make wrong assumptions about your job role and what you want to accomplish at work.  If you have great ideas and want to make a difference in your firm, “thought leadership” will help you get the buy-in and support you need.

By being a thought leader, you can inspire people to take action, or to authorize you to do so.  Thought leadership helps you to communicate your ideas in a unique and compelling way.  Thought leadership helps people see your point of view.

What is thought leadership?  It’s leading - with your thinking.

Thought Leadership

 The term “thought leader” was coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, the founding editor of Strategy + Business magazine.  He used the term to describe the type of experts he wanted to feature in the magazine.  He described a “thought leader” as someone who is recognized by peers, customers and industry experts for having a deep understanding of the business they are in, the needs of their customers and the broader marketplace in which they operate, and who has distinctively original ideas, unique points of view and new insights.

Subject-Matter Expertise

Essential to being a thought leader in your firm is to have subject-matter expertise.  Assuming that you have that expertise, the next step is to position yourself as an expert.  Your job role may not sufficiently describe what you do, or what you want to achieve.  You need to teach people what your job is.

Identify the main principles which guide you in your daily work.  Communicate those frequently and in a variety of ways.  Showcase your expertise and demonstrate how it can benefit others in the firm.  You could produce a White Paper, addressing a particular issue of importance, and recommending a solution.  You could produce a regular blog or podcast.  You could set up a series of seminars to address common problems.  All of this raises your profile and makes you much more visible and valuable in your firm.

Invest in Professional Development

To deepen your expertise and widen your perspective, attend a variety of professional development events.  Join and participate in professional associations.  Give presentations.  ALPMA offers a wide range of seminars and an annual conference where you can network with others working in law firm management. 

A thought leader needs to have strong communication skills, oral and written, and the ability to harness a variety of “modes” – “telling”, “asking” and “showing”.  You need to be able to cater to visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learning preferences.  

Challenge Conventional Wisdom


A thought leader has the courage to challenge the conventional wisdom, rather than simply to echo what everyone else is saying.  Be willing to voice your original ideas and insights. Don’t be afraid to be a “contrarian” – an unexpected point of view gets attention.  But you must have a strong, clear message; be ready to express it in one sentence.

I recommend the book Thought Leaders (2011) by Matt Church, Scott Stein and Michael Henderson (Harper Collins), which outlines nine thought leadership skills that will help you to express, promote and implement your ideas:

  1. Uniqueness. Use your unique perspective to stand out and increase the value of your ideas.  
  2. Expertise. Know what you know.  Unpack what you know and share it in an engaging way, so that your idea will “stick”.
  3. Perspective. What is going on around you? What are the trends that will affect your business? How does your idea fit in with these?
  4. Positioning.  Know how to position yourself and your organization so that people know exactly what you do and why.
  5. Delivery.  Use the most suitable method to get your point across in a meaningful, effective and engaging way.
  6. Adaptation. Adapt your communication approach to fit the needs of different people.   
  7. Execution. Launch your concept, become massively productive and get more done.  
  8. Clicking. Connect your ideas to the needs of others so they are truly valued.   
  9. Advocacy.  Sell the vision and influence others so they engage with your ideas.
Thought leadership helps you sell your vision and ideas.  Your thought leadership makes you more charismatic, differentiates you in the employment market and attracts talented people to work for you.

To make your mark in your law firm, be a thought leader.  

About our Guest Blogger

Shelley Dunstone is the Principal of Legal Circles, which helps lawyers to have better businesses and more satisfying careers.  She has been trained in the principles of thought leadership by Matt Church, founder of the Thought Leaders group.  Join her LinkedIn group, Thought Leadership for Lawyers.

ALPMA e-Newsletter - September 2012

Monday, September 03, 2012

The ALPMA e-newsletter has been released. Catch up on our latest news here.
In this edition:

Rolling Cash Flow Forecasting 101 for Law Firms

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

By Guest Blogger,  Paul Talkington, Director Taxation and Business Solutions, Vincents

What is a 13 week rolling cash flow forecast?


A rolling cash flow forecast is a (relatively) simple excel spread sheet setting out on a line by line basis the weekly cash receipts and payments for the next 13 weeks into the future.

The cash receipts can be estimated from what you expect to collect from your debtors (accounts receivable) aged listing and other cash receipts.

The cash payments can be estimated from what you expect to pay to your creditors (accounts payable) aged listing, credit card payments and other direct debits such as wages, rent and equipment finance from your bank accounts.

You can have separate cash receipt and cash payment lines for your major customers and suppliers.

At the end of each of the 13 weeks into the future you will be able to see your forecast bank balance.

It is a rolling cash flow forecast as each Monday morning,  you update the forecast with the actual cash balance as per the bank statement from the previous Friday, and any changes to the receipts and payments in the13 weeks ahead.

Over time you will be able to build up a reliable history of the known cash outflows that have to come out of your bank account, e.g. rent of $6,700 on the 12th every month, wages every second Wednesday of $22,000.

How will a rolling cash flow forecast help your firm?

Other accounting reports such as the profit and loss statement and the balance sheet, report on what has happened in the past, which - unless you are Doctor Who and have a Tardis - you can’t change.

A 13 week rolling cash flow forecast looks forward, and based on your best estimate as at today models what might happen in the future – and develop plans to manage and mitigate potential problems in advance!

For example, if in two months’ time on a Wednesday, your rent direct debit, your fortnightly  net wages and your quarterly BAS due to the ATO is going to come out all at once - and you don’t have the overdraft limit to be able to pay it - you can start to plan in advance to manage the situation.

It can also assist in business planning and strategic decision making:

  • Based on past trading can we increase the partners’ draws?
  • Will we have enough funds to pay the holiday pay over the Christmas office shutdown?
  • How much cash will be required to fund the new branch office for the first six months?

How can you learn more?

The 13 week rolling cash flow forecast will be discussed using a simple example at the upcoming ALPMA webinar and a free template made available to participants.

Editor’s Note:

Paul is presenting ALPMA’s webinar on “Maximising Profit and Cash flows at Law Firms” on Wednesday 5 September 2012 from 1.00pm - 2.00pmRegister here.

About our Guest Blogger


Paul Talkington B.A.(Acc) / CA is the Director - Taxation & Business Solutions at Vincents. Paul looks after a range of medium sized private clients including law firms, heavy industries, retail and mining supplies businesses. He has significant involvement in business restructuring, cash flow management, business and personal income tax, finance applications and due diligence. He has a particular interest in implementing practical solutions in order to improve business gross margins and cash flows.

Paul joined Vincents in 2008 and became a director in 2011. He has an extensive background in both commerce and public practice. Paul has worked in various areas, including middle market advisory at Deloitte, chief financial officer of a national logistics group and general manager commercial for a mining supplies business.

3 Questions You Should Ask About Your Backups

Thursday, August 23, 2012

By Guest Blogger, Dennis Mills, CEO, Track Right Technology

So we all have backups, right?  Protecting you from new staff deleting your client list or fiery space debris totalling your office. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, many practices aren't as well protected as they might think they are. Some even know this and keep thinking "I must do something about that." 

For those guys, the day they start doing something is probably Space Debris Day plus one. And as a Practice Manager, the buck will most likely stop with you.

Okay, you know you should have backups, so here are some questions you should be asking about them:

1. Why are you backing up?


Didn't we just cover this? Space debris, new staff, fire, flood and so forth?  Sure, but beyond that the first question you
need to consider is the purpose of your backups. Protecting and recovering data is the broad answer, but is
this data from this morning, last week or last year?  Do you need it right now?  How long can you afford to wait
for it? Is it just for unplanned data restoration or full Disaster Recovery (a complex topic in its own right)?

If it's hard to convince partners to invest in a professional backup strategy, ask them to consider how much it
would cost the practice to be down for a day, or lose years' worth of matters.  We have seen companies that have only realised the full extent of their backup requirements once they had a significant system outage. For the first time they realised how critical certain functions were to their business continuity, and just how expensive down time could be. 

As a result they needed a radically more comprehensive backup regime designed for them. Partners and practice owners and managers need to consider the consequences of different scenarios and have a backup scheme designed appropriately. 

2. How are you backing up?


Backups can be done on any number of different schedules to suit different purposes, and often more than
one is required for a given business. Do you do nightly backups or only weekly? If downtime must be
minimised do you perhaps need continuous backup or replication to another server or site? How many
copies and how much backup 'depth' do you want? Do you have compliance responsibilities that require you
to keep backup copies securely for defined periods? And how do you know your backups are working?

You don't want to be like the company we saw who were religiously changing their backup tapes every day,
only to discover that no-one had been monitoring the messages from the backup software. These messages
(once you deciphered them) indicated that the tape rotation had gotten out of sync and so backups were not
being performed. For two years. They were lucky, but their company's life flashed before their eyes..

3. Where are you backing up?


Should you use magnetic tapes or perhaps hard drives? This thing called the 'cloud' (another complex topic)
sounds interesting, maybe there? Is your media stored on-site or rotated off-site on a schedule? Can your
off-site location be ad-hoc or should you be using a secure data storage facility?

All manner of criteria can influence where your backups should be stored, from legal liabilities to technical
issues such as data volume and required restoration times. Trying to retrieve that urgently needed contract
from last week's backup can be tricky if it's in a drawer somewhere at the receptionist's apartment and she's
gone on leave.

As you may have gathered, backup schemes take some thought. Often it will be smaller practices without inhouse
IT management that are most at risk here, but those with IT managers should also make sure they are
on top of these issues. Three basic questions can (and should) lead to a lot more. If you concentrate on
considering the 'why' in conjunction with your IT service provider then they should be able to devise the 'how'
and 'where' of an appropriate backup scheme for your business.

About our Guest Blogger


Dennis Mills has over 27 years of experience in high technology industry including a successful career in the highly respected CSIRO. Dennis possesses a strong understanding of the relationship between business imperatives and IT solutions, and demystifying technology for non-geeks has been a focus for his entire career, In 1997, along with Peter Court, he co-founded Track Right Technology which offers professional, tailored  IT management services to small and medium sized businesses,  particularly in the legal industry.

How blogging can improve a law firm's bottom line

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

By Guest Blogger, Steve Davis, Marketing Director, Baker Marketing


What questions do potential clients ask online, well before they need your services or even know your firm exists?
This is the ultimate question that drives the blogging enterprise in millions of small businesses around the world. 
Well, almost.  

Unfortunately, too many business people venturing into the use of social media within their marketing mix, think of blogs and activity in social networks in terms of advertising.  Nothing could be more flawed.

Advertising, where you pool together a sum of money so that a message you want to spread can be repeatedly foisted upon unsuspecting strangers as often as you can afford, is an exceedingly inefficient marketing tool for many businesses. As fewer and fewer of us consume information from established media and trade channels, it is as if the microphone for advertisers is being turned down while chatter among the audience reaches deafening levels.
Enter, blogging.

Blogging is the regular publication of short articles using a blogging platform, such as Wordpress and there are three aspects I want to share with you in this article.

The Challenge of Blogging


Firstly, the challenge of blogging. You and your team must devote some time to deeply reflecting upon the wants, needs and problems facing your ideal customer types, and then proceed to plan and publish material that can be found by this audience and resonates with them.

The Outcome of Blogging 


Secondly, the outcome of blogging. You will be producing a regular trickle of content that will soon build into a web within the World Wide Web of articles, that matches the search queries of prospective clients and funnels them into your world. 

The Beauty of Blogging


Thirdly, the beauty of blogging. The best articles are often those that intersect the lives and online research of prospective clients well before they have typed in terms like ‘car accident lawyer’ or ‘deceased estate lawyers’. Smart legal firms will have posted articles with titles like ‘who can I sue when I am a passenger in a car accident?’ or ‘how do I challenge a will?’ Prospective clients who find these articles helpful when guided to them by a search engine, will be reading them on a legal firm’s website. If the article helps bring clarity and suggests some next steps that make sense, that firm will be about to connect with a client with little or no interference from competitors. In fact, the madding crowd of advertising-addicted firms will be waiting for the consumer to use search terms that are more obvious and more competitive.

And that is just the beginning. 

In my workshop on blogging for ALPMA, I will expand on these points from a marketing perspective, help you develop actual content ideas to take away, and reveal the single, most profound aspect of blogging that most social media ‘hype artists’ overlook. 

Editor's Note:


Steve will be presenting "Blogging - Today's Soapbox or Tomorrow's Headline" at the ALPMA SA lunchtime seminar on Tuesday 11 September in Adelaide.  His presentation will be recorded and available for members to download from the Seminars On Demand area of ACCESS ALPMA, our member secure-zone.
 .

About our Guest Blogger


Steve Davis joined specialist marketing, sales and Web 2.0 consulting practice, Baker Marketing in 1999 and is now Marketing Director.   Steve shares a fresh marketing topic every Monday morning on the Baker Marketing website.
Steve has a special interest in emerging media and marketing technologies. With a wealth of knowledge and experience in the sales and marketing arena he has sought-after skills in crafting communication strategies and marketing material content.  After more than twelve years involvement in internet and new media strategy development, Steve has been able to apply his sales and marketing skills to many businesses wanting to tap into a global marketplace of hundreds of millions of potential customers.  Steve has worked closely with many small to medium business owners/operators, offering marketing and sales advice, and crafting communications pieces to suit a range of needs from mail drops to Twitter promotions.

Project Management - Not Project Managers

Thursday, August 09, 2012

By Guest Blogger, Steven B. Levy, CEO Lexician, author & ALPMA National Summit presenter 

Law firms who recognize the potential benefits of better managed projects often ask: "Do we need project managers?"

Better management of legal matters or files requires project management skills, but it rarely requires – or sees benefit from – a dedicated project manager, a person whose full-time job is to manage projects. Firms that see the improvements in effectiveness and efficiency from better managed projects generally gain them by training their midlevel and senior lawyers in specific Legal Project Management skills rather than bringing in additional non-lawyer (or non-practicing-lawyer) personnel. 

Nor is the goal to turn well-functioning lawyers into (not very good) project managers or, worse, some nightmare creature, half frustrated lawyer and half ineffective project manager, who’ll spread unhappiness in his wake. 

Most lawyers already have the core skills - but need to use them in new ways

The good news is twofold. First, most lawyers already have the core skills that provide a foundation for project management, although they may need to think about, extend,  and utilize those skills in some new ways. Second, the gap between what they know today and what they need to know to manage projects is not large. Legal Project Management is at heart not a hard-edge set of rules or techniques but rather a renewed focus on five sources of sustainable competitive advantage:

  • Client service
  • Time management
  • People management and supervision skills
  • Profitability/project management and process improvement
  • Client-based business thinking

It’s clear from this list that adding Legal Project Management skills strengthens client retention, reduces write-offs, and builds profitability.

Note that while this description sounds straightforward, even simple, there is no magic button, no three-step formula that will transform a practice, or turn a disorganized lawyer whose teams flee his projects into a paragon of effectiveness. It takes a modicum of time, some training, practice, and most of all a willingness to move out of the we’ve-always-done-it-that-way cul-de-sac.

Effective training will begin to pay off immediately

That said, an effective training program can help lawyers rapidly learn critical skills and techniques they can begin implementing immediately to manage their projects, their time, their team, and their fiscal responsibilities. It won’t make them brilliant at managing their legal projects overnight, but it will make a difference. It will begin a process of gradual, noticeable improvements – not just in the effectiveness (do the right things) and efficiency (do those things right) with which lawyer handle their legal matters but in the overall happiness and job satisfaction of those lawyers and of the team members who work with them.

It starts with your own personnel, building their skill base to help them better attend to their clients, the firm, and their own success.

About our Guest Blogger

Steven Levy is an widely-recognised expert on Legal Project Management and the author
of the groundbreaking 
 Legal Project Management.   

Steven is presenting a session "Legal Project Management - Building on Existing Skills" at the forthcoming ALPMA National Summit, providing simple, commonsense principles and core techniques of LPM to help you advance your practice. 

Steven was head of Microsoft’s Legal Technology/Operations Department where he drove innovation and efficiency into one of the world’s largest law departments. He now
provides LPM training, coaching and consulting to law firms.  
Steven is currently CEO of Lexician, offering consulting, training, and coaching to legal organisations in project management, leadership, and efficiency. 

My first ALPMA Summit experience

Thursday, August 09, 2012

By Guest Blogger Vivienne Storey, General Manager - BlandsLaw

Last year was the first time I attended the annual ALPMA National Summit.  I had been looking at it for a couple of years, thinking it looked quite useful, but as I work for a small law firm with a capital "S", I wondered whether I could justify the expense. 

To give you some idea, I work for a boutique employment law firm with just seven of us to manage. It might sound relatively easy, especially for those of you who manage medium and large firms, but small has it's own set of challenges, particularly around growth. I also don't have a professional services background and many of the issues I was grappling with seem to be unique to the legal industry.

Anyway, I took a deep breath, paid the registration fees, presented a business case to the partner (yes, in that order) and crossed my fingers in hope that a day out of the office, a trip to Melbourne, my time and energy as well as the expense, would all be worth it. And that I wouldn't be some odd fish out of water surrounded by highly experienced practice managers who looked at me with disdain.

My first impression was "Wow..."

My first impression on checking in was "wow, this is incredibly well organised". At the welcome drinks you registered and got all the information you needed for the whole summit. As well as that, everyone was incredibly helpful, from the ALPMA organisers through to other delegates.

So, I picked up my Summit pack and headed to the already packed welcome drinks reception, took a deep breath, a glass of wine for fortitude and approached a group to introduce myself to. I'd like to say that I was incredibly lucky at finding a friendly bunch first up, but my experience across the whole summit was overwhelmingly that attendees are approachable and welcoming.  After just ten minutes of conversation with this first group of delegates I knew I had made the right decision in attending the ALPMA summit. How reassuring to hear that they were facing many of the same issues in managing their firms, how refreshing to meet industry colleagues so willing to share their experience and knowledge.

Heaps of useful info, new contacts & a strong sense of community

Over the next couple of days, I not only gathered a whole lot of useful information at the seminars and workshops, but I made firm friends with several delegates and great contacts across the legal industry, including several of the suppliers and exhibitors who have a wealth of industry information. Rather than feeling like an outsider, struggling in isolation to manage a growing practice, I felt part of a whole group trying to do just the same. All in all a very reassuring and valuable experience that has translated into better practices in the law firm I manage.

See you there!

This year is going to be slightly different in that I'm attending as a sponsor (my other job in a marketing capacity) so will be seeing the Summit from the other side. Don't forget to come and say "hello" - I'll be at the FilePro booth, though I will still be asking lots of questions of the delegates about how they manage their practices, to take back to my practice management role at BlandsLaw.

Share Your Summit Experience

We'd love to hear from other members who have attended Summit!  Tell us about your Summit experiences in the comments area below,

About our Guest Blogger

Vivienne Storey is a member of ALPMA's NSW Branch, the General Manager of BlandsLaw and National Marketing Manager for FilePro.

Vivienne has been actively engaged in the legal industry in Australia for the past six years. She commenced in the industry by building up an employment law practice from start up, overseeing both the marketing and growth of the firm as well as the management.  More recently she has been engaged by FilePro, a legal practice management software solution, to lead their growth in the Eastern states.  FilePro is an ALPMA National Summit Silver Partner.

Senior managers and leaders – know thyself (and plan to improve thyself!)

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

By Guest Blogger, Sean Larkan, Edge International Partner & Speaker at ALPMA's National Summit


While this is changing, it is still the case that many of us end up in senior leadership and management roles having had no formal or even informal preparation for the roles. Also, once appointed, there is an assumption that you are the leader or the manager and should just get on with it. Whether you are an aspiring or new leader or experienced in one of these roles I think it can prove invaluable to address this assumption and do some groundwork to put a solid foundation under your leadership or management role. 

If you cannot manage yourself, it is impossible to lead others effectively


When I started my blog a year ago I posted a summary of a talk by the former head of Toyota in South Africa and recognised captain of industry, Brand Pretorius - he and I shared a podium at the Boss of the Year Awards convention; he made some wonderful points of importance to existing and aspiring leaders and managers. One thing he said was "if you cannot manage yourself it is impossible to lead others effectively".
 
I absolutely agree with this statement but would adapt it to say "if you do not know yourself and cannot manage yourself it is impossible to lead others effectively ". Unless we know our strengths and work to build those, and have an understanding of areas for development (we all have them!), we are really operating in the dark from a leadership development perspective. In many cases we have no idea what makes us tick in regard to our thinking, our behaviours and importantly, how we interact with and relate to others. 

Getting a clear picture of yourself


Whenever I coach or support new or aspiring senior managers or leaders this is one of the first things I recommend they do – get a clear picture of their own make-up, strengths and areas to work on. It is a massively important and helpful starting point. It even works for experienced leaders and managers. Very often we assume things about ourselves which are not what others see and experience. Sometimes this can hold us back.

Fortunately it is possible and relatively easy to undertake some highly reputable, scientifically-based diagnostics which can provide a remarkably accurate assessment of an individual. Some clients have said they found them to be ‘uncannily accurate’! The one I work with provides detailed and graphical feedback on how one stands in relation to twelve scientifically validated styles of behaviour and thinking, backed up by what steps to take to further develop your strengths and address any areas for development. It is a powerful combination. If the diagnostic is supported by a suitably qualified and experienced coach you will also be guided and supported in building on the results of the diagnostic. The handy thing is that they can easily be re-tested each year or so after that. 

'Getting an accurate assessment of one's own style of leadership thinking, behaviours and interaction with others is an important foundational step in developing our leadership and management skills'.

Research and apply new skills


Also, one of the great things is that contrary to past beliefs, while it always helps to have some of the characteristics of a "natural born leader",  both leadership and management skills can and should be learned and developed. With the advent of the Internet and sophisticated search tools it is a relatively easy matter to locate a mind-boggling array of remarkably useful tips, techniques, methodologies and skills one can read about and quickly put into practice.

Obviously the choices and options can be huge and it can help to have some guidance on what to focus on. But for someone keen to develop and learn it opens up a whole new exciting world of opportunity and development.All leaders and senior managers, old and new, are urged to take these steps if they haven't already done so.

About our Guest Blogger


Sean Larkan, a partner of Edge International a global leader in the evolution of the legal industry, is a growth strategist, accredited master coach and former managing partner of leading law firms in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Sean will be presenting on "Leadership to Achieve Results" at the ALPMA National Summit on 14-15 September in Brisbane, providing a flexible framework of key elements and tools of leadership and strategy for success and growth.

Sean's core focus is to help law firms build strength, confidence and well-being. Sean publishes a weekly blog and is presently completing a book on brand strategy for law firms.  

Market performance for market pay – is that too much to expect?

Thursday, August 02, 2012

By Guest Blogger, Jodi Proudlock, General Manager, Watkins Tapsell

Much has been written about developing a rigorous attraction and retention policy and how to put your firm’s best foot forward to attract good legal talent.  We promise market salary, good working conditions etc etc , and we do it happily so that the lawyer will chose our firm over another firm, so that our lawyers are provided with a great working environment in which they can excel, so that our clients will be looked after and our business will thrive.

Fast track to an important part of the retention policy – the remuneration strategy. Many of us have just gone through or are soon to go through the salary review process.  As managers of law firms we dutifully use the data from the salary surveys to make sure we are paying market salary.  

My question to you, though relates to the other side of the equation – Performance.

Is it too much to expect market performance if you pay market salary?

I have had the pleasure of working with many high performers over the years, so I know what high performance looks like, feels like and how it manifests into success.  Not just financial success but job satisfaction, driving others to high performance etc. The subject of this blog however focusses on under-performers because let’s face it – most of the high achievers have an intrinsic motivation and drive that you can’t coach, mentor or mandate.

According to the ALPMA Australian Legal Industry Salary survey recently released, most employees in the legal industry can expect to negotiate a pay rise in excess of CPI increases, despite the challenging business environment, with 53% of firms indicating that this is their intent for the next twelve months. A further 37% of firms indicated a pay rise in line with CPI increases.

“This news is tempered by the fact that 10% of all respondents are planning to implement a wage freeze – with 83% of those anticipating a wage freeze employing less than 25 people,” said Warrick McLean, ALPMA National President.

We as managers use the data available to us to structure carefully thought out salary packages and conditions. This is to entice the best of the best to come and work with us, and to increase salaries in line with what others are doing thus ensuring we retain our talented lawyers.

What I have seen over and over again is a good number of talented lawyers who become comfortable and gradually drop back a gear until their performance is at a level that is below their capability and below the firms’ expectations and budgets.

I don’t know about you but I was brought up to know that you have to earn things in life, not just expect, and a salary increase is in that category in my books.

Over the years and across a number of firms,  I have heard every demand, excuse, musing from lawyers as to why they deserve more money, my all-time favourite was the a lawyer who said  she wanted more money even though she knew she didn’t deserve it!  What is that about?

The Practice Manager's Dilemma

ALPMA recently surveyed its members to identify the Hot Issues in HR for 2012 - and  revealed  “Managing poor performance” was rated by 40% as a highly important issue for law firm practice managers.  I have often thought about this and struggle with what I call the “Practice Manager's Dilemma”.

Lawyer salary expectation Retention policy Market pressure Under-performance

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The Practice Manager's'Dilemma

In practice, the dilemma plays out like this - the smaller firms are implementing a wage freeze, and already have to compete very hard to attract and retain quality people.  In a market where solicitors seem to vote with their feet (with haste) if they don’t get what they want, where does this leave the firm manager, particularly at salary review time?  

Do we have to settle for under-performance and still award pay increases for fear that if we don’t our talent will be snapped up by one of the 53% of other law firms that may throw more money at them?

I often ask lawyers when they raise the issue of money – “How much would you like to earn?”, and when they give me the response I ask “And how hard are you prepared to work to achieve that?”.  Some give the most unrealistic responses that it’s hard not to respond with – “Either you need to change your expectations of how hard you need to work or I need to change your charge out rate to that of a lawyer with 30 years’ experience”.

I say to every lawyer “You can earn as much as you want – but you have to work for it, you have to earn it”

Is that too much to expect?  

It seems that gone are the days when all lawyer were intrinsically driven and wanted to impress.  Today we find ourselves having to find out what the lawyers want/need to motivate them and then make it as comfortable as possible for them to achieve those ambitions. 

What ever happened to wanting to do a good job for your client, or put in a good day’s work and be recognised for your effort?

Do lawyers still aspire to partnership and recognise what it takes to get there?

Is the aspirational element to become a partner no longer existent? 

Is Partnership old hat now anyway? It certainly seems it will be if the next wave of future partners aren’t motivated towards Partnership. 

Why does the practice manager have sleepless nights about the lawyers who are under-performing?

Why is it not the lawyer having the sleepless nights?

Practice Managers Unite!

Till then let all of us be united in expecting market performance for market salary and not outbid each other when trying to attract talent away from another firm unless we are confident in what we are getting.

It always amazes me when lawyers come in and say I have been offered more money, and are then surprised if we don’t match it – does it occur to them that there might be a reason for that?

About our Guest Blogger

Jodi is an experienced legal practice manager, having worked in the legal industry for over 17 years.  In her role as General Manager, Jodi is committed to ensuring that the people at Watkins Tapsell have the tools, knowledge, working environment and support to ensure the highest level of service to clients. Jodi achieved her Master of Business Administration (MBA) in 2004. Jodi is a member of ALPMA's NSW Branch and was a member of ALPMA's National Board for two years.


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