A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Technical Difficulties with Blog Comments - Share your views in our LinkedIn Group!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It seems the last blog post by Steve Sampson on the challenges facing law firms in improving performance measurement has sparked some debate within the ALPMA community - just as we are experiencing some technical difficulties with the Comments functionality of the blog!  

If the post has inspired you to comment, as an interim measure, please share your views in the ALPMA's LinkedIn Discussion Group.  

You can find the group by searching for "Australian Legal Practice Management Association" in the "Group" tab in LinkedIn. This is normally a "closed" group for members, eligible non-members and ALPMA partners - but until the comments issue is resolved, we will open access to everyone.

We are working to resolve the technical issue and will let you know as soon as it is resolved.  Please accept our sincere apologies for any frustration experienced in not being able to comment here!

Why reality prevails for performance measurement at law firms!

Friday, July 27, 2012

By Guest Blogger, Steve Sampson, General Manager, Hunt & Hunt

Performance measurement in law firms has come a long way from the once common practice of weighing files and assessing the "due care, skill and judgement" involved in managing matters.  From there, our seemingly revered 'time costing' and hourly billing systems have become common place.  

David Maister has implored us to drive our firms according to the active management of hourly rates, utilisation, realisation and leverage with multitudes of firms having dedicated themselves to measuring and driving performance and rewards based on those 'profitability levers'.  But as many of you will know, you can go blind looking at the minutia associated with these measures.

Surely there has to be more to the topic of 'performance measurement' than merely 'rates' and 'leverage'? 

Surely, the topic of value billing and the call to 'kill the billable hour' must be incorporated into our thinking in terms of managing our performance!  Surely, our balanced scorecard, environmental footprint and 'health' measures around succession, inter-generational change and all manner of client measures must also be considered!

So, why is there so much debate (dare I say confusion!) about where the billable hour is headed for the legal profession and how the whole performance management topic is going to play out in coming years?

The answer is simple! There is confusion in the market because we are confused!  And, it’s not all our fault!  Our clients are confused as well!

What Managing Partners & CEOs Measure

Ask any Managing Partner or CEO of a law firm about how they manage their firm and you’ll hear lots of words about talent management, client focus and growth.  Yet, just under the surface, and more likely the conversation that they’re having back at the office, you’d be hearing about billable hours, charge-out and realised rates as well as lock-step, partner profitability and client profit.  This is the real performance management focus of firms.

What Clients Want

Conversely, ask our clients what they want and they’ll tell you, almost universally, that they want “value”, “certainty” and anything that removes them from the vagaries of the anachronistic ‘billable hour”.  They even tell us that, quite clearly, in just about every tender that they issue that they want firms to offer "innovative" pricing models.  But, mostly, they stick with what they know (and what we know!) – they continue to buy legal services in six minute blocks.  So, we keep managing our firms that way as well!

It may not be sexy.  It may not even be efficient.  But we all understand it!  And that’s the answer!  Surely, that’s why the billable hour remains at the core of how firms manage their performance.

But, as noted, there must be so many more dimensions upon which we could base our measures of efficiency, effectiveness and plain old ‘value’.  I’ve listed some of those in the fourth paragraph.

So why too, just like the billable hour, do so many of those other performance dimensions get put aside?  

Why do they get left either unmeasured or relegated to some poor Marketing or Finance staff member to ‘own’ them for the business?

Reality will Prevail!

The answer to that’s an easy one as well!  We leave these things, largely, unmeasured because they are hard to measure!  Sure, we all have green footprint policies, double-sided printing and other tangible environmental initiatives.  They’re great conversation starters with our Gen X-ers and even with our clients.  But, do we truly performance manage our firms and measure success on the basis of those measures?  Of course we don’t!

The same is true for succession management and the other 'soft' items as well.  We know that they're there!  Our clients know that they're there!  But, until we truly start to value those things, we'll continue to relegate them to the back of our performance reports (the front pages taken up, of course, with production, billings and collections statistics.

And that really brings me to the point of this article – there is a place for theory and academic discussion, but reality will always prevail!  

But, just because we find things to be hard to measure or some of the profession are struggling to give the topic air, should we dispense with the discussion?

Imagine where we’d be as a civilisation – as a species -- if the scientific and medical advances of the last centuries had been lost, opportunistically, because we found it all too hard to have the discussion -- simply because we just focused on the easy things!

Just because the topics are hard and there’s no discernible ‘right’ answer, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have the discussion.

The reality is that all of these things are important and, as the old adage goes, ‘all things in moderation'!  Their time may come but, for now, the billable hour remains as the pre-eminent performance tool for managing efficiency, effectiveness, resourcing, costing, pricing and profit in law firms.

Long live the billable hour!

What is your view?

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own and not those of ALPMA!  The writer even concedes that some of the material presented may even be somewhat ‘tongue in cheek’!

These, and so many other topics, will be put before us to discuss, consider, refute and then take that thinking back home to our respective firms at the forthcoming ALPMA National Summit: "Change & Growth - Leading Your Business."

If you haven’t already registered to attend, I’d urge you to consider doing so.  You can register here.

About our Guest Blogger

Steve Sampson is the General Manager of Hunt & Hunt, and a past President of ALPMA. Steve’s initial focus when he
joined the firm in 2008 was on financial and other operational matters. He is now focused on developing the firm’s abilities to engage with and service its clients as well as building its capability to attract, retain and develop partners and staff.  

He will be chairing the Performance Measurement Round Table at the ALPMA National Summit, with a panel including Dr Neil Oakes (FMRC Legal), Justin Bender (CFO - Herbert Geer) and Bruce Humphrys (HopgoodGanimLawyers). Check out the full Summit program.

Reinventing the Legal Industry

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

By Guest Blogger Ari Kaplan, Attorney, Author & Keynote Speaker at the 2012 ALPMA National Summit

Following the release of Reinventing Professional Services, I had the privilege of touring North America with voice productivity application powerhouse, BigHand, to share creative ideas with law firm decision-makers from 12 cities in two countries. 

Although diverse in their roles, the attendees were unified in their vision for the future of law firm progress.  They engaged in a collective conversation on realignment that captured the essence of the next decade: reinvention in the recovery.

That reinvention characterizes a dual transformation taking place in the legal industry.  Individuals are adapting to an environment that prizes creativity and collaborative communication alongside performance and leadership. Organizations are welcoming a new era of efficiency and transparency to match their already laser-like focus on results and responsiveness.  

Driven by higher expectations internally from firm management and externally from key clients, legal professionals are searching for ways to distinguish themselves in a crowded and talented marketplace. With the recovery in its early stages, they now have a tremendous opportunity to reshape the organizations with which they work by making suggestions for incremental innovations.  These include accessible changes in operations, staffing and culture.

Seek Small Shifts

While clients were once driven simply by results, they now want performance coupled with precision in its execution.  In the same way that individuals must routinely evaluate their own level of productivity, organizations must conduct an analysis of their operations.  From practice groups and administrative departments to client service teams and management, start by developing a questionnaire to uncover potential areas for improvement.

Instead of focusing on massive reorganization of your firm, seek opportunities for small shifts.  Focus on a single group or minor program and identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with it.  Simply begin a dialogue with general questions about successes and failures, allowing the responses to drive the nature of the discussion.  The approach does not need to be perfect, but it should be relevant, responsive and refreshing.

Hone Talent More Holistically

For most firms to succeed, they must tap the wisdom of the entire internal community, rather than those who represent a select constituency.  As leaders manage increasing levels of time pressure and client concerns, firms must begin experimenting with crowd-sourcing potential ideas for implementation of their future goals.  From senior staff to senior associates and from experienced paralegals to accounting personnel, each individual may have unique ideas for growth and market positioning to share if given the opportunity.

That collective ownership of a firm’s success is a hallmark of reinvention.  The management committee now needs insights from leaders of administration, finance, professional development, marketing, public relations, and information technology to support novel proposals.  Firms should consider acknowledging that contribution by including staff profiles online. Those responsible for innovating billing, training, staffing, and other aspects of this transformation could materially impact future pitches.  

In an era of redefinition, an integrated approach is increasingly attractive to clients and prospects.

About the Author

An attorney and the author of Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace(Wiley, 2011), Ari Kaplan will be delivering the keynote address at the 2012 ALPMA Summit: Change & Growth: Leading Your Business.  ALPMA Members can take advantage of a great  Member-Only Deal to receive the audio version of his first book, The Opportunity Maker:  Strategies for Inspiring Your Legal Career Through Creative Networking and Business Development (Thomson-West, 2008), completely free.

Achieving Work/Life Balance in a Turbo Charged World

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

By Guest Blogger, Dr Adam Fraser, author of The Third Space

Previously the competitive advantage was to work harder and longer, this strategy is no longer relevant. We can’t work any harder, we cant fit any more in, time management is dead and boundaries between work and home no longer exist. The fall out of this is that Work/life balance seems to be a thing of the past with a recent Forbes report showing that 98 percent of people do work in home time. 

So how do we have balance in this turbo charged world?

I stumbled across the answer in 2008. Firstly I was visiting some friends who had returned home after serving in Iraq. What I noticed is that they looked incredibly uncomfortable in their own home. It was like they didn’t even know where to stand. When I asked them about this they told me of the difficulty of trying to come home after being away as a soldier. They struggled with the transition from being a soldier to a parent/partner/civilian.

The second one came thirty minutes before I was about to present to 5,000 people, I was blindsided with the devastating news that one of my best friends had died unexpectedly. I was simply devastated, I was distraught and grief stricken. Despite the situation I was somehow able to overcome it and present well. When I reflected on it I realised that what allowed me to present under such trying conditions was what I did in the transitional space between getting the phone call and walking out on stage.

Both these experiences lead me to ask the question, maybe the secret to work life balance is how we transition from work to home.

I call the gap between work and home the Third Space. 

Psychological research tells us that one of the biggest challenges to good behaviour in the home is that we bring the baggage of the day home and take it out on the family. This is called negative spill.

I then partnered with Deakin University on a research project where we took 250 small business owners and measured their mood and behaviour in the home. The initial survey did not paint a pretty picture. Only 29 percent said that they came home in a good mood, with a positive mindset and exhibited constructive behaviour. 

We then asked them to perform three simple behaviours in the Third Space between work and home: 


This is where they reflected on and analysed the day. However they were encouraged to only focus on what they had achieved and what had gone well for them. 


They took time to relax and unwind. Being calm and present, allowed their physiology to recover from the stressful day. 


This is where they became clear about their intention for the home space and articulated the specific behaviours they wanted to exhibit. In other words how they wanted to ‘show up’ when they walked through the door. 

After a month of the participants applying this principle, we saw a whopping 41 percent improvement in behaviour in the home. When interviewed they conveyed that the improved interactions they had with friends and family led to a greater feeling of overall balance. 

If you want more balance stop trying to push back against the world and control it. Rather focus on how you transition from work to home and ensure that you Reflect, Rest and Reset.

About The Author

The Third Space Book
Dr Adam Fraser has been an educator and researcher in the area of human performance for the last 18 years!  In this time he has worked with elite level athletes, the armed forces and business professionals of all levels. In the last 4 years he has delivered more than 600 presentations to over 50,000 people in Australia, US, New Zealand and Asia. In 2005 he was runner up in the young investigator of the year for his PhD research. 

In addition Dr Adam is the author of three best selling books, the latest one is "The Third Space".  Adam is a regular presenter on TV and Radio and has appeared on Today Tonight, Sunrise, Today show, Kochie’s Business and What’s good for you! Also he has been profiled in the Australian Financial Review and BRW

He is married to a woman who is far brighter than he is and has a daughter who has him completely wrapped around her finger and a dog Tilly who routinely outwits him.

A Pocket Guide to Knowledge Management

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

By Guest Blogger - Deborah Scott, Director, Clear Knowledge Consulting

One of the most common questions I get asked by members of the legal profession is “What exactly is knowledge management?” Quite simply, knowledge management is about understanding what your firm and practice knows, and putting that knowledge to the best possible use. 

Good knowledge management practices will save you time and money by improving every aspect of your business, from time recording and billing, tendering, file management, risk management, through to document retention and making the most of the money you spend keeping lawyers up to date with changes to the law and market conditions.  It is also a powerful tool for risk management, ensuring you can confidently rely on and stand by material you produce. 

5 Things every Legal Practice Manager should know about Knowledge Management: 

  1. Knowledge management is not all about precedents - it touches every part of your practice. 
  2. You don't need new technology to 'do' knowledge management -a box in the corner is a great starting point for a collection of documents.  But harnessing the power of the technology you have will make your system more robust. 
  3. Knowledge management is a critical risk management tool - no more checking and rechecking 'saved over' documents; no more wondering whether you have the 'right' version of the document you want.
  4. Knowledge management principles can improve your tendering process – For example, uniform and well drafted cvs and experience documents put you in the best position to spend time on the really important part of a tender - your response. 
  5. Agreed procedures make your business more robust - during periods of high staff turnover, you don't lose the knowledge of the staff who move on, and you begin to record, in a useful way, the knowledge your new staff bring. 

How to Start? 

The good news is you can start implementing good knowledge management practices today.  Simply think of the process or challenge that takes up a lot of your time while either earning you very little, or actually costing you money.   

Then think about why that process or challenge is tackled that way-has it always been done like that?  Is it the surviving relic of a previous system?  Or is it just too difficult to revisit, once it is done?   

Now think about the time you would save if that process was better.  Talk to your staff-one of them may have a great idea for improving the process.  Failing that,  an outside consultant may be useful to help you consider a strategic approach to your situation,  and maximise the benefits of any changes you do make. 

Imagine these scenarios: 

  • Every time you need to train a new staff member, or teach an existing staff member an existing internal process, someone could simply go to the relevant manuals and work from those.   
  • In a tender and pitch you can immediately locate up to date resumes and documents outlining your staff's experience, rather than having to create them from old versions, assuming those can be found.  
  • You have to hand clean copies of documents you have previously worked on, marked with the date to which they are current, and noting any clauses or matters of interest. 
For each of the above scenarios,  knowledge management will have saved you time; and in the first and third it will also improve your risk profile, by ensuring that your staff are properly trained, and your legal documents are as reliable as they could be. 

Once you start making changes, the benefits in cost savings, risk mitigation and peace of mind, will become very obvious. 

Editor's Note: 

ALPMA Members - check out the great Member-Only Deal that Clear Knowledge Consulting has put together exclusively for you! 

About our Guest Blogger

Deborah Scott (BA/LLB, GAICD) started Clear Knowledge Consulting after six years as a Senior Associate in the knowledge management team at a leading international law firm, where she worked with other lawyers and knowledge professionals to devise practical and effective knowledge solutions across a range of practice areas. During that time, she developed and presented training programs on varied topics including knowledge management, project management, current awareness and compliance. She has an interest in compliance work, having held compliance roles at her most recent firm and another major firm. 

Is Your Law Firm Set to Become A Dinosaur?

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

By Warrick McLean, ALPMA National President and General Manager, Coleman Greig Lawyers

A common practice within my firm is to regularly go out for lunch with a few of my Principals. Anyone that is available for lunch is free to join us, as we discuss what is going on around the practice or industry. However, yesterday’s lunch time conversation was geared towards an unusual topic.

The focus of our conversation was the recent press coverage surrounding the demise of the broadsheet newspaper industry. Who would have ever thought ten years ago that Fairfax would have quoted this in its own newspapers: 'It is virtually certain that physical daily newspapers will go the way of dinosaurs' ?

A younger Principal was able to observe what was happening in that industry and then applied those learnings towards the legal sector, and in particular to our own firm. Clearly this Principal is eager for our firm to be ahead of that pack, and not one of the dinosaurs. 

He began to raise various questions that lead us to reflect on significant changes that have occurred in numerous sectors in Australia over the last few years. For instance the dramatic change and decline in the fortunes of the manufacturing industry. The strong impact of the high ‘Aussie dollar’ on our exporters. The turbulence taking place in the Australian airline market. The downsizing within the government sector.  Many large and small companies have collapsed, leaving thousands without jobs. Put simply; Australia’s challenging  two speed economy.

Achieving profitable growth in law has been a challenge in recent years.

At the recent ALA Annual Conference and Exposition in Hawaii, a presenter from consulting firm Altman Weil suggested that in the US, “3% is the new 6%.”  He went on to suggest that law firms can no longer expect to grow by simply increasing hourly rates, highlighting that clients will simply walk. 

Another colleague recently attended a practice management conference in London and reported that UK firms are no longer focusing on winning business from prospective clients as it’s all too hard and costly.  Rather these firms have shifted their focus towards growing a greater ‘share of wallet’ from their existing clients. 

There are other various internal pressures continuing to brew within the legal profession. 

For instance a growing number of law firms having to manage ‘baby boomer’ partners and the subsequent succession planning issues; top tier firms are becoming Australian divisions of global operations which in turn is creating its own effects; the creation of ‘new model law firms;’ and the ongoing challenge of attracting and retaining talent. All of these internal industry pressures when combined with what is occurring in the wider global economy creates the “current state of play” that has the makings for a challenging future unless the legal profession actively responds to market pressures and embraces the opportunity to innovate. Innovation and the ability to change quickly in an industry that is inherently conservative will be a significant challenge for some firms.

Has our industry’s inherit conservatism led to complacency in our industry?

Will underperforming firms be able to transform to remain competitive in the ‘new world’?

Put simply many firms will not change and some may in fact simply “turn off the lights.”  

As many  consultants to the industry keep on reminding us, our clients are now calling the shots. Not only in how work is completed but also how the work can be charged. Prospective clients are now becoming increasingly savvy about selecting a legal provider. It is essential now, more than ever, for firms to listen, understand and act on client needs.  

Where are you going?

If your firm does not have a clear vision of where it wants to be, combined with a good degree of enthusiasm for innovation and future opportunities, the future will be a real challenge!   Firms with good leadership that is not only clear on the destination, and willing to make both bold and difficult decisions, will ensure they make the starting line up.  

Next time you get a chance, I encourage you to see how your partners and leadership team answer these questions:
Does you firm know where and what it wants to be? 
Do you have a clear vision?
What do you want to be famous for?
How will you measure your progress?

If they can’t answer – or you get inconsistent replies – then it is time to step back from the daily grind and make sure your firm (and you as one of its leaders!) are better positioned to succeed in this challenging environment and not go the way of the newspapers and the dinosaurs.

Welcome to the Survival Guide!

Friday, June 29, 2012
Hello and welcome to ALPMA’s Blog: A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers. Through this blog, we hope to provide practical advice that will help you successfully navigate the sometimes stormy waters of managing a legal practice.

Legal practice managers are a diverse lot, ranging from the jack-of-all-trades Practice Manager or Office Managers at a smaller law firms, to domain specialists like HR, Finance, Marketing and IT Managers to senior C-level executives. But we have much in common. We all work with lawyers (say no more!). Every day, we deal with the peculiar challenges of working in the legal industry. We strive to add value to our employers. And try to keep up to date with what is going on in the rest of the world. 

To meet this blog’s lofty ambition, we will be drawing heavily on the expertise, experience and opinions of Guest Bloggers from across the industry – ALPMA members, business leaders, specialist consultants, market-leading vendors etc. So if you have something to say or share that might help (or entertain) your fellow legal management colleagues, then this is the place. You can apply to become a Guest Blogger here. Read our Blog Policy & Guidelines.
A blog is very much a two-way street. So as well as just reading posts - comment on them. Tell your views. Share your experience. Tell us what has worked (or not worked) at your firm. Start now by suggesting topics for the Survival Guide and telling us who you want to hear from. Put your suggestions in the comments area below, and we promise to respond to all of them.

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