A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

7 questions to help improve your law firm's website

Monday, May 21, 2018

By Libby Hakim; Specialist SEO Website Copywriter

Is that little voice growing louder? You know, the one that says, “Your website really needs an update.”

Despite the little voice growing louder and louder, there are always so many other things to draw you away from the job of initiating a website refresh.

Like most jobs, though, the hardest part is often simply getting started.

Here, we help you kickstart your website refresh project by replacing that pesky little voice with 7 questions. By answering these questions, you’ll get clear on the scope of the required changes, get prepared to brief any external consultants, and be able to organise some quick fixes today.

1.   What’s bugging you about your current website?

That little voice is in your head for a reason, so it’s important to uncover the reasons you want to change or update your website.

Does the design seem outdated? Was the content written in a hurry a few years ago? Are the images no longer consistent with your firm’s image? Have people told you the website is difficult to read on a mobile device?

Getting clear on the changes required means you can prioritise the work, bring in any external help and make better decisions throughout the entire website refresh project.

2.   What is the ultimate goal for your website?

It’s okay if you have a website because, well, everyone else has one. But your website is an investment, and having website goals can help you get a better return on that investment.

Your website is the place many people are first introduced to your firm and the place your potential clients may go to make a final decision about using your services. It’s an extremely powerful marketing tool.

However, to use it as a marketing tool you need to understand how your website fits into your marketing plans and specify marketing goals for your website.

Do you want people to call after visiting your site? Do you want visitors to book a free 15-minute phone consultation? Do you want your website to lure in locals who are searching for a lawyer like you on Google?

By having a goal, you can start refining the website to help you achieve those goals. For example, if your goal is to bring in more local clients via search engines, then you need to start investigating options for optimising your website for search engines (know as search engine optimisation or SEO). If you want people to call, make sure your phone number is prominent in the top menu bar and the footer and easily found on the contact page.

3.   Is your menu navigation driving people away?

User experience guru Steve Krug explains the importance of web navigation conventions with an analogy involving our physical navigation of the real world. In his book, Don’t make me think: A common sense approach to web and mobile usability, he asks readers to imagine the frustration if someone moved street signs from corners, put them halfway down the pole and aligned the signs vertically.

Make sure you’re not causing frustration for your visitors by following these menu navigation conventions:

  • Your logo should appear on every page in the same place, usually the upper left corner, and link back to the home page
  • The first item in the primary menu bar should be “Home” and should take you back there (no matter where you are on the website)
  • The primary menu and footer navigation should include “Contact”.

5.   Do you know who you’re talking to?

Have you ever read an article, book or website and thought, “Wow, that just hit the nail on the head. It’s like they know what I’m thinking.”

There are no mind-reading powers at work here. It’s just a case of the writer doing their homework about their target audience and writing with that target audience in mind.

Who is your target audience? Small business owners? Okay, that’s a good start. But you need to dig deeper and think like a marketer.

Marketers create target audience personas to help them better understand who they’re talking to. This involves creating a detailed profile of your ideal client. Cover things like location, age, gender, type of business, pain points, interests outside of work, and favourite products and holiday locations. It’s not an easy task, but it’s worthwhile to build up a clear picture – in writing – of the client you want to welcome through your doors more often.

5.   Are you letting others do your boasting?

If you’re not letting happy past clients sing your praises, you should be.

When a potential client is in those final stages of deciding whether to use your services, a raving testimonial will often seal the deal. Your past clients will speak many times louder than anything else on your website.

How do you get these testimonials? Simple – just ask. Send a polite email to your satisfied clients asking if they’d be happy to email you back with a testimonial. Perhaps they’ve already told you how happy they are? In that case, just ask them to elaborate on what they’ve already told you. Otherwise, explain that testimonials are important for your business and ask for a few sentences about why they chose you, how you helped them and what they think sets you apart from others.

The best thing about this strategy is that it not only adds to your website, it also boosts your confidence!

6.   Are you boring visitors with blocks of text?

Unless they’re to be found in the latest blockbuster novel, chunks and chunks of text will turn readers away. Indeed, online readers are known to be scanners, skimmers and a rather impatient lot.

So, you need to help people move through your content quickly. How? Here are a few tips:

  • Break up text with headings and subheadings
  • Use bullets and lists
  • Use plenty of images
  • Prune unnecessary words and repetitive sentences
  • Have a main point for each paragraph and remove any content not related to that point.

7.   Is your website healthy under the bonnet?

The mention of website development, back ends, plugins and coding can send some people into meltdown. But it’s helpful to have some idea about the more technical side of your website.

The good news is there are a lot of free tools out there to help you identify whether there’s a technical problem on your site that you may need to raise with your website developer. Here are a few of the best ones:

  • Woorank – an SEO audit tool that will give you recommendations on issues impacting your site’s Google rankings
  • Pingdom – grades the speed of your website and makes suggestions for improving speed
  • Google’s mobile-friendly test – tests how well someone can use your page when on a mobile device.

Where to now?

Once you’ve answered these questions, jot down what action you need to take, prioritise the bigger tasks and organise those quick fixes. And tell that little voice to quiet down – you’re on your way to a cleaner, slicker website.

About our Guest Blogger

Libby Hakim is a specialist SEO website copywriter and a former lawyer. As a lawyer, she worked in private practice before holding a government role as legislative drafter for 12 years.

Libby now writes for law firms, legal tech companies, and other finance, insurance, tech and business organisations. She also works as a freelance communications consultant with law firms and government departments, and loves being able to bridge the gap between legal and marketing minds.

You can read more about Libby on her “Libby Hakim” site.

Super changes to remember as end of financial year approaches

Monday, May 14, 2018

By Andrew Proebstl, Chief Executive, legalsuper

2017 was a year of significant changes to superannuation. With this in mind, it is well worth taking the time to ensure you, your colleagues and your staff are up-to-date with the changes and their implications, especially as the end of the 2017-18 financial year approaches.

Annual cap on the amount of concessional contributions you can pay

The annual cap on concessional (before tax) contributions is now $25,000 per annum for all employed people, down from its previous rate of $30,000 for those aged less than 50 years and $35,000 for those aged 50 and over.

Concessional contributions include Superannuation Guarantee paid by your employer, amounts you choose to salary sacrifice and contributions for which you intend to claim a tax deduction.

If your concessional contributions exceed the new cap, contributions in excess of the cap will be taxed at a higher rate. You should periodically check with your super fund whether or not your concessional contributions are nearing the cap.

Tax deductions for contributions

One other recent change by the government was to broaden access for more Australians to the concessional contributions cap to include both employees and self-employed persons. All people under 75 years of age may now be able to claim an income tax deduction for personal superannuation contributions to an eligible fund with people aged between 65 and 74 needing to first satisfy a work test.

Personal contributions for which a tax deduction is claimed count towards the concessional contributions cap of $25,000.

Non-concessional contributions

The annual cap on non-concessional (after tax) contributions has been reduced to $100,000 per annum down from $180,000 per annum.

However, if you are under 65 years of age, you may be able to make non-concessional contributions of up to three times the annual cap (i.e. $100,000) in a single year to a maximum ‘bring-forward’ amount of $300,000. Please note that the $300,000 non-concessional contribution limit means that in the particular financial year you make the contribution, and in the next two financial years, you cannot make any further non-concessional contributions.

Super fund members with a total super balance of $1.6 million at 30 June of the previous financial year are reminded that non-concessional contributions are no longer permitted.

For those earning over $250,000

‘Division 293 tax’ was introduced at the start of the 2012–13 financial year to reduce the tax concession on superannuation contributions for individuals with income greater than $300,000.

From 1 July 2017, this income amount was reduced to $250,000 with affected individuals paying 30 per cent tax on their concessional superannuation contributions rather than the standard 15 per cent tax.

However, this effective tax rate of 30 per cent continues to be less than the marginal tax rate for those earning greater than $250,000.

Super balances of lower income spouses

To help lower income earning spouses increase the superannuation they accumulate, a person can make a contribution on behalf of their spouse and claim a tax offset.

To access the offset, the income threshold for the receiving spouse has been increased from $10,800 to $37,000, thereby helping more families to support each other in accumulating superannuation.

A contributing spouse is eligible for an 18 per cent tax offset worth up to a maximum of $540 for contributions made to an eligible spouse’s superannuation account.

The tax offset is reduced for income above $37,000, phasing out at an income above $40,000.

First home super saver scheme

From 1 July 2018, eligible super fund members will be able to apply to withdraw contributions made to super after 1 July 2017 to use as a first home deposit.

The Government’s intention in introducing the First Home Super Saver (FHSS) Scheme was to reduce pressure on housing affordability.

Eligibility for the scheme includes the following:

  • be 18 years or over,
  • have not previously owned property in Australia,
  • have not previously released FHSS Scheme funds,
  • either live or intend to live in the premises you are buying as soon as practicable, and
  • intend to live in the property for at least six months of the first 12 months you own it, after it is practical to move in.

Up to $15,000 of contributions made in any one financial year can count towards the amount that can be released. The maximum amount of contributions that can be released is $30,000 plus associated earnings.

Concessional contributions and earnings that are withdrawn will be taxed at marginal rates less a 30 per cent offset.

Government super co-contributions

Government super co-contributions have been available since 2003, and remain a helpful way for eligible people to boost their retirement savings.

Lower or middle-income earners who meet the criteria and make concessional contributions to their super fund are eligible for a government co-contribution up to a maximum amount of $500.

The amount that the government co-contributes depends on your income and how much you contribute.

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

Performance Reviews – how to make them functional not feared

Monday, May 07, 2018

By Emily Mortimer, HR Manager, Piper Alderman

Annual performance reviews are either currently underway or just around the corner for most law firms. Have you got a performance review process that’s engaging and rewarding for both the employer and employee?

For many legal industry staff, performance reviews are a time of anxiety. Mental health is an increasingly important topic in all industries and sadly, the legal profession holds an unenviable reputation with many reports indicating 1 in 3 employees in the industry are impacted with mental health issues.

It is widely accepted that these high statistics are due to the design of the job. Whether you work as a practitioner or in a support function, the performance expectations are high from your internal and external clients, competition is rife and dynamics are changing daily.

Despite the growing evidence, practical solutions to bridge the gap are seriously lacking. With performance review season around the corner we bring to you a guide to improving your framework and hopefully influencing productive outcomes for your firms.

Communication is key

Let’s start with those that are either new to the legal industry or new to the workforce and have not had a performance review before.

How would you feel if you received a calendar invite with a subject line ‘Performance Review’ and a ‘let’s catch up message’? The recipient immediately launches into ‘Ummm okay? About what? Have I done something wrong? Am I going to loose my job?’ and the anxiety builds.

How can this type of reaction be avoided?

You could avoid this with something as simple as an ‘all firm email’ alerting staff that the performance review process will be undertaken between X and Y dates and briefly outline the process. For larger firms, you could liaise with team leaders and supervisors first and have them liaise with members of their teams.

If there’s a form for your employees to fill out, give them time to consider it and welcome them to ask questions before completing it if they need to.

If your firm has junior team members that have not experienced professional performance reviews before, assign them a buddy to talk to about any concerns that they have or reach out to them individually or liaise with them in separate communications to educate them on how the process works and what they can expect.

What should my performance review process look like?

The size of your firm size will determine your performance review framework. As a larger firm you are likely to have a team of HR professionals using best practice tools and techniques and as a smaller firm you might go for a coffee and a chat. There is no right or wrong process – the value is in the conversation not the framework.

If you’re a small law firm with limited resources, you could reach out to someone in the ALPMA network (or contact an ALPMA Committee member in your Branch) and ask them for suggestions on a few key questions. You could ask your colleagues, do some research on Google or heaven forbid, just ask your team members what they want to get out of the discussion with you.

Remember, communication is two way

This is NOT an opportunity for:

  • a leader to download to the team member every frustration they have experienced;
  • an opportunity for a team member to complain about the profession. The profession is the profession.

This IS an opportunity:

  • to talk about what works, what doesn’t and what is in your control to change.
  • for you to share your own experiences and strategies when you have faced challenges in your career;
  • for you to listen and learn about what motivates your team and how you can get the best out of them;
  • for you to learn about what your staff need and where you can improve as a leader;
  • for you to listen.

Make it about the future

You can’t change the past. We are human and we make mistakes.

What we should be focusing on in all performance discussions is what lessons were learnt from those mistakes and what skills and tools we need in the future to improve performance based on those lessons. Questions like ‘what skills do you want to improve in the next six months’, ‘where do you need more help from me?’, ‘what tasks cause you the most frustration/stress?’ are practical open ended questions that provide an opportunity to address performance issues in a positive framework.

This style is designed to put performance improvement measures in place rather than to demoralise, demotivate and frustrate.

Talk about mental health

Including mental health in your performance framework is not as daunting as it sounds.

Asking people questions such as ‘what do you do to unwind’ or ‘how are you turning off’ are great questions for a leader to ask their team members. They are open ended questions which will educate on what works for that person when they are under pressure. It indicates an understanding that personal interests and stress management are important tools in your career tool kit and it provides the leader with additional intelligence on how their team builds resilience to deal with the day to day stressors of life.

The leader must of course be prepared to accept that a team member may indicate they are not coping well professionally or personally but it must be viewed as an opportunity to put a support structure in place.

The legal industry has the ability to be in a unique position to implement positive strategies at the individual, team and organisational level. Taking steps shared in this article may seem insignificant but small and practical steps create environments that provide psychologically safe climates in your firm. Research and evidence indicates great performance review processes lead to improved performance, greater retention and higher productivity.

Win win really.

About our Guest Blogger

Emily Mortimer has over 17 years’ experience in the human resources industry with the most recent of those ten years being in Professional Services. An advocate to the professional benefits of ALPMA membership, Emily has been an ALPMA member for 9 years, a State Executive volunteer for seven, chair of the South Australian Executive for three and National Board member for two years.

As well as her ALPMA appointments Emily is an appointed member to the Law Society of South Australia’s Wellbeing and Resilience committee and school Governance committee.

On a daily basis Emily works to identify and improve systems that help individuals and organisations achieve their objectives, proactively address unique people and organisational challenges that require commercial assessment and practical judgement, and creates value for others in their employee experience.

Should your law firm be tendering?

Monday, April 30, 2018

By Amy Burton-Bradley, Consulting Director, Julian Midwinter & Associates

Maybe. For B2B facing law firms winning a coveted spot on a government, financial institution or big corporate panel of external legal providers can seem like an easy route to a stream of revenue.

However, it should be remembered that winning a competitive tender, bid or proposal is just one ‘route to market’ and one of many ways to ‘close a sale’ or win a client.

In this piece we’ll walk you through some of the key dynamics at play in competitive selection processes and outline some of the less immediately obvious costs of bidding. If you must pursue tenders, we’ll outline how you can position your firm to receive tender invitations and I’ll let you in on my #1 tip when considering a tender opportunity.

Understand the dynamics of competitive selection processes

A few things to consider when presented with a tender ‘opportunity’:

  • Has it been publicly advertised far and wide? For example, on a government procurement site or in the newspaper? These types of ‘open’ tenders are most likely to be issued by government or government entities that are required to seek competitive proposals to meet fairness, contestability and value for money tests.
  • Have you been invited late in the process, several days after the bid was released? This could mean you’ve been added as an afterthought, to make up the numbers, or as a favour by a friendly, well-meaning contact who has no real say in the outcome.
  • Do the request documents seem to assume a lot of knowledge of the tendering organisation? Does it feel like this request has been written for a specific firm?
  • If the request is not quite a ‘tender’ but perhaps a general call for Requests for Information or Expressions of Interest, is the vendor genuine about proceeding to a formal tender? Or are they just wasting everyone’s time with tyre kicking on epic scale because it’s a cheap form of market research?
  • Is the tendering organisation under pressure to go out and test the market widely but at the same time to reduce the number of providers?
  • What is the origin of this process, and why now? Is it cyclical? Political? New management? Cost cutting?
  • If several firms will be appointed are you prepared to do further work to leverage your position, raise your firm profile, and build relationships once you’re on the list?

These are just a few of the different dynamics that can be at play during a procurement exercise.

Before you bid, also consider all the costs

Beyond carefully considering the known and unknown background to a tender there are lots of good reasons not to respond. Consider these direct and indirect costs of participation and weigh them against your chance of success:

  • Financial costs (production, delivery, external consultants)
  • Opportunity cost (missing out on billable work, time away from better opportunities)
  • Morale cost of losing for your team (tenders take intensive work to prepare)
  • The risk of being seen as a ‘loser’ by the prospective client and/or evaluators (and potentially making it harder to prove yourself to them next time around)
  • Professional and management attention devoted to damage control and fall out post bid.

But, our firm still wants to 'do tenders'.

If your firm still wishes to pursue competitive bids, tenders and proposals read on to learn how to position for invitations to participate in closed tenders.

How your firm can get invitations to participate in ‘closed’ tenders

As the name suggests, closed tenders involve only pre-selected bidders.

Those invited have been pre-qualified in some way; perhaps by successfully making it through an Expression of Interest (EOI) round, or by being invited based on an existing relationship, referral or occasionally by reputation.

Closed tenders are most likely to be found in the private sector; think banks, insurers, telcos and other large consumers of legal services.

To position your firm to receive invitations to bid in closed competitions you need to be prepared to play a long game. And the long game goes something like this:

  • Pick the organisation or organisations that you want to work for that align to your capabilities.
  • Look for ways to get to know them – where do they hang out?
  • Identify their issues and concerns, and what you can do to solve them.
  • Use your contacts to gain introductions to the right people.
  • Provide them with substantial, relevant and genuinely helpful thought leadership pieces (not just a copy of your firm newsletter).
  • Network with key people (including those that can introduce or refer you) at professional and industry events and add value to those relationships.
  • Join and participate in LinkedIn groups and discussions, or other online forums, in which they are active.
  • If you can get some ‘off-panel’ pieces of work, it goes without saying that you need to do an excellent job. Use the opportunity to give them a taste of your service style and demonstrate the great benefits of working with you (this is and has always been the easiest and best sell).

The long game can take a few years. Yes, years. But don’t be put off, because when the procurement cycle comes up again, the time and effort you have invested will give you a much greater chance of being invited to tender. The perception (and reality) you’ve built up with that prospective client is that you’re an expert in the field who’s great to work with.

An example is a law firm client of mine that was doing a lot of repeat matters in the independent and religious education sector. In the late 1990s the firm wrote a letter to the chief lawyer of the state government education agency and said:

‘We get really excellent results in these matters for other schools and know we can do a great job for you, we would like a chance to compete for your business.’ 

From there the firm received a matter, then more matters and about 3 years later when a formal panel was created they were invited to bid. Twenty-something years later they have leveraged that initial education department work into a thriving state government practice spanning many agencies and areas of law.

So, the long game is easy to learn, but difficult to master, particularly when it comes to the discipline of staying the course over a long period.

Much of the long game relationship development advice also goes for the publicly advertised tenders and for informal business development opportunities.

The #1 thing law firms should consider when deciding to participate in a tender

With all of the above in mind, your number 1 consideration, no matter the tender circumstance, open or closed, is ‘do we know the tendering organisation, and more importantly do they know us – at all?’.

If your firm has no relationships with, or real insight into, the tendering organisation, then what you can offer will be superficial and untargeted (especially when compared to incumbents); hardly appealing to evaluators and prospective clients.

If you are still having trouble deciding whether or not to pursue a tender opportunity see our ‘Bid or no bid’ assessment checklist’ which could assist you in your tender decision making process.

About our Guest Blogger

Amy Burton-Bradley is an experienced business developer, marketer, and bid manager who has strategised, written and produced more than 350 bids in the last decade. She is a Partner and Consulting Director at Julian Midwinter & Associates, a business development consultancy whose team has helped law firms attract, win, grow, and retain new clients and business since 1993.

How to have a pricing discussion with your client

Monday, April 23, 2018

By Colin Jasper and Stuart Dodds of  Positive Pricing

When you think of discussed pricing with your clients, what emotions does this generate?

If you are like most professionals, talking price with your client creates a level of anxiety. While you hopefully enjoy the work you do, pricing often seems to be a barrier to success – it gets in the way of us winning work and creates tension between us and our clients.

Most professionals can list multiple examples of where they would have won the job, if only the price could have been less. Or worse still – where pricing conversations with clients didn't end well.

It’s true that when pricing is done badly it creates tensions between clients and firms. It diminishes trust and damages relationships. But when pricing is managed well, the opposite occurs.

Pricing can be used as a means of strengthening client relationships and building trust.

Pricing is one of the most intimate parts of our relationships with clients. It’s the moment clients tell us that we are worth it – or not.

All of our efforts to create value for clients, differentiate ourselves from our competitors, provide a solution that meets our clients’ needs in a cost-effective manner, come together in that moment when clients ask themselves – “Is it worth it?”

We can be quite passive in that moment and hope all our previous efforts justify the requested price. Or alternatively, we can actively influence our clients’ assessment of our price.

Ideally pricing should be done with the client rather than to the client.

Ideally, we should develop our offering with our client so that they can see the cost implications of the various deliverables sought and the desired work method. The alternative is that the first time a client sees our price it’s a “surprise” at the end of our proposal.

So how do we use pricing to strengthen client relationships?

Is it true that our objectives are diametrically opposed – the client want’s a lower price and we want a higher price? In order to strengthen client relationships we need to focus on the areas where our goals are aligned:

  • Clients want to know that the price is appropriate, given what’s at stake. Let’s demonstrate we understand this and have consciously thought about the business case.
  • Clients want a range of choices rather than a single price being imposed on them. Let’s provide them with a range of options so that they (rather than us) can decide which represents best value for them.
  • Clients want to contain costs. Let’s demonstrate that we have empathy for this and have consciously thought about ways of keeping costs down.
  • Clients want to avoid surprises. Let’s provide them with certainty where we can and work with them to manage any remaining uncertainties.

We shouldn't be scared of engaging in pricing conversations with clients. Rather we should actively embrace these situations, seeing them as an opportunity to align objectives and strengthen our relationship.

When we actively embrace opportunities to discuss pricing with our clients, we may not always get it right, but we will get better at it over time and this should not only result in a better client experience, it should also drive more profitable growth for your firm.

About our Guest Bloggers

Colin Jasper

Colin Jasper and Stuart Dodds both have over 20 years’ experience in pricing professional services. They established Positive Pricing to assist professional service firms to create greater value for their clients and capture a fair share of that value for themselves. They aim to develop the competence of professionals so that pricing is used to strengthen client relationships, win more work and make it easier to achieve your financial targets.

Colin has consulted to market-leading accounting, consulting and engineering firms as well as most of the leading law firms in Asia and the UK; and an increasing proportion of the AmLaw100. He authored the pricing chapter in the American Bar Association book, The Power of Legal Project Management (2014) and the pricing chapter of Effective Practice Group Leadership (2017). Colin is the co-founder of the New York based, Legal Pricing Roundtable.

Stuart Dodds

Stuart is recognized as one of the leading pricing practitioners in the global legal market. He was one of the first, and longest serving, pricing directors having been Director of Global Pricing and LPM at Baker McKenzie and having held a similar role at Linklaters. Stuart is the author of Smarter Pricing, Smarter Profit (published by the American Bar Association, March 2014), and editor of Pricing on the Front Line (published by the American Bar Association, January 2017). He is a Certified Pricing Professional (CPP) and Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management (CoLPM).

12 Ways to Add to Your Firm’s Profitability and Competitiveness

Monday, April 16, 2018

By Joel Barolsky, Managing Director, Barolsky Advisors

Every person in your firm should be adding value. Every activity should be adding more value than its cost. Every asset should be leveraged to add value.

…but what does “adding value” really mean? In my view there are 12 ways your firm can add to it profitability and competitiveness, my definition of adding value. These can be clustered into four groups and detailed as follows:

12 Ways to Add to Your Firm’s Profitability and Competitiveness

Ways to add value

#1 Profiling and Pitching

  • Brand and Network Building - branded premium providers command higher prices and attract top talent. Firms with better networks spend less on mass marketing and get more low-cost referrals.
  • Client and Industry Insights - firms that really understand their client's business and industry have better bid-win strike rates and a higher percentage of sole-sourced work.
  • Selling and Pricing - firms that are adept at selling and pricing capture more value, discount less and win more.

#2 Resourcing and Communicating

  • Process and Workflow Design - firms that have streamlined workflows use fewer resources for the same outputs. They generally have faster and more predictable response times and enjoy lower error rates.
  • Resource Planning and Project Management - significantly higher margins can be realised by configuring the right combination of talent, tools and technology for each matter or project. More and more clients are choosing firms based on their ability to plan and project manage their work.
  • Client Interaction and Co-creation - better client communication and engagement usually increases the chance of client satisfaction and value perceptions. These, in turn, improve client loyalty, pricing and billing outcomes.

#3 Delivering and Controlling

  • Technical and Commercial Capability - firms that are perceived to provide better quality and more commercially relevant advice are usually able to command a price premium.
  • Service Delivery, Quality Assurance (QA) and Billing - firms that are able to deliver efficiently, effectively and consistently usually outperform their peers. So too are those that bill and collect fairly and promptly.
  • Team Engagement - firms that can motivate and inspire their staff will usually enjoy higher productivity, better quality work and less regrettable turnover.

#4 Connecting and Innovating

  • Client Relationship Management - firms that have wider and deeper relationships with their key clients will usually enjoy lower business development cost, higher share-of-wallet and more predictable revenue flow.
  • Client Education and Support - firms that support their clients through ongoing education and other activities relevant to their needs will enjoy better client relationships and loyalty. Informed purchasers often brief better, respect their providers and know what they don't know.
  • Service Innovation - firms that continue to evolve their service offering to address new market needs will retain current clients and attract new ones. Innovation that lowers costs will give firms more price-setting discretion.

Using the model

Where to invest

The value chain model can be used to assess where resources are currently deployed and where they should be. For example, most law firms put a lot of time and energy into just five areas: Brand and Network Building; Technical and Commercial Capability; Service Delivery, QA and Billing; Team Engagement and Client Relationship Management. This means that seven other value-adding areas are potentially sub-optimised. A more deliberate focus in each of these areas could add up to a significant improvement in profitability and competitiveness.

Where to innovate

Many professional service firms are looking to innovate and "digitise" their business. The model can be used to determine what elements of the value-chain should be the focus of change and investment. For example, rather than spreading themselves too thinly, a firm might want to focus their energy and dollars on getting closer to their key clients and enhancing client connectivity and engagement. This would mean an emphasis on Client Engagement and Co-creation, Client Relationship Management and Client Education and Support.

What should we make, buy or borrow?

By analysing its value chain, a firm can decide which elements it should make, which it should buy, and which it should borrow. So, for example, one of my accounting firm clients has engaged a specialist lead generation company to help out with Sales and Pricing. They recognised that prospecting for new clients was a key weakness, and that re-training the firm's partners would be like flogging a dead horse. They pay the consultancy $500 for each meeting they set up within defined 'right client' parameters.

How do we compare?

The value chain model can be used for head-to-head competitor analysis. Further insights can be gained by examining each of the 12 areas, assessing where a firm is ahead, where it's at par, or where it's behind its key competitors. A firm can then use the model to decide its core strategy, that is, how it's going to win and what capabilities will be needed for success. For example, if very few direct competitors are focusing on Resource Planning & Project Management, this might be a source of competitive advantage in the period ahead.

How do we organise?

The final application area of the value chain model is to ensure there is oversight of each of the value-adding areas or categories. For example, a firm may elect to create a Resourcing and Communicating SWAT team, with a blend of Practice, IT, HR, Finance and BD executives, charged with identifying and making improvements.

About our Guest Blogger

Joel Barolsky

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.

Lawyers win tenders - not the tender writer

Monday, April 09, 2018

By Clemtine Scahill, Business Development Manager, Prodonovich Advisory

How to have your law firm’s tenders taken seriously, as a first step and how to win the work as a result of your tender preparation.

If you want to throw the cat among the pigeons in your law firm, submit a competitive tender for a major new client or project.

Not only does that ensure people will be distracted from their main role for a few weeks, it’s also a guaranteed cause of stress and the derailing of other important projects.

And the best part? After all the late nights, early morning coffees, neglecting of existing clients, and harassing your colleagues (or being harassed by them) for essential information, you’re still more likely than not to miss out.

How I know that is through my work with law firms, where the average success rate is below 45%. That’s better than in many industries and professions, but it’s still hardly the stuff of legend. And it means around half of all firms are actually performing below that mark – sometimes well below.

My own success rate in this arena is about 85%. While I’m proud of that, I’m also certain it’s not a function of having been born with a special bid writing gene. Consequently, I’ve become deeply interested in whether there’s a formula for consistently producing winning tenders – something I’ve been doing without fully appreciating how distinct it is from the typical approach.

The short answer: there is a formula, and I’d like to share it with you.

What is the minimum needed to have your tender considered seriously?

If you’re not already meeting these criteria, this is where you should devote your attention first:
  • You demonstrate you have the legal expertise and can prove it
  • You actually answer all the questions required of the tender. Sounds simple but often a piece is written and it sounds good but it doesn't answer the question
  • You demonstrate that you have the technology, insurances, policies, systems and processes, as well as security needed for this client
  • You are in the right ballpark with price
As I said, meet those criteria, and you can expect to be taken seriously. But that’s not the same as winning.

The four things I believe you need to do to have a real shot at winning the tender

  • Demonstrate and provide proof that you know the client – and their industry 
  • Show that you ‘get’ what bothers them in their daily routine
  • Show that you also get what makes them say ‘thank you’ meaningfully and with relief
  • Finally, show what you do – outside of legal expertise – to make your clients look good.
How do you do all that? The only way to get it right is by working closely with the experts (the lawyers) at the tendering firm. It is they who win the tenders – not the tender writer.

This is one thing I am very clear about – a good tender will have spot-on information from the best lawyers in the firm. The lawyers who know their client and know their client’s industry.

A good tender writer is extremely curious and draws out both information and the tone of the tender, then manages that information for use in the bid document.

That’s a little like being a referee in a sporting contest; I know I’m needed and I know I need to be masterful in my role, but everything I do is designed to allow the real experts knowledge and understanding to shine. Our shared moment arrives when the contract is won.

Getting the right information starts with finding the people in the firm who know a lot about the client and their industry, and then listening hard to what they have to say

I keep questioning until the “ah that’s what I wanted to know and hear – let me get that down word for word” moment. The deeper my understanding of the client, the better I am able to address the needs, fears and the big expectations of clients.
I trust the experts in my client’s firm. It’s easy for a tender to get derailed by enthusiasts for a seductive, marketing/comms-driven approach.

The best marketing people, in my experience, have a level of humility that allows them to enhance rather than dictate. They’re not seductive; they’re clear thinking and outcome driven, and they make sure the experts’ voices are heard.

What your law firm does, and will do, makes all the difference to the client

Usually, it comes down to a combination of saving time, saving money, creating efficiencies and showing that firms understand exactly what the right result is for their client (and it’s not always a win in court); but it may not be limited to those things.
Rather than simply write in the bid that those will be achieved , I keep digging until I’m clear how the law firm will do that. If we can’t demonstrate and provide proof that what we promise will actually happen, it’s questionable whether we should be saying it at all.

And the bottom line, always, is that the most valuable expertise lies with others, not me. When I allow that expertise its fullest expression, magic happens and positive results show up time after time.

Along the way, the valuable insights and documentation that get produced are categorised for future use – for marketing, tender proposals, internal discussions, and more.

One final point to improve your tender’s likelihood of success

In an effort to win new business, many firms tender for opportunities that they really shouldn’t. The reasons not to tender, are many – and a subject for another blog – but for now I suggest that before undertaking a new bid, you always ask yourself what opportunities you have among existing panel appointments and other clients. This is your true low-hanging fruit, and in the excitement of pursuing entirely new opportunities, it’s easy to miss it.

About our Guest Blogger

Clementine Scahill has worked with Prodonovich Advisory since 2015 helping firms pursue new business including managing projects to ensure firms are ready for winning. Clementine assists firms with their strategy development, importantly helping them execute their plans. She has particular expertise in target account plans, competitive pitches and corporate communications. Her career has included senior roles with McKinsey and Company (in Australia and the US), PKF, Hunt and Hunt Lawyers and more recently Bartier Perry Lawyers.

Facebook updates are good news for law firms

Monday, April 02, 2018

By Caitlin Ritter, Marketing Manager, Carter Capner

If you’re managing your law firm’s social media presence or strategy, you’ve likely heard about the coming changes to the Facebook news feed and the algorithm behind it. These changes have already started to roll out.

On the surface, it’s about quality controlling news feeds so people see more of the stuff that makes them happy, like posts from friends rather than content from businesses, brands and media publishers. The branded content you do see will be shown because it sparks genuine connections between people – that means people are engaging with it on more than a superficial ‘post like’ basis. 

So those blog posts, news articles and testimonials that you’re publishing organically (that is, not paying for), while all fine pieces of content, will potentially cease to exist for Facebook users who tend to scroll within their news feed. They will, however, still be visible if a user visits your actual Facebook page.

On the other hand, businesses and pages will be encouraged to continue to pay to have their content shown, meaning boosted posts and advertisements will be all systems go. 

Sounds bad – and expensive – right? 


This Facebook update is good for law firms and here’s why

Law firms are in a great position to offer the types of interactions that Facebook may see as valuable to its users. 

This is because everyone needs legal information at some point in their life. And by its nature, legal information can be tricky to understand. 

With the demand for informative and helpful legal information in plain English, it’s up to firms to create content that fills the gaps and answers the questions people have. 

You can identify these topics through a variety of different methods. You might want to:
  • Ask the legal teams what questions people commonly ask throughout their matters. 
  • Delve into search trends in your practice areas to find out what questions people search for online (or ask your digital agency to do that for you). 
  • Look into your Google Analytics account to see if any blog posts are particularly popular. 
  • Use past social media posts that have had high engagement levels as indicators of what topics work well. 

Qld Estate Lawyers is leveraging the market for information to achieve good reach and engagement on Facebook

What does this mean about posting on Facebook moving forward?

Here are some tips on what and how firms may want to post over the coming months. 

1. Keep it classy – don’t beg for people to interact with your brand

The Facebook overlords have made it pretty clear that posts with ‘comment bait’ (think of brands who add “comment Y if you like cookies!” at the end of a post) won’t be rewarded. While a call to action (“like or share this post if you found it helpful”) is generally OK, make sure any requests for interaction are genuine and relevant to the topic at hand. 

2. Quality over quantity – don’t post for the sake of keeping a schedule

Ever since the news feed ditched its chronological post order, the need to post regularly has been a bit baffling. People will see your posts when they see them, and if your posts aren’t high-quality, then they won’t see them at all. It’s as simple as that. So focus less on sticking to your 3-times-a-week schedule and put more focus on creating content that adds value to your audience’s experience. 

3. Cause some controversy – don’t shy away from having opinions

  • Should artificial intelligence determine sentencing in criminal cases? 
  • Should road rules be adjusted to offer more protection to cyclists?
  • Should the government impose heavier regulations on property developers?
No matter what your area/s of law happen to be, there’s guaranteed to be a hot topic you can use to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to take a stance – passion takes sides, and as long as you’re not being offensive or antagonistic, there’s nothing wrong with having an opinion. Be respectful of commenters who disagree, and listen to any feedback your readers offer. 

4. Switch to camera mode – experiment with video if you have the resources

Show the softer side of the firm with short videos and live videos on your Facebook page. It doesn’t have to be fancy – you could do some short meet the team segments or a Q&A session.

In an earlier ALPMA post on increasing engagement on social media, Nicole Shelley said “You can have a little bit of ‘me, me, me’ but you need to have a lot of ‘you, you, you’”.

That’s truer than ever with the coming changes. And to do that, you need to identify what your audience wants to know, answer those questions thoroughly, and get those answers in front of the right people. It’s not about beating the system – it’s just about giving value back to the people you want to connect with.

About our Guest Blogger

Caitlin Ritter - Carter Capner
Caitlin Ritter is the Marketing Manager for Carter Capner Law, a firm with specialist brands for compensation, wills & estates and business & property. She holds a Bachelor of Business and a Bachelor of Journalism from QUT, and applies her keen interest in consumer-led marketing to the job on a daily basis.
Caitlin comes from a digital marketing and content production background, and enjoys turning technical talk into plain English.

The 6 rules to getting your law firm's fees right

Monday, March 26, 2018

By Sue-Ella Prodonovich, Principal, Prodonovich Advisory

In my blog “6 things law firms need to accept”, I mentioned that law firms needed to accept that this was a buyer’s market. Now I’m here to tell you that this doesn’t apply just to lawyers; it’s the same for all professional services.

That means, you could well be told in 2018 that your prices are too high. It also means that getting your pricing right will be one of the keys to building a successful practice over the next 12 months. So, if you’re feeling powerless and confused about what to do, try following these 6 rules.

1. Understand the emotional side of buying

While professionals may deal in the analytical and rational, it’s always worth remembering that buyers are seldom analytical and never rational. Why else would people fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a different badge on a handbag or a motorcar? It’s because they see these as denoting higher status than other goods.

The same principles apply to professional services as they do to retail. People, including the hard nosed management teams of serious corporates, will pay a premium for services that they perceive as premium. Similarly, if they see something as run-of-the mill, they’ll expect to get it for the best price they can.

To make sure you fall on the right side of the equation, you need to understand the emotional side of buying. If you want help doing that, there are a lot of good books that can point you in the right direction.

You also need to understand what will make a client pay top dollar. And, whether that’s through specialising in a niche, providing a personalised service, or innovating, one thing is certain: clients always pay more for professionals who understand them.

If you’re being told your prices are too high, perhaps you’re simply not getting this right.

2. Don’t dive straight into fixed fees

In the current climate a lot of professional services think that all they need to do is move to fixed fees and the pricing problem will take care of itself. Anyone who has read any of my blogs in the past knows that I have very strong views on this. While fixed fees may be part of the solution, they’re not the solution every time.

Fixed fees tend to work brilliantly when the scope of work is known and its commoditised - for instance, a conveyance or a simple contract for a lawyer, or a basic end of year tax return for an accountant. In my view, fixed fees don’t work at all where the scope of work is unknowable and the work you’re doing is bespoke and highly skilled.

And, for most types of work, they’ll fall somewhere in between - effective sometimes and not others. 

So, instead of going straight for an “alternative fee” model, I always encourage people to go straight for an “appropriate fee model”. Analyse what’s going to work out best for both you and the client and stick to that, rather than being rigid. If you're not sure what to charge, here's what i think should influence your pricing.

3. Start with the client

In my experience, a lot of professional services firms get their pricing the wrong way around. What I mean by that is that they have no pricing strategy, so instead the starting point for what they’ll charge will be their remuneration policy.

If they pay a staff member $100,000 a year, they’ll use this figure to calculate how much they should charge to pay their employee, cover their overheads and take a bit of profit. That sounds logical, but doing it in isolation can lead to a raft of pricing problems, the effect of which can lead to a short change for both your practice and your client.

A better place to start is with the client. Figure out how you can bring them value, by delivering what they want and making their experience with you pain free. Once you’ve put some thought into that, you can then work backwards, figuring out how to utilise technology and your fee earners to deliver it in the best possible way.

By putting things in this order, you may uncover more profit than you could ever dream about rather than using salary as your starting point.

4. Work out where your value lies

Good law firm pricing always comes by knowing the value you bring. In other words, what is your client really paying you for?

To work this out, you’ll need to engage in a bit of good old fashioned soul searching and problem solving. So what is it that your client wants from you? And what could they just as easily get anywhere else and at a cheaper price?

When you look at things this way, chances are you could take something off the table to bring your prices down without compromising your profitability.

For instance, are you spending too much time of admin? Could you push some of this back onto the client? Could you deconstruct the service you offer, breaking it up into many parts so that you retain the high value stuff and outsource the other parts somewhere else?

If you do have this option, I’d suggest you try taking it because it’s likely to lead you into building a network of referrers who pass you work in return - that is the stuff you really want to be doing. And that will help protect your fees and your profits, while still keeping your clients happy.

A new tool that can help law firms with pricing dilemmas or decisions is Price High or Low. Designed by Joel Barolsky for professional service firms, this is a very clever and timely application.

5. Look for the real motivation of clients

If a client thinks your pricing is too high or they start going to a cheaper provider, it’s easy to look within. But sometimes, it’s not you, it’s them. So look beyond the rejection to find out why they don’t want to pay.

Chances are they simply may not have the budget. Perhaps there’s been a restructure. Perhaps they have a new CFO who’s stepped in and is slashing costs. Otherwise, perhaps they’re really just not the client for you because they’re simply not prepared to pay for the value you provide. 

I liken it to the petrol pump selling High Octane 98 fuel. To me, this makes no difference; I’ll just buy the cheapest fuel on offer. But a motoring enthusiast will probably really notice, and care about. The 1% difference it’s making to their performance. If people don’t value what you have, you need to find your own enthusiasts; the ones who really do get it.

6. Talk about pricing with your clients

Finally, I always think the best way to find out what a client thinks about your pricing is simply to ask them. I know, I know. Our mothers told us it was rude to talk about money. But sometimes, when you’re in business, you’ve just gotta. 

Ask your clients what they think about your pricing. Are you cheaper or more expensive than your competitors? There is no winning formula. It really often is sometimes about sitting down and talking about what is fair from both ends.

After all, in my experience clients price shop a lot less than most people think.

So if someone does say you’re too expensive, maybe they’re really trying to tell you something else…

About our Guest Blogger

Sue-Ella Prodonovich
Sue-Ella has more than 20 years senior level experience in winning and growing business in the complex business-to-business services and professional services sector. Over that time she has helped many of the Asia Pacific’s most recognised legal and professional services firms sharpen their business development practices, attract and retain clients, and become more profitable. Sue-Ella is the principal of Prodonovich Advisory, which she founded in 2012.

7 things your law firm can do to make money before the end of the financial year

Monday, March 19, 2018

By Sue-Ella Prodonovich, Principal, Prodonovich Advisory

By the end of February, law firms should have billed 70-80% of their revenue for this financial year, as well as having a good idea about how they’re going to make the remainder of their budget for FY2018.

If you haven’t - or if the pipeline looks a little bare - you don’t have to panic just yet. Instead, look for the tree with the low hanging fruit and shake the branches hard until it falls.

To find out exactly how to do that, read on and discover my 7 tips for finding more fees today, without needing to bump up your prices.

1. Speak to your clients

It’s almost always easier to get new work out of existing clients than it is to find new ones. And better still, the lead time - ie the time between the initial conversation and the work arriving on your desk - is almost always much shorter too.

So if you need more work now, your first port of call should be to get in touch with everyone on your current client list. When you do, don’t sell. Simply check in to make sure everything’s ok. Better still send them something of value, such as an article or an invitation, and follow it up with a phone call if you can.

Always remember, 80 percent of life is turning up. If you’re not doing that, you’re not even in the game.

2. Look for triggers

As I’ve pointed out before, no matter what product or service you’re selling, people will buy more easily when there’s a trigger to do so.

To cite an obvious one, people see their accountant when they need to do their end-of-year tax. So when you do contact people, even better than saying hi, is casually mentioning or writing about a trigger; what’s happened lately in your field, any regulatory changes, big events going on, or new trends emerging.

Alternatively, has something changed at your client’s end - a restructure or a change of personnel?

Whatever it is, call your clients to tell them about it, or send an email to your mailing list letting them know how it affects them and how you can help. You may be surprised by the results it brings - especially if you show how it will save them money or how it’s otherwise relevant to what they do.

Again, as I’ve said before, I once asked the project manager of a large listed property group why he chose a particular law firm to act for him on a significant dispute. He said that was easy....

He’d received an update from a lawyer he’d never met, working with a law firm he had never heard of. But the content was bang on the money and the timing was spot on. And because he was facing an almost identical issue, he picked up the phone and called that lawyer instead of his incumbent.

3. Call dead leads

Go through the list of everyone who’s contacted you over the past 12 months (or even two years) and get back in touch with them.

Let them know you’re still around and ask them if there’s anything you can help with. If this seems confronting it shouldn’t be. What’s the worst they’ll do? Say no again? Then you’re still where you are right now anyway.

Any decent salesperson will tell you that you should never write off someone just because they’ve said no in the past. If you get back in touch with say, 20 people, you only need one to say yes and you’ve probably made yourself money. Just don’t come across as pushy or desperate.

4. Change your targets

Building and maintaining referral sources is critical for law firms. In my experience, most work for professionals doesn’t come direct from clients, it comes from referrers. So if you’re not getting work through the door it could be that your referrers either aren’t saying the right things about you, or aren’t meeting the right people.

If you’re worried about the amount of work coming your way, tee up a meeting with each referrer and find out how they’re positioning you and who they’re positioning you to. Do they really know what you do? If not, now’s the time to tell them.

While we’re on the topic, is there someone else you think would be a good referrer? Someone who knows the right people or whose client base complements yours? Well, why not get in touch with them and try to meet them too.

5. Repackage

Perception is 9/10ths of reality. In other words, how we present something or how it is perceived matters just as much as what it is.

So ask yourself, are there any legal services you have that could do with an overhaul?

Could you change the way you charge for something or reposition it, or introduce it to a new market? Take a quiet moment to look at your processes and see how you could rejig them to create something new.

Or why not see if you could team up with another complementary department to create a new product or service. The “cross sell” opportunities with law firms should be constantly looked at.

6. Open up the floor

When it comes to generating ideas, two heads are always better than one. And three heads are better than two. And, four heads is better than... well you get my drift.

So don’t do your sales push alone if you can help it. Call a meeting of everyone in your team - especially those in day-to-day contact with your clients - and see what they can contribute.

Have they had conversations they forgot to tell you about? Do they have ideas about how things could be done differently? Have they seen aspects of your client’s business that aren’t bring serviced or other new opportunities for work?

These days partners should never be the only ones responsible for a practice’s business development. Get everyone to pitch in and see the difference it makes.

7. Get professional help

Finally, there’s always the option of bringing in the professionals: whether that’s through BD and sales coaching, advertising or even appointment setting.

After all, I know of some very good professional services firms who use the services of appointment setters and it can work to devastating effect. That’s because it shifts the emphasis on the routine matters to someone else - someone who’s an expert in it - and leaves you to pitch to someone who’s already partly interested.

If you don’t do this, there’s always the option of a digital or email campaign or some other tactic that will bring in new work now.

About our Guest Blogger

Sue-Ella Prodonvich
Sue-Ella has more than 20 years senior level experience in winning and growing business in the complex business-to-business services and professional services sector. Over that time she has helped many of the Asia Pacific’s most recognised legal and professional services firms sharpen their business development practices, attract and retain clients, and become more profitable. Sue-Ella is the principal of Prodonovich Advisory, which she founded in 2012.

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