A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Creativity is the key to adapting and innovating in the changing legal landscape

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

By John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack

There’s no denying the increase in the push for technology adoption in the workplace (and outside of it) since the turn of the century. Almost two decades in and this push has evolved into a necessity, leaving late adopters at risk of falling behind. According to not-for-profit organisation P21, the key skills of the 21st-century are communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity – the 4 C’s. In anticipation of this year’s ALPMA summit, ‘Sailing the 4 C’s’, ALPMA and InfoTrack surveyed over 100 firms in Australia and New Zealand to gain insight into how well Australasian law firms were embracing the key 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

According to the research results, lawyers and law firm leaders are better at critical thinking than they are communicating and collaborating, while most are ineffective when it came to finding creative solutions. These results are not surprising, but they indicate that the legal industry as a whole still needs to modernise its mindset.

Creativity is not ‘arts and crafts’; it’s the starting point for innovation and the key to not just surviving but thriving in the new legal landscape. You should be thinking creatively when it comes to the other C’s as well – how can you differentiate yourself when it comes to communication, collaboration and critical thinking? What new things can you bring to your firm as a business to provide a better service to your clients?

The survey results indicate firms are all at different stages of the journey and looking for ways to improve these skills. As an innovative technology company, we live and breathe the 4 C’s and understand how each component impacts your success. Bearing this in mind, I’d like to share with you some tips on how you can further embrace the 4 C’s in your legal practice.

Communication

How do you open communication while maintaining focus and minimising noise?

  • Create an inclusive culture where staff feel safe sharing ideas. When you make an effort to understand your staff, their working style and what motivates them, you create an environment for open communication. At InfoTrack we’ve conducted employee profiling workshops which have helped our employees not only better understand their own working style, but how they can enhance communication with their colleagues.
  • Create clear outlines for afterhours communications to minimise noise. Ensure your employees know when and why to use certain channels. I’ve worked with many firms who have policies around what certain communications mean at certain times. For example, if you send an email afterhours, know that it won’t be read until the next day. If you text afterhours, know that you’re interrupting someone. If you call afterhours, know it will be treated as an emergency. Set these boundaries to avoid entering a never-ending loop that can cause burnout.
  • Set aside specific time for staff to talk to partners. This is a common strategy I’ve come across that is a great way to encourage more efficient and effective communications. I’ve known some principals who set aside specific hours each week to open the floor to questions from anyone, either via conference call, open door policy or simply being available on their phone during their commute to or from work.

Collaboration

As we become more digitally dispersed around the world, the need for effective collaboration increases. Clients are used to doing almost everything online and that includes legal services now. The younger generation of employees at your firm expects collaborative software and online tools.

How do you maximise collaboration in the digital age?

  • Use platforms that enable you to provide your clients with transparent and mobile service. Many firms are beginning to use portals which enable clients to view all documents and searches related to their matter online.
  • Move processes online to allow for document sharing and better integration across your firm. A lot of firms are beginning to implement Office 365 and other platforms that enable online collaboration across teams.

Critical Thinking

As lawyers, you are pros at critical thinking when it comes to legal projects, but you often forget to use that same critical eye when it comes to business decisions.

How can you implement critical thinking from a business perspective?

  • View technology as an enabler and figure out how you can make it work for you. I’ve been travelling across Australia to educate the market on e-Conveyancing and it’s a classic example of scalable technology that firms of any size can adopt. There’s a way for every single firm to make it work for them, it’s just about giving it a try and working with suppliers to find the solutions that fits your firm.
  • Approach new opportunities with solutions not problems. I’ve been in a number of boardrooms with major law firms while they’re deciding if they should invest in new technology. Firms generally fall in one of two camps; they come to the table with 100 reasons why not to implement it, or they come in determined to find a way to take advantage of a new tool and differentiate their business.

Creativity

Of the four key 21st century skills, creativity was the least strongly-valued skill. Effectively adopting creativity in your law firm gives you a competitive advantage in the overcrowded sea of competitors.

How can you foster creativity in your firm?

  • Turn everyone into a thought leader, don’t just rely on partners to lead the way. Empower your employees to suggest process changes, to research new tools, to get their voices out there and to always be looking for ways to improve the business.
  • Differentiate your firm and develop new ways to drive more business. I’ve seen firms who’ve implemented iPads at reception that can show clients their matter and a list of all related documents. Others have created bespoke client portals and others are digitising processes to provide a more modern experience for their clients. When you can provide clients with a quality, modern, streamlined experience, they’ll recommend you to their friends.

In an industry that’s constantly being disrupted, the 4C’s are pivotal to your success because they underpin innovation and allow you to be adapt to the changing market. The survey revealed that many firms are focusing all their efforts internally and failing to rely on partners and suppliers in this journey; remember that you’re not it in alone. Lean on your suppliers and demand more from them. Invest in vendors who are investing in their technology and providing you with new solutions that are innovative, flexible and make your life easier. The right vendors will help you develop the 4C’s.

When you’re looking at new suppliers, thinking about new projects or implementing new processes, make sure you ask yourself:

Is this going to help me differentiate my business?

Is this going to enhance the way I interact with my clients?

Is this going to enable me to innovate?

Is this going to help me problem-solve more effectively?

Editor's Note

research front coverThe ALPMA/InfoTrack 21st Century Thinking at Australasian Law Firms research measures how well Australasian law firms are embracing the key 21st century learning skills of creativity, critical-thinking, communication and collaboration, as defined by the influential P21 organisation. You can download your copy of the results here


About our Guest Blogger

John AhernJohn Ahern is CEO of InfoTrack, proud principal partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit.

John joined InfoTrack in 2015 as the Chief Technology Officer taking charge for establishing the company’s technical vision and leading on all aspects of InfoTrack’s technology development. John was appointed to the role of Chief Executive Officer in May of 2015 where he is now responsible for maintaining the extensive growth of InfoTrack in the Australian market.

John has over 20 years' experience in the Information Sector, having worked in a number of engineering, sales and executive positions. With a strong technical background, he has vast experience in designing and developing products and has delivered platforms from inception to production.

Who's got time for time management?

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

By Dermot Crowley, Productivity Author 

I ran a Lunch ‘n Learn presentation recently for a leading investment firm. The topic was essentially how to manage your time more effectively using technology. Twenty people turned up (out of hundreds in that particular office). Most of the attendees were junior staff and EAs. The joke around the room was that the people who really needed this were too busy to come. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard that one over the years. Many feel like they can’t afford to take the time to get organised. I believe we can’t afford not to.

In today’s busy workplace, driven by email and meetings, our time is the most precious resource we have at our disposal. While you might pride yourself on your organisational abilities, the truth for many executives, partners, managers and workers is that the workplace has changed, and how we need to organise ourselves has also changed. What might have worked a few years ago no longer makes the cut. So if you are not keeping your productivity skills and tools up to date, you will get left behind. Here are some of the productivity issues that may be killing your productivity.

Email overload

One of the biggest productivity issues of our age is email overload. We receive way too many emails every day, and often have a sizeable backlog in our Inbox. This causes stress and a reactive workstyle. Merlin Mann, the person who coined the phrase ‘Inbox Zero’ suggests that it is not really about how many emails are in your Inbox, it is about how much of your brain is captured by your Inbox. Getting on top of email is the first step to getting your head out of your Inbox and into more important and valuable work. Don’t use your Inbox as your filing system, and stop using it as an ineffective action list.

Calendar imbalance

Most of us have moved from paper diaries to an electronic calendar to manage our time. The challenge that this brings is that others now have visibility over your schedule, and will happily fill any free space with more meetings. Many executives I work with complain that they are in meetings from 9.00am to 5.00pm, and then have to catch up with the rest of their work from 5.00pm to 9.00pm. If we don’t protect time in our schedule for priorities outside of meetings, there is a risk that our time will get spent by other people. What would the ideal % split between meetings and other work be for you? What is the reality? What do you need to change?

Task fragmentation

As mentioned, you probably use an electronic calendar for all of your meetings. Yet you also probably use a range of systems and tools to remember what you need to do outside of meetings. Your Inbox, your head, a task list, post-it notes. Are your task management and prioritisation processes up to scratch? Or are you just getting by, lurching from one urgent issue to another? Taking some time out to get your priorities organised is a great use of your time. I recommend using the task system alongside your calendar in a tool like MS Outlook or Gmail.

Digital ignorance

No excuses here. You have the technology at your fingertips, but have you learned to leverage it? Do you really know how to get the most out of cutting edge tools like MS Outlook, OneNote or your smart phone? These tools were built to get your organised in the modern workplace, yet most barely scratch the surface when using this technology. Do yourself a favour, and get some training and you will unlock hours in your week.

Editor's Note

Want to learn how to use technology in a smarter way?  Dermot is presenting a Pre-Summit Workshop, "Personal Productivity in the 21st Century Workplace" on Wednesday 13 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. This highly practical and inspiring session will help participants to create a productivity system that will boost their productivity and leverage their technology. You do not have to be attending ALPMA Summit 2017 to attend this workshop. The workshop costs $395 for ALPMA members or $495 for eligible non-members. Places for these workshops are strictly limited so register now! We would also like to welcome our Pre ALPMA Summit Workshop Partner Law In Order.

About our Guest Blogger

Dermot CrowleyDermot Crowley is a productivity thought leader, author, speaker and trainer. Dermot works with leaders, executives and professionals in many of Australia’s leading organisations, helping to boost the productivity of their people and teams. He is the author of Smart Work, published by Wiley.







Effective communication, the key differentiator in a competitive marketplace

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

By Rebecca Nunan, Marketing Communications Specialist, LEAP Legal Software


Client communication is one business area which can highlight your practice’s reputation and presence in the legal industry. Both internal and external communication processes factor into how businesses and law firms can successfully share ideas and information, and in doing so can leverage the efficiency of the entire business. 

Client communication rates as the second highest cause of complaints received by the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner for 2015-2016. According to the OLCS, consumer matters complaints have increased by 7 per cent, with family law now making up 17.8 per cent of all complaints lodged. Conveyancing and corporate matters are ranked in the top six areas of law to receive complaints. Document handling is a common grievance for clients and, not surprisingly, the solicitor is the highest ranked practitioner named in the inquiry line. 

With complaints and client misunderstandings rising, it is not surprising that Lawcover’s annual review notes an increase in the number of insured law practices and solicitors and an increase in reported circumstances. Conveyancing matters attributed to the highest number of claim notifications for 2015.

With this in mind, let’s break apart the communication matrix!

Technology


Technology is an integral part of business operations across all law firms regardless of size or area of expertise. Today’s working offices are adapting and scaling up their technology to reflect the changes in the industry, and the demands of changing governmental processes and legislation. It can be hard to keep up while providing an efficient service to your clients – taking into consideration ongoing operational costs. According to PwC’s 2017 Global Digital IQ® Survey, “the human experience is a critical dimension of Digital IQ; to be successful in the digital economy, organisations must create agile, collaborative cultures that…focus adequately on customer and employee experiences”. The results highlight the desire for Australian businesses to improve customer service.

Information sharing is one segment of communication which is crucial to efficient matter management, and unfortunately this area is often the largest contributor to client dissatisfaction. Some causes for failing in clear communication processes are:

  • Large volumes of documentation which is delivered and retrieved from information systems and clients and not organised efficiently
  • Duplicate records for clients or matters which result in errors
  • Inefficient document sharing via email where documents are not secure, not attached, are excessively large, or get delivered to spam folders
  • Previous versions of documents are inadvertently shared.

The result is clients who continually call you to clarify next steps, and how you intend to assist in the process. Before we consider how to improve this situation, let’s delve into the everyday working of a matter.

Process-driven communication


Streamlined processes with supporting IT systems make all the difference to the efficiency of client work. Paperless or paper-light offices are becoming the norm for many law firms and some government departments, and sharing this concept with your clients is an important part of the step.

The first step a lawyer may take is to open an initiation template and draft the accompanying email, and then what follows is a streamlined cadence of emails, documents, telephone calls and invoices.

Online services and automation are revolutionising the way in which law firms operate; from matter management through to customer service surveys and protocols. The amount of data generated by lawyers is growing; consider all the completed forms, file notes, precedents, court rulings, emails and documents.

With the volume of data being collected increasing, failing to engage in process-driven communication can result in costly errors, such as incorrect documents stored, shared or emailed to the client.

Even for law firms who have established systems in place, there can be disharmony in the business when client communication break downs.

Communication and technology in harmony


Law firms can build trust with their clients by partnering with them to provide a superior service in addition to providing legal knowledge and advice. Providing superior service encapsulates a 360-degree viewpoint of client care; from legal knowledge, consultation, obtaining client data, priorities of the matter, exceptions, schedules, filing, outcomes and billing. These access points are crucial to providing superior client service - with technology spaning across these points, lawyers can be in control and be more active in processing a matter, not just responding to roadblocks.

Effective communication and competitive edge in one practice management platform


A centralised system that hosts your matter details and information in one, single location, with precedent automation and the ability to seamlessly save correspondence, is essential. The system should update matter cards immediately and the two-way sharing of data should be accessible from mobile devices. This will in turn enable you and your fee earners to respond to client queries expediently in real time.

In a competitive market where law firms now actively seek out clients, it is essential to be recognised as a leading firm that adopts cutting edge technology. Firms who differentiate by providing exceptional client service through effective communication will benefit from long-standing business relationships and increased profitability.


Editor's Note

2017 ALPMA SummitLEAP Legal Software are proud to be the Digital Partner for the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13-15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. This year’s Summit focuses on developing the key 21st century skills of collaboration, communication, critical-thinking and creativity at law firms. Join more than 300 law firm leaders and managers for an action-packed three days of professional development, networking and fun. Register now!

About our Guest Blogger


Rebecca NunanRebecca Nunan is a marketing communications specialist at LEAP Legal Software in Sydney.

Rebecca is a marketing executive with more than seven years’ experience working in the legal industry. Her experience working for local and international law firms has provided insights into best practices for running a successful firm – with a competitive approach to delivering exceptional client service. 






Innovate – learning to fail fast is the key to leveraging disruption in the legal profession

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

By Neil Shewan, Managing Director, Adelphi Digital


As a lawyer, you must get things right – the first time. Fail, and your career can be on the line. De-programming this thinking is critical for modern legal firms to navigate the disruption that is happening in service delivery. Legal firms are being challenged by changing business models, expectations of the millennial legal workforce, changing client service buying habits, and new technologies like block-chain and machine learning.

Innovation is about failing again and again (quickly) until you find a way to make it work. At most legal firms’ failure doesn’t go down very well. Failure is met with poor performance reviews, frowns, grumbles, and sometimes even job loss. Yet this is what we know from many scientific studies that have looked at how to create a culture for innovation: Encouraging risk taking (and therefore being comfortable with failure) is one of the top five most important cultural factors that needs to be present if you want to be a highly innovative organisation.

When I ran a workshop recently with a successful Melbourne legal firm it was critical to remove the fear of failure before their innovation team could hope to start experimenting with change, and learning from the outcomes.

At the workshop I was asked by one of the senior managers how “accountability” fits with the need to take risks. I am not a huge fan of the word accountability as it has negative connotations. I prefer the word “responsibility” - much more empowering. And from an innovation perspective, it is far more responsible to fail quickly and cheaply than to waste hundreds and thousands of dollars and months writing business cases that stack up on paper (have you ever seen one that doesn't?) but go on to produce a mammoth failure.

So, how do you put in place the foundations for innovation?

1. Accept that failure is mandatory if you want to be serious about innovation. No successful innovation in this world got there without having a bunch of failures along the road to success. I suggest you start with the Lean Start-up Methodology. The method is to create quick and low cost prototypes of your ideas that you can quickly learn from. If they fail, you adjust course and roll the learnings into the next iteration of the idea.

2. Get client/user input early. Once you have a prototype for an idea, bring in your clients and talk them through it. Get feedback on what works and what can be improved. Learn from it. Don’t feel like you need a fully featured “thing” at the outset. The first version of your next service/product/process should be just enough to get the idea across (we call it a “Minimal Viable Product” – MVP). The MVP should be low cost to produce, so that you can start over if you need to change direction.

3. Be ready to clear the way for your innovation team. The innovation team in your practice is likely to face a lot of roadblocks from the broader organisation. There will be resistance to change, people feeling threatened about their jobs and those happy to give you 99 reasons why it will fail or to tell you “we have done that before and it didn’t work”. Often businesses create a “skunk-works” where their team has space to experiment and learn, sheltered from legacy thinking within the business.

Editor's Note


Want to know more about how to develop a culture of innovation in your legal practice? Neil is presenting a Pre-Summit Workshop, "Building an Innovation Framework in Law Firms" on Wednesday 13 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. This highly interactive workshop will help you explore and develop the skills you need to lead innovation in your practice. You do not have to be attending ALPMA Summit 2017 to attend this workshop. The workshop costs $395 for ALPMA members or $495 for eligible non-members. Places for these workshops are strictly limited so register now!  We would also like to welcome our Pre ALPMA Summit Workshop Partner GlobalX.


About our Guest Blogger


Neil ShewanNeil Shewan is the Managing Director of Adelphi Digital’s Melbourne office. Adelphi has won over 80 industry awards in the area of digital business consultancy. Neil is head of user experience globally, working with a broad range of clients to innovate their business. Neil’s twenty years of background in customer and user experience, along with service design thinking – allows him to bring design, technology and business strategy together to create future ready businesses. Current and past clients include Sladen Legal, Victorian Government (Including the Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation), BHP Billiton, General Motors Holden and the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Neil works closely with businesses to identify and implement innovations that will not only help them survive the change around them – but more importantly provide true competitive advantage so they can thrive.




Sailing the 4C's to Innovation: Communication, collaboration, critical thinking & creativity

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cost Cover advert

By John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack

As principal partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit, InfoTrack is proud to be supporting firms to drive innovation in the transforming legal landscape. This year, we’re working with ALPMA to gather insights from the industry on how firms are applying the four key 21st century learning skills: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. If you haven’t had a chance to complete our survey yet, please participate now.

As a technology company, innovation is central to our culture and processes so we're always thinking of how we can use the 4C's to adapt and evolve. Here are some of the things we focus on that can easily translate to your firm.

Communication


1. Be transparent about your firm’s strategy

When you’re clear about short and long term goals it promotes strategic alignment across your firm. Whether you work with yearly, quarterly or monthly strategies, make sure to start each new cycle with a meeting where you lay your strategy out for everyone in the firm and give the opportunity for discussion and questions. Working towards a common vision creates a cohesive and determined team. Track progress of your goals on any online collaboration platforms or even on your office wall to remind everyone of what you’re working toward.

2. Learn how to adapt your communication style

Take the time to understand your colleagues and how to best communicate with them. Different working styles respond better to different types of communication. Often, the younger generation prefers constant updates and feedback because they’ve grown up with instant messaging and social media. Some people work better with detailed instructions whereas others just want to know the end-goal. Being aware of your colleagues’ communication styles and how they work best creates better working relationships and increase productivity.

Collaboration


1. Promote knowledge sharing

Don’t let people hold back knowledge out of fear of succession-planning themselves out of a job. Make sure your employees understand that the more they help each other, the further they’ll get as a team and individuals. The more you share, the more you learn; especially in a digital world where change is constant.

2. Encourage mentorship

This goes both ways; senior staff can help the younger generation by providing guidance and imparting knowledge. Junior staff can help introduce new ideas and new technology to the firm. Take advantage of the diversity that different mindsets and backgrounds bring to your firm by encouraging reciprocal mentoring.

Creativity


1. Set aside specific time for brainstorming

In today’s society, we’re all time-poor and that goes even further in the legal industry. You’ll never have time for blue-sky thinking if you don’t make a conscious effort to block it out in your calendar. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and your never-ending to do lists, but you’ll never evolve if you’re stuck with your head in the books 24/7. Today’s market is more competitive than ever and you need to adapt in order to keep a competitive edge.

2. Have a dedicated innovation budget

Everyone says they’re working on innovation, but there’s rarely follow through to show for it. Have an actual plan around innovation and invest in it – whether that’s an innovation team, quarterly innovation days, training or something else – make sure it’s part of your strategy.

Critical thinking


1. Use time-saving technology

There are a lot of technologies available to you now that cut down on the time you need to spend on administrative tasks and sifting through data. Take advantage of these so that you have more time to work on critical analysis and profit-generating activities.

2. Be open to new ways of working

Recognise that disruption is now a constant in the legal industry; new technology, new business models and a new generation are constantly shifting the way things are done. Learning to embrace some of that change and take it on in a way that works for your firm is critical to continued success. You don’t have to change everything all at once, but take time to consider which new concepts and processes will benefit your firm most and trial them out.

The above advice applies to all businesses – no matter your firm size or area of law - these are simple initiatives you can put in place today to drive innovation and build upon the 4C’s.

We look forward to seeing you at the 2017 ALPLMA Summit in Brisbane.


Editor's Note

The ALPMA/InfoTrack 2017 Research: 21st Thinking at Australasian Law Firms is available for participation by Australasian law firms until Friday 28 July.  Complete the survey by Friday 28 July to go into the draw to win a delegate pass to the 2017 ALPMA Summit, from 13 - 15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. Please note, you must be eligible to join ALPMA to win the pass and the prize does not include travel or accommodation.

The results will be presented at the 2017 ALPMA Summit.  Participants who complete the survey will receive a complimentary copy of the research report, which sheds light on collaboration, communication, critical-thinking and creativity at law firms.

About our Guest Blogger


John AhernJohn Ahern is CEO of InfoTrack, proud principal partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit.

John joined InfoTrack in 2015 as the Chief Technology Officer taking charge for establishing the company’s technical vision and leading on all aspects of InfoTrack’s technology development. John was appointed to the role of Chief Executive Officer in May of 2015 where he is now responsible for maintaining the extensive growth of InfoTrack in the Australian market.

John has over 20 years' experience in the Information Sector, having worked in a number of engineering, sales and executive positions. With a strong technical background, he has vast experience in designing and developing products and has delivered platforms from inception to production.

Member Q&A with Dion Cusack

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

In this ALPMA member Q&A, we interview Dion Cusack, Corporate Services Manager at K&L Gates, and recently elected ALPMA Vice President, about his role and view on the legal sector.

What does your role as Corporate Services Manager entail?

My responsibility includes property, facilities, client services, office services, work place health and safety, file audits, risk, quality and business continuity for K&L Gates across Australia.  Basically, it is my job to make sure that everyone at the firm is supported and safe, to keep the lights on, to minimise our risk and ensure we comply with our quality standards.

What motivates you?

I am motivated by delivering the best and most efficient services I can for the firm.  This means I spend a lot of time researching, and working with other areas within the firm to ensure that we are implementing and maintaining best-practice processes and technologies that can support or enhance our service delivery.  This can often involve implementing changes to how services are delivered or provided at the firm, which is challenging and rewarding.   But I enjoy making things happen, bringing people along on the journey and keeping a strong, positive outlook.  My focus is on doing whatever needs to be done to within my domain to ensure the firm achieves its objectives in what is quite a challenging and evolving environment at the moment.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing law firms right now?

I think firms are facing challenges on several fronts - with increased competition from global and 'New Law' firms combined with pressure from clients to introduce alternative fee arrangements, reduce overall legal spend, and for law firms to provide greater overall value to their clients. Law firms need to reduce the cost of delivering services, at a work product level, and one way to do this is by utilising technology in new ways to introduce efficiencies, as will as ensuring that other business costs are contained.  Firms also need to focus on tangible ways to demonstrate their innovativeness.  All firms say they deliver quality services - but firms need to be able to clearly show and articulate their unique value to their clients.  

This challenge is not new, but remains ever relevant, in that firms also need to fight the war for talent and ensure they have a compelling value proposition for staff which goes beyond just remuneration.  This involves looking strategically at work/life balance and introducing flexible working models for both women and men, and providing tangible support to achieve this, such as technologies that enable working from home to be practical, including supportive leave and other policies.

What are you looking forward to in your role your as ALPMA Vice President?

I am very excited by the opportunities to expand ALPMA's presence in Asia and to extend our collaboration with other bodies with a shared interest in legal practice management and managers. ALPMA is very much focused on its community, and we will continue to look for new ways to encourage engagement and interaction within our community.  I think ALPMA also has a very strong role to play to as an authoritative voice to guide and lead law firms through these changing and challenging times.

Editor's note:


If you would like to know how your firm's compensation strategy compares to similar firms and obtain compelling insights to help you shape your employee value proposition, then participate in the ALPMA Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey

Participation is free and open to all Australian and New Zealand law firms until 31 March, 2017.  

Participate now








About our Guest Blogger



Dion has been the Corporate Services Manager at K&L Gates for the past eight years.  Prior to this, he held accountability for financial and operational management and performance across a variety of organisations and industries. 

He has been a member of the ALPMA Board since 2014, and was recently elected Vice President.  He also serves as the Victorian Chair of ALPMA. 

A seasoned professional leader, Dion's pragmatic and critical thinking skills enable him to achieve innovative, fresh, commercial outcomes that are well calculated, timely, appropriate and original.  

Complemented by skills in human resources, technology, client, brand, strategic development, governance, business improvement and change management, Dion has also acquired specialist skills in audit, compliance, insurance, risk and business continuity management, corporate and commercial law. 

In his spare time, Dion is the founder of a successful real estate investment, development and management firm.




The Other 50%

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

By Kirsty Spears, Specialist Legal Recruiter for McLeod Duminy 


The picture of US President Trump signing an Executive Order that will largely affect women, without a single woman in the room has become infamous and highlights why achieving gender diversity remains an ongoing problem.


The 2016 ALPMA/ McLeod Duminy Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues research indicates a mere 16 per cent of NZ law firm equity partners are female. The figure rises only slightly to 17% in Australia. This despite female law graduates outnumbering male law graduates for more than ten years to date in both countries.

gender imbalance AUs & NZ

But this is simply not translating into leadership. Roughly two thirds of non-partner lawyers in firms across the region are female and it can’t be a recipe for success if law firms are effectively picking leaders from one third of the talent in the firm.

Research shows the gender gap won’t just correct itself, even when the numbers seem to force the issue. The opportunity missed is not just for women; it is also for firms and their clients because:

  • clients increasingly want firms to reflect their own efforts on diversity. E.g. a recent utility company pitch placed a great deal of emphasis on diversity and in effect ruled out firms that didn’t have strong policy in the area;
  • female in-house counsel want the opportunity to do business with other women; and
  • there is strong evidence that there are economic benefits to a diverse leadership team because different perspectives create a better strategy.

Often the solution to helping/encouraging women into more senior roles is framed simply as needing more flexible work arrangements, but the wider issue is more complex than that. In fact, flexibility is the easiest change to make as long as there is an appetite for it and it works for all parties.

For example, the Managing Partner of a firm we work with realised that he spent more than a quarter of his time working remotely without it affecting his productivity and so he implemented a policy to allow others to do the same. The rule is simply that clients aren’t adversely affected.

Firms are getting better at investing in technology to enable employees to work remotely. There are great success stories and a new generation coming through that value time more than anything and expect connectivity as an every day part of their working environment.

There’s also a major shift for men these days as their partners increasingly choose not to, or are financially unable to stay at home and look after the kids. She is equally likely to have a successful career. Men also value family time and want to be able to be home for bedtime and stories.

There are a few practical things a firm can do to encourage better gender diversity:

Role models – there is some evidence that the women who do get to the top regard simply being an example as enough and they effectively ‘pull up the ladder’. Research by the American Bar Association also shows that from a very early stage in their careers, more resources are dedicated to developing male associates. There needs to be a specific program aimed at female associates where senior staff are accountable for measurable results. It is not enough to ‘take someone under their wing’.

Unconscious bias – this comes about mostly at the recruitment and promotion stages. It comes in two forms. Affinity is looking for people in your own image and confirmation is a reflection of one’s own beliefs. This needs to be something that is acknowledged and recognised.

The best way to combat it is to have formal processes, set steps and strong criteria. There needs to be more behind the decision-making than someone ‘doesn’t have what it takes’. An easy first step is to include several different people in the process in the first instance. More extreme measures can include blind CVs and electronic screening.

Male vs. Female traits – stereotypically male traits, e.g. assertiveness, logical thinking etc., could more or less describe most people’s idea of the perfect lawyer. As well as challenging
those stereotypes, we need to start valuing traditionally feminine attributes e.g. language skills, empathy and the ability to multitask.

Giving women a platform to show off their skills – Females tend to wait for recognition whilst males are quicker to ‘boast’ about their achievements. Giving women a platform to show off a little will help them recognise their own strengths and bring them to wider attention. It also enables the firm to make the most of their talents.

During performance reviews, men tend to be good at looking after their own paths, whereas women tend to look after the firm. Most reviews look at billings, but when looking at overall team contribution, they tend to be nice things to talk about but not objectively measured. Firms need to look at how to better measure overall contribution because those who are more team orientated are likely allowing the big billers the space to work.

It seems law firms necessarily recruit more women because they enthusiastically join the profession. So doesn’t it make sense more than ever for these firms to ensure they are getting the very best out of their most valuable assets?

*Source: ALPMA/McLeod Duminy NZ Legal Industry Salary and HR Issues Survey Report 2016

Editor's Note

McLeod Duminy have partnered with ALPMA to support the 2017 Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey in New Zealand. Participation is free and now open to all law firms in New Zealand. Participants receive the comprehensive report, benchmarking salaries for more than 60 roles at law firms, for free (normally $550 for ALPMA members or $2,200 for non-members). For more information about how to participate in the survey click here.



About our Guest Blogger


Kirsty SpearsKirsty Spears is a specialist legal recruiter for McLeod Duminy, based in Auckland. She has almost twenty years legal recruitment experience in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. 

You are welcome to contact her on +64 27 458 9888 or kirsty@mcleodduminy.co.nz









ALPMA Member Q&A with Mark Beale, General Manager at Malley & Co

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

By Mark Beale, General Manager, Malley & Co.


In this ALPMA member Q&A, we interview Mark Beale, General Manager at Malley & Co, who shares his experience in the New Zealand legal industry and discusses what's in store for 2017.

What are you planning on doing more of this year? 

Having just completed eight days in Australia’s delightful Central Coast, it’s hard to personally go past more recreation time, but sadly I can hear the office calling me back. My insightful and pinpoint forecast for 2016 was of there being “change”, I’m going again with that this year. Change as they say is as good as a rest and more of that seems pretty compelling. There is plenty ahead of me on that front. 

On the professional front, I’m looking forward to the ALPMA Summit in Brisbane, which keeps getting better and bigger every year. The opportunity to network for those of us walking similar paths (sometimes as the lone manager in a firm) is incredibly useful and the quality presentations, always return you back to your firm with fresh ideas and inspired and reinvigorated. Professionally too, I have a big year ahead having only just moved into my new role with my firm in October last year. There are some exciting productivity and knowledge management projects, that I’m looking forward to leading for the firm as well as driving our own learning and development program for our up and coming lawyers.

What are you planning on doing less of?


The plan would be to work less but achieve more, I’ll get back to you on that.

How did you get started in the legal industry?

I’ve been involved with legal management in several firms over half my life. I was told several years ago that once you are immersed in law firm management it’s hard to extract yourself. The clairvoyant accountant, has been proven correct. I began my working life as a journalist in NZ but after two years working in London across a range of administration positions, I turned my focus towards management and more particularly systems administration in a legal practice. Things progressed and over the years I have worked in a range of management roles within legal firms involving technology, business development, human resources and finance functions. Oh, how I wished ALPMA existed back then!

After over six years in a smaller commercial and property law practice, last October I moved to a much larger full-service practice in Malley and Co. Having seen off the themes of reconstruction and business change which all Christchurch legal practices experienced after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in the city, it was simply time to change and look for fresh challenges that the new firm now offers.

What do you think is in store for the NZ legal industry this year?


I was at the NZLaw Association conference a couple of months ago and John Chisholm, the guest speaker, noted that in his opinion there had been more change in the legal industry over the last five years than in the preceding 30 that he had experienced. I have to agree (although John is older than me). The New Zealand legal industry is not exempt from these changes. Younger practitioners are confident, motivated, looking for development and challenge and expecting that their firms deliver the opportunities and the support systems to make them better lawyers. Pragmatically, the current owners of law firms have to ensure as part of their succession planning that their practice is modern, capable and an attractive proposition for their potential new business owners. Equally, firms have to deliver that same capability and attractiveness to a more savvy, researched and price sensitive new generation of clients. 

There is a lot of work ahead for legal practices in the coming five years on both sides of the Tasman. We are beginning to see the emergence of new providers of specialist support services in New Zealand, perhaps not to the same extent as in Australia yet, but their business propositions offer exciting opportunities for law firms to stay focused on their core deliverables to clients, while contracting out knowledge and practice support services with these new legal service providers. It’s very interesting.

How does ALPMA deliver on its promise to you?

I can’t believe how fortunate we are to have such an organisation providing a wealth of constant professional development opportunities for law firm managers. When I first started in law firm management, the most you could hope for was the ALA management periodicals and the occasional offshore conference. Times have changed. I’m incredibly proud to see how ALPMA has developed over the last few years. The development opportunities, the content we provide and the way it is delivered to managers in the city and countryside of Australia and New Zealand is world class. Finally, and on a more parochial note, I’m also particularly heartened by the New Zealand branch’s growth and how its membership has turned out at each Summit in increasing numbers. That tells me that ALPMA is meaningful, relevant and delivers to its member.


Editor's Note

Now is a great time to become an ALPMA member. Membership is a highly cost-effective investment in developing your leadership and management skills and extending your professional network. It will also give you valuable insights to help you improve your firm's performance in a complex and rapidly changing legal environment. ALPMA membership until 30 June, 2017 is just $A250 (ex GST) and less if you work outside the CBD or in New Zealand. ALPMA also offers generous discounts for firms that support multiple memberships.

Your membership includes free attendance at our regular practice management and Leading Your Firm events, free access to content in the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre - and much more. Join now.



About our Guest Blogger

Mark BealeMark is the General Manager at Malley & Co. He brings considerable legal management experience having worked for national and regional legal practices over the past 25 years. As General Manager at Malley & Co, Mark is responsible for ensuring the performance of the business across a range of management functions including finance, technology, business development and team resourcing.

Mark has a particular interest in developing and implementing business initiatives that focus on improving performance and delivering accessible and user friendly service to his firm's customers. 

Mark is a member of the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association and serves on the ALPMA New Zealand Executive Committee and the ALPMA Board.

Personal Reflections on 2016 by ALPMA President, Andrew Barnes

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

By Andrew Barnes, CFO, Lantern Legal Group and ALPMA President


When I think back on our year with ALPMA it is difficult not to dwell on the success of our Summit, held in September at Etihad Stadium Melbourne. The event is growing from year to year and this year to have record levels of attendees and trade exhibitors being added to an exceptional program was something we are very proud of as an Association.

On day one there was something for everyone, but many people still think back to the power of the speech given by Catherine McGregor about her life, her challenges, her opportunities. How she interwove so many relatable snippets into one incredibly moving story was a highlight. We were also fortunate to have:


  • The inimitable Ron Baker as MC
  • Dr George Beaton again reminding us that to stand still will probably mean we go backwards
  • Matthew Burgess taking us down the ‘Lean Startup’ path and challenging us to change and ‘fail fast'
  • Dr Bob Murray reminding us that ‘praise is the biggest weapon in a leader’s arsenal for change’
  • Steve Wingert and Andrew Price talking about change management in law firms in real, relatable language


In 2016 we have maintained our commitment to undertaking research projects aligned with our six pillars of Learning and Development and also the Thought Leadership Award presented annually at Summit. There is often so much that falls from these projects that it can all be quite overwhelming, but our position at ALPMA is that these are not one-size-fits-all and that there is something for every firm to take away and work with. Firms have different cultures and different life cycles and therefore do not fit neatly into the outcome synopsis in research projects. I suggest you have another read and choose something to work with … small steps are better than no steps!

Our research for 2016 is summarised here:


  • Finding quality staff remains the top HR challenge for law firms, more work to be done on diversity and inclusion at firms etc 


Any thoughts at this time of year always extend to thanking our fantastic team of volunteers on our Board and various committees across Australia and New Zealand. Thanks also to our support staff across the Association who do so much behind the scenes to bring our programs to life. We remain absolutely committed to ALPMA’s core promise to members. We are continually pleased with the way our membership engages with the association and enables us to remain aligned with their expectations. As our Board tries to navigate a way through an ever-increasing competitive landscape for professional development providers, we strive to balance immediate member needs with those of an Association who is more frequently competing to hold its’ profile and standing on a national and regional (international) basis. Thanks to everyone who have contributed in some way to us having a great 2016!

As we look forward to 2017 we can expect more than just business as usual. We have provided branches with extra budget funds to develop local initiatives and enhance the offering. This should ensure the core promise to members remains a focus and that there is a greater value proposition through the branch networks. Our National Learning & Development group is planning new workshops to complement existing programs. Our Summit committee has already commenced planning for Summit 2017 in September in Brisbane. We continue to work on collaborative relationships with groups such as the Australian Law Management Group (particularly after the success of our joint foray into Singapore in November), College of Law, CPD for Me and others in this space. It is a challenging time for Associations such as ALPMA but with those challenges come opportunities and we look forward to exploring these opportunities with our members.

Thanks for being part of ALPMA in 2016 and I wish you and your friends and families the very best for the festive season.


Editor's Note

This is the last ALPMA blog post for 2016. We look forward to the weekly posts resuming on January 3, 2017.

About our Guest Blogger

Andrew BarnesAndrew Barnes is the President of ALPMA. He is the financial controller for The Lantern Legal Group Pty Ltd, which practices under the firm names of Sladen Legal and Harwood Andrews.  He works closely with the principals to deliver strategic planning, reporting and budgeting initiatives and applies his robust commercial skills to drive continued business improvement.  Andrew worked in public practice, as well as financial services and broad industry roles prior to joining the firm in 2003




7 strategies for building a high performance culture

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

By Fiona Crawford, GM Human Resources, InfoTrack



‘High performance’ gets thrown around a lot these days as a new buzz word, but few businesses know what it is or how to define it. Everyone seems to be striving for it but many find it hard to articulate what exactly it means for their business. It is not as complicated as it seems – here are some simple steps to cultivate a high performance culture in your firm.

Define what high performance means for your business


High performance is something that should have a unique definition for every firm. What are your firm’s values and how do you expect your employees to fulfil them? What do you want to drive and motivate your employees? How will you define their success? Take the time to map this out – what are the characteristics you would expect from a high performance employee at your firm?

At InfoTrack, we have developed an employee value proposition defined by ‘effort over obligation’ – we expect our employees to come into work with a motivation and effort that overshadows any feeling of obligation. If employees are thinking about obligation, they’re missing out on opportunity - we are always thinking about opportunity and where it can next come from. We don’t dwell on what we are obliged to do and that’s why our workforce is brimming with ideas and innovation, and opportunities never pass us by.

Recruit the right people

Once you’ve defined what high performance means to you, you need to recruit the right people. A robust recruitment process should include clearly defined roles and expectations and be run by someone who understands your firm and its values. It should include multiple interviews with different people within your firm, and interviews should be designed to screen for high performance indicators that you are looking for. At InfoTrack, myself and our CEO take time to interview as many potential candidates as we can because we understand how important it is to our business to hire the right people.

Be transparent about your strategy

Being transparent about your firm’s strategy and goals helps foster a sense of trust and mutual understanding. The more employees understand what you’re working towards, the more enthusiastic and involved they will be. When employees can clearly see how their work is adding to the end goals of the firm as a whole they have a greater sense of purpose. At InfoTrack we have companywide update each 4 months to detail our new strategy to our employees across Australia so everyone knows what part they’re playing to reach our goals.

Don’t underestimate the importance of succession planning

Succession planning is key - be open and honest about opportunities for growth and ensure that you speak to employees about their careers and where they see themselves in the future. The clearer vision an employee has about the future of your firm and their place in it, the more dedicated and motivated they will be. It’s important to ensure there are no single points of failure to keep a business running at top performance.

Track employee engagement

Engagement occurs when employees feel an emotional connection to your firm and its goals. Employees essentially want three things; a meaningful vision of the future, a sense of purpose and great relationships. The more engaged employees feel, the more productive they are, the better service they provide and the longer they stay in their jobs. Engagement fosters a collaborative, empowered, innovative, productive and overall positive environment.

There are a number of ways to track engagement – ensuring open communication with employees along with regular reviews and opportunities for feedback is key. Having a formal system in place such as employee engagement surveys helps to hold you accountable and creates a measuring stick. Employees will appreciate the opportunity to give feedback and will feel that they are being listened to.

Seek out diversity

Diversity should be seen as a necessity in any modern firm. Employing people with a wide range of backgrounds brings a unique mix of talents, perspectives and experiences to your workforce. Having a variety of different viewpoints challenges people to think outside the box and encourages creativity and innovation. Diversity helps to ensure your firm will continue to evolve and can be a significant differentiator in today’s competitive market. It can not only help attract and retain the right employees, but also the right clients.

Recognise achievements

The power of reward and recognition should never be underestimated. Achievements of all kinds should be celebrated, from individual milestones to team and firm-wide efforts. Whether it’s a work anniversary or winning a big case, make sure employees feel acknowledged and appreciated. This doesn’t mean you have to break out the cake for every achievement, sometimes a thoughtful email will do and other times a real celebration will be in order –just make sure you take the time give kudos when they’re due.

Always remember that your employees are your most important asset; they are the face of your firm, they are the ones interacting with your clients every day and they will define your firm’s future. A high performing firm requires a high performance workforce.


About our Guest Blogger


Fiona Crawford
Fiona Crawford is GM of Human Resources at InfoTrack, proud principal partner of the 2016 ALPMA Legal Management Summit.

Fiona has been driving the strategic people agenda to keep pace with the growth at InfoTrack since September 2015. InfoTrack recently won an Australian Business Award for Employer of Choice 2016, and has also been among the Best Places to Work in Australia for 3 years running.

Fiona has a wide range of experience with over 15 years’ human resources, training and coaching across a range of industries including sport, fitness, finance, hospitality and automotive. She has operated her own HR consulting business and worked on start-up HR functions, transformational cultural change programs, mergers and acquisitions, and strategic and operational HR initiatives. Her uncompromising commitment to high performance and continual improvement stems from her sporting background - a two-time medal winning Olympian in softball (Silver 2004 and Bronze 2000).



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