A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

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.






Australian and New Zealand Legal Professional Outlook for 2018

Monday, March 12, 2018

By Sam Coupland, Director, FMRC


2017 was a turnaround year in the Australian and New Zealand legal profession. Despite media predictions of doom and gloom, financially at least, most firms had their strongest year for a long time.

There is no one-size-fits-all reason for this, but a number of factors are at play. On a macro level, the economies of both countries are improving, and on a micro basis, the tougher years have seen firms work hard on getting their personnel structure right, which has reduced unnecessary costs and the resultant fiscal drag.

My predictions for 2018 for the Australian and New Zealand legal profession:

Improved Profits

Good firms of all sizes will do well financially. Demand is increasing and so are the key drivers of profitability; namely, rates and hours.

In 2017 rack rates and realised rates for all categories of fee earner increased and the margin between rack rates and realised tightened. This was possibly helped by the ‘bigger bastard’ theory, where clients know (either through experience of osmosis) that other firms or a group of firms are charging a lot more. This applies to the total cost of matters, not just hourly rates.

For the first time in about ten years, recorded hours have increased. I know mentioning chargeable hours is anathema to many commentators, but it is still the predominant way of generating fees and is the best measure of utilisation within a firm.

With price and productivity increasing and a buoyant economy to operate in, 2018 should be a great year for good firms.

Personnel structure will continue to evolve

Leverage (the number of employed fee earners per equity principal) as a differentiator has almost disappeared. Clients are increasingly demanding senior lawyers do their work and they are prepared to pay for it. This coincides nicely with what senior lawyers want to do: after all, they trained to be lawyers not people managers.

I see the trend toward leaner teams continuing in 2018. For practices which do the high-end complex legal work, these teams will be a cluster of experienced senior lawyers with very little leverage. For the more commoditised work, firms will make greater use of technology and contractors to ensure those people on the payroll are fully utilised. Gap-filling by contractors will reduce the need for firms to have a large ‘standing army’ to cope with the peaks in demand.

More merger activity

There is interest at both ends of the acquisition / merger spectrum to do a deal where possible. Firms with an expansion mindset see acquiring a firm or practice group as the fastest and cheapest way to grow their business. They will usually have a support structure that can accommodate – both physically and managerially – an additional practice or two which provides economies of scale.

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

Cash payments for equity will become increasingly scarce

For firms of all size, a lockstep entry to equity is more common than dollars changing hands from the sale of equity between partners. Similarly a merger is more likely than a trade sale between firms.

The opportunity for the partners in a firm being acquired is usually the likelihood of earning more in the merged entity, plus a one-off opportunity to realise the firm’s balance sheet.

Like most of the economy, sale of law firm equity is becoming a buyer’s market.

Genuine innovation remains on the horizon.

Conferences will continue to be built around innovation, artificial intelligence and a general theme of ‘the machines are coming, so get on board now’. There is no doubt there is plenty of movement in this area but there are also limitations, least of which is widespread client acceptance. So the conference industry is safe for a few years yet.

About our Guest Blogger


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

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







Don't Automate - Obliterate!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

by Gene Turner, Managing Director, LawHawk

In a recent LinkedIn post, Tim Boyne (a founder of legal tech company LawVu) made a deliberately provocative statement:

“On average, less than 5% of the tasks lawyers do every day require a law degree. In some areas of law it's less than 1%. That means ~ 95% of the $Trillion NZD legal industry is up for grabs. There’s gold in the streets. Right now that bounty still belongs to traditional law firms and they're reaching for their trusty clubs and slingshots ready to go to war for it. The problem is that the venture backed LegalTech industry is building a high tech, robotic arsenal of weaponry the likes of which the world has never seen. There have been over 700 LegalTech startups created in the last few years. Each one of them looking for a piece of that action. Interesting times, and well worth everyone in the industry spending a little time thinking about how they'll maintain relevancy moving forward.”

Tim wanted a response, and he got it, including the following: 

  • Derision from a young lawyer, because Tim was not a lawyer, and therefore shouldn’t presume to comment on the topic of law; 

  • A comment by a partner of a law firm that her firm can already do whatever the legal technology (any of it apparently) does, better, and at a lower cost; and

  • Requests to know where the 95% figure had come from, and doubts as to whether it was accurate. 

  • There were assumptions that legal tech suppliers are looking to take work away from lawyers, rather than work with them; that legal technology is primarily for the high-end legal market, given that they have the most money; and that legal technology is still something that is coming, rather than here and available today. 
In response to these points, I would say: 

  • We should never dismiss an idea just because it did not come from a lawyer.  In this case, Tim has 10 years of experience managing IT for a law firm, and knows very well how law firms work.  But would it matter if he didn’t?  As ALPMA members know very well, non-lawyers such as practice managers and IT specialists already add a lot of value and ideas to the legal profession.  In the legal tech space, many vendors are looking to bring improvements to law which have already been proven in other sectors and we should be encouraging those ideas. 

  • Legal technology and law firms should not be mutually exclusive. Most of the legal technology suppliers I know would prefer to partner with law firms and help them use the “robotic arsenal of weaponry” to provide better services at better value, but many law firms don’t want to know about them.  Why? 

  • Law firms need to continuously try to improve the way they work, as any business does.  Everything can be done better – often dramatically so. Just a small amount of curiosity would allow law firms of any size to trial many of the technologies that are now available, and to see how much they can help to save time, reduce risk, improve quality, and win more work.  

  • It doesn’t matter where the 95% figure came from, or if it is totally accurate. As Warren Buffett has said, “It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong”, and I bet it is approximately right. Even if it was only 50% that would be substantial.  But take a minute to imagine if it is as high as 95%.  If new technology means that up to 95% of what the organisation does could be done at least as well – if not better – at lower costs, wouldn’t that be awesome?!  Any business owner should be excited by those type of opportunities for their business. 

  • Let’s not forget all the “legal” and “non-legal” (whatever that distinction means) work that law firms currently do not get, and never will if they keep working as they currently do, but could if they provided services clients wanted at a price they were prepared to pay.  Technology will enable law firms to understand and respond to their clients’ real problems and integrate into wider business processes in very profitable and enduring ways.  The potential market for lawyers’ services is far greater than what lawyers currently serve. 

  • Legal technology is absolutely not just for the large law firms, and you don’t need a lot of money to start using it today.  In fact, many of the solutions are cloud based and as available right now to small firms as large. Some legal technology such as document automation are far from new, having been available (but largely ignored by lawyers) for 20 years. 
Automation is essential for law firms.  It is already happening – with or without law firms - and those who adopt it will be able to offer profoundly different services to those who don’t.  Instead of cautiously seeking incremental improvements to the traditional ways lawyers work and focussing mainly on risks, lawyers should embrace the opportunities it provides to completely transform what lawyers can do. 

In September, I spoke at the 2017 ALPMA Summit on the topic “Don’t Automate – Obliterate” where I looked at the opportunities legal technology is opening up for lawyers, and how they can use it to reinvent the services they offer to their clients.  

Despite many lawyers’ ongoing resistance to change, I was pleased to be able to point to progressive firms like Page Seager, who recently launched Page Create, as examples of firms who are looking to use technology to create better ways to deliver legal services and greater value to clients through innovation.  I also enjoyed meeting a number of lawyers and legal technology vendors who are excited by the potential to re-engineer the way legal services are provided.  

As Tim says, “Interesting times, and well worth everyone in the industry spending a little time thinking about how they’ll maintain relevancy moving forward.”

Editor's Note:

Want to know more about legal technology opportunities for law firms? Watch Gene's presentation "Don't Automate - Obliterate!" session from the 2017 ALPMA Summit On-Demand for just $99 (incl GST) or purchase the whole package for just $395 (incl GST), thanks to the generous support of our Summit Live and On-Demand partner, BigHand.  

About our Guest Blogger

Gene Turner
Gene was a corporate & finance partner of Buddle Findlay from 2009 until retiring from partnership in 2014. In 2011 to 2013 he was ranked as a leading lawyer in both M&A and banking as a result of leading a number of substantial transactions such as the very successful $700m acquisition by Infratil and the NZ Super Fund of Shell’s New Zealand business.

Gene is now managing director of LawHawk – a ‘new law’ venture providing advanced automated legal documents via the HotDocs cloud and helping lawyers provide better quality services to their clients, faster, at lower prices that are more profitable. In March 2017, LawHawk and Wellington law firm Succeed Legal released a free online will that anyone in New Zealand can use.

Gene is on the advisory board of The College of Law Centre of Legal Innovation.

Rod McGeoch's 15-Point Credo for Leadership

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Rod McGeoch

The 2017 ALPMA Summit kicked off in Brisbane with an inspiring keynote presentation from Rod McGeoch AO, distinguished business man, leader of Sydney’s successful Olympics 2000 bid, and Co-Chairman of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum. 

Rod shared war stories from across his distinguished career ending with his 15-point personal credo, that he has generously agreed to share in this post.

Rod's Credo For Leadership


1. You must know your real strengths and weaknesses, not what you or others perceive are your strengths and weaknesses.  You must know whether you are at your peak in the mornings in in the evenings. Then plan around your peak performance times.

2. You must be aware that you do not get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate.

3. You must never say “Get it any price.”  Get it, and get the best price.

4. Timing is the most important thing; it is the only thing. You know it is better to be approximately right at exactly the right time, than to be exactly right at completely the wrong time.

5. You learn to operate by the 80/20 rule: you expect 80% of the result with 20% of the cost in 20% of the time. By the 80/20 rule, you achieve five times as much as those who strive for perfection.

6. You put your family first and your business second.

7. You read biographies. You seek mentors. You ask yourself what your mentors would do in each situation, not just what they would say.

8. You never apologise for wanting only exceptional people to work for you. And you pay those people well.

9. You congratulate employees publically but criticise them privately. You write 'thank you' notes and send them to your employees’ homes.

10. You put up whiteboards about production figures and costs.  After all, how would you like playing in a football game every day with no scores?

11. You never ask anyone to deliver what is beyond them.

12. You do not compete with the economy. The economy is the excuse people use for under performance. 

13. You protect your reputation. It is your most important asset.

14. You work long and you work smart. You work five to nine not nine to five.

15. You manage by walking around. You never tire of going to the shop floor where your people are. You ask them what you can do to help them do their job better.

You celebrate success and involve everyone in the celebrations.

Editor's Note:

You can watch most of the presentations from the 2017 ALPMA Summit - and share this with colleagues at your firm by purchasing the 2017 ALPMA Summit On-Demand package, proudly supported by BigHand.

About Rod McGeoch

Rod McGeochRod McGeoch has had a remarkable career at the forefront of business, sports administration and the legal profession. He unites exemplary senior level management experience with an unparalleled commitment to achievement.  Perhaps best known as the leader of Sydney's successful Olympics 2000 bid, he is Chairman or Director of a wide range of major corporations and past Chairman of Corrs Chambers Westgarth, one of Australia's largest law firms.

Rod McGeoch was described in an ABN AMRO report as one of Australasia's most influential Directors; his appointments included Chairman of Vantage Private Equity Group Limited and BGP Investments/Holdings plc. He is also a Director of Ramsay Health Care Limited and a member of the Board of Destination NSW and Sky City Entertainment Group Limited.

He is Co-Chairman of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum, a past President of the Law Society of NSW and a Member of the Order of Australia, awarded in recognition of his invaluable services to the legal profession.

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.

Are you well-connected? Embracing technology and tips for choosing legal technology for your practice

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

By Karen Lee, Principal of Legal Know-How, Legal Industry Advisor, SAI Global

The future is connectivity

The dictionary definition of connectivity is the state of being connected or interconnected. “The future is moving towards connectivity” is not an understatement. Did you know, by 2026, cars will communicate with each other and share information about road and weather conditions? They will also be connected to infrastructure such as smart highways and traffic lights, so they can propose a change of plan en route based on real-time conditions.

Connectivity and technology

With this in mind, would you consider driving a well-connected car, or would you opt not too? This pretty much is a rhetorical question as it has an obvious answer.

In a recent PwC report on the future of banking in Australia, the leading multinational professional services firm identifies that changing technology is one of six powerful forces that are reshaping the banking industry. Among other things, the report said that banks need to be more deeply connected to customers.

This, indeed, is true. Australians are known for being fast adopters of new technology, and in May 2017, European fintech company TransferWise found 78 per cent of Australians did their banking online. No doubt we have all observed that some banks have revamped the manner in which they offer products as well as services on mobile devices.

“The future is connectivity” spells true not only for the banking industry, but also other industries, including the legal industry.

Connectivity and legal practice management

Is connectivity relevant to legal practice managers? The answer is a definite yes. The Law Society of New South Wales’s 2017 FLIP report noted that “legal services and the legal profession are evolving in the context of increased connectivity.” FLIP is short the Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession. The FLIP report provides recommendations to enable lawyers to adapt to changes that are taking place. It also looks over the horizon in an effort to gauge what might lie ahead. One of the FLIP report’s findings is that connectivity raises new and great opportunities and threats for lawyers.


Undeniably, lawyers who are well-connected to technology enjoy many benefits. Recently, Lawyers Weekly

has a cover story on the “rebooting” of the legal profession. It reported that law firms are incorporating advance technology such as blockchain and e-signatures into their service propositions, and the “big wins” of embracing technology include increased client retention rates, flexibility and employee satisfaction, together with the ability to offer a more effective and efficient way of doing business. As you can see, being well-connected to technology also means you are well-connected to clients and staff. It also enables access to data, information and knowledge. Importantly, as we have highlighted in an earlier ALPMA blog post, the ability to generate useful commercial information (which impacts on the ability to create new knowledge) is at the heart of a law firm’s competitive advantage. Imagine this – you can extract and analyse data which can potentially be converted into insights, then present this knowledge in a format that enables decision makers to act, and you do this better than others in the market. Isn’t this a real competitive advantage?


In terms of threats, the Lawyers Weekly article reported that technology such as robo-lawyers and artificial intelligence are seen by some as taking jobs away from lawyers and damaging the way clients are advised. One can certainly argue that technology may pose a threat to the traditional way lawyers do business, but it is fair to say that technology also is an opportunity for lawyers to do business in a new and different way.

Lawyers cannot not embrace technology

We already know that technology is relevant to the business of law, but did you know that it is also relevant to the ethics of law?

Earlier this year, Dr Eugene Clark argued that lawyers cannot ethically avoid using technology tools. Dr Clark, as Dean and Professor of Law of the Sydney City School of Law, said lawyers must take responsibility for the digital security of client and other information, they must know about encryption and the risks and benefits of cloud computing, and they must be responsible for keeping up to date with technological advances and the issues they raise in relation to the delivery of legal services.


So, you know you must embrace technology. But how do you choose legal technology for your practice? What are the key things you should consider?

Tips for choosing legal software

Some people (such as lawyers) and some organisations (such as law firms) are scared of technology, and this leads to its slow adoption. Often, after a bit of investigation, the real reason for not embracing technology is not a fear of technology, but a fear that technology would not meet their needs. Here are some check points to help you choose a technology solution that will meet your needs:

  • Does your service provider offer a range of generic solutions which you can adopt at any time? For those who feel jumping into a completely new software system seems like a daunting proposition, starting first with a more generic solution could be a quick win and a confidence booster. May be all you need or all you are prepared to invest in for now in is an easy and reliable way to access people and company information. Once you realise that conducting your searches using certain technology will reduce the time spent sourcing and analysing the information by 49%, then trying a data visualisation tool to display people and company information and addresses their associations in an interactive visual workspace will not intimidate. In fact, once you have a taste of what technology can do, it can be exciting to learn how you can further leverage technology to improve efficiency!
  • Does your service provider offer a range of specific solutions which you can tailor to suit your needs? Look out for custom solutions with software integration that offers the specific functionality you need for your practice, be it workflow automation or document management.
  • Is it easy to use? Look out for legal software solutions that do not need expensive hardware or installations. For example, something that everyone can access through their ordinary web browser is highly flexible.

Choosing the right legal technology that meets a law firm’s needs can be a minefield at times. By selecting a service provider who can help you stocktake what you currently have and guide your transition into using more and better technology, you will be off to a good start. 

Editor's Note 


SAI Global are proud to be a Gold Partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit. To find out more about embracing technology and tips for choosing legal technology for your practice, join Richard Jones, Head of Segment and Strategic Sales, Property Corporate and Justin Cranna, National Key Account Manager at the 2017 ALPMA Summit Partner Connections sessions on Wednesday 13th September at 5pm at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. The Partner Connection presentations are free to attend and part of the public opening of the 2017 ALPMA Summit Trade Exhibition, the largest gathering of legal vendors under one roof in the Southern Hemisphere. If you (or your colleagues) would like to attend the free open afternoon from 3.30 to 6.00pm, simply register here. You do not need to be attending Summit to come along.

About our Guest Blogger

Karen LeeKaren Lee is the founder of Legal Know-How and a legal industry advisor for SAI Global for 2.5 years. 

SAI Global Property is a division of SAI Global, which provides organisations with information services and solutions for managing risk, achieving compliance and driving business improvement and operational efficiency. SAI Global Property supports a range of Australian industries with information and data services and business process outsourcing services that enable our customers to operate their businesses more efficiently and with less operational and financial risk.

SAI Global are proud to announce our strategic partnership with Practice Evolve, a full legal and conveyancing practice management software capable of managing all areas of your practice on one platform.

As an ALPMA member, we offer a complimentary discovery session to review your current systems, understand your processes and drive efficiencies throughout your business. Register for your technology check here.






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. 






The importance of being curious!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

By Matthew Hollings, Senior Business Development Manager, Law In Order


For all the hype around increased technology adoption within the legal industry, it is still incredibly common to find the more traditionalist approaches still being applied to even the simplest of legal functions. Review of email data, or .pst files, being one of the more typical examples we see at Law In Order.

However, I always look to remind myself that going back a few years, to my time as a practising lawyer, I too was none the wiser as to the alternative ways I could potentially approach and undertake some of the legal tasks I carried out day to day, such as the review of emails. The standard (manual) approach; of printing, ordering, reviewing, flagging, indexing and then producing a volume(s) of relevant documents, was the one that, despite its inefficiencies, was still widely considered as effective, and certainly the agreed approach. And because that approach didn’t make the task practicably impossible, there was no incentive to change.

But there is one thing that my time in the legal technology industry has taught me and that is to question everything, preferably well before the platform burns below you. We are currently in a golden age of technology, and one which is having significant impact on the legal industry. Those who begin to be, and remain curious are those who will stand to benefit from the adoption of technology, and ultimately stay ahead of the game.

I certainly regret not questioning more as a lawyer; had I maintained the same curious outlook I had as a student, I may have discovered that our approach to things like email review, could have been completely transformed, automated and accelerated.

Having had many conversations with lawyers and legal professionals, at varying levels, and from various areas of practice, I know that remaining curious is sometimes difficult to do given all the other pressures you face on a daily basis. However, at Law In Order, we see first-hand how those that are committed to gaining a better understanding of available technology tend to be seeing tremendous benefits in their day to day work. Those benefits can stem from something as simple as the email review acceleration, through to more advanced solutions such as process automation and machine learning.

So as a lawyer, or someone working within or related to law (whether that be in private practice, in-house or government), make it your responsibility to drive technology exploration and adoption in your day to day work, in your practice group and in your firm – stay curious!

Editor's Note

Law in Order are the proud Pre-Summit Workshop Partner for "Personal Productivity in the 21st Century Workplace" by Dermot Crowley on Wednesday 13 September at 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! 

About our Guest Blogger


Matthew HollingsMatthew Hollings is a Senior Business Development Manager at Law In Order. Law In Order is an international legal solutions provider who specialize in legal document production, managed discovery services and eCourt/eTrial technology.
Matt joined Law In Order following his experience as a lawyer in the litigation team of a national law firm and one of Australia’s leading financial institutions. At Law In Order, Matt is tasked with driving change within the legal teams of private practice firms, government agencies and corporates. By using his prior experience as a lawyer he aims to educate the modern legal professional about alternative technological workflows available to them that look to solve the daily challenges posed by an increasingly complex legal landscape.



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.





  Subscribe to receive posts as email

Recent Posts


Tags


Archive

Australian Corporate Partners


Principal Summit Partner

Thought Leadership Awards Partner