A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

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

Monday, March 19, 2018

By Sue-Ella Prodonovich, Principal, Prodonovich Advisory

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

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

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

1. Speak to your clients

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

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

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

2. Look for triggers

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Call dead leads

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

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

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

4. Change your targets

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

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

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

5. Repackage

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

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

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

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

6. Open up the floor

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

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

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

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

7. Get professional help

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

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

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

About our Guest Blogger

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

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.

How to maximise engagement from social media

Sunday, January 21, 2018

By Nicole Shelley, Operations Manager, Pepper IT 

There is still some hesitation within the Australasian legal industry to embrace digital marketing, including a presence on social media channels.

Some barriers include:

  • a lack of understanding on how to determine the return on investment;

  • a lack of insider industry knowledge around digital marketing and in particular, how this translates into a professional services context. 
The platforms developed to be ‘social’ with family and friends have evolved into the most effective platform on which to share your firms’ stories, successes and values. It’s your opportunity to speak directly to your clients in bulk. Once you gain an understanding the fundamentals, social media for law firms really becomes an effective and essential marketing and client engagement tool.

From our experience, the two largest initial roadblocks are:
  1. How to successfully start. Where do we start? 

  2. How to create social media content. Having the knowledge around what to write about, what to post, when to post, where to post and how to post your content.

Where to start with your digital marketing strategy 

When kicking off any communication and marketing strategy, law firms always carefully consider, and many battle with, the thought of ‘handing over’ their firms’ public facing voice to either an internal marketing team or an external agency.

We generally see that ‘letting go’ is overcome by 1 of 3 factors.

  • It’s brought to the firm’s attention that competitors successfully navigate social media and there is the reactionary position to do the same;
  • Digital savvy senior leaders of the firm champion these initiates; and/or
  • Engaging the right resource to successfully develop, manage and implement digital marketing is key. 

How to allocate the right resources to your digital marketing strategy

Allocating the right resource to managing your digital marketing social media management is an important part of planning for the firm success.

Whilst you may have a junior staff member who is a “super user” and very engaged with posting in a personal context, they may not have the business knowledge and marketing strategy know-how to frame your online communications in the best way. It’s not simply a matter of handing it to a ‘gen y’ or ‘millennial’.

The nature of social is dynamic. Platform algorithms (the science and technology behind how social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn actually work) are always changing and it’s incredibly time consuming to keep on top of it all. This should also be another consideration when setting the digital marketing team up for success. Allow your inhouse team the capacity to continuously upskill and stay abreast of developments; just like lawyers upskill in legislative changes through their CPD programs.

Overcoming this allocation of the right resource, gives comfort to firms. Unfortunately, this can be a long road to success particularly for smaller law firms, many whom initially pilot social media marketing with the resources they have at hand, creating an often less than desirable initial outcome. In turn, if your initial foray into social media is unsuccessful, you may not continue and, in our view, this is a big mistake.

Social media marketing content planning

To help keep your social media tone of voice true to your firm and your content relevant to what you do and for whom you do it (your audience), we recommend having a strategy which loosely follows a 5-3-2 content framework.

  • Five pieces of content should focus on your industry. For specialist law firms this may be changes in family or property law for example or for firms with a broader service offering, don’t be afraid show the breadth of your offering across social media. If you do both family and property law do not be afraid to share both industry updates on your social media platforms. This provides a good opportunity for client cross selling.                                                                                                                                                                     
  • In curating/creating these 5 pieces of content, leverage current and relevant industry news and events. Keep in mind your target client audience. This will facilitate conversation and assist to position your firm as thought leaders. 
  • Three of the ten posts can be used to specifically promote your firm, your practice areas and your lawyers’ expertise. This can include client success stories, lawyer speaking engagements or sharing news and insights from the firm’s website. 
  • Now it’s time to showcase your firm values by sharing posts that highlight organisational core values. In addition, showing your audience that your firm has a human side is a great way to build familiarity and trust. This can be inclusive of events like team fun runs and sporting events or pro-bono and charity work. Professional services firms are in the people industry and social media provides an opportunity to showcase human experiences and values that align with clients or potential clients own values. 

While this is a guide and some weeks this will need to change and flex for business reasons, we do recommend posting on average of at least 7 - 10 posts per week. More content is usually preferable than less content, but don’t post for the sake of posting. The quality of your content should be your top priority.

What can you learn from the mistakes of others?

There are two common mistakes most people/companies will make when embarking on their social media content journey. The first mistake is thinking firms have nothing valuable to share on their social media platforms.

This is simply not true. Take a step back and appreciate the tribal knowledge that is held within the firm and transfer this into content that is easy to digest and appealing to the intended audience, your clients and industry.

The second mistake is doing the opposite - going overboard on sales pitch or another of the above elements and therefore not having a balanced and rounded approach. You can have a little bit of ‘me, me, me’ but you need to have a lot of ‘you, you, you’.

Finally, a holistic approach is essential to social media management. There must be a strategy. There is no point if your posting is ad hoc, inconsistent in the content and regularity of posting or irrelevant to your audience.

Your social media tactics and strategy must be a piece of both your digital marketing and traditional marketing mix.

About our Guest Blogger

Nicole ShelleyNicole Shelley B.Com, CPA, CIMA is Operations Manager at Pepper IT, a full service digital and social media agency with a particular expertise advising clients in the professional services sector.

As a qualified accountant and working at top tier global law firm Herbert Smith Freehills in various strategy and practice management roles, Nicole understands the unique operating environment of law firms. Combining her background with her marketing expertise Nicole works with professional services firm across Asia Pacific on digital marketing.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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 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.

Incentivising the New Normal

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Costs Cover advert

By Timothy B. Corcoran, Principal, Corcoran Consulting Group, LLC

Businesses that don’t merely endure but thrive over extended time periods tend to attract and foster leaders who establish and maintain tight alignment between business strategy and business execution. Unfocused businesses with unfocused leaders generate sub-optimal financial performance even when things are going well. But when permanent market disruptions occur, a certainty in every market segment, unfocused businesses with unfocused leaders tend to flail until they’re acquired, dissolved, or relegated to a shadow of their former strength. This is a lesson that many law firm leaders have learned.

As law firm leaders valiantly struggle to overcome the consequences of market changes and maintain market share, they face several obstacles: Law firm partners don’t enjoy losing the autonomy to run their practices as they wish; most firms take an undisciplined “whack a mole” approach to driving change, responding primarily to variable client demand; and there are minimal rewards for partners to change behaviour. We won’t address the discipline of change management here, other than to say this: Leaders can’t drive change if they lack a comprehensive understanding of their law firm ecosystem and how each business function connects and interconnects with others. Without a multi-faceted and multi-year master plan, the odds of landing on the appropriate formula are significantly diminished. But let’s assume such a plan exists. Now what?

Follow the Money

If we hope to thrive in the new normal, we need to know how we make money, and how this has changed given the market disruptions. Law firms tend rely on a scant few performance metrics, most of which are focused on production, most of which are wholly internally-focused, and most of which are inefficient proxies for what we really wish to measure: profitability. For our purposes, profitability isn’t a crass or one-sided measurement. It’s a scorecard that reflects how well the law firm has deployed its unique assets to meet a market need in a way that’s mutually beneficial to the buyer and seller. Calculated properly, profits are a measure of long-term client satisfaction, not of “beating” the client in an adversarial game.

So we must understand the building blocks of our business, working ever backward from aggregate results, to the practices and offerings generating those results, to the matter types and activities contained therein, to the efforts necessary to win more of these activities. When we truly understand all that we do, and what we do well, and where we can improve, we can start to identify the critical behaviours necessary to generate greater success.

Acknowledge Different Contributions

Many law firms were built by exceptional lawyers who were as accomplished at generating business as offering legal advice, who were exceptional mentors and coaches, who were as adept with strategy as with operations. This is not most of us.

A successful law firm is comprised of different roles, different skill sets, different contributions. It’s necessary to understand the combination of contributions that generates success. Otherwise we risk the false assumption that “Success is primarily driven by business generation” or its opposite fallacy “We’re successful because we have top practitioners.” Of course these are true, just as a dozen other factors play a critical role. Only by understanding the unique combination of contributions by different lawyers with different skills can we establish a roadmap for replicating our success. However, we must acknowledge a fundamental truth: some contributions are more valuable than others, and this value may differ by practice, by matter type, by business cycle, by client industry, by year. Our objective in identifying critical behaviours is to maximise the contributions of all lawyers, rather than dilute our performance by asking, or allowing, lawyers to pursue that which is not their highest and best use.

Drive and Reward

Law firm partner compensation schemes, whether lockstep or eat-what-you-kill, subjective or formulaic, open or closed, tend to share one overriding flaw: they fail to proactively and clearly define the behaviours expected of partners in order to drive such behaviour. Instead, rewards are issued at year-end, in a process oft-shrouded in mystery, to partners who may not know what specific actions were valued, and how their specific contributions were valued relative to their peers. Changing lawyer behaviours requires leaders to set expectations in advance and to identify the rewards associated with the desired behaviours. Lawyers, generally acknowledged as averse to risk and uncertainty, are more likely to be dissatisfied when the incentive scheme is opaque rather than transparent. Managing expectations in this manner also helps to reduce feelings of inequity, because partners know the rewards associated with various behaviours and those willing to adapt can access different rewards.

There’s an old saying: If your compensation plan and your business strategy aren’t in alignment, then your compensation plan is your business strategy. This isn’t a reflection of selfish partner behaviour. In fact it’s the opposite. Sensible partners trust that their leaders have established an incentive scheme that rewards lawyers for activities that are beneficial to the firm. When leaders expect partners to act against their economic self-interest “for the good of the firm,” this isn’t boorish partner behaviour. This is simply inept management. It’s the leaders’ obligation to create alignment. The goal: What’s good for the partner is what’s good for the partnership. Settling for anything less than that outcome, and what’s good for the partnership might be better leaders.

Editor's Note

2017 ALPMA SummitTim Corcoran is a keynote speaker at the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13-15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. His presentation "Incentivising the New Normal: Linking what's good for the partner to what's good for the partnership"  covers the importance of communication and how to embrace a collaborative approach. This year's Summit theme, Sailing the 4C's, focuses on the critical 21st century learning skills of Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking and Creativity. Registration is now open for the 2017 ALPMA Summit, and there are great savings for those who register early! Register now!

About our Guest Blogger

Tim Corcoran

Timothy B. Corcoran is a New York-based management consultant with a global client base. A former CEO and corporate executive with several multinational businesses, his specialty is helping law firm and law department leaders adapt and adopt time-tested business practices in order to profit in a time of great change. Tim is past president of the international Legal Marketing Association, a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, faculty and affiliated consultant with Legal Lean Sigma Institute, a member of the Association of Legal Administrators, a regular keynote speaker at legal industry conferences, and author of the widely-read Corcoran’s Business of Law blog. He was recognised by LawDragon in its 100 Leading Consultants and Strategists for 2016.

Want to know the one simple thing that might save your firm?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

By Leticia Mooney, Director, Brutal Pixie

Did you mindfully design service to be a strategic element of your firm? Chances are you didn’t, or haven’t. But designing the service may well make the difference between a firm that survives the ‘lawpocalypse’, and one that doesn’t.

Nobody has the solution to the problems we believe that our businesses are facing. Marketers tell us to do one thing, technologists another, business gurus something else. We seem to be in an age when we have to be doing many things outside of core business, just in order to survive. Some lawyers believe robots will take their jobs, others that robots are the promised land.

So, where in all of this thinking, are the people you are serving?

Somewhere in the middle of all of the things we ought to be doing, we have to deliver services to people. We have to do what we promise and what we’re good at. The challenge for law is to stop looking at its own bellybutton, and start gazing deep into its customers’ eyes. Just being a firm with great lawyers won’t be good enough in the long term.

If your firm is like the vast majority of businesses in Australia, the delivery of your service has been something of a default. Working out where that default has come from can be quite tricky.

Generally, though, the style of service that we put in place in our businesses comes from one of two places:

  1.  Prior examples, in other firms or businesses in which we’ve worked, where things were done a certain way (and seemed to be the way things are done)

  2.  Prior bad examples, of the kinds of things we hated and swore we would do differently.
But beyond this point? Most of our time is spent thinking about what we want to do. We spend our time thinking about the work that we need to complete, about how busy we are, about how much more business we need.

It’s pretty rare that we focus those questions on the people who come to us. We don’t often stop to wonder what they need to do, the work that they need to complete, about how busy they are, and what your service means to them.

Enter, service design.

Service design is the bridge between strategy and customer experience. It happens when you stop and ‘rethink, reimagine, and re-create every stage and aspect of interaction between customers and your company, regardless of what is being sold and whether a transaction actually occurs’.[1]

A consistent business is not consistent by accident, but by design. It requires us to be proactive in every sense. It’s a removal of friction, from the customer end. More importantly, great service is a result of it being woven into the fabric of your business. It’s not something that is at the whim of management, intentions, or even the culture. If you don’t create it, it doesn’t exist.

Law isn’t designed to think this way. Most firms, which are ultimately run by lawyers, have never been introduced to this level of detailed corporate strategy, or this level of product design. Most business models, even in law, learned from manufacturing: Where ‘metrics are based on the quantity and quality of finished goods’[2] rather than the value of your interaction with customers.

That interaction is where the service happens. The quality of that interaction is the point on which the longevity of your firm rests. It’s not in the technology, the way you bill people, or even what kind of niche you target; though, your service design will consider all three. In the 21st century, what will make the difference between your firm and another one will be in how beautifully you’ve designed the service to remove friction from people’s lives.

You won’t instinctively know how to measure that value. In fact, it’s likely that even if you do have a clear corporate strategy for your firm (which many don’t), that you won’t have designed the service within it. Even the most customer-focused enterprises somehow seem to leave the client stuff out of their strategic documents; ultimately, it’s their downfall.

Customer journey maps are the plans and activities of the hour, it seems. But knowing who your customers are, where they come from, and how you capture them is literally just the surface. Delightful service design goes beyond that work and reworks the interactions at every stage, at every touchpoint, on that journey. It also considers service over a client lifetime, and not just ‘how do we bring them in’.

By going right back to the basics of great relationships, and standing in your clients’ shoes, you will be able to truly shift your practice or firm, and position it more strongly in the face of an uncertain future.

[1] The Art of Customer Delight, Strategy+Business, 1 Nov 2016. URL: https://www.strategy-business.com/article/The-Art-of-Customer-Delight?gko=e9da8. 
[2] ibid.

Editor’s Note

2017 ALPMA SummitWant to know more? Leticia is a speaker at the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13 – 15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. She will be talking about using creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication to rethink how you relate to your clientele.

You can learn more about delightful service design, and how to start reimagining the service of your firm at her upcoming online workshop.

About our Guest Blogger

Leticia MooneyLeticia Mooney is the Director of Brutal Pixie, a company that partners with law firms to improve how they relate to people. Leticia is passionate about making communication human, and believes that it's in our humanity that we'll find our success.

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