A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

5 Five Year Predictions

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

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By Joel Barolsky, Founder and MD of Barolsky Advisors and Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne Law School


The two questions that every small and boutique firm needs to ask are:

1. Where is the legal market headed over the next five years; and

2. What should we do about it?

This blog post attempts to address the first question. The second will be covered during my 2017 ALPMA Summit presentation.


Before launching into my five-year predictions, it important to stress that I’m focusing on the market for legal services for individuals, families, and the smaller-end of SMEs.

Prediction #1: The market will be bigger than it is today


One of the major benefits of growth of online legal providers, is that it’s made the law far more accessible and affordable. Everyone can now access simple legal agreements, forms and advice for relatively a low cost. The experience of fast-expanding legal enterprises in the USA, like LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and AVVO, points to market growth coming from new clients seeking legal advice for the first time. Technology and scalable delivery models are unearthing the latent demand for legal services. I’d expect a similar trend here in Australia.

The rise in Australian property value is also likely to expand the market over the next five years. This means the stakes, complexities and risks are much higher for the majority of family law, probate/estate and property matters, as well as many commercial transactions. The role and involvement of lawyers is only likely increase when interested parties have more to gain, or lose.

Prediction #2: Strong retail brands will emerge


Over a lifetime, a typical family may need legal advice for property purchases, employment issues, insurance claims, marital disputes, estate planning and settlements. In Australia, there are no trusted ‘lawyer-agnostic’ retail legal brands offering a lifetime service relationship. By lawyer-agnostic, I mean clients buying a brand rather than an individual. To me, this is a major gap in the market that someone is likely to fill.


Slater & Gordon was on this path prior to their UK troubles. The other leading personal injury firms seem to be sticking to their knitting for the moment. The onliners, like Lawpath and LegalVision, are still relatively small and appear to be undercapitalised for a major brand assault.

This opportunity may be pursued by major service providers like the banks, insurers or super funds. It could also emerge as an adjacent strategy from leading accounting and financial planning firms.

Prediction #3: Costs will decline (for the innovators)


One of my clients, a 12-partner corporate and commercial firm, recently outsourced their entire IT function and moved almost everything to the cloud. The managing partner stated that this approach has more than halved the costs of IT and eliminated most of the headaches. They are now exploring other outsourcing solutions across their firm.

Another client has shifted one-quarter of her permanent workforce onto contract and now engages these lawyers as and when she needs them. By ‘chasing demand’ with a flexible talent pool she has shifted demand risk and lowered her costs significantly.

Stanford Law School’s TechIndex lists 716 technology companies currently developing solutions for law firms to become more efficient and effective. I predict a 5 to 10% per annum productivity gain for those firms open to innovation and willing to experiment with some of these new tools.

A simple example is the new proof-reading and document drafting application, jEugene. For a low monthly subscription fee, jEugene can potentially save hours in preparing and reviewing legal documents. As a SAAS solution, it has few entry and exit barriers and is perfect for small and boutique firms.

Prediction #4: Disputes won’t be disrupted


While technology can improve case prediction, discovery, research and other process elements of disputes, there is a very human role to play in handling the strategic and emotional nuances of legal conflicts and litigation. Not only is there a strong human element, it’s an area where lawyers have a natural advantage given the structural constraints of the judicial system and regulators. This advantage is likely to be sustained for many years to come.

Prediction #5: Invisible competition will grow


Thomson Reuters data suggests that the larger firms in Australia have reduced their overall headcount by around 7% over the past three years. Many of those leaving have continued to practice as freelancers.

At the other end of the career spectrum, this year, Australia’s 39 law schools will produce over 7,500 law graduates. A significant proportion of these graduates will enter the legal market in some form as freelancers or contingent workers.

The growth of the legal freelancer is the greatest threat to small and boutique firms. These freelancers operate with low overheads and maximum flexibility. They use the same powerful personal branding and social networking tools as everyone else. They can also access sophisticated practice management, legal research and CPD services for minimal cost online. The advantages of firm over freelancer seem to be less significant by the day.

In conclusion


With so much change and progress predicted, those firms that just stand still will go backwards. The market will reward the innovators and punish the laggards. Which one do you want to be?

PS. See you in Brisbane on Friday 15 September 2017 at ALPMA Summit for Part 2.

Editor's Note

ALPMA SummitJoel Barolsky will be speaking about the "State of the Australasian Legal Market and strategic implications for small, focus and boutique firms" at the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13-15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. 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


Joel BarolskyFor the past 28 years, Joel has helped law, accounting and other business advisory firms plan, innovate and grow.

In addition to heading up Barolsky Advisors, Joel is a Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne and a former Principal of Beaton Research & Consulting. Joel has advised over 100 of Australia’s leading professional service organisations. Over 70% of his client are repeat clients or come directly from referrals from existing clients.

He is a recognised thought-leader evidenced by regular conference keynotes, press mentions and the global reach of his blog, Relationship Capital. Joel’s teaching roles at the University of Melbourne include delivery of an intensive subject on the Melbourne Law Masters program called, ‘Management for Professionals’.

He has in-depth expertise in the fields of strategy, culture, change, organisation design and business development.


Managing Brand Integration

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

By Tineke Mann, eBusiness Manager, TIMG 


Mergers and acquisitions are common in the legal sector – but as many who have embarked down this path know, getting the post-acquisition integration right is not always easy! In this post, we share some of the key learnings from our acquisition of LitSupport in the hope that this will help you on your journey.

The Information Management Group (TIMG) embarked upon the challenge of successfully acquiring a complementary brand to enhance their service offering in early 2014. TIMG solve information management problems daily for thousands of businesses, large and small, in every major industry, across Australia and New Zealand. Our offering is simple; help clients store, manage, integrate and access important information securely, compliantly and effortlessly.

By December 2014, TIMG successfully acquired LitSupport; a leading organisation that specialises in providing secure and confidential information management services to law firms and corporate legal departments. The brainchild of Val Pitt some 20 years ago, LitSupport grew from a home-based business to a national organisation with over 130 employees and a service network spanning Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Why integrate?


Why would LitSupport embrace being absorbed into TIMG you may ask? 

“Times were changing. The legal industry was and is facing increasing pressure to improve performance and manage costs across all areas of operations” Val Pitt, Communications Manager, LitSupport said. “A union with TIMG enables us to deliver greater efficiencies and innovative solutions for our clients.”

TIMG similarly identified the need for innovation in the managed services and information management space. 

Chris Cotterrell, General Manager TIMG Australia recognised the need to provide a complete service offering to clients, ensuring they continued to grow and revolutionise the space.

“Investigations were completed by Ernst & Young, our parent company Freightways and TIMG management and it was decided that LitSupport offered the services we needed to compete in our industry, as well as offering an excellent cultural fit for both teams”.

The combined expertise in both companies has seen a positive outcome with TIMG now offering a full suite of services with greater capabilities to their clients. 

The integration challenges


The transition, however, has not been easy and has had opposing challenges for both parties in different ways.

Val acknowledges the positives and negatives that have accompanied the journey and acquisition of LitSupport within TIMG. 

“The hardest part for me has been letting go of decision making after twenty-one years of being the key decision maker. In contrast, the most rewarding part of the integration has been being part of a much larger organisation where accountability is shared and you are surrounded by many levels of support and expertise”.

The journey for TIMG has been focused on driving the acquisition from a strategic perspective, ensuring goals in the immediate future and in years to come are achieved. 

“There were areas we needed to tackle head on, areas that required a longer strategy to ensure a smooth transition, and areas we had little control over,” Chris said.

Mr Cotterrell explains how an earn-out period is still in place until 1 July 2017 and resulted in TIMG having limited authority for the first two and a half years of the acquisition which came with its own set of challenges.

Consideration factors in brand acquisition extend far beyond the immediate strategic vision. Chris Cotterrell explains: 

“Culturally, it’s difficult to integrate small owned business structures with a larger organisation that operate with a more corporate structure and related governance”.

“TIMG managers and those involved with LitSupport have been very excited about the service offering and the value this service will have for TIMG clients. TIMG has successfully signed an agreement with Ringtail to resell it as LitReview in line with the TIMG branding. This is an exciting development as legal and corporate clients will now have access to the most advanced eDiscovery tools” he continues.

Advice for others


With every acquisition, ensuring clear communication to clients is vital. 

“Branding and synergies will be the main focus in our immediate plans, with a five-year aim to triple the digitisation and processing revenue” Chris states.

As with all business changes, learnings will be had and will be different depending on the side of the table you sit at. 

Val recalls the experience: “I would not have changed a thing. I never look back – the future is way too bright. If I could offer advice to an organisation exploring the same avenue, I would encourage them to choose carefully, be prepared for change and commit to a successful merger”.

For TIMG the acquisition and integration challenges continue as the company continues to grow. 

At the start of the acquisition, integrating finance and payroll was prioritised; swiftly followed by the integration of CRM and job management to ensure client workflow remained unaffected.

“We should have taken a much more active role in cost control at that point of the journey. Costs blew out and bringing these back in line has been a painful process” Chris recalls. 

Internal considerations should also be allowed for, he said.

“More time should have been spent earlier with LitSupport staff to help them adjust to our wider vision. It’s taken almost three years to adjust the view that we are not two separate businesses, but one; TIMG.” 

As Chris highlights, people and their behaviours play an important role in any acquisition, and the management of these behaviours is time-consuming but necessary to provide clear vision and to set realistic expectations.

“If I could advise a business who were about to take on a similar journey, I would advise them to manage expectations, review systems and processes and don’t assume they will be compliant just because of certifications. 

Above all, make sure the cultures of the two businesses will work well together” Chis advises.

About our Guest Blogger


Tineke MannTineke Mann is the eBusiness Manager for TIMG, the information management service provider. Tineke is passionate about helping lawyers simplify their work-life through more efficient management of records and top data security. In addition to working closely with a range of clients tailoring solutions, she manages teams of eDiscovery experts, Online Backup specialists and in-house developers.









Embedding 21st Century Skills in Your Firm

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

By Ann-Maree David, 2017 ALPMA Summit Chair



By now, we all know that the legal industry is in the midst of unprecedented disruption. Successive ALPMA Summits have focused on all that is new and evolving - modes of working; technology; systems; understanding clients as customers; NewLaw. The focus has been on helping firms understand what is coming.

In 2017, our focus as legal industry leaders needs to go deeper and become reflective, examining how to effect change, to innovate, to participate in and ultimately thrive amidst constant and rapid-fire of a changing legal landscape.

We need to ask ourselves – ‘how well is my firm prepared to weather this storm?’

‘Have we set ourselves on a pathway for success or are we just paying lip service to the idea of change – while continuing on with business as it has always been?'

And we need to accept that this requires fundamental changes to everyone’s mindset, to the firm’s culture and to the very way that it does business.

The ALPMA Summit Committee too has been reflecting on these issues. And to this end, our 2017 program centres on four core 21st century skills:

creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking, as defined by the influential P21 organisation.

If you think we’ve swapped the annual Summit for a HR forum on soft skills, think again!

While these are each core interpersonal skills and competencies essential for succeeding in the ‘Gig economy’, they also speak directly to an organisation’s systems and processes, its strategy and value proposition and, most importantly, the management style of every successful organisation’s leadership team.


Let me explain further.

Creativity


In the “old” world of work, professionals built mastery in specific skills – for example, law; finance and accounting; economics. Obviously, those skill sets remain valid and valued. However, when a problem falls outside a specific skill set, creativity and innovation are required to build pragmatic solutions.

Creativity is more than coming up with new ideas; that is merely imagination at play. Creativity requires grunt, a willingness to take risks, and a commercial appetite for investing in ideas to allow them to become reality, perhaps after many iterations. In what has become a truly commoditised world, creativity is what distinguishes one organisation from all the rest.

Creativity is most often seen as a feature of culture. Take a look at some of the innovative giants of our time – Google, Apple, Tesla. Or closer to home, the Big 4 accounting firms and NewLaw firms which are now evolving into our strongest competitors and in some cases led by your former partners or employees. Creative problem solvers are drawn to organisations that promote autonomy and an innovative mindset and encourage and reward thinking and doing things differently.


Creativity also goes to the core of strategy: changing the conservative way of doing business, opening the corporate mind to new drivers and new behaviours to proactively participate in disruption rather than simply be disrupted or, worse still, be left behind as collateral damage. And while often perceived as “freewheeling” and without bounds, creativity should be viewed for what it can generate if resourced appropriately in terms of time, money and training.

Collaboration


Many law firms are still structured to leverage individual skill for the firm’s benefit and to measure and reward solo efforts in terms of productivity, billability and performance. Yet today, collaboration in and between cross-functional teams, workplaces, companies, sectors and countries is the norm.


Thanks to heightened connectivity, there is a very real expectation that individuals may work flexibly and/or virtually. They need to be capable of self-direction but at the same time equipped with strong team-building and participation skills. And while the ability to work together evidences successful work practices and processes, it is the end result of that collaborative effort that affects the bottom line. Collaboration across diverse networks both internally and externally featuring unique expertise and perspectives will give rise to a greater variety of ideas, solutions and innovation than can be generated alone.


Adding clients and even competitors to the collaborative mix is gaining traction in some areas of laws, as firms scramble to retain clients demanding better value and deeper understanding of their business from law firms.

Critical Thinking


Critical thinking is part of a suite of higher-order thinking skills which also includes problem solving. Critical thinking can be described as the systematic process of identifying, analyzing and solving problems. It entails reflection and independent thought rather than reliance on intuition or instinct. It can be distinguished from the traditional experience of learning or accumulating facts or knowledge, the aim of which is simply retention. Critical thinking encompasses making sense of what has been learned and then applying it to new situations.

Critical thinking as a skill is becoming ever more valuable as the rapidly changing and complex world throws up more and more novel situations and problems which cannot be resolved using a traditional mindset. Critical thinking is also essential to cut through the masses of information and data that are so readily available online.

But critical-thinking doesn’t just happen spontaneously! It is a learned skill that needs to be nurtured and encouraged, embedded within the firm DNA. It has to be ok for your most junior staff to question your Managing Partner on why things are done in a particular way – and then supported in creating and implementing a better way.

Ask yourself – ‘when was the last time that this happened at my firm?’

Communication


Oral and written communication sits at the very core of any legal practice. However, in the 21st century, the framework of business and interpersonal communication has fundamentally changed. Once considered effective if there had been a simple transmission of information from one source to another, today communication involves a complex system of synchronous and asynchronous messaging often between a myriad of parties from all over the world, across multiple technology platforms operating 24 x 7, 365 days per year (and not just when your firm is open!) This is an evolving feast – and achieving cut through in this clutter requires new skills and a completely different approach from simply sending out a newsletter once per quarter and banging up a website.

21st Century Leadership


Most importantly, each of the 4C's speak to leadership. Law firm leaders and management teams are having to respond to unprecedented threats and opportunities. They have two choices: assume a defensive posture or adapt and thrive. Modelling traditional leadership qualities such as confidence and courage and optimism – and embracing collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication - sends messages which reach far beyond internal stakeholders to influence corporate brand and, ultimately, the market for your services.

Is it time for you firm to embrace 21st Century skills?

Editor’s Note



2017 ALPMA SummitWant to learn how to help your firm embed 21st learning skills into its operational DNA? Then take advantage of early bird savings, and register now for the 2017 ALPMA Summit ‘Sailing the 4’C’s’ to be held from 13 – 15 September at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre. Check out the website to learn more about the fantastic line-up of speakers, exhibiting at Summit, the social program and much more!

Register now.

About our Guest Blogger



Ann-Maree DavidAnn-Maree David is an Executive Director of The College of Law, the largest provider of practice-focused legal education in Australasia. She has worked in the legal profession for over 30 years, in public and corporate sector roles and in private practice as a solicitor.

Ann-Maree has held a career-long passion for developing and delivering education and training programs to enable all involved in the delivery of legal services to thrive both personally and professionally. She is a longstanding member of ALPMA, and a regular contributor to both the Queensland Branch’s monthly seminar program and the annual ALPMA Summit Program Committee which she chairs.

In addition to leading the College of Law’s Queensland campus, Ann-Maree is President of Australian Women Lawyers and chairs the Queensland Law Society’s Equalising Opportunities in the Law Committee.



How do you financially rate your firm?

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

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By Andrew Chen, Partner - Business Advisory, Crowe Horwath


“On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate the financial performance of your firm?” 

It is interesting the variety of responses that I receive when I ask partners and firm management this question and then ask them “why?”.

Typically, the responses are given in the context of the current economic conditions the firm is facing, internal issues or a partner’s objectives.

How would the partners of your firm rate the financial performance of the firm? Do some of the following responses sound familiar?

  • We grew revenue by 10% again
  • Partner profits exceeded expectations at $600,000 per partner
  • The firm was valued at $5 million
  • Staff productivity is at 85%
  • Profit per point is on budget
  • Cashflow is great our firm lock-up is now 60 days.
  • We just hired a new a partner and opened a new office in Brisbane

In contrast, for a firm not travelling financially well, the responses typically centred around the firm not meeting budgeted fees, the reasons why and the level of partner profit draws not being quite where they should be.

Understanding how your firm rates financially is important so that you know the true financial picture. This can be achieved by using a composite of measures that highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the firm, but also provides the firm with actionable insight to change its future direction.

Most firms produce monthly and annual financial statements including a Profit and Loss Statement and a Balance Sheet in order to comply with tax and other record keeping requirements. But we tend to analyse them in isolation, and track measures specific to particular balances or reports. While there is nothing wrong with that in itself, it does not show the true picture of a firm’s performance.

It is important to analyse the financial relationship between a profit and loss and balance sheet together to truly know how your firm financially rates.

I have come across a number of similar instances where a partner has said: “The profit per partner was $350,000 and we had a great year, but each partner had provided effectively $800,000 of equity funding to the firm”. In my book, that’s not a particularly good outcome.

Create a firm scorecard



Create a firm scorecard with your firm’s key KPI’s with targets and compare them to benchmarks from the recent ALPMA/Crowe Horwath Financial Performance Benchmarking Study ‘Financially propelling innovation & growth’. From the results summary,you can rate the performance of your firm, and assess if it is above expectations or performs poorly.

1) Gross Profit Margin % (GP)



I was quite surprised at the number of firms that do not budget or report their gross profit margins. This may have something to with how a firm’s accounting system and payroll systems are initially set up, and an acceptance of the reporting produced by these systems.

It is an ideal measure to see how profitable the firms legal service are produced, which then should direct you to whether you can afford those pay rises, increase productivity or change staff mix or simply need to grow fees.

The recent ALPMA/Crowe Horwath Benchmarking study results indicate that the average GP in June 2016 was 57.8% and it has hovered around this percentage for the prior 3 years.

2) Profitability % (before interest and tax)



Everyone looks at the bottom line, but not always before interest and tax. This measures the operating performance of the firm as a return on revenue. It enables your firm to be compared to the performance of other firms regardless of how the firm is funded.

3) Return on the funding capital %



This measure is also commonly known as the return on capital employed. [Profit before Interest & Tax / (Working capital + Non-Current Assets)]

Is the profitability percentage an adequate return for the amount the partners have invested in the firm and the firm has borrowed from the bank? If the answer to this question is no, then this could be a reflection of large work in progress and debtor balances, low gross profit or excessive overhead costs.

This measure provides your firm visibility on whether the partners are leaving excessive profits in the firm; bank debt is growing due to poor working capital management of WIP and debtors; or whether there is a committed investment for growth.

4) Revenue generated on funding capital % (Financial Resilience Index)



We see this measure as an indicator of a firm’s financial resilience and how effectively the firm is able to grow fee revenue off the back of the funding from the bank and the partners. That is the firm’s ability to support fee growth with no extra funds from the bank or profits left in the firm by the partners. On average, firms in the ALPMA/Crowe Horwath study generated for $2.7 of fee revenue for every $1 of funding.

Increasing the value of the firm

 

If these four key measures are moving in the right direction year on year, the value of the firm increased which is a reflection that the firm’s strategic plans are working!

Other measures and indicators improved such as lock-up days, partner draws increased, bank debt reduced and overheads were contained.

For participants in the ALPMA/Crowe Horwath study that rated highly in the above four measures relative to their peers, it was no surprise that the results also showed they were being innovative and were also investing in marketing campaigns and new technology.

How does your firm financially rate on these measures?

Editor's Note


2016 Financial Performance Benchmarking Study Results
For further insights, download the results summary from 2016 ALPMA/Crowe Horwath Financial Performance Benchmarking Study of Australian Law Firms, "Financially Propelling Innovation & Growth".













About our Guest Blogger


Andrew ChenAndrew Chen is a Partner of Crowe Horwath’s Business Advisory team and has provided business advisory, taxation and accounting services to a broad range of clients for 25 years.

Andrew helps business owners identify key financial issues affecting their businesses and then develops tailored solutions to make their businesses more profitable and sustainable.

Andrew’s significant experience in advisory and tax accounting services comes from working with businesses of all sizes. He specialises in advising legal and professional service firms on establishing business structures; financial management in areas of internal accounting functions and tax administration; financial reporting and KPI performance measurement; budget and cash flow forecasting; tax planning; salary packaging; and tax return preparation.

Andrew is a regular speaker on financial management and taxation issues at industry events. He was a key speaker for Macquarie Bank’s National Legal Firm roundtables. Andrew lectures at the College of Law and also contributes to industry publications including those for the Australian Legal Practice Management Association and Australian Dental Association.


3 tips to implement outsourcing for your firm

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

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By Robin Carter, Managing Director, Add Capacity


Outsourcing was definitely one of the buzzwords heard during the  ALPMA Summit 2016 “A Blueprint for Change” as one of the strategies for change to move a firm into the future. However in my experience, outsourcing legal work (offshoring) still remains a new concept to most firms, with partners and practice managers struggling to know where to begin and how to go about implementing it.


As one principal told me, he loved the idea but the biggest barrier remained “fitting this new jigsaw piece into the existing puzzle that is running a legal practice”. If this sounds like you, here are my top 3 things to consider to help make legal process outsourcing work successfully for your firm.


1. Know your 'Why'



The 3 most common problems our legal clients are looking for a solution to are:

  • Dealing with fluctuations in volumes
  • Productivity due to staff absence
  • Service level variation during busy periods and staff re-allocation
  • Costs of running the back office

Which of these is the main driver for you? While outsourcing offers clear cost advantages in replacing high fixed costs with lower variable costs, my belief is that outsourcing really benefits the firm when the overall objective is a commitment to move activities up the value chain toward higher levels of client service delivery.

Whatever your reasons, once you have this clarity on your why, you will make better informed decisions and be more committed to achieving the outcome.

2. Be prepared to invest



It might sound clichéd, but outsourcing really is a journey not a destination. Even with an experienced team who knows the process, every firm has their own way of doing things or slight variations. A great outsourcing service is an incredibly valuable asset that will keep paying dividends once set up, so it will require someone in the firm to oversee to get it right and keep it on track. Assign someone with great client relationship skills who has the patience and persistence to work through operational issues towards achieving the outcome.

Start with a trial period and review performance. One instance is not sufficient, you want to establish that you will be able to rely on your supplier to work together over a longer period, and this will require an assessment of a variety of factors from technical competence, price, communication and problem solving.

Focus on outsourcing one task or job, then systemising this and only when this is successfully running as you want, replicate the process across other tasks. The initial job will provide you with invaluable knowledge about both the team you are working with and your own internal process required to achieve a successful outcome, that will speed up implementing subsequent processes later on.

3. Get internal buy-in



Managing internal resistance to change may be the biggest hurdle you face in getting your outsourcing project off the ground. The most common unspoken (and sometimes spoken) fear that arises with staff when the word “outsourcing” is mentioned is fear that they are going to lose their jobs. Communicate your 'Why', get the buy-in of your staff with what it means for them, and have a plan for what they will do if part of their work is going to be outsourced.


The clearer these are articulated, the more likely that staff will come on board with the project and see outsourcing as part of a bigger picture towards positioning the firm for future growth, and therefore the security of their jobs. Look at your wishlist for improvement projects and have a plan for staff who will be affected for how their time will be re-assigned to new tasks. Actively involve staff in the process to get their ideas for activities which add value and ultimately add to productive revenue generation rather than just the busyness of getting the task done.


About our Guest Blogger

Robin Carter
Robin Carter is the founder and Managing Director of Add Capacity, an outsourcing company specialising in legal process outsourcing for small to medium sized solicitor firms. Add Capacity is also a LEAP certified bookkeeper.

Robin holds an LLB and is a qualified accountant, and has been involved in outsourcing for the last 3 years. He is passionate about enabling professional service firms to grow by releasing routine work and focusing more on value added client service tasks.  



5 ways your law firm can make more money in 2017 and beyond

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

By Evie Farah, Director, Empire Consulting


As a Consultant who has dealt with hundreds of law firms over the years, it is apparent that competition is fierce. Many sole practitioners are breaking away from the bigger firms and starting out on their own. These lawyers are used to having an Accounts Department who bill for them, a Secretary to type up correspondence and a Receptionist to answer the phone. Once they are out on their own they are responsible for all of these roles including many others. How does a lawyer make time to do billable work as well as run a successful business?

This problem is not unique to sole practitioners though. I have visited larger firms and the only word I can use to describe them is: chaos. There is no structure or cohesion. Staff are so busy with a constant influx of work that there is no time to develop the business or streamline its practices.

Over the years, I have developed simple key changes that law firms can implement to help them run the business side of their law practice so they aren’t consumed with frustration. Here are a few to get you started:

1. Be visible online



A Google consumer survey showed that 96% of people seeking legal advice use a search engine. So if you don’t have an up to date website, how are your clients going to find you?

Just having a website is not enough though, get it optimised! This is particularly beneficial when people enter non-branded searches. An example of a non-branded search is someone in Cronulla searching ‘help me divorce my husband’. If you happen to be a family lawyer in Cronulla and your website is optimised, you will increase your website’s position on the list of results.

As 62% of legal searches are non-branded, optimisation could mean the difference between a potential client finding you or your competitor down the road.

2. Get your IT sorted



Do you still have a dusty server sitting in the back corner of your office? Did your IT Consultant just quote you $10,000 for a new server? In this day and age everything is moving towards being cloud based. Meaning your data is hosted offsite, in a remote and safe location.

Apart from the enormous cost of updating servers every few years (and helping your IT Consultant buy that second Ferrari), cloud technology allows you to work away from the office. Meaning you could draft that affidavit on the couch while the little one takes their nap, or send emails while waiting for your flight.

Also, think about how old your desktop or laptop computer is. If it is slow and clunky, how much of your billable time is it wasting? There are now plenty of affordable options available and this simple update of your hardware can result in improved efficiencies for the entire practice.

3. Invest in good practice management software



Good practice management software helps your firm grow and saves you money. I have had the opportunity to utilise and explore quite a few. Some will offer amazing accounting capabilities but then require you to code and import your own firm precedents. Others will have a great precedent suite but fall short on time recording and accounting capabilities.

Rather than go with the cheapest product, compare your options to find the one that offers capability in more than just one area. Also, choose one that specialises in small-medium law firms. A firm of 200+ users has vastly different needs than one of 2-5 staff members. If you want to be able to save on numerous admin staff, it is imperative to purchase and utilise a practice management system that allows you to keep everything in one place and easily track your progress.

In the short term, the investment might feel steep in respect of anticipated returns. But if you begin on the right foot, the long-term benefits will far outweigh the cons.

4. Be mobile



Clients might be reluctant or unable to travel to your office. If you are mobile, ie. have a laptop and a comprehensive checklist with a list of all the questions to ask the client, you will look professional and organised. Once people see how accessible and committed you are, they will be more inclined to refer you to family and friends. Word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools any business can have.

Mobility also means that staff can work from home. Think of the infrastructure costs that can be saved if staff are not required to work from the office all the time. Furthermore, your job offer will be more attractive if it can offer potential staff the flexibility they desire.

5. Reduce office waste



Is your floor covered in files that are completed? Do you have an office filled to the top with boxes of files that should be sent away for storage? Imagine what your clients think when they see this!

As your obligation is to keep a file for 7 years, it is a good idea to think about a storage system. There are companies you can enlist to take your files on a regular basis, store them in secure facilities and provide you quick and easy access as and when you need them.


About our Guest Blogger


Evie FarahEvie Farah is a Director of Empire Consulting. She possesses over 15 years’ experience in the legal industry and understands the needs and challenges of a law firm. Evie helps law firms streamline their practice and improve efficiency and profitability.

Evie is also a LEAP Certified Consultant who worked internally at LEAP for over 3 years before branching out into her own consulting business. Evie’s extensive knowledge of LEAP software ensures your firm will benefit from her comprehensive understanding of all LEAP products. Evie’s expertise and experience is second to none. She prides herself on her quality service and attention to detail. For more details on how Evie can help you please visit www.empireconsultingservices.com or email her directly at evie@empireconsultingservices.com


Personal Reflections on 2016 by ALPMA President, Andrew Barnes

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

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


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

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


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


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

Our research for 2016 is summarised here:


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


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

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

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


Editor's Note

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

About our Guest Blogger

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




ALPMA Member Q and A with Jane Ritchard, Finance Director - Wotton+Kearney

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In this ALPMA Member Q&A, we interview Jane Ritchard, the Finance Director at Wotton + Kearney, ALPMA NSW Chair and recently appointed ALPMA Board Member about her inspiration, career development and experience as a leader in the NSW legal industry.

1.       What has inspired you this year?

Fortunately there have been a few things that have inspired me both professionally and personally this year.  It actually feels like it's been a particularly tough year for many; I've heard quite a few people saying they are looking forward to this year finishing and hoping 2017 will be a better one.  

Professionally, my biggest inspiration this year has been watching the firm continue to grow and mature.  It's been great to be part of a management team that is helping guide the firm through its journey of development and change.  We turn fifteen early next year, which is a great milestone.   The firm is always looking for ways to improve and innovate.

The corporate social responsibility programme at Wotton + Kearney is a real source of inspiration for me.  We choose a new charity to support and partner with every year.  This year it's been So They Can.  They do amazing work in Africa; providing education and housing to try to break the poverty cycle.  There were some great fund raising events during the year, including some of the team going to Kenya to see the programmes on the ground and to run a half marathon in the Masai Mara.  We're partnering with OzHarvest in 2017 which I'm very much looking forward to.  The concept of reusing perfectly good food (that would otherwise have found itself in landfill) for people in need, is so elegantly simple and effective.

On a somewhat micro level and specifically in my area of the business, I'm excited about going paperless in our accounts payable process.  It might not sound like a big thing, but will make a huge difference both to my team and the wider business.  We'll be able to process accounts payable invoices more quickly - without printing anything out and have approval done through online workflows.  That means there won't be any more lost bits of paper, we won't have to file paper invoices and we won't have to archive them and pay for storage for seven years.  

Personally, I've been inspired by the amazing Australian track cyclist Anna Meares.  She announced her retirement a little while ago, after an extraordinary career as our most successful cyclist.  Anna came back from a potentially life threatening accident in a race in 2008.  She went on to win more medals and set more records.  What an awesome role model.

 2.       How did you become the Finance Director at Wotton+Kearney?


Interestingly it was through ALPMA!  I was approached about the position by a colleague that I knew through the NSW committee.  So many roles at this level are filled through network contacts, rather than through more traditional recruitment channels.  

3.       What do you think is the biggest issue facing senior finance professionals in law 

I think the biggest issue we face is keeping up with the pace of technological change.  We need to make sure that we have the best technology; to ensure our finance teams can give fast, reliable and relevant information to the business.  That includes practice management, business intelligence and other ancillary systems (such as expense management, budgeting and accounts payable systems).  We have to make sure that our systems allow everyone in the business to perform the financial aspects of their roles with the least amount of effort.   It can be challenging to build the business case that asks for the commitment of time and resources to implement new or upgraded software.  We are all competing with our IT, HR and BD colleagues for finite funds allocated to technological investment.

It can also be interesting trying to work out what is best for our firms.  We all have subtly different businesses, so what may work really well for one firm, might not be the best for our firms.   Then, once we've worked out what we need, it's important to set up the best resourcing for the project team.  It's very rare to find anyone with much excess capacity in a finance team; so it becomes a juggling act to keep the wheels turning on normal operations whilst an implementation is underway.

4.       What do you think the big challenge for law firms will be in 2017?

For a long time we've been hearing that the ball is firmly in our clients' court when it comes to the provision of legal services.  I think that's certainly the case and I can't see that changing in the short term.  Our clients are becoming more sophisticated in the way they  run their procurement processes and are demanding more for less.  Coming up with appropriate fee arrangements continues to challenge our ingenuity. It's also difficult trying to work out where the next possible disruption may come from.  Sometimes we won't know what it looks like until it's here, so it's tricky to plan for that kind of eventuality.  The challenge is to stay nimble; to be able to respond quickly to threats to our business models.

5.       How has your ALPMA membership contributed to your professional development?


Being an ALPMA member has made my life as a finance professional in the legal industry so much easier.  It has contributed to my professional development in so many ways.  Initially, it provided me with great networking opportunities; giving me access to people who could answer the questions I had about how things worked in law from a financial perspective.  Once I was settled in, I went to the regular lunch time practice management seminars and the annual Summit which helped me learn more about the legal industry as a whole.  I've developed a deeper understanding about the HR, IT and BD aspects of our industry along the way.  It's been great to be able to give back to the ALPMA community by being involved with both the NSW committee and more recently the ALPMA Board.

Editor's Note


Watch the video learn more about Jane's experiences as an ALPMA member.  

If you are inspired by Jane's story and are considering joining the ALPMA community, now is a great time to get on-board.  From 1 December, membership until 30 June, 2017 is just $250 (ex GST) if are a law firm leader or manager working in an Australian capital city - even less if you are based in a region, live in New Zealand or your firm supports multiple members.  

Learn more about becoming a member.  


About our Guest Blogger

Jane RitchardJane Ritchard has nearly 30 years’ experience as an accounting professional. Jane is the Finance Director at Wotton + Kearney, a specialist insurance law firm.  She has also worked in senior finance roles at Curwood Lawyers and Clayton Utz. 

Prior to this, when not travelling, working in the UK or doing contract work, Jane spent 12 years working on and off at Deloitte, progressing from office junior to auditor, to small business practitioner and then to internal finance manager and consultant. 

She is member of the ALPMA Board and Chair of the ALPMA NSW Committee. 






5 questions you should be asking your practice management platform provider

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

By Michael Vassilieff, Head of Sales, Law and Solutions, Thomson Reuters


A smart practice management platform can transform even the most disorganised law firm into a well-oiled machine. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

It’s important to explore your firm’s current systems and ask the right questions before implementing an entirely new platform. Here are five of the most important ones to help you make a decision.

Implementation: What is the timetable for installation and rollout?



Besides reviewing key features such as document management, trust and office accounting, time capture, billing, workflow and client relationship management, it pays to be clear on how the system will be implemented and rolled out across your firm.

Introducing an entirely new practice management system may seem like managing a heady and complex litigation case, but the right vendor will be able to walk you through the process and provide critical support along the way.

Important questions to ask include:

  • Can it be installed on-site or remotely?
  • Will there be any downtime?
  • Can it be customised and integrated with our current operating systems?
  • Will it fit with our practice needs and workflow?
  • How will our data be migrated and how long will it take?

Organising a planning team of lawyers or administrative staff who will use the system can help make the change smoother. This means your firm can get on without too much disruption and it will likely make for a happier team overall.

Training and support: Will you help us work through any problems with our staff?



The Law Society of New South Wales reports that a “common mistake made by law firms is their failure to commit to appropriate levels of staff training in new technology and systems”.

Their research found that only “11 per cent of small and mid-sized firms offered formalised training for newly adopted technologies. Only 17 per cent said they got the most out of their workflow and research tools and more than three-quarters claimed this impacted negatively on their time efficiency.”

Before purchasing a practice management platform, make sure you check the level of training and tech support your vendor can provide before and after implementation.

You might face a bit of resistance from staff who find the switch challenging. The best way to mitigate this is to work out a clear and comprehensive training plan that suits your firm’s approach to practice, and makes everyone feel included.


Future growth: Can we continue to use the system as we grow and build our firm?



Technology moves quickly, and you need to be confident the system can grow and evolve with the changing needs of your firm into the future. Think of it as selecting a long-term business partner rather than just a software provider.

Social proof: What do your customers think of the product?



It’s no secret that when we see other people recommending or raving about something, we’re more inclined to try it too. To marketers, it’s ‘social proof’, but it’s really just a good old customer review or testimonial.

Getting feedback from your vendor’s current customers – not just about the product, but also about their service – will help you decide if the platform and the provider are a perfect match for your firm’s requirements and operating style.


Budget: What will this cost and what solutions do you have for our firm size, type and practice area? What’s the likely ROI?



Finally, before selecting a practice management platform, make sure you understand all the costs involved, and what return you will see on your investment.

Besides checking the cost of the platform itself, make sure you also ask how the price varies for firms of different sizes and types. That way, if your firm expands in future
and offers more services, you’re not surprised by the cost of upgrading your platform. And most importantly, ask your vendor about any hidden costs.

Assessing the real-world benefits of the proposed platform will also assist with calculating ROI. For example, can you quantify how much time and effort it will save as a result of fast document production, lawyer mobility and less duplication of tasks across the board?

According to Thomson Reuters’ research, time spent manually managing a law firm rather than automating critical tasks reduces profits due to inefficient processes, poor workflow, and a waste of lawyers’ and administrative staff’s time.

The Thomson Reuters’ study also revealed that law firms relying on outdated, manual processes waste hundreds of hours each year, and manual timekeeping inaccuracies cause major billable time losses.

Asking your vendor the right questions will help you navigate these practical issues, save time and money, and start you on the right foot with your brand new system so you are ready for profitability and growth in the future.

Editor's Note


Leading Your Firm
If you would like to learn more about this topic, join us for our upcoming webinar “Choosing a Practice Management System for Your Firm” presented by Steven Tyndall and Jackie White of NextLegal on Wednesday 23 November at 1pm (AEDT). This webinar is part of ALPMA’s Leading Your Firm program, generously supported by our Major Partner, Thomson Reuters. This webinar is free for ALPMA members or $99 for eligible non-members.


About our Guest Blogger


Michael Vassilieff
Michael Vassilieff is Head of Sales – Law and Solutions at Thomson Reuters .

With experience in a variety of industries from both a sales and commercial level, Michael brings a clear and measured approach to assisting law firms gain the most from their business processes and systems to help approve efficiency through automation and use of technology. Michael has a natural passion for establishing and harbouring key executive relationships ensuring law firms are able to perform beyond their expectations.





Artificial Intelligence trends and their impact on the legal sector

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

By James Parker, Executive Director, Legal Software Solutions,  LexisNexis


While Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not new to the legal space, only now is it starting to gain real momentum, and lawyers can expect to feel the impact as the technology promises to change the way law firms do business.

The legal sector is still in the early stages of discovering the full potential of AI; however innovative firms should take advantage of current and emerging technology if they wish to be market leaders in the industry.

What exactly is AI? 


Often called cognitive computing or machine learning, AI is computers completing tasks traditionally performed by people. One way that AI has affected the legal space is its ability to process data to find patterns, perform tests, analyse and evaluate data to produce a set of results.

The law’s framework of rules makes it ideal for applying AI systems, where computers will process those rules, enabling them to complete tasks usually performed by lawyers. In simple terms, AI technology works by applying an amount of sample data and outcomes, previously examined by a professional, to a cognitive system, which is then able to analyse large amounts of data at high speed to produce a faster and more accurate result.

The goal of AI isn’t to change the nature of legal work or replace human lawyers, but to enable lawyers to concentrate on more cognitive tasks such as developing legal arguments, instead of spending long periods of time on routine duties like drafting and reviewing documents, extensive research of case files and other un-billable tasks.

Not only does the application of artificial intelligence save time in multiple areas, it also reduces human error or fatigue. However, AI presents its own set of risks including technology or algorithm errors, and inaccurate application, which may pave the way for future changes in paralegal and associate roles and responsibilities.

As talk of AI ramps up and an increasing number of firms dabble with introducing the technology into their legal practices, the obvious question to ask is: where are we heading?

3 Key Trends for Legal AI


In 2016, there are key trends developing in the application of AI in case management across the legal space:

1. Document Reviews


Applying cognitive technologies to areas of law that require the heavy perusal of documents such as due diligence, research, investigations and compliance related works will likely increase within law firms as it offers wide-ranging benefits, including cost and time savings and increased accuracy.

AI-based predictive coding techniques allow documents to be reviewed by computers - providing the opportunity for those documents to be reviewed at a much faster rate - and with more accuracy, saving both money and time. It’s a technology that benefits firms of all sizes; allowing smaller companies to take on more sizeable cases without the burden of hiring additional staff.

In a case likely to lead to a boost in using AI for document review, using predictive coding in electronic disclosure was backed by the UK high court earlier this year, in the first contested case relating to the validity of cognitive computing. 

Predictive coding – approved in the US in 2013 - involves a set of sample documents being analysed by a lawyer. The software can then analyse and rank multiple documents at high speed while employing algorithms that learn from the previously processed data. Berwin Leighton Paisner argued that predictive coding would save costs – claiming that engaging a paralegal to complete the equivalent task would cost 2.5 times more and would be more inaccurate. The ruling followed the UK High Court’s landmark decision from February this year to officially allow the use of predictive coding in e-disclosure to automate the review process.

Australian Courts are yet to take an official position, but it’s reasonable to expect they will follow suit in endorsing the use of predictive coding given the increasing amounts of electronically stored information creating considerable challenges in cost, time and accuracy.

2. Case Predictions


More exciting for the legal industry is the potential for AI to predict the outcomes of legal disputes and proceedings. Predictions would be made via the automatic analysis of past case records using data mining and predictive analytic techniques to forecast outcomes, such as the ideal percentage at which a specific offer would lead to a settlement.

This AI application would significantly aid lawyers in the general management of cases, by enabling them to make decisions based on the likelihood of a certain outcome taking place.

AI for case predictions is already being used to some extent. For example, London firm Hodge Jones & Allen implemented a predictive model of case outcomes which assesses the viability of its personal injury caseload.

Developing the model involved the analysis of data (based on the outcomes of 600 cases over 12 months), with particular focus on the factors contributing to case outcomes, the awarded damages and costs to the firm.

Using AI in case predictions is a good example of how the combination of cognitive computing and human expertise provides an enhanced customer experience. Such AI models support better decision making in more accurately forecasting results, increasing chances of winning a case or adding confidence to legal advice.

3. Advisory Services


Another emerging trend in the potential use of AI in the legal space is its application to simple advisory services.

AI technology isn’t able to provide specific advice in relation to a particular client matter. However it can respond to simple (and common) legal questions while also providing ample supporting references, by analysing large amounts of legal documents, cases and legislations - something which would traditionally require a paralegal or trainee lawyer to invest hours, if not days, of their time, reading through text books and case reports. 

An example of AI advising is the use of legal web advisors, which uses AI software to lead the client from one question to the other via a decision tree system. The software analyses user input to classify the problem, analyse it and produce output in in the form of a problem solution.

While clients won’t receive the legal advice expected from personalised consultation, they will receive a valid level of professional direction, which may be enough for those unwilling to pay the fees required to obtain traditional legal advice.

Where do we go from here?


Artificial intelligence will not take the place of a lawyer, due to the complex nature of disputes and negotiation and the expectations of clients. AI will, however, continue to challenge traditional models of legal service delivery, to automate services, decrease costs and improve accuracy using data.

At the moment, AI’s impact is predominantly on paralegal and junior lawyer roles, whose current duties are likely to become automated over the next several years. AI’s ability to deliver better decision-making through using data for case prediction or matter analysis also adds value to the client.

Firms that are implementing AI strategies, usually through collaborations with specialist AI technology providers, are viewed as innovative and cutting-edge.

Soon, though, firms which refuse to do so will be viewed as out-dated and out-of-touch, as AI becomes the new normal in the legal sector.

About our Guest Blogger


James ParkerJames leads the Legal Software Solutions (LSS) team at LexisNexis Pacific which is responsible for delivering software solutions that improve the legal outcomes to clients, helping them to make better decisions, achieve better results, and be more productive, by combining content and data with workflow, analytics and technology, leveraging the New Lexis platform and cloud technology. James previously led the LexisNexis Practice Management group across the pacific region.

James has a wealth of experience in the technology field and prior to joining LexisNexis Pacific, held senior management roles developing and managing UK and international Customer Services. His employment history includes Head of Operations and Customer Services with LexisNexis UK, Director of IT and Support at Jacobs Rimell and Senior Manager of Customer Services EMEA for Vitria Technology.



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