A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Who's got time for time management?

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

By Dermot Crowley, Productivity Author 

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

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

Email overload

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

Calendar imbalance

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

Task fragmentation

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

Digital ignorance

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

Editor's Note

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

About our Guest Blogger

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







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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

By Neil Shewan, Managing Director, Adelphi Digital


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor's Note


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


About our Guest Blogger


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




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

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

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By John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack

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

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

Communication


1. Be transparent about your firm’s strategy

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

2. Learn how to adapt your communication style

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

Collaboration


1. Promote knowledge sharing

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

2. Encourage mentorship

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

Creativity


1. Set aside specific time for brainstorming

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

2. Have a dedicated innovation budget

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

Critical thinking


1. Use time-saving technology

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

2. Be open to new ways of working

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

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

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


Editor's Note

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

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

About our Guest Blogger


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

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

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

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.


Incentivising the New Normal

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

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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.


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.



Four steps to creating a culture of service excellence

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

By Carl White, Director, CXINLAW


Law firms’ websites all promise client service excellence. Yet their perceptions of client service and how that might manifest at every client touchpoint at their firm is rarely objectively assessed or addressed.

So, how does your law firm look and sound to prospects and clients? Findings revealed by a joint ALPMA/CXINLAW survey, No Second Chances, found that ”78% of firms failed the ‘first impression test’ ie only one in five firms gained an instruction or recommendation from their new enquiries.

Is it any wonder that firms find their enquiry conversion rate languishing below 10%? This low rate highlights that there are serious opportunities for growth slipping away at first contact. Even more concerning, many firms don’t even measure their new enquiry conversion rates, yet continue to spend significant amounts monthly to generate new leads.

ALPMA president Andrew Barnes said “We exist in very competitive times. Law firm differentiators are not easy to identify, let alone leverage. Firms who rely on the personal element of relationships will do well to introduce client experience excellence into their thinking.”

Successful firms treat new enquiries as the start of the relationship and an opportunity to ‘be there’ for someone who has made the time to call them. A good client experience continues through every interaction to build rapport and gain an understanding of your client’s needs. Get it wrong and the result is the unnecessary loss of new opportunities and ‘promotors’ of your firm.

In a world of competing priorities, the commercial imperative to invest in client service excellence can seem elusive. The reality is that for those investing in a strong service culture (as part of their marketing spend, not in addition to) have seen month on month gains in new matters between 20% to 135% with boosts to revenue of between 20% to 35%.

Developing a culture of client service excellence requires a F.I.I.Tness program:

1. Focus



Compare your firm to the world of service providers, not just other law firms. Every one of us has experienced great, mediocre and bad customer service, and so have your clients. Their experience of great service is the benchmark they will hold you to.

Don’t rely on your own view of the firm’s service levels or on end of matter client surveys.

Invest in an objective assessment and evidence of your firm’s client experience before embarking on any change program. This evidence should cover:

  • first impressions (will we work together?);
  • heart of the matter (how are we working together?); as well as
  • end of the matter (will we work together again?)

The assessment should analyse not only your team’s people skills but also look at your processes, systems and documentation. For example, how often is the language used too familiar or too technical.

2. Inspire



Next, share these results with your team in a way that engages and inspires them so that change is driven from within teams rather than from above. Identify leaders of client service excellence and empower them to activate and inspire their colleagues. A well-developed, proven change program will see individual staff members’ be drawn to take on distinct roles in the change program.

These staff become the firm’s champions of client service and potentially, future leaders. A change program that engages the team, rather than be driven from the top, is one that will endure.

3. Innovate



Client service excellence isn’t just about how to greet clients at your reception, nor your fee earners’ tone and manner. It extends to every touchpoint, including correspondence (formal, informal and regulatory) and processes and then assessing if these touchpoints show ease, empathy and effectiveness.

Everyone has a role to play in identifying how to improve your firm’s client service as staff are often very aware of ‘nuisances’ to client interactions. These nuisances can range from how clients ‘find’ the office once in the building to the length of and delays in client correspondence. Staff tend to ‘work around’ these rather than raise ideas for change for any number of reasons eg too busy, prefer not to rock the status quo, is it not their role etc.


Empowering staff to identify areas for improved client service delivers innovation to differentiate your firm as well as productivity improvements to your staff.

4. Train



Client experience excellence requires new skills and smarts, so train your teams to boost and sustain performance. The starting point is often being clear about the clients you want to work with.

Training should be part of a program rather than a one off training session and include team lead templates and documented service standards to improve client interactions. These become part of your new staff induction program.

But don’t let dust settle on these documents. Allow your internal champions to review and revise them in line with changing client expectations and improved insight into client service experience.

Client expectations change over time as do your staff, so to stay F.I.I.T. test your firm’s client service experience annually.



About our Guest Blogger 


Carl WhitePassionate about the impact of Client Experience Excellence in professional services, Carl White entered the legal sector with Ashurst (UK and Europe) in 2002. He co-authored the highly-regarded ‘Customer Experience in Law’ report in 2012 and led the market-leading Australian research in 2015 that examines the Client Experience Advantage for law firms, in association with ALPMA.

In 2015 Carl was invited to become a Faculty Member of the Queensland Law Society tutoring client service. He has also taught and presented at Leo Cussen Centre for Law, New South Wales Law Society, LIV, NZLS, the 2015 ALPMA Summit and regional forums.

In 2017, Carl was elected as Vice President of the Continuing Legal Education Association of Australasia for CPD Professionals.

As a founding director of CXINLAW in the UK and Australasia, Carl has a background in employee engagement, customer experience management, organisational development and training within law and 15 years’ experience in retail operations.

To find out more about client experience training programs or our free monthly webinars on Client Experience Excellence, contact Carl White at carl.white@cxinlaw.com

3 tips to implement outsourcing for your firm

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Compu-stor advert


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.  



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




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.






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