A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Intergenerational Management - why different perspectives are more important than different generations

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

By Ricky Nowak, leadership expert and 2015 ALPMA Summit speaker

The 2015 Intergenerational Report by the Australian Government begins by discussing what it describes as “the three long run drivers of economic growth in Australia – population, workforce participation and productivity.”  Broadly speaking these forecasts of the future suggest “we need to better position ourselves now to meet expanding demand and obligations, and make Australia a more attractive place to invest and prosper in.”  

However, I think it’s fair to say that none of these groups is going to be driving the real change needed if we are going to achieve these projections. As usual, change will be driven by leaders – leaders ‘on the ground’ in Australia’s workplaces and in Australian law firms.

And as a backdrop, let’s consider how lawyers can connect to their clients, their clients can connect with their stakeholders and legal staff can connect to their people and business.

So how do we do that? 

Well, I’m neither an economist nor a politician – certainly not a fortune teller, but what I do know is that it is as important to be as good a historian as it is to be a futurist and that’s the first thing we need to do get right. So let’s take a leadership perspective on the 2015 Intergenerational Report.  

At the outset, it needs to be understood that there will be as many as five generations working side by side  in our workplaces in the coming decades.  That immediately creates a leadership challenge because each generation will have something different to contribute, as well as having different needs in terms of management, leadership and learning:

  • First: older Australians in the workforce will need to be encouraged to share their company intelligence, document their knowledge and mentor others at all levels of the organisation. Easy? No.

  • Next, senior leaders will need to create a culture in which staff can have autonomy and purpose in their work. To varying extents, every generation needs to understand they are part of the bigger picture. Everyone needs to have a reason to connect with others, including those older and younger, and so build their company ‘tribes’. Simple? Not really.

  • Then, management need to provide the conditions for entrepreneurship and innovation to coexist so that creatives can create and ‘analyticals’ can analyse – irrespective of age, gender, department, job or hierarchy. Can it be done? Only if people want to.

  • Now, leadership needs to allow young talent to experiment and create jobs and opportunities that don’t currently exist – they need the freedom to tap into the world of possibility. Sounds idealistic? Not if approached properly.

These are just four of the numerous challenges facing leaders in this era of multigenerational management. It won’t always be easy to get people on board with them – particularly across the generations. Which is why it’s critical to make clear the reasons, motivations and opportunities behind pursuing them, creating momentum for the shift needed in your organisation and its people. It’s about getting the foundations right for the altered future ahead. Oh, and by the way, also preparing the business for the generation who is currently under 18 and may be considering a career in your workplace. Really? Yes, really.

So how do we do that?

In the work we do, we’ve created five important steps that have been designed to work both within and between the generations: 

  1. Ask each generation to conduct their own KASH Audit – a reckoning of their combined Knowledge, Attitudes, Skills and Habits within a given time frame. This can be conducted online, in workshops or facilitated in a mini-forum style either through technology or discussion or both. The results can then be calibrated in a white paper, report, summary or spreadsheet and the information shared across the company. (It’s important to note that this audit needs to be regularly updated as new employees come on board and people learn new skills.)

  2. Have each employee familiarise themselves with the findings of these audits – for all generations, not just their own. In this way they can access different skills to complement current projects; help bring new ideas to complex challenges they may not be able to currently solve; and inject new ways of thinking, fresh ideas and skills across the organisation. Some companies are now making it mandatory for, say, project leaders to find and converse with people in their organisation who (loosely) belong to different generations. This builds familiarity and comfort with different ways of seeing the world.

  3. Hold special events to showcase people’s skills and talents so they can meet and build better commercial and business relationships. This will reveal opportunities for enhancing the business rather than simply working with the predetermined.

  4. Have members of each generation spend time working across different teams to learn how they are operating, thinking and responding. They can do this by spending time ‘on the job’, on site in client meetings, or with clients or customers – all the time recognising how different perspectives are more important than different generations.

  5. Use initiatives like ‘Reverse Mentoring’, in which Multigenerational Project Teams are carefully selected using data extracted from the KASH audit. These high performance teams are made up of people with complementary social, interpersonal and technical skills

We find that this approach works best when it is coordinated by an overall ‘multigenerational champion’ working a team of ‘generational champions’ – one from each team. This multigenerational champion can be an experienced manager or Lawyer or it can be an external resource with the relevant skills and experience. Without exception it also  brings together a compliment of Legal Support Staff, Paralegals, Partners, Senior Associates, junior lawyers, Librarians, HR. to share perspectives and values.

Working with multiple generations will be a given in the coming years, as will the need to change constantly as the world also changes. The best leaders will see this as an opportunity rather than a problem, and the potential to realise the opportunity will come from taking a thoughtful, coordinated approach so law firms can more broadly connect and communicate with their clients.

Editor's Note

Ricky Nowak will be sharing more insights on this topic in her presentation "Intergenerational Management - Why Why Different Perspectives Are More Important than Different Generations" at the 2015 ALPMA Legal Management Summit and Trade Exhibition,  at 10.30 am on Friday 11 September at the Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre.   Check out the Summit program for the full list of expert speakers at Summit.

You can register now to attend Summit (and take advantage of our early bird savings) - or watch Ricky's presentation from your office via our Summit livestream broadcast for just $A99.00 (including GST).  

About our Guest Blogger

Ricky NowakRicky Nowak creates transformational and rewarding experiences for successful people to discover new perspectives, skills and techniques to further optimize their own performance, the performance of their teams and the bottom line results of their organizations. As a Certified Speaker, Professional Facilitator and Author for over 25 years she helps strengthen individual and team capability underpinned by strong and robust business relationships.

With her theatrical and teaching background, Ricky helps her audiences connect and engage with real situations and conversations from the Boardroom to the Meeting Room so communication is clear and outcomes are achievable.

Are you a thought leader?

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

by Stephen Wood, CEO, InfoTrack

Thought leadership is an overused, and dare I say abused, word in today’s boardrooms. Everyone wants to be a thought leader and every company wants to show thought leadership - but not everyone does.  As we launch the 2015 ALPMA/InfoTrack Thought Leadership Awards, it’s a great time to reflect on what exactly thought leadership is and how, as organisations, we can demonstrate it. 

Daniel W. Rasmus, the US based future strategist, recently defined thought leadership as:

 “…an entry point to a relationship. Thought leadership should intrigue, challenge, and inspire even people already familiar with a company. It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships.”

I agree with Daniel and would go one step further - I believe thought leadership should disrupt markets.  I believe it should fundamentally change the way we see things or think about things, both from a corporate and personal sense. Thought leaders and thought leading organisations create new paths for us to travel down. 

When I think of thought leaders, I think of people who changed our world – from Ghandi to Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates to Steve Jobs - they opened our eyes to a new way of working or living. 

Jodie Baker, Managing Director of Hive Legal, the winner of the 2014 ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Award, discussed her thoughts on thought leadership and innovation with us recently summing up: 

“Innovation is not about improving the way things are done, but changing it. It’s not about thinking outside the box, it's about asking is the box the right shape in the first place, should it be a star?”

At InfoTrack, we constantly ask ourselves what we can do differently, better, how we can fundamentally change the customer experience to enhance their day. This is what moves us forward. While it may not affect the world the way the thought leaders mentioned above did, our mission is to make the working day better for the hundreds of thousands of legal researchers in the world. 

What does it take to be a thought leader?

When we think about thought leadership and innovation in a commercial sense we tend to think of technology – the iphone, flat screen TVs, electric cars – but the most important elements of thought leadership in the legal sector is not about what we are using to innovate our service but how we are enhancing it. 

Recently we surveyed a wide range of legal firms and in-house counsel across Australia and New Zealand and the results showed the areas most in need of change and thought leadership in the Australasian legal sector are:  

  1. Addressing gender diversity (85%)
  2. Enhancing service delivery (53.3%) 
  3. Providing competitive and alternative pricing options (50%).
(Note: respondents could choose more than one option)

While technology can help with all of the above, the change needs to begin with the strategy and then focusing on the tools that can help bring that strategy to life.  The survey also showed us that client demands for greater efficiency and economic conditions continue to be the major drivers for change in law firms. 

Biggest Innovation Drivers

  1. Client expectation and demand (79.17%)
  2. General economic conditions (54.17%)
  3. Regulatory change (31.25%) 
  4. Existing competition (29.17%)
  5. Non-traditional new entrants from domestic market (27.08%).
(Note: respondents could choose more than one option)

Looking Outside

Often we should look outside our own industries to see where change is happening and how that could apply to our sector. We need to expand our reference points to help expand our own sector in its thinking and practice. 

Who is driving innovation internationally?

 Our survey respondents felt that outside of Australia, the countries driving innovation in the legal sector are: 
  1. United Kingdom (29%)
  2. United States (28%)
  3. Asia (18.7%) 
  4. Europe (4.6 %).
And that we could learn most from the following industries: 


I personally can’t wait to see what the entrants to The 2015 ALPMA/InfoTrack Thought Leadership Awards are doing to demonstrate thought leadership – from the calibre of last year’s entries I am sure it will be very exciting. 

Editor's Note

If your firm is doing something a little different, then you should nominate your innovative project for an ALPMA/InfoTrack Thought Leadership Award, which will be presented at the 2015 ALPMA Summit Gala Dinner on Thursday 10 September,  at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre.  

Entry is simple - just complete the nomination form, answering five questions about your project, and provide relevant contact information. Entries close 5pm, Thursday 9 July. 

About our Guest Blogger

Stephen WoodStephen Wood was appointed CEO of InfoTrack in early 2010. As CEO, Stephen is responsible for the InfoTrack business, both in defining its future, and in achieving the steady growth aspirations.  Throughout his 23 years in the ICT industry, Stephen has worked with the legal profession, this sees him bring a wealth of experience to InfoTrack, particularly around how to leverage technology to drive business efficiency in the legal market. 

For readers interested in visualisation, InfoTrack recently gave all clients access to their brand new visual workspace tool at no charge. Named REVEAL, this sophisticated, visual tool enables clients to search multiple databases, and use the results of those searches to create a custom workspace displaying all information in a simple and comprehensible manner. 

The Right to a Paperless Office

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

by Adam Nowiski, Regional Sales Director, Nitro

Whether you are a practice manager, a partner, a general manager or the ubiquitous paralegal, one thing is for sure: you don’t love paperwork. So why is it that we are allowing such a unanimous peeve permeate into our everyday work life?

At the ALPMA Summit, we surveyed legal practice professionals to find out what it is about working in a paperless office environment they found most appealing. It was no surprise that we found streamlining processes to be the one thing that these time-poor professionals found most appealing when it comes to paperwork.

True to form, 32% hoped that their firm’s paperless solution is available both online and offline, so they can continue working regardless of where they are, and an encouraging 51% said that having easy set up and support to help them quickly adopt a paperless practice is important to enable the transformation to be successful.39% told us that one of their top frustrations with paperwork is the trouble involved in tracking latest versions of documents, while an overwhelming 44% were concerned at the waste of human and office resources being thrown into traditional paperwork. 

This recent survey supports the paperless trend that has been gaining ground in industries traditionally entrenched with paperwork such as real estate, financial services and insurance. This shows that going paperless can no longer be adjourned - now is the time for the legal industry to adjust their approach to paperwork.

While considering the move to a paperless office, we suggest giving the following some thought:

1. Importance of choosing the best solution 

How easy will implementing a paperless solution be? What level of training, education and support is needed to allow everyone to be competent and well-adjusted to the changes? Will your solution streamline standard legal paperwork such as acquiring and requesting signatures, alongside editing and sharing confidential documents safely, while enabling you to track open files in real time?

2. Making a business case for change

While saving the environment is great, most senior managers need compelling facts and figures to be convinced that going paperless is the best thing for the business. Is the cost of implementing the solution reasonable, and is it value for money?

3. Flexibility to grow with your business

Does your solution complement your current set-up without too much trouble, and will it grow easily with any future plans for expansion? The ability for your solution to scale up or down is especially important as local and international firms adjust to new ways of doing business.The idea of a paperless office is old news. What’s revolutionary about it is the availability of time-crunching, cost-shrinking software, which shifts the idea of a paperless office, into reality. 

Editor's Note

Readers interested in learning more about becoming paperless can watch the 2014 Summit on-demand presentation "Paperless Platform: Powering Performance and Profit"  by Scott Thomson, Managing Director of  Anderssens Lawyers in Brisbane for $99 (incl GST), where he shares the challenges and rewards of becoming paperless.  Anderssens were the 2013 ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Award winners for this innovative project.

About Our Guest Blogger

Adam Nowiski heads the APAC Region for Nitro and is an advocate of the paperless office revolution, having helped best practice firms such as King & Wood Mallesons, Holding Redlich and Maddocks replace or improve their paper-based processes. 

Adam is an integral part of a dynamic global sales team that brings paperless solutions to over 490,000 businesses, including Tier 1 international legal organisations and hundreds of small to mid-sized practices faced with paperwork challenges in and around Australia.  

From the desktop to the cloud, Nitro makes it easy to create, edit, share, sign and collaborate – online or offline. 

Legal Technology Buyer’s Guide: Are You Asking These 3 Questions?

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

By Tanya Gleeson, Encompass Specialist, SAI Global

There is no shortage of technologies available to the legal community. The need for change is widely recognised, but many firms don’t yet have a framework with which to evaluate ‘solutions’.

These three questions very quickly distill the merit of new technologies and the impact it will have on you, your firm and your clients:

1. Who really benefits?

The recent surge of automation and practice management solutions has meant that many support staff hours are saved... but what is the real value of this time saving? Is your firm measuring where these savings are occurring?

It's critical to understand who the time and cost savings are realised by; the two hours saved for a support person are significantly different to the two hours saved for a practitioner.

2. What is the problem being fixed?

Speak to your people. What are their frustrations, annoyances or pains experienced trying to achieve their goals? It can be as small as having to turn a light on or as big as understanding massive corporate structure in large scale M&A transactions. 

Solving a problem by looking into the business is far more effective than waiting to be approached by providers solving problems you never even knew about.

3. How will your client benefit?

The pressure for legal practices to remain competitive is higher than ever, which means as a legal management professional, you need to be the advocate for your client in the evaluation of a new technology.

It's a simple but often forgotten principle - how does technology add value to the advice you provide? Successful technology for lawyers will allow you to make better decisions that ultimately benefit your client. 

What other questions have you found bring valuable insights to the technology selection process in your firm? We'd love to hear examples of criteria you have put in place that ensure you can understand who ultimately benefits from a new software or platform!

About our Guest Blogger

Tanya Gleeson is an Encompass specialist at SAI Global.

Encompass helps law firms leverage technology by turning information overload into a competitive advantage - watch this video to find out how. 

Encompass is the 2014 ALPMA Summit Live & On-Demand partner.  

You can watch all the fantastic speaker presentations from the 2014 ALPMA Summit on-demand from ALPMA's On-Demand Learning Centre.

Member Q and A with Kerri Borg, CEO, McKays Solicitors

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In this ALPMA Member Q&A, Kerri Borg, CEO of McKays Solicitors based in Mackay, Queensland, shares her insights into life leading a regional law firm with the editor of ALPMA's blog, A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Q. How did you become the CEO at McKays Solicitors?

I’ve had a very long history with McKays, commencing as litigation secretary in 1988 when the firm was founded through the merger of two small Mackay firms. I left the firm to travel overseas in the early 1990s and, when I returned, spent some time in real estate and accounting as well as owning and operating a small retail business.  But the lure of working in the legal industry was too strong and I returned to McKays in 1998 in an administrative role. Since then, I’ve been exposed to all facets of practice management and watched the firm grow from four partners and about 10 staff in one regional office to around 120 staff across offices in four locations throughout Queensland, including the Brisbane CBD.  

I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to grow and develop my own skills as the practice has expanded and grown.  The practice became incorporated in 2011 and, since that time, our business model has gradually evolved to a much more corporatised model.  Part of that transition has involved the appointment of an external director to the board, as well as the creation of Managing Director and CEO roles.  I definitely think that having worked in so many different roles within the business and having a detailed knowledge of the practice’s history is a strength that I bring to the role of CEO but I’m also mindful that I need to look outside our business to see what we can do differently and what we can learn from other industries.

Q. What motivates you?

Learning about something new, seeing new ideas and thinking about how they could be applied in our practice to add value.  I get inspired by working with people who think outside the box.  

One of my favourite quotes is by Nelson Mandela - “It always seems impossible until it is done”.  

It’s an exciting time to be involved in the industry and it will be interesting to see how quickly we all adapt (or not) to the new legal landscape.

Q. What are the biggest challenges facing regional law firms?

From a staffing perspective, attracting and retaining practitioners is always a challenge in regional centres.  People who have never lived outside a major city can have reservations about whether the quality of work, professional development and career opportunities will be more limited in a regional area.  In actual fact, the opposite is often the case – they will often have the chance to do more interesting, complex work earlier in their careers and also have more variety in the type of work they do, as opposed to practising in a very narrow area.  McKays is fortunate to have offices in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Surat Basin which can provide opportunities for staff to relocate for personal or family reasons when we otherwise might have lost them to another firm and had to bear the cost of replacing the staff member.  

Another challenge for regional firms is overcoming the perception of some that you need to engage a top tier firm for large, complex legal matters and only use local law firms for less complex or transactional matters.  Regional firms can and do have many talented practitioners who choose to live and work where they do for a variety of reasons, including lifestyle and family.  For example, one of our principals, who was born and bred in Mackay, has recently topped the state in the QLS Business Law Specialist Accreditation assessment.  Part of the solution to this challenge lies in the way in which regional firms position and market themselves and their capabilities.

On the flipside, there are advantages for regional practices, such as fewer competitors, which makes it easier to differentiate and position a practice as a big fish in a small pond, provided you have the right people in place.  This relates back to the first point I made about the challenge of attracting and retaining quality people.  So if you do well with your people strategy, it puts you in a good position to succeed in terms of your positioning in the local law firm market.                                                                                                                                                                                        
Technology has also provided some remarkable opportunities for small or regional practices to compete on an almost-even playing field with much larger CBD firms, for example by creating a strong online presence on a small budget.  This is in stark contrast to the days when a small firm couldn’t possibly hope to compete with large firms with equally large marketing budgets.  

Being small also makes you more nimble – you can see an opportunity and just run with it.  That’s much harder for larger firms to do because there will normally be a lot more consultation needed and the project itself will likely be a much larger scale.

Q. How has your membership of ALPMA helped you address these issues?  

Definitely having access to the educational resources ALPMA provides is a tremendous benefit for regional firms.  The Leading Your Firm Program, which was developed specifically for smaller and regional practices, has really hit the mark in terms of enabling us regional members to enjoy the same educational programs offered to capital city members, on a diverse range of topics by expert speakers from all over the country.  

I often encourage our managers or practitioners to view a recorded lunchtime session on a topic I think may be of particular interest to them and this is a great way to provide professional development for our staff as well as maximise the value of my membership.

I find the weekly blog posts from  ALPMA another great way to keep my finger on the pulse with topical issues and hear what other firms are doing in response.  When law firm management and administration staff have access to information that is practical and relevant in a way that is convenient for them it’s a win:win for the staff member and the practice.  

Becoming a member of the Qld ALPMA Committee has been a wonderful opportunity to network with and learn from my peers.  The annual ALPMA Summit is another excellent educational and networking opportunity and the quality of topics and speakers at Summit seem to just keep getting better and better every year.  

Q. What advice would you offer those considering working at a regional law firm?

Be prepared for and embrace a working environment that is likely to be culturally different to a big city firm – one that is very warm and welcoming and where work colleagues seek out each other’s company outside of business hours.  

Understand that the local community and relationships are very important – reputation is everything.   

Appreciate that resources and talent are often tight and there is an expectation to utilise the resources you have rather than outsource.  

Recognise the opportunities to cross-skill yourself and others and to “raise the bar” in terms of the way the business is managed and truly make a difference.  

And lastly, make the most of the networking opportunities ALPMA offers by forming a regional hub if there isn’t already one established in the area.  

Editor's Note:

Now is a great time to join ALPMA. 

Membership offers great benefits to you and your firm and is tremendous value. Membership to June 30, 2015 is now only $192.50 (incl GST) for regional members and $255.75 (incl GST) for those working in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth - less if your firm already supports multiple ALPMA members. 

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

About our Guest Blogger

Kerri Borg
Kerri Borg is the recently-appointed CEO of McKays Solicitors, based in Mackay, Queensland (although she regularly commutes to Brisbane).  Prior to taking on this newly created role, Kerri was McKays' General Manager for five years.  

She is passionate about importance of organisational culture in achieving firm objectives and the joys of regional-city living.

Kerri is a member of the ALPMA QLD State Committee and the ALPMA National L&D Committee.

Increasing the efficiency of individuals - the next priority for the legal industry

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

by Dr Marc K Peter, Chief Operating Officer of LexisNexis Pacific

The rise of the use of technology in the legal profession to achieve greater efficiencies and flexibility has been well documented.

Up until now, the focus has been on making law firms more efficient; streamlining work processes into a single system to provide a secure working environment and transparency of business performance, satisfying the needs of the whole practice.  

While operational processes have been the focus of most companies to-date, future technologies will concentrate on making individuals more productive, efficient and mobile, according to new research we recently completed with leading figures in the Australian legal industry.

Indeed, the results of the 2014 LexisNexis Workflow & Productivity Survey found that the most popular efficiency initiatives adopted by law firms were the use of technology, knowledge management and staff training.  In-house lawyers also relied heavily on technology followed by outsourcing to external lawyers and flexible work practices.  

What’s Working (and what’s not)? 

When asked which initiatives have been the most successful law firms rated the following in order of preference: 
  • Technology 
  • Knowledge management 
  • Skills training 
  • Flexible staff work practices. 

In-house lawyers ranked:
  • Flexible staff work practices
  • Knowledge management
  • Skills training

Least successful efficiency initiatives for law firms were:
  • Graduate intake reduction
  • Outsourcing to overseas law firms.
This finding suggests that initial enthusiasm for legal process outsourcing may not have fulfilled its promise.

Interestingly, corporate lawyers said their least successful initiatives were:
  • Outsourcing of work to both non-law firm providers and external legal counsel 
  • Alternative billing arrangements.
This result that suggests the culture of ‘24/7 availability’ facilitated by mobile technology is adding to workload pressures in a negative way for in-house counsel.  

Delivering efficiency a critical priority

All lawyers, whether in a law firm or in-house, are presently up against enormous cost pressures.  The survey tells us that for law firms, the pressure is coming mainly from clients pushing for a better deal as well as growing competition as legal work becomes more commoditised.  In-house lawyers on the other hand, cite an increased workload and the pressure to justify their value as the main drivers for their efficiency efforts.

At the recent LexisNexis workflow and productivity roundtable, participants made the point that the battle to make law firms more efficient had largely been won and the greater challenge now is to maximise the productivity of individuals.  More and more legal professionals are using mobile devices for legal research, matter and document management and which can make them available 24/7 in the event of a crisis or serious matter irrespective of their location. 

Both law firm managers and in-house lawyers are strongly unanimous that the need to deliver legal services more efficiently is a critical priority.  Both sectors have turned to technology as their number one solution in their efficiency drive making integration of these technologies an absolute priority with talent management a close second. 

Where do you think the best opportunities lie for your company and the legal industry? 

About our Guest Blogger 

Dr Marc K Peter is the Chief Operating Officer of LexisNexis Pacific.  Marc drives the product and commercial portfolio to add value to the legal and business markets and support the business, practice and rule of law. Marc joined LexisNexis in 2008 in the role of CMO Pacific and has worked with a wide range of international businesses including E*TRADE, eBay International and Swiss Post Bank PostFinance.  

LexisNexis is ALPMA's Platinum Summit Partner.  You can watch Dr Peter's opening presentation "Thriving and Prospering in a Changing Legal Landscape" at the 2014 ALPMA Summit for free from ALPMA's On-Demand Learning Centre.

Commercial Information Management 101

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

by Karen Lee, founder, Legal Know-How

The modern day law practice has entered into a new age and applies equally to practitioners working in-house to those in private practice.  Thriving and surviving in today's legal landscape is determined by our ability to utilise and manage data and information as well as embrace and adopt technology. 

This has led to the emergence of commercial knowledge management as a new discipline.

What exactly is commercial information management?

Commercial information management refers to methodologies or software platforms that help an organisation or  firm search, review and manage commercial information they use in the process of delivering their core services (such as the provision of legal advice).  Commercial information is all around us – information derived from data from the ASIC registers, the PPS Register, AFSA’s National Personal Insolvency Index and Land Titles searches are all examples of commercial information.  

Data is just facts and figures.  Information is data with relevance and purpose.  What we really want is information, not just data.  Information, especially commercial information, that is well managed is useful, and can convey a trend, indicate a pattern, or tell a story.  Better still, we can derive knowledge that germinates from interpreted data and information.  And knowledge is the ultimate competitive advantage.

Three things you should know about commercial information management:

1. Conversion from data to information to knowledge is key

Data needs to be converted, first into information and subsequently into knowledge, otherwise its use is limited.  Commercial information management aids this conversion and deliver a real and measurable return on information.

2. Commercial information management is data agnostic

Data agnosticism refers to the ability of data to work with various systems.  The message here is that commercial information management does not need to be customised for a single system only.  In fact, it can be quite flexible.  

3. Commercial information management is linked to competitive advantage

The ability to generate useful commercial information (which impacts on the ability to create new knowledge), and properly manage that process is at the heart of an organisation’s competitive advantage.If we can have the ability to extract and analyse data which can potentially be converted into insights, and then present this knowledge in a format that enables decision makers within the our organisation or firm to act, and we can do this better than others in the market. This presents a real competitive advantage. 

Four benefits* commercial information management can deliver to a law practice:

1. Improved Discovery and Access

How? By providing lawyers with easy and transparent access to accurate and timely data and information.  Data and information that is easily discoverable can be shared and utilised for a variety of purposes, from conducting due diligence that involves multiple practice groups in a firm, to providing legal opinions in cross-border transactions involving legal teams working in different jurisdictions.  

2. Improved Integration and Accuracy

How? By collecting data once, ensuring its integrity and quality.  This is an incredibly powerful tool for risk management, as commercial information management helps to ensure a legal practice can confidently rely on  any reports and advices it produces based on data gathered and information derived.

3. Improved Decision-making

How?  By providing better information to support analysis, decision-making and risk identification. The best decisions are made when people understand the full picture. In a legal practice, professionals bring years of experience and intuition to the decision making process, drawing information from various sources, considering the context and extracting insights to make informed decisions. Commercial Information Management increases the quality of the information ‘input’, requiring less effort to process and organise complex information to draw meaningful conclusions more efficiently. 

4. Decreased Costs

How?  By all of the above!  Decreased costs is a direct outcome of improved efficiency by improved management while eliminating risk and waste.

*These four benefits have been derived based on Griffith University’s Information Management Framework.

Human intellectual capital + innovative technology = achieve your goals

It is worth mentioning here that there is an aspect of commercial information management that relates to human judgement as well as an aspect that relates to technology and science.  Both the use of judgement and technology and science provide and add value.  Embrace commercial information management and contribute strategically to your legal practice’s ultimate goals.

About our Guest Blogger

Karen Lee is the founder of Legal Know-How and legal industry adviser to Encompass, a leading commercial information management platform and ALPMA's 2014 Summit Live and On-Demand partner.

Readers interested in learning more about commercial information management can watch Karen's free on-demand webinar "Emerging Discipline of Commercial Information Management", now available from the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre.

Attention Management: Are You Doing it?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

By Martina Sheehan, founder of Mind Gardener®

Is your firm managing attention yet?

You have financial management, asset management, risk management, time management, document management, and many other tools for getting the best out of the firm’s resources.  But the most precious resource in your firm is the attention of your people. When it’s switched on, you’ll find that engagement is high, productivity climbs, and error rates drop. 

But in a world where attention is increasingly overloaded, misused and abused, most people are struggling to give attention to the things that matter most.

The Leadership Challenge – Engagement

Leaders are instrumental in switching on people’s attention, but also in switching it off.  It is well recognised that when a leader focuses on someone’s strengths, their performance lifts and they feel more engaged with their firm.  When a leader focuses on someone’s weaknesses, engagement levels drop by almost 25%, meaning people actively withdraw their precious attention from their work.  

But a survey by Gallup reveals a more fascinating fact.  When someone feels ignored, their engagement levels drop by almost 60%!  When a leader withholds their attention, whether it’s intentional or not, people feel disconnected, neglected, and are very unlikely to bring their best to work.

Leaders may feel that they are too time-poor to pay attention to everyone’s needs, but time is not the right measure of attention. A moment of full attention is worth more than hours of distracted time. For leaders, attention management starts by learning how to give quality attention in the right moments throughout the day. This simple act can switch people on and motivate them to bring their best performance to work.

The Productivity Challenge – Focus

A study from Harvard reveals that 47% of the time we are not paying attention to what we are doing. Every day there any many things fighting for a piece of attention, and the temptation is to stretch it further, multi-task, or work longer trying to attend to everything that arises.  But attention simply does not work that way. It is a limited and fragile resource, and the more it jumps around, the less it achieves. 

It is most common for attention to wander during familiar tasks, and most people’s days are full of familiar tasks. So if you’re seeing mistakes in common jobs like basic letters, procrastination on everyday responsibilities like timesheets, and resistance to changing simple processes, your challenge is an attention management one. The solution is a combination of strategies that wake people up, and developing the skills so people can wake themselves up.

People can learn very quickly how to manage their own attention, and the benefits in developing this skill extend well beyond the inevitable productivity boost. As the Harvard study also revealed, people report feeling less happy when their attention is wandering, than when they are fully absorbed with what they are doing. Which leads us to the wellness challenge.

The Wellness Challenge – Thriving

Positive and negative experiences are processed in different parts of the brain. The part designed to respond to negatives is faster and more consuming than the part that deals with positives. Once something negative, threatening, or worrying captures someone’s attention, it becomes almost impossible for positives to enter their awareness.

In a profession where much of the day is spent attending to problems and considering what could go wrong, it is not surprising that many people in this profession feel the constant burden of stress and anxiety. It takes intentional effort to give attention to positives. But the reason to invest this effort and develop this skill is not just because it makes people feel good. 

When people give attention to the things that are working well, to positive experiences, and to optimistic possibilities, their brain function literally changes. They are more likely to see opportunities, to identify creative solutions, and to give their energy to what can be done, rather than focusing on what can’t be done. Their brain opens up rather than shutting down. Not only do they thrive, but so does the firm. 

So is your firm managing attention yet? 

Try these 3 simple steps to get started:

  1. Conduct an attention audit: are the right things getting attention in your firm?

  2. Develop attention management skills, starting with your leaders.

  3. Actively direct attention to the things you want to grow.

Editor's Note:

Martina will be presenting on "The Power of Attention" at the upcoming ALPMA practice management seminar in Brisbane on 17 September, 2014. This event is free for members or $99 for non-members. Register now.  

She also presented "Wired For Leadership" at the 2013 ALPMA Summit, now available in ALPMA's On-Demand Learning Centre.

About Our Guest Blogger

Martina is passionate about reviving the dying art of paying attention. She is a Brisbane-based author and business advisor who has been changing the way people think for over a decade. With a knack for making science make sense, Martina is a popular speaker who delivers practical ideas that will inspire you to lead, work, and live differently. 

Martina has worked with private and public sector companies in many different industries, including leading law firms. She offers motivation for those seeking a boost to their productivity, performance, and wellbeing. Whether it be Mind Gardener's award-winning Conscious Leadership Program, their books, apps, online programs, or blogs, the message is clear: what you focus on grows. So find out how to focus your attention on the things that really matter.

A Brief Inventory of NewLaw in Australia

Monday, August 25, 2014

By Jordan Furlong and Sean Larkan, Edge International

You’ve probably been hearing more and more about “NewLaw” lately. What exactly is it supposed to mean, and what does it have to do with your law firm?

George Beaton, who coined the “NewLaw” phrase and has written more than anyone else on this subject, describes the NewLaw business model as the antithesis of the BigLaw model. We recommend reading George’s extensive writings on the subject in order to further acquaint yourself with this concept and its examples. 

For our part, and for the purposes of identifying the firms and companies that qualified under this name, we defined NewLaw as:

This definition allowed us to encompass not just law firms, but also new legal talent combinations, legal service managers, and legal technology that both changes how lawyers practice and places the power of legal service provision in clients’ hands. 

We used that definition in a post earlier this year at Jordan Furlong’s Law21 blog, “An incomplete inventory of NewLaw,” which listed more than 80 entities that qualified under this definition. But most of these examples hailed from the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. At the invitation of ALPMA, and drawing upon the knowledge base of Edge International’s Australian partner Sean Larkan, we’ve produced a similar inventory for the local legal market.  

First, a few exceptions and disclaimers. 

Several innovative legal companies and technologies whose primary focus is the marketing or management of law practices, rather than the creation and delivery of legal services, are not on the list. 

We also decided not to include e-discovery providers, partly because we’d spend several pages cataloguing all the players in this market, but also because e-discovery is increasingly accepted as part of litigation and isn’t all that “New” anymore. 

With PriceWaterhouseCooper’s recent foray into the Australian legal market, through the acquisition of Sydney’s LCR Advisory, the legal profession must again get ready to say hello to accountants practicing law. For now, however, we are leaving accounting firms off this list. 

American legal document and consumer law portals LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer provide a sort of hybrid combination of legal documents available online and networks of affiliated law firms that supplement the documents with higher-value services. More like them will emerge.

A Brief Inventory of NewLaw in Australia

With those points out of the way, here is our brief inventory of NewLaw entities in Australia and environs. As you will see, they are invariably small or mid-tier operations.
  • AdventBalance - “A firm that combines the expertise of outside counsel with the best qualities of a sophisticated in-house team.”  
  • Bespoke Law - “A network of experienced lawyers who are available to provide clients with tailored support without watching the clock.” 

  • Curwoods - “Our team of experienced professionals, combined with our Artist-in-Residence program, means that we balance thoughtful creativity with innovative commercial solutions.” 

  • Hive Legal - “We embrace the opportunity to value our work based on the outcomes we achieve for our clients and have a strong preference for value pricing.” 

  • Integrated Legal Holdings Ltd - “A growing network of member firms, affiliates and strategic relationships, targeting growth markets and segments in Australia and the Asia Pacific region.”  
  • M+K - “A growing firm of commercial lawyers and industry advocates, devoted to the needs of businesses and asset owners in the mid-market.”       

  • Marque Lawyers – “We started our firm with the desire to practise law in a new and better manner, and in particular to do away with the business of charging for legal services on the basis of the time spent doing it.” 

  • Nest Legal: “Online after-hours lawyers for busy Victorians ... We offer fixed-fee services in estates, conveyancing and unbundled coaching for self-represented litigants. ... Our prices are all listed on our website.”                       

  • Plexus - “We have unshackled talented lawyers from grey suits, high overheads, billable hours and the costly partnership structure – along with many other anachronisms. ... We are transforming the value of legal.”       

  • Pod Legal - “An innovative law firm offering expertise in intellectual property, technology law and social media law. We provide fixed fee quotes and we stick to them ... no matter what.”       

  • Salvos Legal - “We provide quality commercial and property law advice on a paid basis. However, all of our fees fund our ‘legal aid’ sister firm. Both are wholly owned by The Salvation Army.”         

  • Slater & Gordon - “A leading consumer law firm in Australia with a growing presence in the UK consumer law market. We employ 1,200 people in 70 locations across Australia and 1,300 people in 18 locations in the UK. ”
There is a temptation, when thinking about concepts like “NewLaw,” to think solely in terms of firms with unique structures, or that use some version of outsourcing or who have, for instance, moved away from time-based billing. We think it’s more a question of the unique ways in which they structure themselves and deliver their services.

Many of these firms have also truly recognised the importance of all their people, including support staff, and treat them accordingly — in some cases, offering them an interest in the firm. It is therefore better to take a much broader view, and to consider just why it is that clients have moved their work from traditional firms to these new shops in the first place. 

The message we should take from the relentless pressures felt by traditional firms is that the market has tired of what they offer and how they deliver their services. The market is looking for something just as capable and competent, but more accessible, efficient, and client-friendly than what Law As Usual offers. Many of these traditional firms (in many cases, the larger firms) still seem to believe that it is all about what they want, what they decide to offer that matters, rather than what clients want

The lessons of NewLaw will be lost on them, to their ultimate detriment. Consider what has happened to the American legal market over the past five years: the 200 largest firms in the U.S. now have only enough legal work to keep 0.6 of a lawyer (per partner, on average) busy. 

Nonetheless, some traditional firms, particularly in Australasia, do hear these messages. And in their own ways, they are responding, even if it is to only replicate what other more dynamic firms have been doing for years. For instance, several “normal” firms do offer a full range of capabilities and charge-out rates for their lawyers, reducing the incentives for clients to outsource to India or explore NewLaw options. This sets them apart from their counterparts in the U.S. 

As NewLaw continues to emerge and blossom, inevitably “OldLaw” will begin to adapt and evolve in NewLaw’s direction. The challenge for the traditional firms will be to ensure that any new concepts or structures they embrace truly become part of their DNA. 

So we believe the real message of NewLaw’s emergence and early success is that practising law differently, with a greater focus on efficiency, productivity, and true alignment with both their staff and client interests, is a formula that any legal service provider can adopt. Some will find this easier than others.   

Is your firm ready to hear these messages? And if so, what will you do to respond?

Editor's Note:

AdventBalance and Hive Legal are finalists in the 2014 ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Awards, along with Swaab Attorneys and PD Law. The Awards recognise law firms that are 'doing things differently' in response to the changing legal landscape.  The winner will be announced at the 2014 ALPMA Summit Gala Dinner on Thursday 28 August.  

Award finalists recently participated in an ALPMA thought leadership panel discussing innovation in the legal industry. 

About Our Guest Bloggers

Jordan Furlong

Jordan Furlong is a lawyer, consultant, and legal industry analyst based in Ottawa, Canada, who forecasts the impact of the changing legal market on lawyers, clients, and legal organizations. He has delivered dozens of addresses to law firms, state bars, law societies, law schools, judges, and many others throughout the United States and Canada on the evolution of the legal services marketplace. He is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and serves as Strategic Advisor in Residence at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. He is a principal with Edge International and blogs about the new legal market at Law21.

Sean Larkan

Sean Larkan

Sean Larkan is a strategy and growth advisor and consultant to professional service firms internationally with a particular focus on the legal industry. He has a reputation as an innovator, finding ways to help firms get the results they truly want. He follows a simple philosophy which he applies to all his interactions –‘building growth, confidence and well-being’. He is the author of the leading publication on brand strategy for the professions ‘Brand Strategy and Management for Law Firms’ and is an internationally accredited Master Coach and Human Synergistics practitioner. Sean is a principal of Edge International and blogs about issues of relevance to law firm leaders at Legal Leaders Blog.

How to start a sales program in your law firm

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Your 4 step guide for turning lawyers into lead generators

by Sue-Ella Prodonovich, Principal, Prodonovich Advisory

For law firms, a successful sales campaign involves much more than simply cold calling. It requires strategy, planning and - most importantly of all - commitment across the whole firm, from the managing partner through to individual lawyers and support staff. And from every management function, including finance and HR. 
This is my guide for how to build a successful 90 day sales program for law firms. 

But don’t be misled by the name. A 90 day sales program doesn’t involve 90 days of selling. It involves 90 days of groundwork. After all, I find most firms need at least that much time to get from where they are to the point where they’re ready to make a real impact.

Step 1. Roadmap

(More than 90 days before sales campaign)

The first step to any successful sales plan is to agree on what your firm wants to achieve. Of course, the end goal of any sales campaign is to generate sales. But how exactly will you do this?

For instance, do you intend to identify new leads from existing relationships? To re-engage with networks in your community? Or to win new business from new clients? Most likely, you’ll be aiming for a combination of all three.

Once you’ve established this, prepare a roadmap for achieving it and figure out how you will report progress. 

In particular, you should:
  • Work out how long your campaign will last (usually from 3 – 6 months) 
  • Agree key performance indicators and important milestones
  • Work out what you will do in the preparation phase, the activity phase, and also the debrief. 
  • Agree on a budget
  • Identify and remove any red tape or barriers that may be getting in the way of lawyers networking or meeting clients.
So that your staff are engaged and committed,  make your sales campaign fun and something different from the day-to-day. For starters, give it a name. 

Lawyers are almost always competitive types, so consider introducing friendly competition between teams and include as many staff as possible. Why not start a ‘BD Olympics’ or a ‘Sales Apprentice’ competition?

Step 2. Research

(More than 60 days before the sales campaign)

You’ve already gone through the top level strategy. Now it’s time to put meat on the bone. It’s time to start your market research.
  • Work out what your firm’s and lawyers’ strengths are and also where the best opportunities lie.
  • Prepare a list of compelling propositions about why clients should go with you. (Identify clients’ pain points and show how you solve them.)
  • Establish a sales pipeline for your office or your teams. You can do this by building a target lists of clients and referral sources and then providing your lawyers with this valuable market intelligence.  
  • Develop a consistent approach for how you will go about trying to attract more work from them.  Better still, go one step further and give your lawyers real confidence in their ability to convert these prospects into clients through skills training. 

Step 3. Rally

(More than 30 days before the sales campaign)

It’s almost time to go in. But before you do, make sure everything is in place and that you’re geared up for success. 

For starters, make sure your marketing collateral is up to date and reflects the key message you want clients to take away - this includes your website, LinkedIn profiles, capability statements and pitch templates.  

Arm all lawyers and their support teams with at least 20 examples of BD activity. Give each of them at least 3 referral sources and at least 2 existing clients to research and target. 

You should also give your lawyers something tangible they can invite clients to. The best way to do this is to schedule a client-networking event around 120 days after the start of your campaign.

Finally now is the time to carry out a brief client feedback survey, using at least 25 contacts from both your clients and your referral sources.

Do more with your numbers:  Provide data that adds insight into changes in your fee base and uncovers opportunities for lawyers.

Step 4. Ready! 

The campaign begins.

The big day has arrived.

By now the feedback from clients and referral sources will be available.  And some of what they've told you, you probably don’t like or didn't know. So use the first 30 days of the sales period to focus on closing the loop on this feedback.

Spend the second 30 days emphasising meeting new contacts and engaging with networks. 

And spend the third 30 days focusing on introducing contacts to others in your firm or in your networks.

You should also schedule a special meeting 90 days after the start of activity to debrief on the progress you’ve made and the impact on the firm.

But don’t stop there. Keep the momentum going by publicly recognising all sales activity and wins on a regular basis. You can do this through a monthly team gathering, preferably led by your Managing Partner. Use this meeting to share stories about successes to and knock backs and recognise outstanding efforts. 

And remember, no one gets everything right first time. The more you keep refining what you do, the more likely you are to build a successful sales machine. 

Editor's Note:

Prodonovich Advisory is sponsoring the pre-Summit Masterclass Workshop 'Mastering Client Development (aka the Sales Process) for Law Firms', presented by US business development guru, Julie Savarino, on Wednesday 28 August.  It is not too late to register for the upcoming ALPMA Summit on 28-29 August at the Melbourne Crown Convention Centre.  If you can't attend in person, find out how you can attend on-line!

About Our Guest Blogger

Sue Ella Prodonovich
Sue-Ella Prodonovich, Principal of Prodonovich Advisory, has more than 20 years experience helping firms assess their business, gather market intelligence, develop competitive strategies, conduct client listening programs and accelerate rainmaking through coaching and sales programs.  In 2013, one of Sue-Ella's clients won the ALPMA NSW Innovation Award for a sales program that delivered a profit increase of more than 25%.

Sue-Ella's career had included senior Business Development roles with Arthur Andersen and Baker & McKenzie, Senior Consultant with Rogen SI, Owner of PTB Consulting, and Partner with Crowe Horwath.  

 Read more about the 25 BD activities all lawyers should be doing.

  Subscribe to receive posts as email

Recent Posts



Australian Corporate Partners

Principal Summit Partner

Thought Leadership Awards Partner