A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Innovative payment technologies and how your business can benefit

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Compu-stor ad

By Bessie Hassan, Money Expert, finder.com.au


New payment innovations have created a cashless society where customers can now make payments using their wallets or mobile devices. As these modern payment methods become the norm, it’s essential that businesses adapt quickly in order to remain competitive.

Whether it’s contactless payments, mobile wallets, or providing the infrastructure for in-store finance, there are now multiple ways customers can make transactions to suit their needs and it’s up to businesses to make these readily available.

While these payment technologies provide greater convenience for the customer, they also provide businesses with higher conversion rates and rich insights related to customer behaviour. Combined with this, the payment methods also allow businesses to provide a higher level of customer service with greater security.

Here are a few new ways to pay, and how your business can benefit.

1) Higher conversion with interest-free payments & in-store finance


Providing interest-free payments means your customer can make purchases either online or in-store that they pay back interest-free. Both Afterpay and Openpay have partnered with countless retailers, so it’s worth jumping on board if you haven’t already done so.

With in-store finance, you can partner with credit providers or you can offer your own finance in-store. For instance, you can promote credit offers such as CreditLine from Latitude Finance that’s currently available at several retailers.

Having the option of interest-free payments and in-store finance could see your sales volume grow as customers may be more likely to convert. It removes friction of a complicated and lengthy checkout process and providers customers with the resources to complete a transaction.

2) Value-add with ‘tap and go’ mobile payments 

Updating your payment technology to accept contactless and mobile payments is a good way to appeal to customers’ changing spending habits.

This is how it works: for purchases valued under $100, customers can ‘tap and go’ using their debit or credit card, and if they have Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, they can pay using their mobile phone.

There are some features of mobile payment systems that provide you with valuable information, such as WAP billing. Online purchases made through WAP billing can provide richer media to customers such as games and apps, and it can provide additional features including previews and delivery details. Providers such as Bango and Netsize are the most common players in this space.

3) Tailored marketing with digital wallets


As you can access consumer’s credit card information, shipping address, and other payment data, supporting mobile payments will give you greater consumer behaviour insights.

What’s their preferred payment method? How much are they spending, on average? Where do they live? This information can help you target your marketing communications at a higher level which allow for a more efficient allocation of resources.

In the next few years, new payment methods will only become more advanced so it’s important that you’re across new developments in this area. Whether it’s providing in-store finance options through instalment plans or providing the technology to facilitate mobile phone payments, there are many ways you can embrace new payment methods to provide a superior customer experience and reap the financial benefits.

About our Guest Blogger


Bessie HassanBessie Hassan is the Head of PR Australia and Money Expert at finder.com.au - Australia's most visited comparison site - and often features on national radio, TV, and throughout online publications sharing her best money-saving hacks and property advice. Bessie is passionate about helping Australians find better, whatever it is they're looking for.








Marketing for the modern firm

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Compu-stor advert


By Rafe Berding, Manager of Brand and Communications, GlobalX


Many traditional law firms continue to rest on their laurels and well earned goodwill when it comes to generating new business. However, more than ever firm growth and new client acquisition can be attributed to having a sound digital marketing strategy. Whether you work in a top-tier or boutique firm, these strategies are integral to assist in driving continuous business development and growth.

In saying this, digital strategies are not autonomous in their application, and must be collaboratively combined with traditional marketing elements to achieve true multi-channel marketing communications.

Indeed, the Australian legal landscape is continuing to evolve faster than ever, with innovation in the sector delivering challenges and opportunities at every corner. The emergence of new technology and integration capabilities is presenting disruption as we adopt and change. Technology is also changing the way we offer legal services, creating new forms of competition and changing client expectations on how we do business.

That said, law firms must also stay on top of the latest ways to reach clients and showcase their unique value proposition.

Multi-channel marketing to the modern-day consumer


Both traditional and digital marketing must be implemented as a unified strategy.

Multi-channel marketing and communication establishes a broad presence across a myriad of platforms to reach prospective clientele. With Australians consuming more information than ever across multiple platforms in shorter cycles, it is essential we have targeted and diverse marketing and advertising activities.

5 tips to boost your multi-channel marketing communications


1. Be Present – Have an online presence


If you haven’t already built an online presence for your business, it’s time to start. Having an online presence is critical for your business - no matter how large or small. It is imperative you have a modern website that reflects your brand, it is up-to-date with your services, contact details and overall unique value proposition.

2. Be reached – Invest in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)


There is no point in having the best website and social media platforms in town when you have no traffic being directed to your brand. To put it in perspective Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year.

Approximately 90% of consumers use search engines to research a product or business. Here is a breakdown of the search engines used.

Australian Search engine usage snapshot:

Google: 94.4%

The rest: 5.6%

To ensure you are ranking on page 1 of Google or any other search engine for that matter you need to invest in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of influencing the visibility of your website in a web search engine's unpaid results — often referred to as "natural," "organic," or "earned" results. In layman's terms this means being higher up the search results listing, preferably at the top of page 1!

Find out more by visiting Google’s free Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide.

3. Be Social – Implement Social Media


With over 65.8% of the Australian population actively using Facebook each month it is important your business is set up on the social media platforms your clients use.

*Australian Social Media usage:

  1. Facebook – 16,000,000 active users

  2.  Instagram – 5,000,000 active users

  3. LinkedIn – 3,600,000 active users

  4. Twitter – 2,800,000 active users

Setting up social media accounts for your business are free and easy to do.
Learn how you can set up a free Facebook business Page in a matter of minutes, from a mobile device or a computer.

*All figures represent the number of Unique Australian Visitors [UAVs] to that website over the monthly period – unless otherwise stated above. Source – SocialMediaNews.com.au

4. Be consistent with your message - Have a Communication Strategy


Having a web and social presence is one thing, but consistent and palatable content via these platforms is the kicker. A mix of thought and industry leadership, product and service announcements and telling your business story is essential across all platforms.

Planning and measurability of this regular content ensures consistency and that you understand the mix, message and value. Communication is constant through technology. Because of this, information should never be delayed in getting to its intended recipient. Providing consistent and current communication means your clients will stay informed and educated. In return, your business will earn their respect, trust and opportunity to win their business.

5. Be agile with paid promotion – boost your digital presence as required


AdWords
Once you have established your web and social media presence and have your content strategy in place you have the option to boost your visibility with paid promotion or advertising.

AdWords is an advertising service by Google for organisations wanting to display ads based on key words to get to the top of search results on Google. The Adwords program enables you to set a budget, with users only paying when people click on the respective ads.


LinkedIn
LinkedIn offers the ability for you to promote or “sponsor” posts.

These campaigns are on a Pay Per Click (PPC) basis and can be easily targeted or displayed based by several demographics:

  • Location
  • Age
  • Company – by name or category (industry or size)
  • Job Title
  • Education
  • Skills
  • Group – all or a particular group, or exclude
  • Gender

Facebook

Facebook offers businesses “Promoted Posts,” these are an advertising option enabling the promotion of selected posts.

A Promoted Post is like any other regular post made on your Facebook business Page. From there you set a budget on a Pay Per Click (PPC) model. The post will then be shared and promoted to a set number of Facebook members.

Embrace digital tools to your advantage


Australia’s legal services market continues to change with the advent of modern-day technology. Today’s technology is indelibly changing the way we do business - from the services we offer, our pricing structure, all the way to how we communicate and prospect for new business.

Equally, our customers’ behaviour is dramatically changing from the way they appoint us, to the way in which the relationship communicates. By leveraging the latest digital tools and strategies in conjunction with traditional marketing and business development activities you can ensure your business is in the best position to be present, reachable and relevant.


About our Guest Blogger



Rafe BerdingRafe Berding is Manager of Brand and Communications at GlobalX. GlobalX is one of Australia’s leading technology and legal support services companies - developing and supporting workflow software solutions for conveyancers and lawyers including Matter Centre and Open Practice.

GlobalX’s online, software and legal support services are used by thousands of law firms across the nation each day. Rafe is part of a team of 250 dedicated professionals driving technological and industry change to empower the daily productivity of Australia’s leading legal professionals.







How do you financially rate your firm?

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

ICON visual marketing ad


By Andrew Chen, Partner - Business Advisory, Crowe Horwath


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Create a firm scorecard



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

1) Gross Profit Margin % (GP)



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

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

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

2) Profitability % (before interest and tax)



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

3) Return on the funding capital %



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

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

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

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



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

Increasing the value of the firm

 

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

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

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

How does your firm financially rate on these measures?

Editor's Note


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













About our Guest Blogger


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

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

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

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


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

Member Q&A with Dion Cusack

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

In this ALPMA member Q&A, we interview Dion Cusack, Corporate Services Manager at K&L Gates, and recently elected ALPMA Vice President, about his role and view on the legal sector.

What does your role as Corporate Services Manager entail?

My responsibility includes property, facilities, client services, office services, work place health and safety, file audits, risk, quality and business continuity for K&L Gates across Australia.  Basically, it is my job to make sure that everyone at the firm is supported and safe, to keep the lights on, to minimise our risk and ensure we comply with our quality standards.

What motivates you?

I am motivated by delivering the best and most efficient services I can for the firm.  This means I spend a lot of time researching, and working with other areas within the firm to ensure that we are implementing and maintaining best-practice processes and technologies that can support or enhance our service delivery.  This can often involve implementing changes to how services are delivered or provided at the firm, which is challenging and rewarding.   But I enjoy making things happen, bringing people along on the journey and keeping a strong, positive outlook.  My focus is on doing whatever needs to be done to within my domain to ensure the firm achieves its objectives in what is quite a challenging and evolving environment at the moment.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing law firms right now?

I think firms are facing challenges on several fronts - with increased competition from global and 'New Law' firms combined with pressure from clients to introduce alternative fee arrangements, reduce overall legal spend, and for law firms to provide greater overall value to their clients. Law firms need to reduce the cost of delivering services, at a work product level, and one way to do this is by utilising technology in new ways to introduce efficiencies, as will as ensuring that other business costs are contained.  Firms also need to focus on tangible ways to demonstrate their innovativeness.  All firms say they deliver quality services - but firms need to be able to clearly show and articulate their unique value to their clients.  

This challenge is not new, but remains ever relevant, in that firms also need to fight the war for talent and ensure they have a compelling value proposition for staff which goes beyond just remuneration.  This involves looking strategically at work/life balance and introducing flexible working models for both women and men, and providing tangible support to achieve this, such as technologies that enable working from home to be practical, including supportive leave and other policies.

What are you looking forward to in your role your as ALPMA Vice President?

I am very excited by the opportunities to expand ALPMA's presence in Asia and to extend our collaboration with other bodies with a shared interest in legal practice management and managers. ALPMA is very much focused on its community, and we will continue to look for new ways to encourage engagement and interaction within our community.  I think ALPMA also has a very strong role to play to as an authoritative voice to guide and lead law firms through these changing and challenging times.

Editor's note:


If you would like to know how your firm's compensation strategy compares to similar firms and obtain compelling insights to help you shape your employee value proposition, then participate in the ALPMA Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey

Participation is free and open to all Australian and New Zealand law firms until 31 March, 2017.  

Participate now








About our Guest Blogger



Dion has been the Corporate Services Manager at K&L Gates for the past eight years.  Prior to this, he held accountability for financial and operational management and performance across a variety of organisations and industries. 

He has been a member of the ALPMA Board since 2014, and was recently elected Vice President.  He also serves as the Victorian Chair of ALPMA. 

A seasoned professional leader, Dion's pragmatic and critical thinking skills enable him to achieve innovative, fresh, commercial outcomes that are well calculated, timely, appropriate and original.  

Complemented by skills in human resources, technology, client, brand, strategic development, governance, business improvement and change management, Dion has also acquired specialist skills in audit, compliance, insurance, risk and business continuity management, corporate and commercial law. 

In his spare time, Dion is the founder of a successful real estate investment, development and management firm.




Speech Recognition...the Way of the Future?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

By Mike Kelly, Director, Sound Business Systems

There is a resurgence of interest in speech recognition (SR) within the legal profession currently. This same interest incidentally is mirrored in other professions such as healthcare and in business generally. It is a trend that is likely to continue. Refer to the 2014 Gartner report where Speech Recognition is now positioned as one of the leading productivity tools of our age.

Penetration

SR is now penetrated far and wide within the legal sector. There are installations of all sizes…many sole practitioners and a number of firms with just one or two users. There are also an increasing number of firms with 5-10 licences and a few with 20 plus. It is difficult to be 100% certain but we estimate that there are close to 1,000 SR licences in the field today. The product is extensively used with email but also with precedents and templates and of course for substantial opinion or advice related matters.

Motivations

The motivations are varied. In many cases it is driven by individual lawyers or their Practice Managers...interestingly not too often by IT at this stage, but this is set to change in my view now that the technology is now main stream. My expectation is that we will progressively see the “institutionalising” of SR in firms by including it in staff indoctrination processes and making it either a compulsory tool or one that is available as part of the firm’s standard IT platform.

With some firms today there is no planned approach. A lawyer might just have read about it and want to try…referrals are an increasing driver. Others may be forced into it because of 
secretarial constraints or because while they might be used to self-creating documents they find the process of typing slow or tedious by comparison to what speech alone can deliver. Remember you can speak at least three times faster than you can type. In others it is a cold hearted ROI that drives SR.

SR is overwhelmingly used in what is called “front end” mode where a lawyer dictates and the transcribed text appears on their own PC. Initially the thinking was that “back end” deployment of SR, where the lawyer dictated but the text appears on the typist PC, would also be on interest but this has not taken off and in my opinion is unlikely to do so. With SR technology so accurate nowadays, secretarial involvement and the attendant waiting time involved, is a luxury few can afford.

SR is a productivity and efficiency tool

SR is an interesting and clever technology, but first and foremost it is a productivity and efficiency tool. It is not without cost when one factors in installation/training and support plus perhaps a wireless input device, but it will quickly pay for itself if deployed correctly. In one firm where we piloted just the one licence, it quickly grew to nine users and the annual savings of $170k in annual staff support costs is not insignificant. For a one off investment of just $12k this equates to a payback of weeks rather than months.

Because lawyers can produce our own documents on the spot, this can free up typists and secretaries. With the need for typing now diminished, this resource can be redirected into more productive areas as true personal assistants and authors in their own right.

Current scene

To my mind the traditional dictation/transcription market has plateaued. This applies to both desktop digital and network digital technologies. It is not something I like to admit because we enjoy a sizeable business in both areas, but that is my definite opinion. Lawyers no longer want to dictate, send a draft through to their secretary PA and then have it returned for final sign off. They will either type up an original themselves relying heavily on smart precedents or they will do the same things except they will use voice rather than the keyboard. With the advent of a specifically tailored NZ Legal SR software that is now so amazingly accurate there will be few mistakes and the old myth that lawyers won’t format and edit themselves is simply not true. The modern lawyer is quite adept at editing and formatting and as you’d expect in this age of instant fulfilment, get frustrated at what they see as the unneccessary and time consuming step of sending dictated work to a secretary, when they can start and complete a matter themselves in one session.

SR is used for the creation of standard forms type documents where it integrates with a firms precedent system, for the creation of an accurate first draft and invariably with the daily deluge of emails which are fast becoming bread and butter to practitioners.

We are seeing SR used by authors of all ages. While it is probably true that for many more established lawyers the preference is to continue to use a secretary/PA I am continually surprised at the cross section of users out there. Technology or age tends not to be a barrier…but there are other barriers of which a potential user needs to be aware.

Pitfalls

There are a few to be aware of:



  • Not all users or all work types suit SR. While age or technical knowhow is largely irrelevant there must be a certain enthusiasm to explore a more productive alternatives and accept a small amount of training. It is not sensible to consider a firm wide roll out without total buy in from all users.

  • While dictation speed, volume, background noise etc are not issues, the user must be able to dictate or compose their thoughts on the fly. In days gone by this skill was taught to most new graduates but nowadays it is not that common. However it’s not a bad skill to have for any lawyer, I think you’d agree, and like all skills it can be learned. If you are not adept at dictation, we recommend daily practice as a way of coming up to speed. Here are some tips on dictation.

  • The technology is quick to adapt to your voice and produce a highly accurate document but it does need training to extract most value. Don’t be tempted to scrimp in this area. Remember you are spending money to make money.

  • If you operate in open plan are you comfortable in speaking aloud in front of your colleagues? Keyboarding a document or email by comparison is totally private by and you are free to make mistakes or correct without anyone knowing. Do remember though that you can dictate quietly.

  • Proof reading your own dictated document can be a challenge for some. They find it far easier to offload this task to a qualified legal secretary.

New features and direction


Deep learning



Nuance who are one of the leaders in the SR field, designed their speech engine to work off of the principal of deep learning, which relates to artificial intelligence. What this means in practical terms is that it is more tolerant of accents, background noise and adapts your profile on the fly.

Virtual environments



Support for Citrix virtual environments and also TS. Fully Win 10 Office 2016/365 compatible.

Reporting



SR is now biting directly into the space occupied by the network dictation solutions employed by many large firms in that for multiple users it is now possible for IT to centrally administer,manage and maintain (modify, repair, upgrade, remove) the SR software licences and track employee usage, redistribute licenses based on employee use and manage or share customisations, including custom words, commands and auto-texts, across multiple SR users.


Look for a SR product that allows usage monitoring. Especially in a larger deployment this allows conclusions to be drawn in terms of how effectively SR is being uses. Great for anyone interested in the ROI of the SR investment and for highlighting training issues ets. 



In Summary


The takeaway from all this is that no longer do users have to worry about:



  • Accuracy (it’s quickly up to 95% plus immediately after installation)

  • Enrolment. Just takes 2 -3 minutes to adapt to your voice

  • Ease of use. Now very intuitive and able to use mousing as well as voice commands.

  • Computing power. Any modern computer will have with an I5 processor and 4GB RAM or better will do a fine job.

  • SR software can be loaded onto as many as four (4) separate devices meaning you can also store your profile in one place and have it synchronised between your office computer and your laptop.

  • With multiple users a firm can measure usage and identify competence and training needs.

  • SR can be trialed, so a leap of faith is not necessary.

For opinion oriented first drafts, general commercial law involving precedent and templates and for dealing with the mass of email traffic, SR is worth considering.

About our Guest Blogger

Mike KellyAfter a business career running steel and paper mills for Fletcher Challenge in the 80/90’s, Mike settled back to NZ in the late 1990’s and has been co-owner of Sound Business Systems (SBS) based in Auckland NZ ever since.  Sound Business Systems is a provider of Phillips, Olympus, Winscribe and Dragon SR technologies.  He spends his day to day working with law firms of all sizes on dictation and speech recognition related solutions.

The firm’s customer base is NZ wide and they deal with everyone from the sole practitioner right through to the largest firms in the country. They have a full team of specialists who install train and provide after sales support.  

Sound Business Systems have been an ALPMA NZ partner since the establishment of ALPMA in New Zealand.





How to execute on your firm's New Year resolution

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

By Alistair Marshall, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates


Many of you probably put together an aspirational list of hopes, dreams and targets for your business whilst enjoying a glass of something nice over Christmas and the New Year. But we all know that most resolutions are forgotten by the third week of January, so I am here today as your conscience, to make sure you deliver on your New Year’s resolution for your practice and get 2017 off to a flying start.

7 ways to ensure 2017 is your most successful year ever



Here are my top seven ideas that you can initiate immediately to bring in work:


  • Pick up the phone to five clients you have not heard from recently, and ask them how they are going. Maybe send them an article you have written, or some relevant research that would be useful to them.

  • Go and visit your top five clients from 2016, and see what else they may need assistance with. Can they refer you to other individuals within their contact sphere?

  • Reach out to five prospective clients from your pursuit list, who match your ideal client profile. If you don’t have the names of specific organisations and individuals, then you will really struggle to make much progress.

  • Buy lunch or dinner for your best five referrers of work. Good things happen when you get out from behind your desk and go and talk to people.

  • Get yourself a speaking gig at an event that will be attended by potential clients. It is a great way to be seen as the expert in your field.

  • Write a thought leadership piece and send it to your database – make sure it’s on a topic of significant interest and value to them and their networks.

  • Attend or host a networking event involving as many of your business contacts as possible.


Over the years, I have learned that when it comes to business development, the more proactive you are, the “luckier” you become at generating more revenue!

And remember that what gets measured, gets improved, so track your efforts and results. For most individuals in professional services firms, key performance indicators tend to relate to financial results, client satisfaction, improving staff morale, and making efficiency gains with internal processes to help profitability.

How are you and your team going to track your progress against these goals?

Whilst no one measurement should be considered more important than another, the number of billable hours produced in the calendar year is usually a critical measurement for most firms.

Winners make it happen; losers let it happen. To hit your New Year goals, you need to start taking action now.

About our Guest Blogger


Alistair Marshall

Alistair Marshall is partner at Julian Midwinter & Associates. Alistair is a business development veteran with three decades experience in UK, Europe and since 2014 Australasia. He leads JMA’s business development coaching and training practice, and was ALPMA’s NSW speaker of the year in 2015.








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

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

By Evie Farah, Director, Empire Consulting


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

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

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

1. Be visible online



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

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

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

2. Get your IT sorted



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

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

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

3. Invest in good practice management software



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

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

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

4. Be mobile



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

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

5. Reduce office waste



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

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


About our Guest Blogger


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

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


Personal Reflections on 2016 by ALPMA President, Andrew Barnes

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

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


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

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


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


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

Our research for 2016 is summarised here:


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


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

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

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


Editor's Note

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

About our Guest Blogger

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




Championing incremental change at law firms

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

By Anthony Bleasdale, Managing Director, BigHand


Never more than so right now have law firms been challenged to not repeat the mistakes of the past, to change at light speed and to adopt “innovative” approaches to ensure you stay relevant for current and future clients. The recent ALPMA Summit was full of ideas for firms keen to develop an effective blueprint for working smarter. Here are the key take-ways I took from Summit as a leader of a legal industry technology vendor and major Summit partner:

Change is hard – but inevitable


As Summit co-MC and CE0 of Coleman Greig, Warrick McLean said recently “driving change at law firms is hard for many reasons – but it is something that law firm leaders must excel at in order to ensure their firms remain competitive in a rapidly evolving legal landscape”. 

Law firms can be excused for not wanting to change, as it requires a step that maybe uncomfortable and resisted internally. Yet firms have to find ways to continue to prosper within an environment that is in a constant state of flux, facing an invasion (welcomed or not) of global firms and customers that are challenging law firms small, medium or large to think differently or be replaced. You only have to read the ALPMA/InfoTrack research on the changing legal landscape to see that most firms are embarked or embarking on a broad range of change initiatives.

Successful change can be incremental or transformational


Many speakers talked about change being a journey of many steps, and encouraged firms to get started with small projects utilising proven technology to make incremental improvements. These kinds of projects (like an implementation of voice recognition software!), well-executed, can build positive momentum for the next step in the journey. 
 
Quality vendors will be able to share insights on how you can improve your productivity, leveraging their legal industry expertise and experience to deliver great returns – without (necessarily) having to spend a fortune. My colleague, James Bible, wrote an article back in August on some thoughts to consider when running an innovation project.

Other speakers talked about joining with their clients to develop new, more collaborative ways of working and innovative ways of delivering legal service and advice tailored to their customer needs.

Don’t be afraid to fail


BigHand is lucky to be an organisation that is agile and responsive. Our clients and prospects often provide us with great ideas that lead to new product development. Not all of these see the light of day – but we don’t let this make us afraid to experiment. The same is true for law firms. You must be willing to fail along your way to success. As the old saying goes “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!’. 

The All Blacks rugby team failed in 2007 and vowed to make incremental change at the next World cup. Nine years on, they have lost but a handful of times, won two World Cups and have become the benchmark for change as an incremental journey, not a huge crash bang wallop!

Draw inspiration from others


Finally, draw inspiration from others. If you get a chance to hear Catherine McGregor speak (as she did at Summit), then go out of your way to hear her story. Never have I been so engaged by a key note speaker at any event! Catherine shared her compelling personal narrative of gender transition in a traditionally masculine realm – the Australian Defence Force. Hearing her talk about how she successfully navigated the challenges to make this change was both insightful and inspiring for those of us contemplating change much less transformative at our companies.


Editor's Note

Summit on Demand

Need some inspiration to help you drive change at your firm? Then watch the keynote presentations from the 2016 ALPMA Summit on-demand. Most sessions are now available to watch from the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre from $49.50 (incl GST), thanks to the generous support of BigHand, our Summit Live & On-Demand Partner.


About our Guest Blogger

Tony Bleasdale
Tony Bleasdale has a long history in the legal sector, working for a number of leading law firms, and for a range of vendors, most recently joining BigHand as Managing Director, Asia Pacific. He is passionate about driving innovation at law firms through knowledge management and process improvement through technology and working with firms to break down the barriers to achieve their objectives.

Tony also has a long involvement with ALPMA, having served as an ALPMA President, National Board and NSW Committee member.





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