A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

The New Normal in Law

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

By Graeme McFadyen, COO, Shine Lawyers 

What is the new normal in law?  Change has been so constant over the past decade I find it difficult to conceive of normal other than in terms of the immediate short term.  Here are some of the major shifts that have transformed (or have the potential to transform) the way we do business.

CompetitionLeading the New Normal image

In recent years we have seen a permanent, significant shift in the competitive landscape in law with the arrival of a number of international firms which has led to the departure of whole teams from their Australian partner firms.  


And in an era where most young lawyers have mastered the keyboard and voice recognition technology is available for those who haven’t that old office stalwart, the WP operator, has all but disappeared.


Standard business hours are becoming a thing of the past. We are seeing office hours blurred by the ubiquitous iPhone and Ipad and recently I saw a legal practitioner advertise that he was available Saturday afternoons to attend property auctions.  

Commoditisation & Specialisation

Commoditisation has occurred across many areas of law which used to be standard fare for all practices such that practitioners need to be careful they continue to add value lest they be regarded as mere suppliers rather than advisors. And as practitioners struggle to keep their technical knowledge up-to-date there is constant pressure to specialise.  But in what areas?  Specialisation carries its own risk.  

Business Model Transformation

Certainly most major law firms but also a growing number of smaller firms are outsourcing legal work to India.  This is actual billable legal work not just Word Processing.  Clearly this will be an emerging issue over the next few years as firms look for opportunities to contain their costs to better accommodate their key clients.  The driver for this is the realisation that simply increasing charge rates year on year is not a sustainable model for billing purposes.  Many clients are now insisting on fixed fees and the law practices that get this new model right are likely to win market share from those that do not. 

Mental Health

It is no surprise then, that law is the profession in which depression is the most widespread.  Practitioners are now having to work harder and smarter than ever before just to make a modest living which means that their practices have little if anything by way of goodwill. So when they wish to retire most practitioners will simply lock their door and walk away when their lease expires.  It is no wonder that most practitioners I meet in their mid to late 50s are living their lives in quiet disappointment as they confront the reality that their legal career has failed to deliver the comfortable retirement that they envisaged upon entering the profession.

Leading the New Normal

To survive these forces Practice Managers and Partners need greater flexibility and resilience than ever before.  They need to understand what is going on, assess the value of these changes for their firms to ensure they stay ahead of the changing game (or at least keep up).  As ever change management requires courage and determination to drive the necessary changes for the health of the practice.  This is no small task.   

Practice Managers in particular need to be proactive in identifying the changes and working with their Managing Partners to execute.  Assistance in the form of external training, advice and support is highly desirable in this context.  This will be an investment that pays off for every firm.

Editor’s Note:

The 2013 ALPMA National Summit will be held at the Sydney Convention Centre from 18-19 October, 2013, supported by Platinum partner, LexisNexis. The Summit 2013 theme  “Law Firm 3:0 - Leading the New Normal” recognises that the legal profession is undergoing waves of significant and recurring change. A major focus of the Summit is helping managing partners and legal practice managers to provide genuine leadership to re-shape their firms to deal with these changes. The 2013 ALPMA Summit will help managers at law firms keep abreast of the latest developments and ensure their firm keeps up or ahead of the curve. Register now!

About our Guest Blogger

Graeme McFaydenGraeme McFadyen is the Chief Operating Officer at Shine Lawyers and the Chair of the 2013 ALPMA National Summit Committee

A chartered accountant by background, Graeme has been involved in legal practice management for 18 years.    

  Subscribe to receive posts as email

Recent Posts



Australian Corporate Partners

Principal Summit Partner

Thought Leadership Awards Partner