Implementing the lessons learnt at ALPMA Summit 2015

By James Sowry, Sentrian 

Law firms across Australia can innovate and grow, or stagnate. That’s the message that has struck me after attending the 2015 ALPMA Summit on the Gold Coast earlier this month – be different and see growth.

The “Digital, Divergent, Differentiated” theme provided excellent scope to explore the challenges, threats and opportunities currently facing Practice Managers in Australia’s legal sector.

ALPMA have published a great wrap-up of the Summit, at which many speakers illustrated how law firms are experiencing more competitive pressure in the last five-to-ten years than in a generation. Incorporated firms, accounting firms dipping their toes into legal services, NewLaw firms and clients demanding more than ever are making the future of the profession less clear than we were previously able to expect. And the situation is further compounded by internal pressure from static billable-rates and rising costs.

With only slight growth expected in the industry until 2020, we learnt the solution is to be different – to stand out. We also learnt that technology choices supporting digital innovation will be the driving force of that differentiation.

From facilitating efficient business processes for Legal Process Outsourcing to finding, engaging and delivering an outstanding digital customer experience, it’s clear that technology will be key for those firms keen to thrive into the future.

Pursuing a Growth Strategy

For most firms, the first and sometimes most challenging step towards a digital future is being open to change and new strategies. As Tim Williams explored in his keynote address, “Strategy is about making choices – and choices are difficult”. Those firms open to embracing change – be it in approach to technology or pricing strategy – will be the ones that achieve sustainable growth through true differentiation in the years to come.

Which paints a fairly daunting picture of long, expensive and highly disruptive business improvement projects ….but law firm leaders can’t allow this to be the barrier that stands in the way of making any progress at all. I believe that change doesn’t have to be dramatic in order to be effective. Everything can start on a small scale. Simple practical objectives, like introducing video-conferencing, can be an achievable first step, when it is part of a considered business strategy.

So for me, the key take away is to seek managed, incremental change towards your firm’s strategic goal. Now that the Summit is behind us, it’s time to turn our minds towards how we can turn learning into action, and ultimately results.

Turning Summit Learning into Action

Here are five things that I think all law firm leaders can action now to start making positive steps towards a digital, divergent and differentiated future:

  • Always be Learning. Finding practical, easy to understand information on current technology has never been easier than it is today. From blogs and whitepapers to online tutorials or explainer videos such as Sentrian’s Introducing the Cloud, there is a wealth of practical and actionable information out there. Put aside some time each week to continue learning about current technology trends and opportunities you heard about at Summit to support planning in your firm.
  • Read the Signs. Where are you now and where do you want to be? What are the Partner’s priorities, and are they reflected in your current business plan? What feedback can you draw on from clients? Begin mapping out how your firm will look in the future and your strategy to get there. Start with bullet point and elaborate with time.
  • Take Stock. Examine your current technology – is it ready for your future firm? Conduct a site audit of your technology infrastructure, applications and processes to ensure your platform is ready to progress, or to identify that gaps that need to remedied.
  • Make a plan. Identify and prioritise which new technology you want to implement – mobile workforce, paperless office, digital dictation, infrastructure in the cloud. You don’t need to adopt it all immediately, but plan to make the manageable, incremental changes that your firm is comfortable to make. For example, reviewing your firm’s internet connectivity to ensure a fast and reliable foundation for future digital initiatives would be an excellent starting point.
  • Get some help. Many service providers will be able to offer the benefit of their experience, knowledge and processes to help take the guesswork out of making effective technology decisions and save you from reinventing the wheel. Build your relationship with a trusted technology partner to help map out your journey, implement your strategy and build your future firm.
I think Wayne Stewart in his session on Thriving in a Disrupted Market summed up my philosophy best when he said “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good”. Using technology as the basis of differentiating your firm will always be a moving goal post, with continual opportunities for improvement, and law firm leaders shouldn’t let getting it exactly right stand in the way of making any change at all.

So, what are you doing this week to act on the lessons learnt at ALPMA Summit 2015?

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