A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Your clients hire you to be effective, not efficient

Monday, July 16, 2018

By Tim Williams, Founding Partner, Ignition Consulting Group


The executives on the front lines of your law firm must understand that you’re in the business of providing solutions, not services. Services can be procured from a lot of other sources, often at lower cost, and the professional buyers in client organisations know that. But if you present your offering as effective solutions to business problems, you’re putting your real value in perspective.

Behavioural economics teaches that one of the easiest and most powerful ways to enhance the perceived value of what you do is to reframe your offering. One of the most impressive examples of this principle is Howard Schulz’s reframing of the 50-cent cup of coffee into an experience that made a caffeine fix worth four dollars. Starbucks reframed the product as an experience and has been extracting incredible value from it ever since.

Before you jump to the conclusion that “This doesn’t apply to professional services,” stop and think about how little effort goes into framing the services of most firms. Visit a typical law firm website and you’ll see their offering isn’t really framed at all; it’s just a bullet-point list of widely-available services.

If what you sell are services, that’s what clients will tend to buy. If on the other hand, you package these services as solutions intended to produce positive business outcomes, your clients and prospects will place much more value on what you do.

Moving Up the Value Hierarchy

There is, in fact, a value hierarchy for professional firms. The least valuable offerings are services, which are associated with “labor,” are seen as widely available, and aren’t really scalable.

At the very least, consider packaging these services as programs - unique combinations of services designed to achieve a desired outcome that is important and relevant to current and prospective clients.

Taken one step further, these programs can sometimes be turned into products - branded solution sets that produce value for your clients (and recurring revenues for your firm) independent of any notion of labor or time spent.

Speaking of time, this is by far the worst way to frame what you do. Time (hours) simply represents effort, and no reasonable buyer of professional services would want to buy effort. While you may feel pressure from your clients to be “efficient,” this is only because you’re choosing to sell units of cost instead of units of value.

Under the hourly rate system, clients push for “efficiency” only because they don’t want to pay more than they have to for a particular output or outcome. If what you sell is the output or outcome itself, you’ll soon see that the emphasis shifts to where it really belongs: are we being effective?

Not Just Effective, But Efficacious

A better word still is “efficacious.” Yes, that’s a real word. In the pharmaceutical business, efficaciousness is an absolute requirement, defined as “the power to produce a desired effect.”  The concept of efficaciousness is infused with the kind of energy that can inspire teams inside professional firms to produce positive outcomes for their clients.

As Pine and Gilmore observe in their outstanding book The Experience Economy, if you just sell services you’re in the service business. But the goal of professional firms is to renovate, recharge and reform the business success of their clients. By recasting the skills and talents that reside in your business, you can move up the value chain to where you really belong: the transformation business.



About our Guest Blogger

Tim Williams leads Ignition Consulting Group, an international consultancy devoted to helping professional services firms create and capture more value. Tim is a noted author, international speaker, and presenter for major industry associations and business conferences worldwide.  As a career marketing professional, Tim’s seminars and keynote presentations have taken him literally around the world, including North and South America, Europe, Asia, India, and Australia.

Tim is author of the book, “Positioning for Professionals: How Professional Knowledge Firms Can Differentiate Their Way to Success.” He is also a regular contributor to business and marketing publications worldwide, in addition to writing for LinkedIn, where he serves as a global Linkedin Influencer. 

Twitter: @TimWilliamsICG  |  LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/TimWilliamsICG  |  Web:  http://www.ignitiongroup.com/



Merger fever in the air

Monday, July 09, 2018

By Sam Coupland, Director, FMRC


2018 is shaping up as the year of the merger.  Somewhat understandably the legal media only report the larger mergers and there have been three of them – one concluded and two announced - and we were not even at the end of March. 

Far greater numbers of smaller firms are entering into or examining some sort of merger.  Over the past 12 months I have been involved with a number of these mergers or sales and this year I already have another two on my books.  Some logical questions are:

  • What are the motivations for firms to seek mergers?
  • What is the reception of target merger partners?
  • What are the likely outcomes?


Motivations

Motivations for mergers will vary from firm to firm.  On the positive side, firms with an expansion mindset see acquiring a firm or practice group as the fastest and cheapest way to grow their business. They will usually have a support structure that can accommodate – both physically and managerially – an additional practice or two which provides economies of scale. 

At the other end, an acquisition or merger can provide a firm with a circuit breaker for some of their managerial challengers or deadlocks. This could be anything ranging from succession to disparity in contribution or a hollowing out of market share.

Those firms who see succession as a looming issue, cite their lack of success in developing or retaining likely internal successors. The hope is that by joining with another practice there will be a larger pool of talent that can service the clients as retirement of the partners looms and the newly merged firm (or one of the youngsters) will have the financial resources to purchase the equity of the retiring partners.

There are a lot of moving parts in this scenario and the likelihood of success is based on the idea that a larger merged firm will have the staffing and financial resources to effect an outcome.


The reception of targets

In my experience all potential targets I approach are happy to talk. Nothing is lost from a discussion about what is possible and humans are naturally curious; particularly if they think someone is interested in them. It is not that different from the school yard.

A meeting of the minds is the first step before any information is shared.  The crucial question is ‘do I want to be in business with this person’?  More often than not the answer is yes, or ‘I am not against being in business as long as the deal stacks up’.


Likely outcomes

Assuming the threshold issue of cultural fit has been cleared it then boils down to the financials and many perfectly good mergers have floundered on the rocks once the due diligence is complete.

The right financial fit is important. I have been involved with a smaller firm that sought to be acquired by one of Australia’s national firms. There was a good fit in terms of complementary practice areas and experience of the partners.

Where it fell down was the smaller firm was profitable in its existing lean structure but the modelling showed when the gross fees were put into the structure of the larger firm the profitability of the partners would be halved. 

As attractive as the brand of the larger firm was to the smaller firm’s partners, the financial haircut was too much for them to swallow. Ultimately they ended up merging with a similar sized firm with an equally lean structure.

In most cases, discrepancies in profitability between merger parties will exist but the merged entity should be able to deliver economies of scale (or cost savings by removing duplication) with the result that the financial might of the merged entity is greater than the sum of its parts.

There are of course many factors that need to be taken into consideration for a merger to be successful and a quick internet search will provide you with any number of comprehensive due diligence checklists if you don’t already have one. 

What I wanted to convey in this article is appetite for mergers, or at the very least exploring the opportunities, is high and firms who are considering their options should explore the market without fear of rejection.   


Meet the author, Sam Coupland at the ALPMA Summit in September

Getting your structure right

Sam Coupland - Director, FMRC

The difference between those firms that thrive and those that don’t often has more to do with personnel structure than anything else.

This session will explore the optimal ways to structure your practice groups to enhance profitability; the impact of structure in assessing performance; trends in partner compensation and successful succession.



About our Guest Blogger


Sam Coupland

Sam joined FMRC in January 2000 and became a Director in July 2006. His client facing roles span direct consulting and management training. Sam’s consulting work is predominantly providing advice to smaller partnerships. Sam is considered the foremost authority on law firm valuations and would value more law firms than anyone else in Australia. He has developed a robust valuation methodology which calculates an accurate capitalisation rate that assesses the risk profile, cash flow and profitability of the firm.

Connect with Sam on LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/sam-coupland-b216474a/








Technology is changing the landscape of legal correspondence

Monday, July 02, 2018

By Whit Lee, Executive Director Strategy & Software Solutions, APAC - LexisNexis


Anyone who has stood in line at the post office recently will know that the need for a postal service isn’t waning as quickly as experts once predicted with the digital age, and yet email services aren’t going anywhere soon. A Radicati report on email statistics predicted that by the end of 2019, the world will be seeing 246 billion emails sent and received worldwide every day. That figure indeed makes it sound like the postal service is fighting a losing battle.

There are those too that predict email itself will be obsolete around the same time as the postal service, but even Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of business communication disrupter Slack, commented that, “Email is not going away anytime soon.” However, he agrees (and has built success on the fact) that the way in which businesses and consumers communicate is changing.

At LexisNexis, we know both the legal and the technology industries. We can see how particular technologies are changing the shape of the legal profession by enhancing the ability of lawyers to do their jobs, rather than replacing their jobs entirely.  But technology can disrupt a traditional way of doing things and industries must respond by evolving.


The move from postal delivery letters to correspondence by email

Readers will recognise the changing trend in legal communication where letters have progressed from being physically sent via the postal service or courier, to becoming digital attachments within emails. Lawyers have swiftly adopted this practice, and it is now time to look to the next evolution in this area: utilising the body of an email itself as a vessel for legal correspondence.

In the realm of practice management software, technological developments should focus on improving productivity and outcomes through enhancing the user experience. Many practice management software solutions can now leverage precedent tools to convert letter precedents from Microsoft Word documents to email templates quickly and easily. Using the body of an email to deliver legal correspondence increases productivity by reducing the burden of administration tasks, but it also raises several questions around the future of legal correspondence – for example, can email be used to officially deliver legal notice?


Now regulation and legislation needs to keep up with technology

There is no doubt in our collective minds that email has already become the norm for legal correspondence, but we are in the murky area of change – in Australia, at least – whereby best practice has not yet been formulated, and the regulations around using email as an official method of correspondence are still being decided across the jurisdictions. It remains that some documents must always be served by a personal service or via post. Many questions remain unanswered. Special reports – such as this one from PWC 2 years ago – are attempting to un-muddy the water around this issue, indicating there is a growing desire in the legal industry to adapt to and adopt new technologies and ways of doing things.


Automated notification on the increase – from push notification to pull services

Push notification tools – including email – on phones and computers are inundating workers in all industries, and recent times have seen a move toward “pull” services – whereby would-be target audiences seek information themselves without being prompted. These kind of communication tools are already available in legal practice management software, where clients can update themselves on the status of their matter.

Another technology being swiftly adopted by the legal profession is the use of digital signatures. Whereby once looking after clients located out of town, state or even country was a time-consuming affair of sending original documents back and forth for signatures, lawyers and clients can now sign documents digitally by utilising several digital signature technologies.  By sending an email with a special attachment, clients are able to click a special link to sign in and confirm their identify online. And voila – the process of obtaining a legally binding signature has been simplified and accelerated.

But there are many questions around using email for legal correspondence that run deep, and a comprehensive legislative change is required before full-scale adoption of digital communication in the legal profession can take place. In the meantime, lawyers have the opportunity to be a part of the change, and to adopt technology for legal correspondence where it makes sense. Our advice – only line up at the post office or book a courier for important things that truly will get you in trouble for missing… like sending birthday gifts to the in-laws.



About our Guest Blogger

Whit leads the Legal Software Solutions (LSS) team, which delivers cloud-based and on-premise tools that drive improved outcomes for clients, helping them to make better decisions by combining world-class LexisNexis content with practice management workflow solutions.

Solutions that Whit is responsible for include Lexis Affinity. Whit is also responsible for strategy and business development for the LexisNexis Asia Pacific business. As strategy lead, Whit is focused on how the organization is executing today as well as planning for tomorrow – ensuring we have the right resources allocated to deliver on both short and long term goals and that our investments in new products and solutions deliver value to customers.

Whit holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Connect with Whit on LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/whitlee








What is an audacious leader?

Monday, June 25, 2018

By Ricky Nowak, CEO, Ricky Nowak & Associates


Audacious leaders imbue a mindset that allows a shift in existing patterns of behaviour of staff and clients while breathing life into more productive habits such as follow up and follow through. Audacious leaders are profoundly transparent, truthful, and unafraid to say that they are wrong or that they don't know the answer.

As Research Professor Brene Brown said “The core of authenticity is the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable and to set boundaries.” It is indeed time to take heed of these wise and simple words before promises are made that create unrealistic demands on staff or where people are intimidated or blamed for making errors.

While good leaders work alongside their people and let them know why they and the work that they do are valuable, audacious leaders involve their people in problem solving and opportunity making without trying to take the credit for everything themselves. In fact, audacious leaders ask others to be insatiably curious, seek alternatives and find new pathways of thinking for solving old problems. It’s not accommodating a new generation of young lawyers, it’s opening the doors to a new way of thinking.

The intent of audacious leadership is not fanciful, but purposeful.  Audacious leaders are open to getting the best results through honest collaboration and compromise. To do this, they exercise humility to allow communal success and network growth.

True, not easy when personalities and egos compete. True, not easy when the pressures are on and the clock is ticking and true when autocratic or long-standing leaders have run things for years in the same way and have been successful. But this is what we now know for sure. Whatever got those firms to be successful in the past will not guarantee them to be successful in the future.

Audacious leadership is not a passive experience. Those days are over.


How does AI impact on audacious leadership?

As lawyers face the new and already existing threat of technology out-performing them in many tasks, it seems that the gateway to keeping clients and staff will depend on them stepping up as energetic and intuitive audacious leaders. They will have to demonstrate they are seizing every chance to develop themselves and their teams in ways that provide exceptional experiences rather than complex explanations. They will have to move at a fast pace and improve their mentoring and networking – things that AI can not yet provide. Note the word “yet”.

It makes perfect sense to predict that we may well be headed fast and furiously toward an AI revolution in the same way we had an IT revolution.


How does audacious leadership affect your firm’s brand?

In preparation for the imminent changes in all professions, it is not surprising that many successful Australian companies are spending millions of dollars and hours every year in leveraging their profile and brand. Law firms too will need to immediately step up their marketing and branding efforts in a more visible and audacious manner if they wish to demonstrate they are breakthrough thinkers and initiators.

Clients and prospects are looking for their professional services providers, legal or otherwise, not only to have the sharpest professional skillset, but also be the sharpest in intuitively responding to current trends, preparing them for the future and keeping them ahead of the game.

Audacious leaders must work through current criticism, old ways of doing things, complacency and internal or external influences and come out wiser, more compassionate and more connected to local and global networks. This must be demonstrated through harnessing the collective energy and knowledge of other leaders in all areas of business and being more prepared to share and document their knowledge.

In summary having conviction and the courage to take a stand, while demonstrating compassion along the way is Audacious Leadership. Of course, there are those who may be happy with settling as a good leader and that’s ultimately up to them, but they may miss the fact that being audacious is what makes good leaders great.



About our Guest Blogger

Ricky is a professional Facilitator, Keynote Speaker, and Executive Coach with over 30 years’ experience in executive and business training and development within Australasia. She has been successful in creating sustainable change and increased productivity for clients in diverse industries ranging from Engineering, Construction, Legal, Finance, Agribusiness, Urban Design, Technology, NFP, Government, Project Management, Mining, Medical and Mental Health, Transport and Logistics. Her unique style of presentation delivery and coaching has helped her diverse clients achieve outstanding commercial and professional results for themselves, their teams and their organisations.

She has trained, spoken or facilitated work over 3000 presentations to companies and individuals globally. She is a certified speaking professional, certified human resource professional, author of four business books, preferred Executive Coach for the Australian Institute of Company Directors and regular commentator on national radio and blogger for Australian Human Resource Institute.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rickynowak/     Web: www.rickynowak.com







Your clients’ experience is the key to growth in the new financial year

Monday, June 18, 2018

By Carl White; Director, CXInLaw


Is your law firm turning more of the right enquiries into profitable work and what new business levels should you expect from your investment in marketing, technology and practice management? How does your firm’s customer experience stand apart from competitors?

Your team is highly skilled and your firm is recognised as expert. Yet for many firms, the number of new matters being opened is underwhelming despite high volumes of new enquiries.

And while clients are your best referrers, clients now have more platforms and forums to praise or criticise your firm. What are your clients feeling and saying about your service from the outset of their relationship with your firm?

If these are discussion points raised in your firm, then it’s time to examine your firm’s client experience from first contact through to end of matter. Does this journey reflect your service promise and more importantly the new service norms of an increasingly client-centric marketplace?


The new battleground

As PWC’s latest CEO report states “No longer are customer expectations just set by the organisation they are dealing with. In today’s ‘Experience Economy’ the bar is set by the Amazon experience, the Facebook experience, the hotel experience. To remain relevant for customers, the bar has risen.

The ability to understand and deliver value to your customers – at speed – is the new battleground.

Today, new buyers of services ‘drop out’ of the buying decision at difficult ‘ouch’ moments. Thinking of the legal marketplace, the intolerance of underwhelming service (not just of poor service) is more acute given there is no shortage of lawyer or law firms.

CXINLAW’s 2018 Client Experience (“CX”) Benchmark report, First Impressions Convert, found that only 1 in 10 prospects would instruct based on their first impressions. The research highlighted where in the client journey you ‘win over’ prospects and where they ‘drop out’ highlighting that there are some immediate opportunities to improve your firm’s CX journey.

Yet investing in client experience does not mean ‘adding’ CX to everyday activities. Your investment need to be a whole hearted embrace embedded into the culture of your firm. This will not only grow your business volumes to achieve a greater return on marketing spend but also create more streamlined processes, workflows and client interactions so that activities with clients are easier, more productive and rewarding.

 

Six quick wins

Here are six quick wins to immediately improve your firm’s client experience and most can be applied across the entire client journey:

1.  Web enquiries – respond within 24 hours and set expectations for weekend enquiries.

2.  Initial incoming call – should be smooth, timely and well informed. The caller (your prospective client) should be provided with clear information about who they are being put through to and why. Conversely, make sure information gained from the caller is passed on fully.

3.  Call transfers – start by providing your full name, your role in the firm and in this call particularly if the caller is put through to an intermediary, rather than an advisor/lawyer. The research found that 58% of enquiries were handled by intermediaries and contact was typically dreadful enough to severely impact the impression made upon clients.

4.  Take control of the call or meeting. Best practice involves four stages and results in more information being gained in less time whilst building rapport:

  • Open and Welcome;
  • Find Out More;
  • Show How – communicate value; and
  • Gain Commitment and Close.

5.  Position the cost discussion confidently based on the value you can provide. This will deliver quality clients who will value and pay for your services - on time!

6.  Follow up – will make you stand out especially with a prospect. Firms omitting to undertake follow up or agreed ‘next steps’ fail to capitalise on otherwise solid discussions.

And then move to a differentiated competitive position….

Applying these small changes will start the transformation process. However, achieving a culture of client experience excellence (CXE) requires a holistic strategy, a fully energised team and an investment in:

  • Objective insights - change should always be based on objective insights of your firm’s current client experience.  These insights will be the catalyst to develop a CXE strategy that is owned and implemented by your entire team and builds on the firm’s proud history and expertise.
  • Service skills training - clients are making buying decisions based on the ease, emotion and effectiveness of their interactions with your team at a time of heightened anxiety levels. Therefore, everyone in the firm needs to demonstrate and reinforce your firm’s service promise.

A well-executed CXE training program addresses both the need to grow new business as well as provide a stimulating and fun firm to work in - training programs should consider new enquiry and matter workflows, templates, documented service standards and new staff induction – rather than a one-off session.

If your firm is ready to drive more conversions, more business and more profits, it’s time to seriously consider your clients’ customer experience and initiate or build on it.


About our Guest Blogger


Passionate about the clients' experience of professional services, Carl White entered the legal sector with Ashurst in 2002. He co-authored the highly-regarded ‘Customer Experience in Law' report in 2012 in the UK and led the market-leading Australian research in 2015 and 2018 that examines the Client Experience Advantage for law firms, in partnership with ALPMA.

As the founding director of CXINLAW Carl has a background in theatre practice, retail operations and law with expertise in employee engagement, L&D and "CX". Carl was invited to become a faculty tutor at the Queensland Law Society and has presented to Australia's law societies, ALPMA, LIV and Centre for Legal Innovation. CXINLAW has been recognised for introducing the concept and practice of Client Experience in law both in the UK and Australasia. 

W:  www.cxinlaw.com   |   Carl White LinkedIn   |   E:  carl.white@cxinlaw.com






The imperfect performance appraisal

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

By Janice Duncan, Principal, GM Outsource


End of financial year is approaching and so are three little words that often hold a level of dread for many; Annual Performance Appraisal.

It can feel overwhelming if you are required to manage one or more performance appraisals.  Particularly if you didn’t get around to setting KPI’s or clearly defining expectations.  Before you spiral down the path of appraisal despair consider the alternative, conducting an ‘Imperfect Appraisal’. 

Your starting point has to be authenticity so, if you don’t have all your measurement ‘ducks in a row’ don’t fake it.  The most important contribution you make to your team members appraisal is your time and genuine interest.

If you have been bogged down in one or more matters for so long you haven’t seen daylight for months, your team will know and their appreciation of you creating time to focus on their contribution and how they can improve and progress will be elevated.

So go with what you know.  Identify categories that are part of day-to-day life in a law firm and draw on your own experience to guide your team members.

Some things change, some things stay the same.

No Lawyer enjoys recording time, yet most firms still operate on a billable hour system, so recording time, billable and non-billable is a good habit for a lawyer to develop.  Junior lawyers need to account for their time. Partners and Management need to know where their lawyers are spending their time. 

Consider where your lawyers are in their career path and experience? What is the quality and volume of work they have delivered over the last 12 months?

  • Highlight 2 or 3 things the individual excels at
  • Highlight 2 or 3 things that need refining and will accelerate the individuals career

See the work from your team members perspective;

  • Ask them which matter or what type of work they most enjoyed working on over the last 12 months and why?
  • Ask them what is holding them back? 
  • The answer to this question may require you to hold your breath, and your tongue, but better to know, than not know. At the least the response should be insightful.

Replicate the above for your admin and support staff.

Attending a performance appraisal with a raft of reports and loads of detail looks impressive, and it may well be very helpful, but the real driver of performance is how the individuals in your team connect with you and take on your guidance and instructions.   We humans will work hard for, and follow a good leader, above and beyond all else.

Your team members need to know you have their development at heart. The appraisal is about them, and how you can guide them to be hugely successful.  After all, creating a win win scenario has to be the ideal outcome.

Want to avoid the annual appraisal and be more informed about the drivers, skill and aspirations of your team members?

Then you need to be interested and connected.  Try catching up with each team member once every 4 to 6 weeks for a 30-minute one on one. This can be in your office or outside, over a coffee. Be clear about the purpose of the one on one;

  • Discuss what they are currently working on.
  • What challenges are they experiencing and what do they see as the potential solutions.  This could apply to matters, business development/marketing, studying etc.
  • Give real and timely feedback on events or actions you have observed over the last month.
  • Clarify and reiterate your expectations
  • Ensure these chats are in confidence, held with integrity and the purpose being to support the recipient in achieving their goals.
  • Ask the individual to email you a few bullet points regarding what was discussed and what they are going to focus on for the next month straight after your chat. They can build on that document each month. (You have just created your running appraisal document).

You may be thinking you don’t have time, but the value in maintaining short, regular, structured catch ups happening can eliminate the need for a formal annual appraisal, however if you need to conduct an annual appraisal, or are required to do so, your monthly one on one approach may just lead to the perfect appraisal and a more productive and rewarding outcome for all.



About our Guest Blogger

Janice Duncan is an accomplished business leader with 20 years’ experience running successful businesses in multiple industries, including the legal profession and corporate travel.

GM Outsource is an innovative solution when a business requires additional management support.

3 initial steps to starting your own law firm

Monday, June 04, 2018

By Peter Carayiannis; President, Conduit Law


You’re reading this article today because of the concept of time.  You’ve been practicing law, for a long time or a maybe just a short time, but always on someone else’s time.  Now you want to consider your own law firm.

You feel like you’ve put in enough time to have a go yourself. 

You feel like things will be different this time. 

Maybe you’re sick of being a cog in a BigLaw firm, just selling time. Six minutes, at a time. 

Regardless of the reason you found this article today, you know that now is your time and you’re ready to start your own business in the legal industry. 

If I’ve got your attention, then may I be so bold as to ask for a few minutes of your time to consider a few of my thoughts and experiences on how to launch your new legal business.

1.   Lawyers have always been entrepreneurs

We are part of a business, and a profession, but also part of a tradition of entrepreneurship.  The truth is that it is only in the past 50 or 60 years that law has begun to be dominated by the mega-firms; both national and international.

In point of fact lawyers have been hanging their shingles around the world for centuries. ‘Twas ever thus and nothing will change.

By waking up to the fact that you are ready to launch your own firm, you’re not so much stepping away from the warm (and stifling) embrace of yet-another-super-big-law firm, rather you’re stepping back into the time honoured tradition of independent-minded lawyers the world over who have decided that they can better serve their clients, in their own way, with a law firm of their own creation. 

Don’t be intimidated. You are surrounded by legal entrepreneurs and they will all be only too happy to speak with you, mentor you and even refer work to you (more on the important topic of referrals a little bit later on).

You may not have thought that being a lawyer was halfway to being an entrepreneur, but that’s the truth and the sooner you get on with building your firm, the better.

2.   Don’t spend a lot of money – the lean startup

It used to be that starting a business meant a huge up-front investment; something that is understandably challenging for most of us, and impossible for many of us.

First, keep in mind that law is a knowledge-based business. It is about ideas, service, and solutions and nowhere in that equation is it mandatory to have opulent offices on the 50th floor of some glass tower with glorious vistas. No, clients don’t need that opulence. They don’t want to pay for you to have it and you don’t need to invest in it.

All of your investments should be limited, targeted and based on getting the operation up and running. There are phenomenal SaaS (software-as-a-service) solutions available to power every aspect of your business and that cost only a few dollars per month. You can use co-working spaces when necessary and spend all of your time and energy focused on your work, your clients, your staff and drumming up new business. 

3.   The three most important things – Market, Marketing, Marketplace

If this heading doesn’t make it clear, let me sum it up as follows: Marketing will be the difference between your success or your failure. Full stop. Period. End. Of. Story.

What do I mean by this?

First – know the market you intend to serve.  Will you be a generalist or a specialist?  Will you be tied to one geography or be global? Will you start a small firm that is intended to stay small and serve small clients or will you start a small firm intended to grow? You need to know the market you will serve.

Second marketing is the key to success. The legal industry is by and large, with limited exceptions, pretty universally dismal in marketing. Most of the marketing is copycat/derivative, lacking in originality, full of stuffiness and far more interested in boasting about degrees and experience rather than being focused on marketing how the legal solutions will help the client.

I understand how the legal industry got to this point of marketing banality and I understand why it continues to this day. I also understand that if you want to build a new firm or legal business for tomorrow’s solutions, you should not recycle the tired old marketing tricks from yester-year. This is your chance to set yourself apart from the crowd.  Seize the opportunity.

Third – making sure to know your marketplace and to build your reputation within that marketplace will help you succeed. And that marketplace includes lawyers. You will need referral work and you will learn to love referral work.  Lawyers (everything from classmates, to colleagues to opposing counsel) are pleased to make referrals to trusted counsel. Work hard to increase your profile through writing and speaking engagements and other reputation and profile enhancers, and then work hard to cultivate and grown those relationships. This marketplace will be the source of your work.

Conclusion

There’s no better time than now for you to launch your new law firm.

There is opportunity at every turn. There are countless clients, in all parts of the community, who need proper legal support, who need counselling, who need guidance, who need advice and who are unrepresented or under-represented (and I’m not talking about the Access To Justice crisis, which is a topic for another day).

I am talking about solid clients – individuals and businesses – who have been priced out of the market or for whom retaining a lawyer seems an impossible thing. It’s not impossible. And now is your time to stand up and make it happen.



About our Guest Blogger


Peter Carayiannis is the President of Conduit Law, a leading alternative model law firm.

After practicing law for several years at one of Canada’s largest national law firms as a corporate lawyer, Peter set out to build a new model of law firm focused on finding more efficient and effective ways of working with his clients and to deliver quality legal services to Canadian businesses.  It was this experience of delivering on-site and on-demand legal services that would lead to the founding of Conduit Law.

Peter has also worked closely with the LegalTech community in Canada and is a frequent speaker on entrepreneurship and innovation, especially as it applies to the practice and business of law.  He has spoken at numerous conferences and events in the US, Canada and Europe.

Conduit Law Professional Corporation
Mobile: 416-930-3846 | Email: pc@conduitlaw.com  | Twitter @pcarayiannis





Partner succession and career transition in law firms

Monday, May 28, 2018

By Jordan Furlong; Consultant, Author and Legal Market Analyst


A few years ago, I was contacted by some senior staff members at a high-profile boutique firm who were coming to grips with a deeply alarming prospect. The name founders, widely known and respected within the local bar, were all coming up on retirement, but seemed to be showing little interest in devolving authority, transitioning clients, or planning for the future.

It was becoming increasingly clear that the partners weren’t thinking beyond the next couple of years, and that was because that period of time was as far as their interest extended. They were going to retire from practice soon, and so they were driving hard on all cylinders, hoarding hours and maximizing client time, until that happy day arrived.

The deeply alarming prospect for the senior staff was that the firm really only existed to be the commercial vehicle for the name partners’ legal careers, and when those careers ended, the vehicle would have served its purpose.

The end is near

I once wrote that many law firms seem to be run these days as if they intended to close their doors in five years’ time. I was half-joking at the time, but I now think there was more truth in it than I realised. Five years is probably the anticipated remaining career length of a typical law firm’s most powerful partners. So if it seems to you that your law firm’s engine has been pushed into overdrive lately, such that it’s going to be immensely profitable in the short term but is imperiling itself in the long term, well, maybe there’s a reason for that.

I can think of two reasons why the leaders of a law firm — and here, I’m referring to the firm’s founders, senior partners, and/or most important rainmakers and client development lawyers — are not taking steps to arrange an orderly pre-retirement transition of legal knowledge and client relationships to their younger colleagues (a process frequently described as succession planning).

1. The charitable explanation is that these lawyers can’t really help themselves. All they’ve ever known how to do is practise law. They were raised in a profession that prized highly competitive individual profit-maximising behaviour, and there was never any “Off” button installed on their internal lawyering machines. Plus, they’re experiencing the natural human reluctance to confront the passage of time and the inevitable winding-down of individual activity and influence — especially difficult, in my experience, for older men to cope with.

It’s entirely normal for lawyers in this position to keep diving back into their work — the one thing they know how to do and that they’re indisputably great at — than to face up to both their professional denouement and the impending mortality that lies behind it.

2.  The less charitable explanation is that whoever dies with the most toys wins, and these guys intend to win. They’re perfectly happy to drain the contents of the firm and recycle the empty afterwards — and if most of the other people in the firm have put their backs and their hearts into the enterprise for many years in the belief that their turn would come someday, well, that’s their problem.

Both kinds of situations occur in law firms, and there’s no point being overly sympathetic with the first group or overly angry with the second. The key to getting through this crisis — and make no mistake, a succession crisis is exactly what many law firms are either entering today or are already deep in the throes of — is to take a clear-eyed strategic approach to its resolution.

One and done?

The first step to managing a succession crisis is to ask whether there ought to be any succession at all. That might sound strange, but it’s actually important.

Earlier this year, Adam Smith Esq., a law firm consultancy in New York, explored this concept in an excellent blog post about “One-Generational Firms.” Their idea is that some number of law firms out there were never meant to be, and are not equipped to become, multi-generational. Like the boutique firm I encountered, the founders didn’t necessarily believe they were setting up a firm that would last beyond their retirements. They were setting up a firm that was going to take them to their retirements, and not one day past that. 

I should emphasise that there’s nothing wrong with this. There’s no law that says every enterprise should survive its founders; in fact, the vast majority of small businesses don’t, and that’s perfectly fine.

But I do think your firm’s leaders need to sit down and have a private and very honest discussion about one-generational firms and multi-generational firms and decide which one you have there. It doesn’t matter much, from my perspective, which answer you come up with. What matters is that you agree about what the firm’s owners and leaders genuinely want and expect from their firm.

Beware of being too aspirational here, of saying, “Yes, we’re building for the future, we want to leave a legacy, etc,” if you don’t really mean it. If what the firm’s powerhouse people really want is to mainline cash from the law firm for the next few years and then close up shop, then it’s wasteful and counterproductive to spend time, money, and effort on succession plans and generational handovers that will never take place. You’ve got to be honest with yourselves about what sort of firm you really have.  

Start by establishing beyond any doubt whether this is a firm that wishes to have succession at all. Challenge the default assumption that your law firm will continue on in perpetuity. But if you decide, during these conversations, that yes, you truly do want the firm to last beyond the current generation of rainmakers, then everyone also needs to be clear about the hard choices and time-consuming mechanics that choice requires.

How to carry on

If your firm’s intention really is to be multi-generational, and the political will has been expressed to make it happen, then you need to start moving on this, and fast. I’m not a succession planning consultant by any means, and you should seek out someone who is to receive their expert guidance; but among the things they might tell you are the following.

You might have heard the old proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago. The second-best time is today.”

The same applies to succession planning in law firms. You need to start down two paths in parallel: the first, to resolve the crisis that’s now imminent or underway, and the second, to reduce the likelihood of similar crises in future. Here are three suggestions under each category.

Imminent Steps

  1. If you haven’t already done so through the “one and done” discussions above, take a deep breath and schedule conversations with those senior lawyers who are implicated in succession issues. These conversations, which you’ve probably been dreading, will in all likelihood be less traumatic than you fear; in a number of cases, these lawyers themselves recognise their looming succession challenge, but they don’t have the emotional or professional tools to start dealing with it. They might very well be relieved and grateful for your intervention.
  2. You’re going to have to incentivise this process financially. Put less delicately, you’re going to have to pay these partners to get them to move along. They’ve earned the right, over their years of service, to receive a gilt-edged handshake; and anyway, they’ll fight you harder if they don’t get one. Create a two-, three-  or five-year off-ramp that combines reduced billable targets with annual remuneration averaging their five highest-earning years out of the last 10. Pay them for a couple of years after retirement, too. They won’t be bringing as much money in the door during this time; but they can earn it through this next step.
  3. Give them something else to do. In exchange for less work for more pay, offer them a choice of “legacy responsibilities” to last up to and perhaps beyond their retirement. Actively mentor at least two junior partners and one young associate a year; work with the law librarian to “download” their expertise and know-how into a knowledge bank for future generations; award them the title of "firm ambassador" and have them make the rounds of clients, law schools, community organisations, etc. Involve them in reinforcing the firm’s reputation by dint of their own talents and accomplishments.

Long-Term Steps

  1. Start with nomenclature. “Succession” is probably not a helpful word for us to be using; it suggests being replaced, superseded, even usurped. From the perspective of the person being “succeeded,” it feels like being thrown aside for an upgraded model. Try “transition” instead: it’s a more neutral term, and one that lawyers are already familiar with: they transition throughout their careers, from students to associates to partners to specialists to leaders, etc. “Transition” can be introduced at the first-year associate level and continued thereafter.
  2. Create an infrastructure within the firm that can more easily accommodate transitional processes. One of the biggest obstacles to transition is a single-lawyer client relationship that the lawyer feels like hoarding; make it a rule that every client deals with at least two lawyers within the firm on an equal basis. Get lawyers thinking about transitions earlier in their careers; for example, start talking about long-term or disability insurance when lawyers turn 50. Place transition issues on the agenda of every partnership meeting. Bring back successfully retired partners to rhapsodize about how great it is on the other side. Normalise transition.
  3. Involve the clients. A commonly overlooked fact, one that often comes as a surprise to older lawyers, is that their clients are just as aware of their aging curve as they are. Clients want the firm to deal with this issue before the client has to make a difficult choice down the line. I go so far as to suggest that law firms should use the occasion of a key partner’s transition to open a dialogue with the client about rethinking the client’s legal needs, and even “rebooting” the relationship with the firm to direct some work elsewhere and focus its retainers with your firm on higher-value matters. The client will appreciate it.

I once heard a law firm succession consultant compare older lawyers with soldiers returning from war: “They struggle to reintegrate into society.” I think that’s an apt comparison, and it highlights that one of your duties to your transitioning older lawyers, both professionally and personally, is to help them with that reintegration process. Be humane and considerate in dealing with lawyers facing a career transition endpoint; imagine how you’ll want to be treated when your turn comes.

That boutique law firm I mentioned at the outset is still carrying on, by the way. I don’t know if they ever managed to resolve their succession issues, or if the firm is simply coasting quietly into oblivion; from the outside, both processes look much the same.

Which of these two paths is your own firm travelling down today? Is it the path you want to be on? And if not, are you ready to begin switching tracks? On this issue, more than any other facing law firms right now, time is of the absolute essence.



About our Guest Blogger


Jordan Furlong is a consultant, author, and legal market analyst who forecasts the impact of changing market conditions on lawyers and law firms. He has given dozens of presentations to law firms and legal organisations in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia over the past several years.

Jordan is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and a member of the Advisory Board of the American Bar Association's Center for Innovation. He is the author of Law Is A Buyer's Market: Building a Client-First Law Firm, and he writes about the changing legal landscape at law21.ca.






7 questions to help improve your law firm's website

Monday, May 21, 2018

By Libby Hakim; Specialist SEO Website Copywriter


Is that little voice growing louder? You know, the one that says, “Your website really needs an update.”

Despite the little voice growing louder and louder, there are always so many other things to draw you away from the job of initiating a website refresh.

Like most jobs, though, the hardest part is often simply getting started.

Here, we help you kickstart your website refresh project by replacing that pesky little voice with 7 questions. By answering these questions, you’ll get clear on the scope of the required changes, get prepared to brief any external consultants, and be able to organise some quick fixes today.

1.   What’s bugging you about your current website?

That little voice is in your head for a reason, so it’s important to uncover the reasons you want to change or update your website.

Does the design seem outdated? Was the content written in a hurry a few years ago? Are the images no longer consistent with your firm’s image? Have people told you the website is difficult to read on a mobile device?

Getting clear on the changes required means you can prioritise the work, bring in any external help and make better decisions throughout the entire website refresh project.

2.   What is the ultimate goal for your website?

It’s okay if you have a website because, well, everyone else has one. But your website is an investment, and having website goals can help you get a better return on that investment.

Your website is the place many people are first introduced to your firm and the place your potential clients may go to make a final decision about using your services. It’s an extremely powerful marketing tool.

However, to use it as a marketing tool you need to understand how your website fits into your marketing plans and specify marketing goals for your website.

Do you want people to call after visiting your site? Do you want visitors to book a free 15-minute phone consultation? Do you want your website to lure in locals who are searching for a lawyer like you on Google?

By having a goal, you can start refining the website to help you achieve those goals. For example, if your goal is to bring in more local clients via search engines, then you need to start investigating options for optimising your website for search engines (know as search engine optimisation or SEO). If you want people to call, make sure your phone number is prominent in the top menu bar and the footer and easily found on the contact page.

3.   Is your menu navigation driving people away?

User experience guru Steve Krug explains the importance of web navigation conventions with an analogy involving our physical navigation of the real world. In his book, Don’t make me think: A common sense approach to web and mobile usability, he asks readers to imagine the frustration if someone moved street signs from corners, put them halfway down the pole and aligned the signs vertically.

Make sure you’re not causing frustration for your visitors by following these menu navigation conventions:

  • Your logo should appear on every page in the same place, usually the upper left corner, and link back to the home page
  • The first item in the primary menu bar should be “Home” and should take you back there (no matter where you are on the website)
  • The primary menu and footer navigation should include “Contact”.

5.   Do you know who you’re talking to?

Have you ever read an article, book or website and thought, “Wow, that just hit the nail on the head. It’s like they know what I’m thinking.”

There are no mind-reading powers at work here. It’s just a case of the writer doing their homework about their target audience and writing with that target audience in mind.

Who is your target audience? Small business owners? Okay, that’s a good start. But you need to dig deeper and think like a marketer.

Marketers create target audience personas to help them better understand who they’re talking to. This involves creating a detailed profile of your ideal client. Cover things like location, age, gender, type of business, pain points, interests outside of work, and favourite products and holiday locations. It’s not an easy task, but it’s worthwhile to build up a clear picture – in writing – of the client you want to welcome through your doors more often.

5.   Are you letting others do your boasting?

If you’re not letting happy past clients sing your praises, you should be.

When a potential client is in those final stages of deciding whether to use your services, a raving testimonial will often seal the deal. Your past clients will speak many times louder than anything else on your website.

How do you get these testimonials? Simple – just ask. Send a polite email to your satisfied clients asking if they’d be happy to email you back with a testimonial. Perhaps they’ve already told you how happy they are? In that case, just ask them to elaborate on what they’ve already told you. Otherwise, explain that testimonials are important for your business and ask for a few sentences about why they chose you, how you helped them and what they think sets you apart from others.

The best thing about this strategy is that it not only adds to your website, it also boosts your confidence!

6.   Are you boring visitors with blocks of text?

Unless they’re to be found in the latest blockbuster novel, chunks and chunks of text will turn readers away. Indeed, online readers are known to be scanners, skimmers and a rather impatient lot.

So, you need to help people move through your content quickly. How? Here are a few tips:

  • Break up text with headings and subheadings
  • Use bullets and lists
  • Use plenty of images
  • Prune unnecessary words and repetitive sentences
  • Have a main point for each paragraph and remove any content not related to that point.

7.   Is your website healthy under the bonnet?

The mention of website development, back ends, plugins and coding can send some people into meltdown. But it’s helpful to have some idea about the more technical side of your website.

The good news is there are a lot of free tools out there to help you identify whether there’s a technical problem on your site that you may need to raise with your website developer. Here are a few of the best ones:

  • Woorank – an SEO audit tool that will give you recommendations on issues impacting your site’s Google rankings
  • Pingdom – grades the speed of your website and makes suggestions for improving speed
  • Google’s mobile-friendly test – tests how well someone can use your page when on a mobile device.

Where to now?

Once you’ve answered these questions, jot down what action you need to take, prioritise the bigger tasks and organise those quick fixes. And tell that little voice to quiet down – you’re on your way to a cleaner, slicker website.



About our Guest Blogger


Libby Hakim is a specialist SEO website copywriter and a former lawyer. As a lawyer, she worked in private practice before holding a government role as legislative drafter for 12 years.

Libby now writes for law firms, legal tech companies, and other finance, insurance, tech and business organisations. She also works as a freelance communications consultant with law firms and government departments, and loves being able to bridge the gap between legal and marketing minds.

You can read more about Libby on her “Libby Hakim” site.






Super changes to remember as end of financial year approaches

Monday, May 14, 2018

By Andrew Proebstl, Chief Executive, legalsuper


2017 was a year of significant changes to superannuation. With this in mind, it is well worth taking the time to ensure you, your colleagues and your staff are up-to-date with the changes and their implications, especially as the end of the 2017-18 financial year approaches.

Annual cap on the amount of concessional contributions you can pay

The annual cap on concessional (before tax) contributions is now $25,000 per annum for all employed people, down from its previous rate of $30,000 for those aged less than 50 years and $35,000 for those aged 50 and over.

Concessional contributions include Superannuation Guarantee paid by your employer, amounts you choose to salary sacrifice and contributions for which you intend to claim a tax deduction.

If your concessional contributions exceed the new cap, contributions in excess of the cap will be taxed at a higher rate. You should periodically check with your super fund whether or not your concessional contributions are nearing the cap.

Tax deductions for contributions

One other recent change by the government was to broaden access for more Australians to the concessional contributions cap to include both employees and self-employed persons. All people under 75 years of age may now be able to claim an income tax deduction for personal superannuation contributions to an eligible fund with people aged between 65 and 74 needing to first satisfy a work test.

Personal contributions for which a tax deduction is claimed count towards the concessional contributions cap of $25,000.

Non-concessional contributions

The annual cap on non-concessional (after tax) contributions has been reduced to $100,000 per annum down from $180,000 per annum.

However, if you are under 65 years of age, you may be able to make non-concessional contributions of up to three times the annual cap (i.e. $100,000) in a single year to a maximum ‘bring-forward’ amount of $300,000. Please note that the $300,000 non-concessional contribution limit means that in the particular financial year you make the contribution, and in the next two financial years, you cannot make any further non-concessional contributions.

Super fund members with a total super balance of $1.6 million at 30 June of the previous financial year are reminded that non-concessional contributions are no longer permitted.

For those earning over $250,000

‘Division 293 tax’ was introduced at the start of the 2012–13 financial year to reduce the tax concession on superannuation contributions for individuals with income greater than $300,000.

From 1 July 2017, this income amount was reduced to $250,000 with affected individuals paying 30 per cent tax on their concessional superannuation contributions rather than the standard 15 per cent tax.

However, this effective tax rate of 30 per cent continues to be less than the marginal tax rate for those earning greater than $250,000.

Super balances of lower income spouses

To help lower income earning spouses increase the superannuation they accumulate, a person can make a contribution on behalf of their spouse and claim a tax offset.

To access the offset, the income threshold for the receiving spouse has been increased from $10,800 to $37,000, thereby helping more families to support each other in accumulating superannuation.

A contributing spouse is eligible for an 18 per cent tax offset worth up to a maximum of $540 for contributions made to an eligible spouse’s superannuation account.

The tax offset is reduced for income above $37,000, phasing out at an income above $40,000.

First home super saver scheme

From 1 July 2018, eligible super fund members will be able to apply to withdraw contributions made to super after 1 July 2017 to use as a first home deposit.

The Government’s intention in introducing the First Home Super Saver (FHSS) Scheme was to reduce pressure on housing affordability.

Eligibility for the scheme includes the following:

  • be 18 years or over,
  • have not previously owned property in Australia,
  • have not previously released FHSS Scheme funds,
  • either live or intend to live in the premises you are buying as soon as practicable, and
  • intend to live in the property for at least six months of the first 12 months you own it, after it is practical to move in.

Up to $15,000 of contributions made in any one financial year can count towards the amount that can be released. The maximum amount of contributions that can be released is $30,000 plus associated earnings.

Concessional contributions and earnings that are withdrawn will be taxed at marginal rates less a 30 per cent offset.

Government super co-contributions

Government super co-contributions have been available since 2003, and remain a helpful way for eligible people to boost their retirement savings.

Lower or middle-income earners who meet the criteria and make concessional contributions to their super fund are eligible for a government co-contribution up to a maximum amount of $500.

The amount that the government co-contributes depends on your income and how much you contribute.


About our Guest Blogger


Andrew Proebstl is chief executive of legalsuper; Australia’s super fund for the legal community.  Qualifying as a Chartered Accountant while working with Arthur Andersen, Andrew has broad experience across the superannuation industry with fund administrators, investment managers, custodians and other superannuation funds.

Andrew is a member of the Policy Committee and former Director of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees. He is also a former member of the Victorian Executive of the Associations of Superannuation Funds of Australia.  He regularly presents at superannuation industry conferences and writes regular superannuation columns for law societies across Australia.  He can be contacted on ph 03 9602 0101 or via aproebstl@legalsuper.com.au







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