A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Better together - 10 reasons why collaboration in your firm is a good idea

Sunday, August 26, 2018

By Joel Barolsky, Director,  Barolsky Advisors

A vast majority of law firms are highly collegiate. Only a few are deeply collaborative.

A collegiate firm is one where the partners and legal staff enjoy each other’s company and are happy to cross-sell when opportunities arise. A deeply collaborative firm is where all practitioners and business service staff are committed to win and deliver together. Clients are ‘owned’ by the firm, the primary focus is on integrated cross-team solutions to solve clients' problems.

Recent research from Harvard and elsewhere points to 10 key reasons why better collaboration in law firms is a good idea.

#1 Collaboration helps reconcile the tension between provider specialisation and breadth of client problems

There are two megatrends in the world of professional services that are moving at 90 degrees to each other.

In the pursuit of differentiation, advisers are becoming more and more specialised and focused on narrower areas of expertise.  At the same time, many client problems are getting broader and more complex. For example, a client issue like cyber-security may require expertise from legal, technology, change management, marketing and risk perspectives.

Better intra- and inter-firm collaboration is one of the few strategic options available to reconcile these two trends.

#2 Collaboration helps make the whole more than the sum of the parts

The past decade has seen a massive growth in the number of specialist freelance lawyers in Australia and New Zealand. Many freelancers are Tier 1 refugees or experienced practitioners seeking more flexible lifestyles. Their ability to set up shop has been enabled by new inexpensive and powerful cloud-based software.

In the battle between a ‘solo specialist’ in a high fixed overhead law firm and independent freelancer, the latter will almost always win. They simply have far greater price-setting discretion.

Conversely, a collaborative firm that pools its capabilities will usually outmuscle the one-(wo)man-band. In this instance, the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

#3 Collaboration fosters cognitive diversity which yields more creative solutions and better client outcomes

There is a saying that ‘two brains are better than one’. The truth is, if the two brains think in very similar ways and/or have very similar knowledge, then the benefits are marginal. In contrast, research shows that cognitive diversity yields far better results than cognitive similarity, as measured by the speed of problem-solving and the creativity/quality of the solutions.

A collaborative firm that brings diverse perspectives to solve client problems will outperform its peers over time. This collaboration includes involving business service professionals from HR, IT, marketing and finance.

#4 Collaboration is strongly correlated with higher client loyalty

There is far greater client ‘stickiness’ when you have three or more practice groups collaborating to service a particular client organisation. This multi-practice glue is based on:

  • The firm’s knowledge of the client leading to better understanding of needs and more opportunities to add value;

  • Lower transactions costs; and

  • More hooks or connections with ‘many-to-many’ personal relationships, as compared to one-to-many or one-to-one models.

#5 Collaboration yields higher revenue for individual partners

A recent Harvard study indicated highly collaborative partners out-performed comparable solo-specialists in the same firm by a factor of four – see Exhibit 1. While the study is limited by not being able to identify and compare two identical practitioners, it does point to the benefits of those willing to span boundaries and network widely across the firm.

Source: Smart Collaboration, Heidi Gardner, Harvard Business School Press, 2017

#6 Collaboration means higher margins

Complex multi-disciplinary problems are at the other end of the commodity continuum. Clients are far more likely to pay a premium when they’re getting a highly tailored solution to address a critical issue in their organisation. What’s more, an integrated bespoke solution cannot be easily compared to offers from other firms.

#7 Collaboration means better lateral hire integration

When a lateral hire joins a firm, they typically face two types of journeys: [1] they are invited onto incumbent clients’ matters and they share their clients with their new colleagues, or [2] they’re not.

Recent research indicates that those that experience journey #1 tend to remain within the firm and become highly successful partners within three years. Those that experience journey #2 become isolated, unproductive and often leave.

#8 Collaboration facilitates higher employee engagement

Generally, professionals will jump out of bed and rush to work if they feel like their work matters and they’re mastering their craft.

Working on complex multi-disciplinary client problems is messy but fun. Ask any lawyer in your property team if they’d prefer to process another simple lease agreement or join a cross-practice team exploring rental yield optimisation across a large industrial park portfolio?

#9 Collaboration can improve utilisation

It is common practice in many firms that mid-level and junior practitioners stick almost exclusively to one practice team. Resources are tightly held and protected within a practice.

In highly collaborative firms, resources are shared more flexibly to optimise overall firm capacity utilisation, to even out workloads and to lower cost-to-serve.

While allocating solicitors to specific practices helps with building specialist skills and experience, some resource fluidity could have enormous benefits for the firm and the individuals involved.

#10 Collaboration is key in a legal world moving towards open networks and ecosystems

Working collaboratively can be thought of as a strategic capability or an organisational ‘muscle’. In most firms, the collaboration muscle starts out weak and with little stamina. Collaboration is clunky and takes effort. It goes against the grain of most lawyers who place a premium on their autonomy. It’s often easier to get things done when there are far fewer people involved.

However, building the muscle or capability to collaborate within a firm will often result in a greater ability to partner with others outside the firm.

There is much evidence that the legal world is moving to open networks and ‘ecosystems’ involving multiple parties. These include competing law firms, in-house teams, legal process providers, law companies, legal technology providers, multi-disciplinary firms, consultants, freelance networks, the bar, the judiciary, legal educators and regulators, to name just a few.

It is now not uncommon to have up to seven different entities collaborating on a project to solve a client problem or to realise an opportunity.

In conclusion

There is little doubt that strengthening and conditioning your firm’s collaboration muscle will become a critical success factor. It’s time to hit the gym.

Meet the author, Joel Barolsky at the ALPMA Summit in September

Smart Colloboration in Law Firms

Joel Barolsky; Director of Barolsky Advisors, Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne and Creator of the Price High or Low app

Being collegiate is just not enough these days. In order to grow, firms need to break down internal silos and become deeply collaborative with everyone working seamlessly to solve clients’ problems.

Professor Heidi Gardner of Harvard Business School recently completed a 10-year study into collaboration in professional firms. Her findings indicated a 7-fold revenue difference between a collaborative approach and a cross-selling collegiate model.

This presentation will define ‘smart collaboration’, share the results of Gardner’s study, identify the common barriers to collaboration, outline various strategies and tactics firms can adopt to become more collaborative and provide pointers for successful implementation.

About our Guest Blogger

Joel Barolsky is Managing Director of Barolsky Advisors, Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne and Creator of the Price High or Low smartphone app designed to help you with pricing your projects.

LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joelbarolsky/ 

Twitter:   https://twitter.com/Barolsky  (@barolsky)

5 innovative strategies to help you build and retain the workforce of the future

Monday, August 20, 2018

By Kim Seeling Smith, CEO,  Ignite Global

Firms thriving on 'perfect' conditions proclaims the AFR headline from June 28. The article reports that their 2018 Law Partnership Survey finds that, after several lean years, both revenue and profits are strong and the future looks very bright.

Unfortunately, this normally great news for the industry is matched by less than optimistic predictions about the second major trend reported in the AFR on the same day - disruption. This reporting is taken from the 2018 Emerging Legal Professions Survey conducted by ALPMA and the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) at the College of Law.  

According to this survey, law firms are under-prepared for the disruption that we are already seeing from smart contracts, cloud computing, the expansion of in-house legal teams, increased competition from both boutique, specialised firms as well as the re-emergence of a legal presence within multi-disciplinary practices such as the Big 4 accounting firms.

Your success as a Practice Manager will be predicated on your ability to build and retain a future-focused workforce during this period of unceasing change. This workforce will include traditional roles such as specialist lawyers, paralegals and business support and operations people - as well as an increasing number of non-legal professionals required to deliver new services or existing services in a new way.

Unfortunately, this challenge is happening in parallel with a dire skills shortage.

The growth in the working age population in Australia over the next four decades is only about 15% of what it has been over the last four. And while market and technological disruptions require that we hire new skills, many Australian employers worry that our education system is not adequately equipping the workforce with the skills they need.

So, not only will we have fewer workers available to fill our jobs in the future — many of those who are available will not possess the required skills to do these jobs successfully.

The combination of these factors has led the Australian Bureau of Statistics to predict that we will have up to 1.4 million jobs for which we cannot find suitable candidates by 2025.

Here are 5 innovative strategies you can begin to apply immediately to help you build and retain the workforce of the future:

1.  Treat prospecting for candidates like prospecting for new clients

  • Use workforce and succession planning to forecast future hiring and promotion activity.

  • Identify top talent in the market for all key roles in your firm and begin to develop relationships with them to recruit when the needs of your firm intersect with their career goals.

  • Identify and develop multiple, alternative sourcing strategies.

Doing this will give you access to more and better candidates and will ensure a steady pipeline of top talent. You’ll be able to choose from the best in the market - instead of the best available at that time, resulting in less stress for you and better utilisation for your teams.

2.  Update your hiring process 

A study by Hudson recruitment found that 44% of Australian hiring managers rated their last hire as “not good.” This isn’t a surprise since many hiring managers try to match a poorly written job description to even more poorly written CVs and end up going with their ‘gut feel’ - which can lead to a stomach ache for you! To update your hiring process:

  • Write compelling descriptions including an evocative purpose and outcome based, measurable KPIs.

  • Use these to structure and conduct Evidence-Based Interviews™.

  • Go beyond traditional interviews and utilise innovative hiring strategies such as real-life or scenario-based assessments, video pre-screens and gamification.

The cost to replace people ranges from 50-200% of their annual salary. Hiring the right person the first time will directly add to your firm’s bottom line.

3.  Generate engagement day 1

22% of employee turnover occurs within the first 45 days of employment. To make sure your new hires are not part of that statistic:

  • Begin on boarding immediately when they sign the contract.

  • On board the person, not the process:

    • Help them become as productive as possible as soon as possible, and

    • Help them become part of the team immediately upon joining.

Doing this will tangibly affect their engagement and productivity - and your retention figures.

4.   Build a healthy workplace culture

Mental health issues in the workplace are becoming more common and companies are spending considerable money on wellness initiatives. But the most effective wellness initiative is free:

Identify and rectify toxic teams and toxic managers immediately.

Look no further than glassdoor.com to see how toxic cultures increase employee turnover and decrease employee engagement. This isn’t a quick fix, but the lasting impact will decrease everyone’s stress levels - including your own.

5.   Talk to your staff regularly about what matters to them most

In January 2016, The HBR published the results of a 10-year study on what, “Great Executives Know and Do.” This study shows that the most important characteristic of leaders at all levels is a deep connection with their direct reports.

Connection begins with conversation, but most managers don’t talk to their staff enough, about the right things or in the right way.

5,000 exit interviews teach us that your staff prioritise only 8 things. We call these the 8 Currencies of Choice™. Use this wheel to conduct regular, meaningful conversations about what they need to be fully engaged and productive and deliver on those needs - or manage their expectations when you can’t.

Implementing these 5 strategies will help you build and retain the future workforce you need to confidently help your firm navigate this period of tremendous disruption - allowing you to take advantage of the ‘perfect conditions’ heralded by the recent AFR survey.

These strategies will also greatly enhance your own personal brand and career opportunities as you become known as an innovative, future-focused practice manager who helps build revenues, save costs and creates a happy, engaged and productive workforce today, tomorrow and beyond.

Meet the author, Kim Seeling Smith at the ALPMA Summit in September

The Future Workforce in the Future Firm

Kim Seeling Smith – CEO, Ignite Global

Blockchain, smart contracts, cloud computing, the expansion of in-house legal teams, and increased competition from both boutique, specialised firms as well as the re-emergence of a legal presence within multi-disciplinary practices such as the Big 4 accounting firms.

These pose both opportunities as well as threats for today’s legal practice management teams. In order to leverage these opportunities and manage the threats we must be able to attract, engage and retain a workforce that is agile, innovative, creative and solutions oriented.

In the midst of an increasingly competitive ‘War for Talent’ brought about by changing demographics and shifting required skills. Ignite Global’s proprietary, LIGHT Up Your Workforce® model will leave you with 5 key strategies to embrace these new paradigms and to help you build the workforce of the future.

About our Guest Blogger

Kim Seeling Smith has personally conducted over 5,000 exit interviews. She knows why your staff leave -  and what you can do to keep your best and brightest.

Kim is the CEO of Ignite Global, the employee retention specialists whose work has been recognised by Richard Bransons 100% Human at Work Initiative. She is the author of Mind Reading for Managers: 5 FOCUSed Conversations for Greater Employee Engagement and Productivity and has appeared in the BRW, HR Director and Forbes Online.

Kim has judged 4 international HR awards and has worked in 8 countries across 30 industries.

Web:   www.IgniteGlobal.com

LinkedIn:   https://www.linkedin.com/in/kimseelingsmith/ 

Twitter:   @LtUpYrWorkforce

Maybe it's you!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

By Grevis Beard, Co-Founder & Director, Worklogic

You may be familiar with the saying, people don’t leave their organisation, they leave their boss. In fact, one Gallup study actually revealed that one in two had left their job to get away from their manager.

So if you are managing a team, take a little time to consider how your team are behaving. You may be the worried well, and your team is thriving, with your staff genuinely and proactively seeking your guidance, raising ideas for how to further improve processes, and sharing knowledge. If so, all well and good! No flight risks there, and sounds like you are an open and approachable manager.

On the other hand, if your staff appear to be disengaged and unmotivated, your team turnover is high and your staff appear to be actively avoiding you, then you will seriously need to consider whether aspects of your management style and behaviour are causing this dynamic.

So what is your style?

Here are a few questions to get you thinking:

  • Are you truly approachable? Is your door not only physically open, but is it “psychologically open”? Do your staff proactively approach your room or space and feel comfortable being there? If there is nervous hovering, ask what is driving that?

  • Do you genuinely wish to hear what your team’s ideas and opinions are? Or are you a “my way or the highway”? Think about whether, even subconsciously, in meetings or one-on-one situations, you tend to shut down conversations or “move things on” if you are not hearing what you want to hear?

  • Are you an effective decision maker, or are you an avoidant one? Do you put off making decisions, such that the team “works around you”, and you are actually out of the loop?

  • Are you unable to control your emotional response to what is any type of “bad news” or feedback from a demanding client? How visible is this? Do you even know that is how you are coming across? And whilst you may think that you are able to hide your feelings of extreme responses from your staff, you may not be as effective at this as you think (or hope).

If any of these ring any bells for you, then that’s great that you have insight.

Too often, managers are in denial about their part of a dynamic and can be prone to “blaming the team” rather than reflecting on how the current workplace culture of the team has been influenced by their own management style. Everyone can always, of course, further improve how they engage with their staff. Where you may be exhibiting the traits above (whether it is of unapproachableness, command-and-control, avoidance, emotionally labile), think about:

  • Taking time to hear, listen and respond to staff concerns. Practice that now. It will take time to “turn the boat around”. Seek feedback over time from your staff about this and indicate that you are trying to be more available. Sounds confronting, but your staff will be impressed by your candour.

  • If your team are wise, then demonstrate that by hearing what they have to say and implementing any suggested improvements. No-one has a monopoly on innovation.

  • Reflect on obtaining a conflict management coach for dealing with your emotional extremes when in a “conflict” stressor zone.

Each of these can further help you on your way to improving how you engage more productively, and happily, with your team. Good luck!

Meet the author, Grevis Beard at the ALPMA Summit in September

Shape Up: How to Deal with Toxic Behaviour at the Top

Grevis Beard, Co-Founder and Director, Worklogic

We all know that culture is a critical enabler of future success for law firms. And we're all aware of the significant influence that firm partners and leaders have on setting the culture of the firm. But what do you do when a senior partner, leader or rainmaker is modelling bad behaviour, and setting a tone which is damaging morale, performance and employee retention – and potentially your firm’s reputation?

In this presentation, Director and co-founder of Worklogic, Grevis Beard will explore:

  • 'Rainmaker' syndrome - the immunity of certain people who are seen as irreplaceable, and seem to get away with anything

  • How the culture of an organisation can allow bad behaviour to thrive

  • Leadership: what gets traction, compared to what’s needed

  • The fallout of tolerating bad behaviour

Grevis then will share five practical steps you can take to shape the future culture of your firm.

About our Guest Blogger

Grevis is a co-founder and director at Worklogic; an Australian market-leader in identifying, preventing and resolving workplace misconduct. 

He co-authored “Workplace Investigations” (Wolters Kluwer, 2018). Together with co-director Rose Bryant-Smith, Grevis has also written “Fix Your Team”, published this August 2018 by Wiley.

Fix Your Team” gives managers the tools to rectify team dysfunction. 

Connect with Grevis on LinkedIn:   https://www.linkedin.com/in/grevis-beard-44aa4027/

Courageous conversations are your competitive advantage

Monday, August 06, 2018

By Linda Murray, Speaker & Executive Coach at Athena Coaching 

Courageous conversations challenge your confidence and your communication skills, but once mastered, give you a powerful marketplace advantage. These are the conversations which lead to peak performance in your team and establish your firm at the top of your profession.

Courageous conversation defined

A courageous conversation involves emotion… sometimes a lot of emotion! It might be one that involves confrontation or one you don’t want to have. Generally, these conversations make you feel uncomfortable or even catch you off-guard making you feel unprepared or even a little nervous.

For these reasons many people try to avoid such conversations. As you have probably noticed, no matter how deeply you hide your head in the sand, the need doesn’t go away. It might even escalate if you leave the matter unresolved.

Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations says, “Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can. Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person. It could be. Participate as if it matters. It does.”

How do courageous conversations give you a marketplace advantage?

When you possess the skill of having the conversations which other people aren’t – the difficult or delicate conversations they’re avoiding – you’re immediately ahead of the game. Your competitive advantage is created when you deal with people and talk through the issues which can make or break a team and business performance.

Mastering the art of courageous conversations builds relationships where people feel safe and valued and help you to gain their trust. Done well, courageous conversations create strong connections between people. People who feel connected are happier, more engaged and more confident. They work harder and contribute more. They’re willing to exceed expectations because they trust and feel trusted in return.

These conversations are your opportunity to build deeper, more effective relationships with the people around you, and that includes your clients. Remember, we all prefer to do business with people we know, like and trust.

The payoffs include a productive team, excellent performance, greater marketplace impact, stronger client loyalty and a more profitable bottom line.

The goals of a courageous conversation

Unlike normal conversations, courageous conversations are structured and have a clearly defined purpose. Whether you’re prepared for it or not, understanding the goals will help you manage:

  1. to discover the other person’s point of view and why it exists;

  2. to show your understanding, gain their trust and lay the groundwork for an open, honest and collaborative conversation;

  3. identify and agree on the gaps and work out the best action to take.

It’s important to understand these conversations aren’t about right and wrong; they are about differences in understanding and how to overcome them.

3 tips for conducting a courageous conversation

1.  Courageous conversations take skill and strategy to win a good result and these three tips are key to a good resolution. Learn to manage your fears

The conversation may not be easy and you might be uncomfortable. In some cases, you might even find that you’re in the wrong. It’s quite reasonable to feel hesitant or ever afraid of these conversations when you first start having them.

Focus on the benefits of the conversation. After all, if you don’t deal with the issues, they will continue and might even get worse, becoming a distraction and leaving a negative vibe. However, once the issues are bought to light and talked about, you have the beginnings of a resolution.

2.  Listen to truly understand

Become curious. Set your intent to listen to understand, not to agree or defend. Discover the intentions or the reasoning behind the action, rather than just talking about the results, especially if they’re negative. People are good and intend to do the right thing, so credit them with that.

3.  Be factual and honest

The key here is to avoid using critical or emotionally-laden language. Focusing on the facts as you see them gives you both something concrete to work on, particularly if one of you has misinterpreted them or missed vital information.

Working with the facts removes the emotion and negativity, allowing you to look for resolution. When you express yourself honestly, your authenticity shows. Make no mistake; people can tell when you’re being sincere and they’ll respond to it even if they don’t like what they must hear.

Courageous conversations are the game changers; the new currency in business, and your future results depend on it. Are you ready and willing to step up?

Meet the author, Linda Murray at the ALPMA Summit in September

"Courageous Conversations: You Shape the Future Firm with Every Conversation You Have"

Linda Murray, Executive Coach, Athena Leadership Academy 

Being masterful at Courageous Conversations is nothing short of an unfair competitive advantage. In fact, I believe Courageous Conversations are the game changers; the new currency in business.

Shaping the future firm does start with you, and it happens with every conversation you have. You know those uncomfortable conversations we hope will disappear if we avoid them ... yet they tend to grow?! Let me show you how having the courage to truly connect with the people around you will reveal a whole side of people, connection and business you’ve been missing!

This keynote will entertain, educate and inspire you to rethink how you approach conversations. When you truly understand what drives our interactions, you can know a more about people than they realise they are giving away! All you need is the tools you will learn and the courage to give it a go. The concepts you will learn during this keynote are immediately applicable in all areas of their life – both at work and at home.

After all, we communicate all the time. The result ... you will be a better colleague, leader, direct report, partner, parent, friend. 

About our Guest Blogger

Linda Murray is the founder, Speaker and Executive Coach at Athena Coaching and Athena Leadership Academy; the 

professional development hub for high performing and high potential leaders.

Linda ensures that your leaders and your teams are engaged, motivated and empowered to achieve the best results for your business.

Linda has run her own successful businesses since age 22, so understands what it takes to maximise the performance of yourself and those around you.

Connect with Linda on social media

LinkedIn - www.linkedin.com/in/lindamurrayathena/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/AthenaCoaching
Twitter – https://twitter.com/athena_coaching
YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPZWA24o0iohBl1O0LQxEkw

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