A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

5 Tips to ensure your time is well spent on performance management

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

by Ray D'Cruz, CEO, SkillsScorecard

Two of the clearest messages from this year’s ALMPA Hot Issues in HR Survey seem to connect very nicely. The first is that HR is spending more time on performance management than other HR activities. The second is that performance management is one of the most important HR issue for legal firms in 2013. So, all very neat: HR is spending the most time on a critical issue.

In some ways, we should leave it there. But there’s something about that neat conclusion that doesn’t sit right. We hear stories from HR practitioners about the challenge of driving compliance – in some cases a three-month saga. We also hear stories from HR about the time it takes to collate results and report development needs. So a lot of that time is being spent on administration.

Quantity vs Quality of Time


This raises the question of whether HR has time or enough time to spend on activities that can improve the quality of the performance management process – not just the quantity of them. Training and coaching skills such as decision making, goal setting and giving feedback are necessary for effective performance management but are often overlooked. Similarly, firms that have rating scales can significantly reduce the effectiveness of the process if partners and managers are not properly trained in how to apply ratings in a consistent manner. 

A detailed survey conducted into law firm performance management in the US by the NALP Foundation found that 75% of firms with between 100 and 500 people do not provide training in relation to performance management while 50% of firms with more than 500 people provided no training in this area. There is no reason to believe the figures would be too different in Australia. 

This may mean that the primary drivers of retention, identified by organisations like Hewitt and Gallup are not being properly addressed. Of Gallup’s 12 key measures of retention and engagement, the performance management process impacts eight, as detailed in a 2010 post on the SkillsScorecard blog. Performance management can support retention drivers such as setting time aside to discuss achievements and goals, having a manager who demonstrates care and recognition, encouraging development, setting clear expectations and so on. If firms are not spending enough time doing these things well then a major retention and engagement opportunity is being lost.

So we pose some question for readers: how are you allocating your performance management time? Is it primarily spent on administration or is it tilted toward the fundamental drivers of retention?

5 Tips to Ensure Your Time is Well Spent on Performance Management


Here are 5 practical ways in which firms can ensure your time is well spent on performance management activities:
  1. Save administration time by keeping the process simple. Compliance will be better if the process is simple. That will allow HR to focus on the things that matter. 
  2. Offer annual training in the competencies of decision making, goal setting and giving feedback. There may be other needs, but this is a good start.
  3. Stay focused on the positive messages about why this process matters (retention and engagement). Avoid an overt compliance focus in staff communications. Organisations like Gallup have plenty of ammunition.
  4. Use an online system to save time on administration, with easier compliance management and faster reporting being the bedrock of most online systems.
  5. Ensure follow up beyond the process. Schedule learning activities based on learning needs and draw a connection back to the performance management process. Staff will be more likely to invest time if they know HR will respond to their development needs.

Editor's Note:


SkillsScorecard are the National Partner for and the ALPMA Hot Issues in HR Survey for the Legal Industry, which provides critical input for ALPMA's National HR Workshops, held in March in Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne.  ALPMA’s National HR Workshops are a highly interactive one day forum where you will learn how to effectively address the key HR challenges facing your firm, get your “tricky” HR questions answered by experts and share experiences and best practice with your peers.  You can register here.

About our Guest Blogger


Ray D'CruzRay D'Cruz is the CEO of SkillsScorecard, SkillsScorecard builds, tailors and implements performance and learning software systems for law firms that are actively engaged in the global war for talent. They use SkillsScorecard to improve feedback, clarify career pathways and improve career development and learning – all key elements in the ongoing challenge to attract and retain top talent.

SkillsScorecard implements online performance and learning tools exclusively for the legal sector.  Their Performance Management System (SkillsScorecard PMS) supports supervisors to provide comprehensive feedback and helps employees develop specific, detailed development plans.  Their Learning Management System (SkillsScorecard LMS) supports employees to plan learning activities and track regulatory compliance.

Using metrics to help drive positive change and growth at your firm

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

By Guest Blogger, Andrew Chen, Principal, Crowe Horwath Professional Practice Advisory


On 12 February ALPMA and Crowe Horwath will be releasing the results of our 3rd consecutive annual Legal Industry Financial Performance Benchmarking Study. We’re excited about engaging again with the industry concerning these important metrics that relate to how well your firm operates as a business. In addition to reporting on this year’s results, later this year we will share some insights on the 3-year trends we’re seeing and what they tell us about the direction of the legal industry in Australia. 

What’s really important, however, is not the information that this study provides but that firms use their results to help drive positive change.  So, let's talk about the role of specific metrics and how they can help. 

Metrics for Growth


Growth is a great place to start in terms of the type of positive change that firms want to drive in 2013 and beyond. The key things a firm needs to consider about any growth plans are: 
  • Growth needs to be funded
  • You need to know how much funding will be required to achieve your growth plans; and  
  • You need to determine the source of your required funding (i.e. debt - via new or existing facilities, an increase in partner equity, improvements in lockup, or a combination)

Working Capital Absorption Rate


Let’s profile a measure commonly used in business but equally applicable to a legal practice - Working Capital Absorption Rate.  

We won’t go into the math behind this ratio, only how it can be used if your firm is planning growth. If your firm participates for free in the ALPMA Financial Performance Benchmarking Study, Crowe Horwath will calculate the working capital absorption rate for you. As an indication, working capital absorption rates were quite consistent across firms of all sizes in last year’s ALPMA study. The average was 37%. This figure represents the amount that firms invested in working capital as a percentage of their revenue.

How does it relate to growth?


The working capital absorption rate is an important metric relative to growth plans. It indicates the amount of cash that will be absorbed by working capital when the volume of fees increases. It assumes, however, that the percentage of working capital remains unchanged (i.e. the firm hasn’t borrowed more working capital through partner equity or its bank debt facilities). 

Example: 

A firm ended the financial year with $100M in fee revenues. Its current working capital absorption rate is 37% (we’ll use the average from last year’s ALPMA study). This means the firm’s working capital requirements are $37M; the amount of money required to continue operations given that there can be significant time lags between when a matter is undertaken by the firm and when the cash for that work is banked by the firm for its use.  

The calculation for determining the additional working capital required relative to the projected growth in fees is as follows:

Projected growth in fee revenues X working capital absorption rate

As an example, if the firm wants to grow by 50% (from $100 to $150M in fees), the calculation looks like this:

$50M (projected growth) * 0.37 (absorption rate expressed as a decimal) = $18.5M

Therefore an additional $18.5M in capital funding would be required. 

Once the amount required to fund growth has been calculated ($37M in the above example), there’s the question of sourcing those funds. The options are: 
   
  • Debt
  • Partner Equity
  • An improvement in lockup
Note that an improvement in lockup reduces the working capital absorption rate so that less capital funding (debt or equity) would be required for the same amount of growth. 

An increase in partner equity is one option. Another is debt. Debt raises the question of whether the firm’s balance sheet will allow the firm to borrow if the amount needed is beyond the existing facilities. From a lender’s perspective this will depend on the quality of the firm’s work in progress (WIP) and debtors, and the amount the firm wishes to borrow.

We hope this has been helpful!  In our next blog post, we will look at the importance of measuring profit margins. While it’s important to understand your profitability at a firm level, beyond this there’s the question of analysing the profitability of your various service lines, the profitability of the various types of work your firm does, and analysing which are your profitable and unprofitable clients. This information can help firms apply their resources more effectively and efficiently. Stay tuned!

Editor’s Note:


ALPMA Legal Industry Financial Performance Benchmarking Study

 
Firms interested in benchmarking their financial performance compared to similar practices, can participate for free in the 2013 ALPMA Financial Performance Benchmarking Study, currently being conducted in partnership with Crowe Horwath Professional Practice Advisory. But hurry - the study closes at 5pm on Monday 28 January.

The study reviews eight key measures including profitability, returns, working capital and revenues, and provides an excellent opportunity to get an objective view as to how your firm is doing specific to financial management and relative to peers.  


About our Guest Blogger


Andrew Chen is a Principal of Crowe Horwath’s Professional Practice Advisory team and has significant experience providing advisory and tax accounting services to businesses of all sizes. 

He specialises in advising legal and professional service firms on establishing business structures, financial management in areas of internal accounting, tax administration; financial reporting and KPI performance measurement; budget and cash flow forecasting; tax planning salary packaging and preparing of tax returns. 


Effective pay for performance strategies

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

By Darren Sprod, Certified Human Capital Strategist & Regional Manager, Halogen Software 


Is the time coming when law firms will move away from their traditional methods of compensation based on years of experience, position and billable hours to look more like corporate compensation structures? Yes - there is evidence that many firms in Australia and worldwide, feeling the pinch of lower revenues, are seeking alternative methods of compensation. Pay-for-performance, commonly used in the corporate marketplace, is a strategy that is beginning to get traction according to Legal Recruitment firm Mahlab.  

So, if yours is one of the firms considering or undertaking a pay-for-performance scheme, here are a few pointers on how to make sure it drives effective performance management.

Set clear standards for effective performance management


If it is true that you get what you pay for (and it generally is), make sure that you are clear on what gets rewarded in your firm and the intended as well as unintended consequences. Sure, billable hours are important performance indicators, but if emphasised at the expense of everything else, might it tend to undermine team efforts?  

Likewise, if everyone is focused on bringing in new clients because that is the basis for their rewards, what is the incentive for providing the good customer service (not always billable!) to retain the ones you already have? Who will want to spend time mentoring new associates? Will good marketing and business practices that may not have immediate rewards be sacrificed on the altar of billable hours and new clients? And how will rewards be allocated to those in roles that are not directly client-facing?

It makes sense to take the time to think through the skills and behaviours for various roles that are success factors for your firm both now and in the future. These are the competencies you want to hire for, develop and reward.  
Goal-setting is another useful exercise for establishing standards to guide effective performance management throughout the year and serve as the basis for evaluation and pay-for-performance rewards. Staff and associates should work together with those who manage them to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely) goals that support the business strategy. This is particularly effective for those who are managed by multiple people and can help with the common problem of juggling multiple priorities.

Once the performance standards and/or goals are established, observe progress and coach for success throughout the year - not just at performance review time.

Evaluate performance using multiple sources


Now the crunch comes - time to rate performance and assign compensation and bonuses. Effective performance management requires a thorough and objective evaluation of performance against the previously established standards. In other words, you have laid out what you expect to see - now you have to set rewards based on whether and to what extent they actually occur.

Rarely can one evaluator get a thorough view of the person under evaluation.  Seek input directly from the person being evaluated - encourage them to keep track of their goal accomplishments and write a summary of their performance. Invite input from those who work with the person in a variety of roles. Multi-rater input, commonly known as a 360 degree review, can be useful for gathering a more complete picture or an individual's performance.

There are some caveats to 360 degree reviews, though, especially when they directly impact performance appraisals and compensation. People may be reluctant to be open and their input could be coloured by their personal relationship with the one they are evaluating or fear of reprisal. These drawbacks can be mitigated somewhat by using an outside firm to gather anonymous input from a large sample.

Constantly seek transparency


Performance management, especially when linked to compensation, is an emotionally-charged process.  When conducted unevenly or when not communicated properly, people may feel they are being treated unfairly. Generally, the more open and transparent the process and tools are and the better equipped and prepared evaluators are, the more effective and accepted the performance management process will be. 

When people understand clearly the expectations for performance, are given feedback and coaching along the way, and are evaluated objectively based on a well-rounded view of previously set expectations, there will be no basis for complaint among poorer performers. Transparent and effective performance management and pay-for-performance practises will be powerful tools to retain and encourage your top performers and enhance the behaviours that matter most to your firm.

About Our Guest Blogger


Darren Sprod is a Certified Human Capital Strategist and Regional Manager at Halogen Software covering Australia and New Zealand.

People Management – Why make it harder than it needs to be?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

By Guest Blogger, Kriss Will, Managing Director Kriss Will Consulting & ALPMA Life Member

I am often struck by the simple things that people overlook when managing people.  In my experience, these simple matters are often overlooked or not acted upon due to a lack of knowledge about how the simple things are the foundation blocks upon which effective people management is built.  People can be so busy that they find it hard to make the time to build this knowledge.    In the people management area, relevant knowledge makes it much easier to deal with the day to day as well as the bigger picture issues.  

A range of law firm management professionals responded to the recent ALPMA 2013 Hot Issues in HR for the Australasian Legal Industry.  A key finding is that managers will spend most of their HR related time on performance management and general day to day people issues in 2013 (rated the top two areas where time will be spent in 2013).  

A stitch in time saves nine!

Given how time poor we all are, increasing your knowledge in these areas is going to pay dividends.  It is a classic example of “a stitch in time saves nine”.    

Here are some “stitches” that can greatly improve your impact in the people management area:
  1. A robust reference check – a nice to have if I am not too busy with other work or a critical piece of information in the selection and setting up for success processes?  

  2. Putting decisions and key discussions in writing – a laborious task that no-one has time for or the confirming email which ensures many a misunderstanding is avoided?  

  3. A talent management strategy – something big firms have with their large HR teams or a collective understanding as to how the day to day experiences build a compelling case to stay around for the longer term?  
  4. Managing poor performance – something that can wait as it might improve or the opportunity to clarify performance and conduct expectations and assist people to be their best?  

  5. A clear policy about working a second job – something to get around too when there is nothing else to do or a necessity in 2013 as the internet means anyone can be self employed after and during work hours?

  6. A grievance resolution procedure – we will just take it as it comes as no two issues are the same or straight forward documented approach so everyone knows where they stand?

The list could go on and on. I know you get the picture – being confident and competent to deal with people management issues as they arise means putting in place the foundations of good policy and being equipped with enough knowledge to quickly spot an issue or opportunity.

Sharing and learning from peers & experts


Practice managers are pulled in so many directions that it is not possible to have in-depth knowledge across all areas.  Even HR professionals find it difficult to keep up with the constant changes in the law and the employment environment.  For them it is often a case of too much information and not enough knowledge.

So how can you get a good dose of practical HR knowledge, tailored for the legal profession and delivered in a way that makes it easier for you to apply the knowledge back in the office?

Here is the shameless plug – come to the 2013 ALPMA National HR Workshops that I will be facilitating in March.  These one day workshops provide a unique opportunity for people to learn and share around content driven by you.  The morning session is a panel of professional legal HR Managers that will tackle the main people management identified in the 2013 Hot Issues in HR for the Australasian Legal Industry.  The afternoon is given over to employment lawyers answering your tricky HR and employment law questions and those of your peers.  This makes for a very rich and incredibly relevant day of learning.  

I look forward to seeing you there!

Editor's Note:


ALPMA’s
National HR Workshops are highly interactive one day forums where you will learn how to effectively address the key HR challenges facing your firm and share experiences and best practice with your peers and industry. Proudly sponsored by our National Partner SkillsScorecard, this is a not-to-be missed event if you have responsibility for HR management in the legal industry.

Register for the Adelaide HR Workshop:  Tuesday 5 March, 2013
Register for the Sydney HR Workshop: Tuesday 12 March, 2013

Register for the Brisbane HR Workshop: Thursday 14 March, 2013

Register for the Melbourne HR Workshop: Thursday 21 March, 2013 

You can download the results of the ALPMA Hot Issues in HR for the Australasian Legal Industry for free by clicking here.

About our Guest Blogger


Kriss Will leads Kriss Will Consulting, a niche consultancy firm which specialises in management consulting and training and development. Kriss has a Master of Business Administration and an honours Arts degree (double major in Psychology). 

She has worked in professional services for over 20 years, holding in-house roles as an HR Manager, Marketing Manager and General Manager, and established her own management consultancy business in 1996. 

Much of her work involves advising and coaching partners and managers in the effective and productive management of people, organisational planning, and change management. She is called upon for her strategic input as well as her operational expertise. Kriss also works with individuals making career transitions.



Managing a Law Firm...without Lawyers!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

By Guest Blogger, Peter C Ross, Senior Consultant, William Thyme & Prophet

We, in professional firm management, often (almost always in fact) ask lawyers to do things they’re:

A. Not very good at; and
B. Don’t want to do; and
C.Which detract from what we do want them to do.

None of that, in my opinion, makes us particularly smart. Nor the lawyers who accede to such requests come to think of it. 

Lawyers do too much stuff they are not well trained to do and have no real interest in...


What stuff are we talking about?  Well primarily we’re talking about stuff the lawyers are not well trained to do and have no real interest in. Things like staff management and recruitment; billing; marketing; pricing; team building.... I could go on (I often do!).

Most lawyers, it seems to me, want to do Law. Sure, they want the interaction with clients and some of them really do enjoy hunting down a new exciting matter and beating their competitors. Some of them even enjoy the process of finding and mentoring great new talent for the firm, and in both cases they should be encouraged to do so if that’s their bag.

Let the professional managers manage and the lawyers practice law

But I’m talking about administration, accounting processes, cost management, strategy, people management (not mentoring), marketing, work scheduling, task and deadline follow up. What the lawyers should be doing (and they’re as much to blame here for not doing so) is asking professionals in those areas to manage, own and take responsibility for these tasks leaving them to practice law. 

‘Oh but the additional costs’ I hear them cry, to which I respond, ‘Oh the additional revenue’ and the happier fee earner with which to earn that revenue.

Let’s take a hypothetical legal team of say 2 Partners, 4 Senior Associates and Solicitors at varying grades. Let’s assume that the Partners have a charge rate of say $600 / Hr. How much time do we feel that they spend doing the aforementioned tasks, which we might free them from? Conservatively I guesstimate a Partner probably consumes upwards of 8 hours a month. Now we have 2 Partners, so that’s 16 hours a month or $9,600.

So the real question is, can we do a better job of these things for $9,600 a month. This is not a money saving exercise, it’s a firm quality and expansionary exercise that makes senior staff feel better about being professionals, looking after clients, the Law, their careers, reputation and education. All the things professionals truly value. So if they get the time to be be MORE like the lawyers they want to be AND we can improve the quality and quantity of pricing analysis, billing, risk management, project management etc without it costing much more, are we on a winner?

To me (and it’s a crude analogy) it’s like taking your best car salesman and making him a sales manager. You've just lost your sales powerhouse, AND made assumptions that she/he has the skills to manage a team of people, train and monitor and enthuse and encourage that team. Likely? I think not. I've always though that scenario was pretty dumb as well.

So is it now possible, after these years of continuous expansion of the “business administration” functions that partners and senior lawyers have had to become involved in, to move to a more professionally managed environment where the absolute focus of the lawyers becomes the law and their clients. My contention obviously, is that it is. My belief is that it should be, and my message is that your firm should be pursuing it (if you aren't already).

Critical success factors for professional practice management

I’ve seen many firms edging towards this, some are still inching closer, some have already started to back away. We've seen and heard about firms using Practice Managers, Commercial Managers; Business Analysts (in the true sense, not the IT types, some firms called them Team Analysts) who take on these administrative and commercial functions. 

They have been reasonably successful in some cases and doomed to failure in others, and there’s a couple of key success factors that make all the difference:

1. Partners and senior legal staff have to want to change

Firstly, like the old joke about psychiatrists and light bulbs, the partners and senior legal staff have to want to change, they have to be excited about getting their legal life back and ditching the rest. If they’re not, well, just don’t bother. 

2. They must have trust and confidence in their management professionals

Secondly, these senior legal professionals have to have the trust and confidence in their management professionals so that the work only gets done once, as it’s pointless moving to a structure such as this if the Partners will redo or 100% check everything that’s done anyway. 

3. Professional managers have to be very, very good

Thirdly (and this helps the second point immensely)  these managers have to be very very good. Big shoes, important decisions and management AND we need to gain the partners confidence that the work is being done in a professional and productive way. 

4. Give professional managers responsibility and authority

Finally, and probably most importantly, the professional managers need to be given the responsibility and authority to allow them to do the job they are employed to do. This last one sounds obvious, but is the downfall of many such initiatives.

I think the reality is that those firms who've made a hash of this idea have slipped up on one of these key points, probably more. Personally I think the trust and handover issue is the biggest one because inherent in that is the senior legal staff having respect that the manager is a professional like themselves; has suitable qualifications and experience; and is doing everything in the interests of the firm and indeed the group they champion. Moreover that they are worth what they are being paid and are adding more value than they cost. 

If that’s not the likely outcome of the opinions, then stay right where you are and don’t waste your time and money.

So what sort of person are we looking for?

Well it’s clear here that experience counts more than qualifications, yet both are pretty important. The people in these practice management roles need to be good administrators, project managers, good with numbers and have a good ‘bedside manner’ when dealing with Lawyers, clients and support staff alike. I've had experiences with good ones who were previously legal secretaries and bad ones who were previously legal firm finance staff and vice versa. 

It’s about the individual (isn't it always) and not a prescriptive menu for the ideal person. I've often said I can decide if someone's a good fit in the first 60 seconds and I still think for most of us that’s probably true.

 

Invest in systems to reduce reliance on individuals

Finally, in order to help ensure this transition of duties work, your firm needs to invest in the systems required to get matter control, pricing etc under control and consistent so never again are we relying on one key individual who knows all the ins and outs. Costing and pricing need to be as automated and consistent as possible, as do project & task management systems, financial processes etc.

Where is your firm?

Is this a transition that your firm needs or is the status quo safer, easier and less of a political bun fight?  Do you have any additional critical success factors for transitioning to professional practice management to share ?  Have you already gone down this path - and how did it go?   

About Our Guest Blogger

Peter C. Ross  Peter C. Ross CA. is senior consultant with William Thyme & Prophet, a consultancy specialising in Legal Firm Practice Management, and with Report Factory, a management reporting, systems and process design consultancy.

Peter has a Bachelor of Business, with a major in Commercial Law and  25+ years expertise in the provision of solutions design across multiple industries and solution types, with a strong focus and specialisation in ideas and solutions for professional services environments.

Is Email Delivery Deniable?

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

By Guest Blogger, Andrew Smyth, Managing Partner, Robbins Watson

It is a widely accepted myth that email is unreliable, and the statement “No,  I didn’t get that email” is often heard, and accepted without demur. Actually, email is a reliable, and provable, method of transmission.  It is helpful to understand what actually happens when an email is sent.

Email is NOT Like Postal Mail


The reason for the perpetuation of the reliability myth is that email is typically described as ‘like posting a letter”, and an email is “sent” from my computer, leaving that computer and then it “travels through the internet”  and then is “delivered to“ the receiver’s computer.   If I didn’t get your email, it must have ‘got lost’ and not been delivered.  This is not how email works. 

Email is Like a Fax


Email is more accurately analogous to a Fax.  Your email server ‘dials’ the email server of the recipient and  a two way conversation takes place, along the lines of:
"Hi, I have an email for Fred, will you accept it?"
"Yes,  I will accept emails for Fred"
"Ok, here is the email for Fred."
"Ok, got it."
 
The last line is the key.  This is where the receiving server acknowledges the handover and takes responsibility for the email.  If the sending mail server does not receive an “Ok, got it” message, the sending mail server treats the message as not having been delivered, and tries again.  After a few tries, if it cannot deliver the email, it gives up, and sends a message back to the sender saying “Sorry, I couldn’t deliver the message.”   This is equivalent to a fax machine, which will print a Facsimile Transmission Report, which will either indicate the fax was successfully transmitted, or that it failed.  This report is widely accepted as proof of transmission.   

Proof


Those ‘read receipts’ we all know and love are good evidence, but are often blocked by the recipient’s mail system. Delivery can be proved without them. Computers log everything.  They log being turned on, turned off, people logging in, everything. Mail servers log email transmissions. They log successful email transmissions. They log failed transmissions, and the reason for failure.  This is all recorded with dates, times, and identifying information.    

This information is admissible in court.  In Queensland, s95(1) Evidence Act 1977 provides:
” In any proceeding where direct oral evidence of a fact would be admissible, any statement contained in a document produced by a  computer  and tending to establish that fact shall, subject to this part, be admissible as evidence of that fact…” 

Commonwealth legislation is even more forthright – section 161 of the Evidence Act 1995 for example includes a presumption that an electronic communication was sent and received at the destination to which it appears from the document to have been sent.   

But I really didn’t see that email!


“I didn’t see the email” is an entirely different issue to whether it was delivered.  In any given instance, it may have been delivered, but you may not have seen it.  Whose responsibility /problem is that? 
Sending an email involves your PC communicating with your mail server.  Your PC and your mail server are in your ‘zone of responsibility’. You are responsible to ensure they are working correctly.

Your mail server then communicates across the internet to the recipient’s mail server.  The recipient’s mail server delivers the message to your recipient. The recipient’s mail server, and delivery to the ultimate recipient, is the recipient’s ‘zone of responsibility’.

Returning to our facsimile analogy, just because the fax machine in your office has acknowledged receipt of the fax, does not actually mean that you have seen the fax.  You may have a careless employee, who has misfiled the fax, or a malicious one who has destroyed the fax. You may not, actually, have seen it.  The important point though, is that it was delivered into your system, and any delivery failures after that are your responsibility, not the sender’s.  It is equivalent to a courier delivering a package to reception – if your office manages to lose it after that, it is your problem.  The sender relies on the receptionist’s receipt as proof of delivery.

In email, there are indeed many ways that, having received an email to your mail server, something may go wrong:  Server crash, Spam filtering, out of office, anti virus settings, even simply overlooking the email.  Any one of these systems may come between you and your email.  However, each and every one of these systems is your responsibility – the sender has delivered the email to your system, it is your job to ensure your system can reliably get that email to you.

What about Spam Filtering?


Spam filtering is not really a special category –it is another example of one of the systems for which you are responsible, however, as it is so typically the nominated scapegoat, I will talk about it specifically.  
Spam filtering happens at two levels – before delivery, and after delivery.  

Pre-Delivery 
Many systems will review the sender’s ‘reputation’ and test the validity of the proposed email prior to accepting it.  Sometimes they say “No, I won’t accept that email”.  

When this happens, the sending mail system knows immediately.  It does NOT get a “Got it, Ok” message, and it does NOT treat the email as having been sent. The sender will get a message back from their own mail system saying “Sorry, I couldn’t deliver the message”.  The logs of both systems will prove that the email was not delivered.

Post-Delivery
After the receiving the email, many users have spam filtering set up in their inboxes.  Your system may categorise the email as spam, and move it to the “Junk” folder.  This is like your secretary sorting your mail.  You are responsible to ensure that your mail is sorted properly, and your junk email folder is checked for ‘false positives’.  If the email is in your Junk Email folder, you really did get it.

What it all boils down to


You are responsible for your mail system.  The recipient is responsible for theirs.  Transmission of an email from your mail system to the recipient’s mail system is tracked and logged, and you will know, (and can prove) if your email was, or was not delivered to the recipient’s system.  If they lost it after that, this is their problem.

Most of the time, no harm is done.  There will be occasions, however, when proof of delivery of an email is going to be critical.  This means you have a legal imperative to ensure that your IT systems work properly and emails do not go missing in your ‘zone of responsibility’.  Further, if you do have your IT systems working well, you are in a position to prove delivery of that important communication regardless of denials by the recipient.

About our Guest Blogger

Andrew Smythe
Andrew Smyth is the Managing Partner of Robbins Watson Solicitors on the Gold Coast, runs the litigation division of his firm, and is a member of the Queensland Law Society Litigation Rules Committee.

Andrew has a vital interest in technology as it relates to legal practice, and utilises technology to solve operational and compliance issues facing law firms.

His personal area of practice is Trusts & Estate Planning.

How can your firm get more out of less?

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Understanding why profit isn’t the bottom line

There is less than one month to go for your firm to complete the 4th annual ALPMA/Crowe Horwath Australian Legal Industry Financial Performance Benchmarking Study. By participating in this year’s study – we can help you understand that profit is not the bottom line in getting your firm to achieve its financial best!

Getting the most out of the data

 The true nature of any benchmarking study is that there is always a vast amount of data – the facts and figures are often complex to understand. For some, this may be a little daunting and we recognise the need to guide firms in the right direction.

                                                                                            

Like any professional athlete, the first step is to realise what your personal best is and recognise where you stand relative to your competition.  For law firms – you need to know where you are relative to your peers, as well as industry best practice.

As financial performance is determined by multiple factors, by participating in this year’s study, your firm can identify and define those areas which are most important. By looking beyond the data and analysing cost structures and key factors that are impacting profitability we can help your firm achieve its true potential. We shift the focus from just the outcome (the profit) to encompass the processes and activities that generate the profit.

How your firm can adapt to making quick decisions

 

Through our years’ of experience, we have seen an emerging trend regarding the key challenges being faced by many legal firms – namely, how and how quickly they respond in a changing economic climate. Making quick decisions, based on inaccurate facts, in an unpredictable market has resulted in some firms becoming overcautious – with subsequent financial consequences.

Like professional athletes, law firms are trying to avoid injury. By minimising the impact in the short-term, they are losing sight of the long-term strategic objectives. Not only can this affect the financial ability to grow, there is also a risk of reducing long-term profitability which causes your firm to be inhibited from achieving its financial best. Under these conditions, firms need to ensure that long-term decisions are based on the right analysis so that resources are being used as effectively as possible.

 Closing the gap between your competitors

To stay ahead of competitors, lawyers need to be willing to adapt quickly to changes, act strategically and be able to make difficult decisions to ensure they can continue to deliver the best service to clients. This will help build a financially sustainable firm. 

Maintaining revenue and profitability is important but you need to consider how to get more out of less to ensure your firm is utilising its financial resources efficiently. Benchmarking data can help you identify where your problems are and whether they are related to cost. We can use analysis to identify the gaps. By being informed you can make those tough decisions and work towards setting strategic objectives and closing the gap between you and your competitors. 

a story from the members: Learning from past performance


If you have not yet done so, we invite your firm to participate in this year’s study. It’s free to ALPMA members!  You have until January 17th to complete the on-line survey so please, click here to be on your way to helping your firm perform at its true financial best! For more information please contact Andrew Chen, Partner - Business Advisory at Crowe Horwath. andrew.chen@crowehorwath.com.au Main: +61 2 9619 1626 | Mob: 0410 660 510

10 New Year's resolutions to try at your law firm!

Monday, December 31, 2012

By Guest Blogger, Paul Talkington, Director, Vincents

This year, instead of making personal New Year's resolutions that I will probably fail to keep, I thought I would share my list of work-related New Year's resolutions, so that you can try them out at your firm:

1. Take a social media course

Learn some more about LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and the plethora of other social media platforms and products that are out there. Even if you think you know what you are doing you might pick up some tips or stop making the mistakes you have been making previously. 

2. Have an ‘opposites’ day!

Do the opposite of what you might normally do on a particular day. If you have a regular management meeting with a tight agenda, throw the agenda away and have a brain storming session. If you normally e-mail a client, give them a call. If you normally eat lunch at your desk by yourself, go out with others.  If you never exercise, go for a walk.

3. Take a junior staff member along to an important client meeting

This is a great way to start developing your staff.  See the reaction from the client and from the staff member.

4. Find out what services you aren't providing!

Get the staff at your firm to speak to your clients over a week and ( in the course of normal conversations) ask them ‘What services would you like to provide to you that we are not already providing?".  Have Friday night drinks, where you write up all the answers and see which ones are most in demand.  Think about how to develop these services.

5. Ask for opinions

Forward an article or news story to a client and ask them to send it on to one of their clients and Cc: you as you want their opinion.

6. Shut up and listen! 

Try not speaking for a day in the office – just listen.  Tell everyone you have lost your voice. Did you learn anything new?

7. Hand write a letter

Hand write a letter to an important client or referrer (Gen Y may have to ask an older person what hand writing means!) a inviting them out to lunch, if they accept you can talk about it.

8. Facilitate a cross-referral 

Facilitate a 15 minute teleconference between two clients who might be able to cross refer to each other.  Talk to them separately for their reactions afterwards. Was it worthwhile?

9. Share something personal with your staff

Do you know the names of and something personal about each of your staff? If not talk to them and find out something that that they are passionate about (not related to work!).  Share something personal about yourself with them.

10. Say "thank you"

Send a gift and thank you message to a referrer of work or someone who has done something for you. What happens?

What else should you resolve to do this year?  Do you have any other suggestions to share?  Post a comment in the area below!

About our Guest Blogger 


Paul Talkington B.A.(Acc) / CA is the Director - Taxation & Business Solutions at Vincents. Paul looks after a range of medium sized private clients including law firms, heavy industries, retail and mining supplies businesses. He has significant involvement in business restructuring, cash flow management, business and personal income tax, finance applications and due diligence. He has a particular interest in implementing practical solutions in order to improve business gross margins and cash flows.

Paul joined Vincents in 2008 and became a director in 2011. He has an extensive background in both commerce and public practice. Paul has worked in various areas, including middle market advisory at Deloitte, chief financial officer of a national logistics group and general manager commercial for a mining supplies business.

Merry Christmas from ALPMA

Monday, December 24, 2012

By ALPMA National President, Warrick McLean


On behalf of ALPMA, I would like to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and say a very big thank you for your support of ALPMA during 2012.

2012 has been a busy and successful year for ALPMA.  Our achievements this year include:
  • achieved record attendance at our monthly lunch-time professional learning and development seminars AND at our webinars - and made these available on-demand to members who couldn't attend in person in ACCESS ALPMA, our member-only resource centre
  • attracted 200 delegates from Australia and New Zealand to the hugely successful 2012 ALPMA National Summit in Brisbane (and completely selling out the Trade Exhibition)
  • rolled out the ALPMA HR Workshops in March nationally for the first time to more than 140 delegates in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide & Sydney
  • continued our strong membership growth across the country and overseas - if you haven't joined up, now is the time to become a member!
  • refreshed the ALPMA website making it easy to navigate and share.
  • launched the ALPMA Blog: A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers - providing practical advice and tips on a range of diverse subjects close to the hearts of managers in the legal industry
  • Expanded our social media presence, growing the ALPMA LinkedIn Group to 918 members (and counting!), more than doubling our number of followers on Twitter, creating our Facebook page to share news and photos from ALPMA events, and establishing a presence on Google+
  • Successfully completed the annual ALPMA Legal Industry Salary Survey, and recently launched the 3rd annual ALPMA Financial Performance Benchmarking Study and Hot Issues in HR Survey, offering free participation in all this industry research to every legal firm in Australasia.
We simply could not have achieved all of this without the great support from our members, partners and subscribers 2013 promises to be an even bigger year - and we are very much looking forward to continuously improving on the way we deliver on our promise to members and the broader legal practice management community.   I would welcome any feedback you might have on how we could serve you better in 2013.

Have a great Christmas and here's to a successful and prosperous New Year!

7 Page Title tips to boost your SEO

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

By Brendon Sullivan, Managing Director, Bosweb Systems

When first starting out with your website, or even for those people who have had a website for a long time, understanding the basics of Page Titles, and their role in search engine optimisation (SEO) can seem a mystery!

Most people still talk about keywords, and whilst this is important as it feeds into ‘on-page’ SEO (and ultimately the Page Title), it’s the actual page title field itself that is the most important area of each page at your website.

What is a Page Title?


A Page Title is the name that appears on the tab within your web browser and identifies the web page.  Most website Content Management Systems (ALPMA uses Adobe Business Catalyst) make it easy for you to take control of your Page Title and keywords to get the best results from your website leading to quality traffic.

So our top seven tips?

1. Write short titles


Ideally your page title should have a maximum title length of 64-70 characters.  This is mainly a display feature, where the Google ‘search spiders’ will read the text, but a user won’t normally see the full text in search results.
Identify your Keywords

2. Identify the key phrases of your web page’s content and list down all possible words describing the content of your page. 


To really understand what your viewer’s are looking for step in their shoes and list all the relevant search terms that he/she may use to find you. 

The words used in your title will be displayed in search engine results as a clickable link so these links should contain your page’s main keywords.

3. The important stuff goes first!


Start your title by adding the important keywords that you found during research in the above step as these words appearing first are considered to be more important in finding your website.

4. Use targeted keywords


Choose specific keywords for your heading title in order to have more targeted traffic – these are the ‘hook’ that will get your viewer to keep reading once their search criteria has mostly landed them!

5. Be descriptive


Make sure that your title summarises the content of your web page. This way, viewers will know what the topic of your page is when it appears in the search results and will help you decrease the bounce rate and increase the click through rate (nb. a ‘bounce’ is where the viewer quickly leaves your landing page and a ‘click through’ refers to your viewer clicking further into your website). 

6. Create unique titles for each page


Make sure you use unique titles for each web page as duplicate titles might lead to duplicate content issues in search results.

7. Avoid ‘Keyword Stuffing’


Keyword stuffing or any other spam technique should always be avoided as Google will penalise as a result.  Even if you manage to rank first, an ‘over optimised’ Page Title will again reduce your click through rate.  Don’t forget that you should always write webpage titles and content that are attractive to users!

By trying to achieve high rankings, most website owners tend to forget that the most important factor of success is that viewer ‘click’ on the website link to land on a page.

Editor's Note:


Some more great Page Title SEO Tips from Google can be found here.

About our Guest Blogger


Brendon O'Suillivan has been at the forefront of web technology for well over 15 years. Experimenting with any and all web based technologies right through to enterprise-wide solutions, Brendon has most likely heard of it, seen it or used it long before it hits the mainstream! For more information follow Brendon on LinkedIn or Twitter @bosweb. 

Bosweb Systems are Adobe Business Catalyst Premier Partners & Specialists. Bosweb provides web design & development solutions as well as training and support in the Adobe Business Catalyst platform. We also provide comprehensive Microsoft Dynamics solutions using Microsoft CRM and Microsoft SharePoint.  Bosweb manages the development and support of ALPMA's website. 

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