A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Moving beyond slips, trips and falls in WHS: Managing psychosocial risks at work

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

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By Dr Rebecca Michalak, Principal Consultant, PsychSafe

In 1835, four hundredweight of mutton fell from an overloaded wagon onto a butcher servant, dislocating his shoulder, breaking his thigh, and causing a number of other injuries.

The incident lead to the landmark Priestley v Fowler (1837) common law case. The jury debated, amongst other things, whether the defendant engaged in 'pigheadedness' – in other words, whether the butcher knowingly over-loaded the wagon, thus causing or at the very least contributing to the accident.

The resulting judgment in favour of the plaintiff effectively paved the way for changes in the meaning and extent of employer and employee safety duties and liabilities, setting a precedent, and arguably underpinning our modern workplace health and safety legislative framework.

Workplace health and safety (WHS) standards have come a long way since 1835, and you would be forgiven for thinking that employers have workplace safety issues pretty much under control nowadays.

Air quality sensors have replaced canaries in mineshafts, warning signs galore adorn stairwells and lunchroom boiling water dispensers, and ergonomic keyboards and chairs are omnipresent.

“Safety” also appears as a core value on corporate vision and mission statements across the country, often alongside the ubiquitous statement that “people are our greatest asset.”

Unfortunately, more-than-decade-and-a-half in management and HR roles tells a very different story. Rhetoric abounds, and, in my experience, if one scratches just a little bit, the shiny surface of these safety claims is exposed, revealing a decidedly lack-lustre reality.

In law specifically, no natural – let alone subterranean – assets exist. Think about it. The law is a common good. Your business does not own this good. Your strategic competitive advantage lies in how you use this common good to produce products and services, which requires knowledge-workers.

In the absence of knowledge-workers, your business is essentially sans assets. Sans revenue. Pretty much sans a business (ok, yes, we have Lawbot, for contracts. But Lawbot depends upon knowledge-workers, to create and run Lawbot).

Strategically, for what the OECD classifies as a knowledge-based economy, our current approach to WHS is far less advanced than it should be, and that we’d ever like to concede. While humans are considered the most advanced species on earth, our approach to certain aspects of WHS is still back there hanging out with the hominina. Aka chimps.

Don’t get me wrong – we do seem to be across the need to prevent physical injuries. You can (probably) give yourself a tick.

However, employers appear decidedly stuck in the ‘slips, trips and falls’ WHS era. The requirement to ensure workplaces are not just physically but also psychologically and emotionally safe remain poorly, if at all, understood, aspects of WHS law.

Unsurprisingly, when it comes to risk management of factors affecting psychological and emotional safety, otherwise known as “psychosocial risks”, workplaces fare….. well….. Not So Well.

In my experience, organisations are more likely to have detailed risk management / disaster recovery / business continuity plans for a ‘two Boeing 767’s flew into the office block’ scenario than they are to have strategies to effectively manage psychosocial risks. Ironically including the psychosocial risks inherent to the fallout of said crisis of plane into building scenario (did someone say survivor post-traumatic stress disorder…?)

This failure exists despite a plethora of empirical data and anecdotal evidence that employees are exposed to these risks on a daily basis, if not multiple times a day. Recent research suggests poor interpersonal and/or leadership behaviours, including mistreatment, sexual harassment, incivility and bullying, are common, and for all intents and purposes, culturally pervasive in legal. As in amongst lawyers, risk exposure affects the majority, and for some risks, exceeds 90%.

The above in mind, I suggest leaders and managers need to stop, consider and strategise, because:

Psychological and emotional safety is AS important as physical safety

Not an add on; not a nice to have. A legislated requirement. Firm and officer liabilities for negligence offences for failing to provide a psychologically and emotionally safe working environment are the same as for failing on the physical safety front. The terms “significant” and “severe” spring to mind. While Priestley’s £100 is ‘only’ about $18,000 in today’s terms, a Category 1 Reckless Negligence offence can now attract a $3m fine for the employer, and 6,000 units in personal officer liability (in QLD that translates into $600K). And/or five years in jail. Take your pick. D & O insurance does not cover WHS breaches by the way. It’s a bit like crashing your car while drink driving; no insurer covers that scenario. Oh, and much like simply having unsafe scaffolding up on a construction site is enough to attract a WHS fine even if no one has fallen off it (yet), a psychological injury does not need to actually occur for you to be considered recklessly negligent in failing to provide a psychsafe working environment.

Resilience and mindfulness are psychosocial risk fire blankies

I have seen some fairly questionable safety conduct in my time – including walking in on someone disconnecting a 920 kg drum of liquefied chlorine gas sans breathing apparatus – and without closing the live flow valve off first.

I’m pretty sure my sprint exit from that chemical storage room would have given Usain Bolt a run for his money. No, seriously. I think I flew.

But I have to admit I am yet to see an employee douse an office in fuel and set it on fire, only to joyfully pull out a fire blanket and declare “It’s all good” or “This is fun!” whilst attempting to smother rampant flames.

Tiered (read: “legitimate”) risk management plans should include, but not rely solely on fire blankies.

Resilience and mindfulness strategies have their place. But these strategies really only come into their own after exposure to the risk. After 400 weight of mutton falls on your servant. This approach is a little bit like wanting to be an after-the-fact accessory. To grievous bodily harm, manslaughter, murder.

I’ve noticed the legal profession has an unnatural obsession with fire blankies. They should probably see someone about that.

Failure to primary prevent is costing you – and/or your insurers – money. A lot of it.

Evidence suggests merely being exposed to psychosocial risks negatively impacts all five aspects of job performance, translating into (*cough* SUBSTANTIALLY) lowered profitability. Employees who merely witness a risk exposure event also suffer psychologically and job-performance wise, causing a ripple effect.

Decade-long trends also show amongst other confronting stats, psychological injury claims are not only the single disease-related category of injury on the increase, these claims are, by a loooooong shot, the most expensive claim type.

In addition, poor mental health is considered the elephant in the room in approximately 1 in 3 professional indemnity claims.

It is unsurprising that Worker Compensation and Professional Indemnity insurers have started to cotton on to the “pfffttt, but that’s what insurance is for” attitude to psychosocial risk management. A more eyes wide open and move on from current ‘community’ or ‘number, not cost of claim’ approaches to setting premiums is underway.

After all, it is logical a car insurer would probably have an issue with someone deliberately driving their Ferrari into a wall at 140kph thinking “wahoo, this thing is fitted with airbags.”

Life and income protection insurers are also unimpressed with the exponential increases in TPD claims coming out of the legal profession by those who self-select out and then are declared psychologically unfit to work. In many cases, ever again.

The slips, trips and falls approach to WHS is decades out of date. When it comes to psychological and emotional safety, 1964 does not cut the mutton; Times have changed. Failing to recognize, respect and proactively integrate these changes into your firm’s risk management plan is not only a display of ‘pig-headedness’, but also akin to being as old as Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A-Changin”, and getting caught with your pants down. In public.

Does your firm have a psychosocial risk management plan? Is it tiered to cover primary prevention, early intervention and tertiary intervention strategies? Or do you rely on mindfulness and resilience strategies?

Editor's Note

psychosocial risk management imageWant to know more about managing psychosocial risks at your firm? You can watch Dr Rebecca Michalak's 2016 ALPMA Summit presentation Psychosocial Risks in Law Firms: Why Prevention is Better than Cure from ALPMA's On Demand Learning Centre for just $99, thanks to our 2016 ALPMA Summit On-Demand partner, BigHand.

About our Guest Blogger

Dr Rebecca MichalakDr Rebecca Michalak possesses over a decade of employment experience in senior management, consulting, and strategic human resources management roles in the private, not-for-profit, and public sectors. Rebecca's primary interests lie in strategic HRM, including values-based alignment practices, high performance cultures, change management, and psychosocial risk factor management. An expert in the field, she adopts a stress optimisation approach to employee performance that maximises productivity whilst minimising psychosocial risk to employees. Her perspective on managing human resources for strategic competitive advantage is knowledge-worker centric, and underpinned by social sustainability principles.

Dr Michalak holds a PhD in Business from the University of Queensland, a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Management Research from the University of Western Australia, and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with Honours (Organisational Psychology) from Murdoch University.

Rebecca is also a Certified Trainer and Assessor, a Certified Team Management Systems Practitioner, and University of Queensland Alumni Future Leader Program Awardee (2014). Her professional memberships include Member, Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology, Member, Australian Institute of Company Directors, and Certified Professional Member, Australian Human Resources Institute.


How well does your firm manage information security?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

By Leticia Mooney, Director, Brutal Pixie 

The legal profession is one in which information security ought to be front-of-mind. The truth is that information security management feels difficult, gigantic, and not yet necessary.

As a content strategist, my daily trade is in information. I create it for readers, yes, but I also work in risk management, information governance, and digital projects like website rebuilds. In my long experience, it's extremely rare to work with a client who is serious about information security.

Information security management is a critical challenge

There are a lot of challenges facing the legal profession, but the most critical challenge is one that most don't want to face. Data security is about more than having the right cyber insurance in case of hacking or penetration attack. It's about prioritising its importance inside your firm, so that all of your projects have an information security layer to them.
Information Security Management is the unsexy brother of cybersecurity. It's less attractive because it asks you to really think about how you manage insecurity. It's the kind of thinking that gives you headaches before you even start, just like doing the hard thinking about strategic action and strategic growth.

Real-life example from a small firm

You might even think that this kind of thinking is unnecessary. Well, let me give you a real-life example. This firm I will give a fictional name: Let's call it Rosie's Family Lawyers. Rosie's had been working with a range of vendors to help her represent the firm accurately online. She had Search Engine Optimisation vendors, digital marketing vendors, a content strategy company. She also had other vendors: Business coaches, management advisors, and a range of others who have access to her online systems.

One day, Rosie got an email from someone in another country advising her that her website access details were available because a digital marketer saved them in his LastPass account. She did the right thing and sent it to me asking whether or not it was legitimate - because she didn't know the online space, nor the language to use. After being questioned, the person who sent the email advised that a group of digital marketers who buy SEMRush (which is search engine marketing software) purchased it on a cheap option. Access to SEMRush is provided in a LastPass account. And one of Rosie's vendors had accidentally saved her website details in that LastPass account. This meant that everyone around the world who had bought in on this 'group buy' option now had full administrator access, and it had to be removed.

With this information, we were able to track down the vendor and resolve the situation. Since then, Rosie's Family Lawyers are taking their information security much more seriously.

When she stopped to think about it, Rosie's firm had, in its rush to speed up its efficiency, neglected to think properly or clearly about its information security management. In the post-mortem of this event, in which we were involved, we realised that:

  • The back-end of her website held sensitive information about clients

  • That sensitive information was transferred to another database, which is cloud-based

  • The known people with administrator access to the website included at least five people who were not her employees, and with whom she had no formal confidentiality or information handling agreements

  • There are unknown people who might also have access (who include team members who work with her vendors).

What the firm learned from this experience

Rosie has since realised where the gaps are in her information security handling. Because she runs a small firm, she didn't think having policies was even necessary: It seemed a waste of time.

Without having done the thinking ahead of time, Rosie had no idea how to respond. If she didn’t have a trusted advisor like me, she would have tried to bumble through this territory all by herself. What she realised is that there was no structure around how vendors are engaged, or how they agree to work with (and handle or even access) client information in her online systems. She didn't have a structure for managing the information security knowledge of her staff. She didn't have any business systems, risk assessments, or evaluation processes that could help her if she was doing this on her own.

If I had asked Rosie how her firm performs against international standards for information security management, she would have laughed me out of the room. Knowing this, though, is a fantastic way to start thinking about what your firm needs to do first.

Here are some really common situations for which many firms don't have any structure:

  • Files held in cloud services like Dropbox, which makes the information subject to the laws of other countries

  • Cloud-based databases (Google Drive, Office365, and others) that may store your client information internationally, making that information subject to the laws of other nations

  • Automated information gathering on websites, and stored in website databases that don't have the right levels of security

  • Outsourced writers, marketers, advisors, web hosts... the list goes on.

What do you do if your information security management is poor?

The first and most common reaction is to shut all the online and cloud systems down - at a great cost to firm efficiency, and without thinking of the realities of 21st century business.

Shutting things down is not the solution. Embracing the opportunity to improve your firm is the right thing to do. To be blunt, you are better off to think, ‘What can we do?’ rather than, ‘We need to shut everything down'.

If you don't have a policy, your first step is to put one in place. Draft it and get your teams to comment. Inviting collaboration in policies like these results in policies that everyone in the firm can own, contribute to, and improve.

The second thing you need is support from your most senior leadership. If your firm’s staff don’t see support for it at the highest end, will they take it seriously? It’s very unlikely. Conversations about information security management can be added to team mentoring or coaching sessions, where you can ask for feedback, improvements, or suggestions.

You can also start identifying smarter ways of gathering and holding information, knowing that the current economy that makes outsourcing a real and valuable thing.

Cyber security software teams will happily tell you how many companies recover from data breaches, system lockdowns ahead of ransom demands, and other piratical events. It's extremely low: When you think about what would happen if all your systems were offline, and the reputation damage, it's very unlikely your business would recover.

But there is opportunity here, too. Instead of burying your head in the sand and hoping it goes away, own up to it and get things moving.

If you do just one thing today that moves your information security management forwards, you're one step closer than you were yesterday. The first place to start is with your policy and most senior management: Because once your leadership takes it seriously, everything else will start to fall into place.

About our Guest Blogger

Leticia Mooney
Leticia Mooney is the Director of Brutal Pixie, Australia’s only content strategy company that specialises in working with the legal profession. She is a content strategist and a qualified auditor for ISO standards.

Speech Recognition...the Way of the Future?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

By Mike Kelly, Director, Sound Business Systems

There is a resurgence of interest in speech recognition (SR) within the legal profession currently. This same interest incidentally is mirrored in other professions such as healthcare and in business generally. It is a trend that is likely to continue. Refer to the 2014 Gartner report where Speech Recognition is now positioned as one of the leading productivity tools of our age.


SR is now penetrated far and wide within the legal sector. There are installations of all sizes…many sole practitioners and a number of firms with just one or two users. There are also an increasing number of firms with 5-10 licences and a few with 20 plus. It is difficult to be 100% certain but we estimate that there are close to 1,000 SR licences in the field today. The product is extensively used with email but also with precedents and templates and of course for substantial opinion or advice related matters.


The motivations are varied. In many cases it is driven by individual lawyers or their Practice Managers...interestingly not too often by IT at this stage, but this is set to change in my view now that the technology is now main stream. My expectation is that we will progressively see the “institutionalising” of SR in firms by including it in staff indoctrination processes and making it either a compulsory tool or one that is available as part of the firm’s standard IT platform.

With some firms today there is no planned approach. A lawyer might just have read about it and want to try…referrals are an increasing driver. Others may be forced into it because of 
secretarial constraints or because while they might be used to self-creating documents they find the process of typing slow or tedious by comparison to what speech alone can deliver. Remember you can speak at least three times faster than you can type. In others it is a cold hearted ROI that drives SR.

SR is overwhelmingly used in what is called “front end” mode where a lawyer dictates and the transcribed text appears on their own PC. Initially the thinking was that “back end” deployment of SR, where the lawyer dictated but the text appears on the typist PC, would also be on interest but this has not taken off and in my opinion is unlikely to do so. With SR technology so accurate nowadays, secretarial involvement and the attendant waiting time involved, is a luxury few can afford.

SR is a productivity and efficiency tool

SR is an interesting and clever technology, but first and foremost it is a productivity and efficiency tool. It is not without cost when one factors in installation/training and support plus perhaps a wireless input device, but it will quickly pay for itself if deployed correctly. In one firm where we piloted just the one licence, it quickly grew to nine users and the annual savings of $170k in annual staff support costs is not insignificant. For a one off investment of just $12k this equates to a payback of weeks rather than months.

Because lawyers can produce our own documents on the spot, this can free up typists and secretaries. With the need for typing now diminished, this resource can be redirected into more productive areas as true personal assistants and authors in their own right.

Current scene

To my mind the traditional dictation/transcription market has plateaued. This applies to both desktop digital and network digital technologies. It is not something I like to admit because we enjoy a sizeable business in both areas, but that is my definite opinion. Lawyers no longer want to dictate, send a draft through to their secretary PA and then have it returned for final sign off. They will either type up an original themselves relying heavily on smart precedents or they will do the same things except they will use voice rather than the keyboard. With the advent of a specifically tailored NZ Legal SR software that is now so amazingly accurate there will be few mistakes and the old myth that lawyers won’t format and edit themselves is simply not true. The modern lawyer is quite adept at editing and formatting and as you’d expect in this age of instant fulfilment, get frustrated at what they see as the unneccessary and time consuming step of sending dictated work to a secretary, when they can start and complete a matter themselves in one session.

SR is used for the creation of standard forms type documents where it integrates with a firms precedent system, for the creation of an accurate first draft and invariably with the daily deluge of emails which are fast becoming bread and butter to practitioners.

We are seeing SR used by authors of all ages. While it is probably true that for many more established lawyers the preference is to continue to use a secretary/PA I am continually surprised at the cross section of users out there. Technology or age tends not to be a barrier…but there are other barriers of which a potential user needs to be aware.


There are a few to be aware of:

  • Not all users or all work types suit SR. While age or technical knowhow is largely irrelevant there must be a certain enthusiasm to explore a more productive alternatives and accept a small amount of training. It is not sensible to consider a firm wide roll out without total buy in from all users.

  • While dictation speed, volume, background noise etc are not issues, the user must be able to dictate or compose their thoughts on the fly. In days gone by this skill was taught to most new graduates but nowadays it is not that common. However it’s not a bad skill to have for any lawyer, I think you’d agree, and like all skills it can be learned. If you are not adept at dictation, we recommend daily practice as a way of coming up to speed. Here are some tips on dictation.

  • The technology is quick to adapt to your voice and produce a highly accurate document but it does need training to extract most value. Don’t be tempted to scrimp in this area. Remember you are spending money to make money.

  • If you operate in open plan are you comfortable in speaking aloud in front of your colleagues? Keyboarding a document or email by comparison is totally private by and you are free to make mistakes or correct without anyone knowing. Do remember though that you can dictate quietly.

  • Proof reading your own dictated document can be a challenge for some. They find it far easier to offload this task to a qualified legal secretary.

New features and direction

Deep learning

Nuance who are one of the leaders in the SR field, designed their speech engine to work off of the principal of deep learning, which relates to artificial intelligence. What this means in practical terms is that it is more tolerant of accents, background noise and adapts your profile on the fly.

Virtual environments

Support for Citrix virtual environments and also TS. Fully Win 10 Office 2016/365 compatible.


SR is now biting directly into the space occupied by the network dictation solutions employed by many large firms in that for multiple users it is now possible for IT to centrally administer,manage and maintain (modify, repair, upgrade, remove) the SR software licences and track employee usage, redistribute licenses based on employee use and manage or share customisations, including custom words, commands and auto-texts, across multiple SR users.

Look for a SR product that allows usage monitoring. Especially in a larger deployment this allows conclusions to be drawn in terms of how effectively SR is being uses. Great for anyone interested in the ROI of the SR investment and for highlighting training issues ets. 

In Summary

The takeaway from all this is that no longer do users have to worry about:

  • Accuracy (it’s quickly up to 95% plus immediately after installation)

  • Enrolment. Just takes 2 -3 minutes to adapt to your voice

  • Ease of use. Now very intuitive and able to use mousing as well as voice commands.

  • Computing power. Any modern computer will have with an I5 processor and 4GB RAM or better will do a fine job.

  • SR software can be loaded onto as many as four (4) separate devices meaning you can also store your profile in one place and have it synchronised between your office computer and your laptop.

  • With multiple users a firm can measure usage and identify competence and training needs.

  • SR can be trialed, so a leap of faith is not necessary.

For opinion oriented first drafts, general commercial law involving precedent and templates and for dealing with the mass of email traffic, SR is worth considering.

About our Guest Blogger

Mike KellyAfter a business career running steel and paper mills for Fletcher Challenge in the 80/90’s, Mike settled back to NZ in the late 1990’s and has been co-owner of Sound Business Systems (SBS) based in Auckland NZ ever since.  Sound Business Systems is a provider of Phillips, Olympus, Winscribe and Dragon SR technologies.  He spends his day to day working with law firms of all sizes on dictation and speech recognition related solutions.

The firm’s customer base is NZ wide and they deal with everyone from the sole practitioner right through to the largest firms in the country. They have a full team of specialists who install train and provide after sales support.  

Sound Business Systems have been an ALPMA NZ partner since the establishment of ALPMA in New Zealand.

ALPMA Member Q&A with Mark Beale, General Manager at Malley & Co

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

By Mark Beale, General Manager, Malley & Co.

In this ALPMA member Q&A, we interview Mark Beale, General Manager at Malley & Co, who shares his experience in the New Zealand legal industry and discusses what's in store for 2017.

What are you planning on doing more of this year? 

Having just completed eight days in Australia’s delightful Central Coast, it’s hard to personally go past more recreation time, but sadly I can hear the office calling me back. My insightful and pinpoint forecast for 2016 was of there being “change”, I’m going again with that this year. Change as they say is as good as a rest and more of that seems pretty compelling. There is plenty ahead of me on that front. 

On the professional front, I’m looking forward to the ALPMA Summit in Brisbane, which keeps getting better and bigger every year. The opportunity to network for those of us walking similar paths (sometimes as the lone manager in a firm) is incredibly useful and the quality presentations, always return you back to your firm with fresh ideas and inspired and reinvigorated. Professionally too, I have a big year ahead having only just moved into my new role with my firm in October last year. There are some exciting productivity and knowledge management projects, that I’m looking forward to leading for the firm as well as driving our own learning and development program for our up and coming lawyers.

What are you planning on doing less of?

The plan would be to work less but achieve more, I’ll get back to you on that.

How did you get started in the legal industry?

I’ve been involved with legal management in several firms over half my life. I was told several years ago that once you are immersed in law firm management it’s hard to extract yourself. The clairvoyant accountant, has been proven correct. I began my working life as a journalist in NZ but after two years working in London across a range of administration positions, I turned my focus towards management and more particularly systems administration in a legal practice. Things progressed and over the years I have worked in a range of management roles within legal firms involving technology, business development, human resources and finance functions. Oh, how I wished ALPMA existed back then!

After over six years in a smaller commercial and property law practice, last October I moved to a much larger full-service practice in Malley and Co. Having seen off the themes of reconstruction and business change which all Christchurch legal practices experienced after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in the city, it was simply time to change and look for fresh challenges that the new firm now offers.

What do you think is in store for the NZ legal industry this year?

I was at the NZLaw Association conference a couple of months ago and John Chisholm, the guest speaker, noted that in his opinion there had been more change in the legal industry over the last five years than in the preceding 30 that he had experienced. I have to agree (although John is older than me). The New Zealand legal industry is not exempt from these changes. Younger practitioners are confident, motivated, looking for development and challenge and expecting that their firms deliver the opportunities and the support systems to make them better lawyers. Pragmatically, the current owners of law firms have to ensure as part of their succession planning that their practice is modern, capable and an attractive proposition for their potential new business owners. Equally, firms have to deliver that same capability and attractiveness to a more savvy, researched and price sensitive new generation of clients. 

There is a lot of work ahead for legal practices in the coming five years on both sides of the Tasman. We are beginning to see the emergence of new providers of specialist support services in New Zealand, perhaps not to the same extent as in Australia yet, but their business propositions offer exciting opportunities for law firms to stay focused on their core deliverables to clients, while contracting out knowledge and practice support services with these new legal service providers. It’s very interesting.

How does ALPMA deliver on its promise to you?

I can’t believe how fortunate we are to have such an organisation providing a wealth of constant professional development opportunities for law firm managers. When I first started in law firm management, the most you could hope for was the ALA management periodicals and the occasional offshore conference. Times have changed. I’m incredibly proud to see how ALPMA has developed over the last few years. The development opportunities, the content we provide and the way it is delivered to managers in the city and countryside of Australia and New Zealand is world class. Finally, and on a more parochial note, I’m also particularly heartened by the New Zealand branch’s growth and how its membership has turned out at each Summit in increasing numbers. That tells me that ALPMA is meaningful, relevant and delivers to its member.

Editor's Note

Now is a great time to become an ALPMA member. Membership is a highly cost-effective investment in developing your leadership and management skills and extending your professional network. It will also give you valuable insights to help you improve your firm's performance in a complex and rapidly changing legal environment. ALPMA membership until 30 June, 2017 is just $A250 (ex GST) and less if you work outside the CBD or in New Zealand. ALPMA also offers generous discounts for firms that support multiple memberships.

Your membership includes free attendance at our regular practice management and Leading Your Firm events, free access to content in the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre - and much more. Join now.

About our Guest Blogger

Mark BealeMark is the General Manager at Malley & Co. He brings considerable legal management experience having worked for national and regional legal practices over the past 25 years. As General Manager at Malley & Co, Mark is responsible for ensuring the performance of the business across a range of management functions including finance, technology, business development and team resourcing.

Mark has a particular interest in developing and implementing business initiatives that focus on improving performance and delivering accessible and user friendly service to his firm's customers. 

Mark is a member of the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association and serves on the ALPMA New Zealand Executive Committee and the ALPMA Board.

How to execute on your firm's New Year resolution

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

By Alistair Marshall, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates

Many of you probably put together an aspirational list of hopes, dreams and targets for your business whilst enjoying a glass of something nice over Christmas and the New Year. But we all know that most resolutions are forgotten by the third week of January, so I am here today as your conscience, to make sure you deliver on your New Year’s resolution for your practice and get 2017 off to a flying start.

7 ways to ensure 2017 is your most successful year ever

Here are my top seven ideas that you can initiate immediately to bring in work:

  • Pick up the phone to five clients you have not heard from recently, and ask them how they are going. Maybe send them an article you have written, or some relevant research that would be useful to them.

  • Go and visit your top five clients from 2016, and see what else they may need assistance with. Can they refer you to other individuals within their contact sphere?

  • Reach out to five prospective clients from your pursuit list, who match your ideal client profile. If you don’t have the names of specific organisations and individuals, then you will really struggle to make much progress.

  • Buy lunch or dinner for your best five referrers of work. Good things happen when you get out from behind your desk and go and talk to people.

  • Get yourself a speaking gig at an event that will be attended by potential clients. It is a great way to be seen as the expert in your field.

  • Write a thought leadership piece and send it to your database – make sure it’s on a topic of significant interest and value to them and their networks.

  • Attend or host a networking event involving as many of your business contacts as possible.

Over the years, I have learned that when it comes to business development, the more proactive you are, the “luckier” you become at generating more revenue!

And remember that what gets measured, gets improved, so track your efforts and results. For most individuals in professional services firms, key performance indicators tend to relate to financial results, client satisfaction, improving staff morale, and making efficiency gains with internal processes to help profitability.

How are you and your team going to track your progress against these goals?

Whilst no one measurement should be considered more important than another, the number of billable hours produced in the calendar year is usually a critical measurement for most firms.

Winners make it happen; losers let it happen. To hit your New Year goals, you need to start taking action now.

About our Guest Blogger

Alistair Marshall

Alistair Marshall is partner at Julian Midwinter & Associates. Alistair is a business development veteran with three decades experience in UK, Europe and since 2014 Australasia. He leads JMA’s business development coaching and training practice, and was ALPMA’s NSW speaker of the year in 2015.

5 ways your law firm can make more money in 2017 and beyond

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

By Evie Farah, Director, Empire Consulting

As a Consultant who has dealt with hundreds of law firms over the years, it is apparent that competition is fierce. Many sole practitioners are breaking away from the bigger firms and starting out on their own. These lawyers are used to having an Accounts Department who bill for them, a Secretary to type up correspondence and a Receptionist to answer the phone. Once they are out on their own they are responsible for all of these roles including many others. How does a lawyer make time to do billable work as well as run a successful business?

This problem is not unique to sole practitioners though. I have visited larger firms and the only word I can use to describe them is: chaos. There is no structure or cohesion. Staff are so busy with a constant influx of work that there is no time to develop the business or streamline its practices.

Over the years, I have developed simple key changes that law firms can implement to help them run the business side of their law practice so they aren’t consumed with frustration. Here are a few to get you started:

1. Be visible online

A Google consumer survey showed that 96% of people seeking legal advice use a search engine. So if you don’t have an up to date website, how are your clients going to find you?

Just having a website is not enough though, get it optimised! This is particularly beneficial when people enter non-branded searches. An example of a non-branded search is someone in Cronulla searching ‘help me divorce my husband’. If you happen to be a family lawyer in Cronulla and your website is optimised, you will increase your website’s position on the list of results.

As 62% of legal searches are non-branded, optimisation could mean the difference between a potential client finding you or your competitor down the road.

2. Get your IT sorted

Do you still have a dusty server sitting in the back corner of your office? Did your IT Consultant just quote you $10,000 for a new server? In this day and age everything is moving towards being cloud based. Meaning your data is hosted offsite, in a remote and safe location.

Apart from the enormous cost of updating servers every few years (and helping your IT Consultant buy that second Ferrari), cloud technology allows you to work away from the office. Meaning you could draft that affidavit on the couch while the little one takes their nap, or send emails while waiting for your flight.

Also, think about how old your desktop or laptop computer is. If it is slow and clunky, how much of your billable time is it wasting? There are now plenty of affordable options available and this simple update of your hardware can result in improved efficiencies for the entire practice.

3. Invest in good practice management software

Good practice management software helps your firm grow and saves you money. I have had the opportunity to utilise and explore quite a few. Some will offer amazing accounting capabilities but then require you to code and import your own firm precedents. Others will have a great precedent suite but fall short on time recording and accounting capabilities.

Rather than go with the cheapest product, compare your options to find the one that offers capability in more than just one area. Also, choose one that specialises in small-medium law firms. A firm of 200+ users has vastly different needs than one of 2-5 staff members. If you want to be able to save on numerous admin staff, it is imperative to purchase and utilise a practice management system that allows you to keep everything in one place and easily track your progress.

In the short term, the investment might feel steep in respect of anticipated returns. But if you begin on the right foot, the long-term benefits will far outweigh the cons.

4. Be mobile

Clients might be reluctant or unable to travel to your office. If you are mobile, ie. have a laptop and a comprehensive checklist with a list of all the questions to ask the client, you will look professional and organised. Once people see how accessible and committed you are, they will be more inclined to refer you to family and friends. Word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools any business can have.

Mobility also means that staff can work from home. Think of the infrastructure costs that can be saved if staff are not required to work from the office all the time. Furthermore, your job offer will be more attractive if it can offer potential staff the flexibility they desire.

5. Reduce office waste

Is your floor covered in files that are completed? Do you have an office filled to the top with boxes of files that should be sent away for storage? Imagine what your clients think when they see this!

As your obligation is to keep a file for 7 years, it is a good idea to think about a storage system. There are companies you can enlist to take your files on a regular basis, store them in secure facilities and provide you quick and easy access as and when you need them.

About our Guest Blogger

Evie FarahEvie Farah is a Director of Empire Consulting. She possesses over 15 years’ experience in the legal industry and understands the needs and challenges of a law firm. Evie helps law firms streamline their practice and improve efficiency and profitability.

Evie is also a LEAP Certified Consultant who worked internally at LEAP for over 3 years before branching out into her own consulting business. Evie’s extensive knowledge of LEAP software ensures your firm will benefit from her comprehensive understanding of all LEAP products. Evie’s expertise and experience is second to none. She prides herself on her quality service and attention to detail. For more details on how Evie can help you please visit www.empireconsultingservices.com or email her directly at evie@empireconsultingservices.com

Personal Reflections on 2016 by ALPMA President, Andrew Barnes

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

By Andrew Barnes, CFO, Lantern Legal Group and ALPMA President

When I think back on our year with ALPMA it is difficult not to dwell on the success of our Summit, held in September at Etihad Stadium Melbourne. The event is growing from year to year and this year to have record levels of attendees and trade exhibitors being added to an exceptional program was something we are very proud of as an Association.

On day one there was something for everyone, but many people still think back to the power of the speech given by Catherine McGregor about her life, her challenges, her opportunities. How she interwove so many relatable snippets into one incredibly moving story was a highlight. We were also fortunate to have:

  • The inimitable Ron Baker as MC
  • Dr George Beaton again reminding us that to stand still will probably mean we go backwards
  • Matthew Burgess taking us down the ‘Lean Startup’ path and challenging us to change and ‘fail fast'
  • Dr Bob Murray reminding us that ‘praise is the biggest weapon in a leader’s arsenal for change’
  • Steve Wingert and Andrew Price talking about change management in law firms in real, relatable language

In 2016 we have maintained our commitment to undertaking research projects aligned with our six pillars of Learning and Development and also the Thought Leadership Award presented annually at Summit. There is often so much that falls from these projects that it can all be quite overwhelming, but our position at ALPMA is that these are not one-size-fits-all and that there is something for every firm to take away and work with. Firms have different cultures and different life cycles and therefore do not fit neatly into the outcome synopsis in research projects. I suggest you have another read and choose something to work with … small steps are better than no steps!

Our research for 2016 is summarised here:

  • Finding quality staff remains the top HR challenge for law firms, more work to be done on diversity and inclusion at firms etc 

Any thoughts at this time of year always extend to thanking our fantastic team of volunteers on our Board and various committees across Australia and New Zealand. Thanks also to our support staff across the Association who do so much behind the scenes to bring our programs to life. We remain absolutely committed to ALPMA’s core promise to members. We are continually pleased with the way our membership engages with the association and enables us to remain aligned with their expectations. As our Board tries to navigate a way through an ever-increasing competitive landscape for professional development providers, we strive to balance immediate member needs with those of an Association who is more frequently competing to hold its’ profile and standing on a national and regional (international) basis. Thanks to everyone who have contributed in some way to us having a great 2016!

As we look forward to 2017 we can expect more than just business as usual. We have provided branches with extra budget funds to develop local initiatives and enhance the offering. This should ensure the core promise to members remains a focus and that there is a greater value proposition through the branch networks. Our National Learning & Development group is planning new workshops to complement existing programs. Our Summit committee has already commenced planning for Summit 2017 in September in Brisbane. We continue to work on collaborative relationships with groups such as the Australian Law Management Group (particularly after the success of our joint foray into Singapore in November), College of Law, CPD for Me and others in this space. It is a challenging time for Associations such as ALPMA but with those challenges come opportunities and we look forward to exploring these opportunities with our members.

Thanks for being part of ALPMA in 2016 and I wish you and your friends and families the very best for the festive season.

Editor's Note

This is the last ALPMA blog post for 2016. We look forward to the weekly posts resuming on January 3, 2017.

About our Guest Blogger

Andrew BarnesAndrew Barnes is the President of ALPMA. He is the financial controller for The Lantern Legal Group Pty Ltd, which practices under the firm names of Sladen Legal and Harwood Andrews.  He works closely with the principals to deliver strategic planning, reporting and budgeting initiatives and applies his robust commercial skills to drive continued business improvement.  Andrew worked in public practice, as well as financial services and broad industry roles prior to joining the firm in 2003

Super changes present new opportunities

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

By Andrew Proebstl, Chief Executive, legalsuper

On 23 November 2016, after months of negotiation and amendment, the Federal Government finally succeeded in having a raft of significant changes to superannuation passed by Parliament.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison has said that 96 per cent of individuals with superannuation “will either not be affected by these changes or will be better off.”

That said, it is definitely worthwhile keeping up-to-date with the changes, most of which come into effect on 1 July 2017.

The immediate decision facing many superannuation fund members will be whether or not to take advantage of the current contributions caps by topping up their super before the end of the 2016/17 financial year.

Members considering doing so, but who are unsure of how to do so without exceeding the caps, should contact their super fund(s).

To help ALPMA members make the best decisions regarding their superannuation, here are the main changes to super, and the implications of those changes.

Changes that impact the amount of concessional contributions you can pay

Concessional contributions (or before tax contributions) include employer superannuation guarantee contributions, contributions made under a salary sacrifice arrangement and personal contributions for which a tax deduction has been claimed.

A reduction in the annual cap on concessional contributions you can make

From 1 July 2017, the annual cap on concessional contributions will be lowered to $25,000 per annum, down from its current rate of $30,000 for those aged less than 50 years and $35,000 for those aged 50 and over.

Catch-up concessional superannuation contributions

From 1 July 2018 (not 2017 as previously indicated by government) those with total superannuation balances of $500,000 or less will be able to make catch-up concessional superannuation contributions, subject to unused concessional contribution caps being carried forward on a rolling basis for up to five years.

This change is intended to boost the super savings of those with a lower superannuation balance due to lower contributions in the past, interrupted work patterns or an irregular capacity to make contributions.

For those earning over $250,000, a doubling of the tax on concessional contributions

From 1 July 2017, those with more than $250,000 of income and superannuation contributions (adjusted for other benefits) will pay an additional 15 per cent tax on their concessional contributions on those super contributions that exceed the $250,000 threshold.

The proposed new 30 per cent rate of tax continues to be less than the marginal rate of tax if earning greater than $250,000.

This change extends the existing approach whereby those with more than $300,000 of income and superannuation contributions pay 30 per cent tax on their concessional superannuation contributions.

This change will impact higher income earners, who constitute around 1 per cent of superannuation fund members.

Expanded eligibility to claim tax deductions for superannuation contributions

From 1 July 2017, the Government will improve the flexibility of the superannuation system so that more Australians can utilise their concessional contributions cap, by allowing people under 75 to claim an income tax deduction for personal superannuation contributions to an eligible fund. Personal contributions for which a tax deduction is claimed will count towards the concessional contributions cap.

However, to take advantage of this change, people aged between 65 and 74 will need to first satisfy a work test. (The work test was originally slated for removal but will now be retained)

Changes that impact the amount of non-concessional contributions you can pay

Non-concessional contributions (or after tax contributions) include amounts you pay to your superannuation fund, or your spouse’s superannuation fund, from your after-tax income (that is, from your take home pay or accrued savings outside of super).

$100,000 annual non-concessional contributions cap

From 1 July 2017, the current annual non-concessional contributions cap of $180,000 will be reduced to $100,000 per annum. However, superannuation fund members still have until the end of the current financial year to take advantage of the current $180,000 non-concessional contribution cap. Members under age 65 also have until the end of this financial year (i.e. 2016/17) to consider taking advantage of the ‘bring-forward rule’ which allows up to three years’ of non-concessional contributions to be made in the one year. This means that members who are in the position to do so can potentially make up to $540,000 worth of non-concessional contributions (the $540,000 figure being 3 x $180,000) by 30 June 2017. From 1 July 2017 the ‘bring-forward rule’ effectively reduces to $300,000 the amount of non-concessional contributions that can be ‘brought-forward’ across a three year period. However, the amount that can be brought forward, and the period to do so, will be reduced for those with total superannuation balances of $1.4 million to $1.6 million. From 1 July, 2017, those with total superannuation balances of $1.6 million or more will be ineligible to make non-concessional contributions at all. If the bring-forward provisions were triggered in the 2015/16 or 2016/17 financial years and the full bring forward amount was not utilised, transitional bring forward caps will apply.

The above rules replace the original announcement of a lifetime cap of $500,000 per person for non-concessional contributions which will no longer be proceeding.

Changes that impact retirement products (including superannuation pensions)

Removal of tax exemption for transition to retirement (TTR) pensions

Currently, individuals can commence a TTR pension at their preservation age (between 56 and 65 years of age, depending on their date of birth) even though they have not yet retired. No tax is paid by the super fund on the investment earnings from assets supporting these TTR pensions. Although some income tax may be paid by the individual on receipt of the pension payments up to age 60, once an individual is aged 60 and over, withdrawals are tax-free.

From 1 July 2017, the government will remove the tax exemption on investment earnings of TTR pensions and they will be taxed at 15 per cent (as is the case for investment earnings on superannuation assets). This change will apply regardless of when the TTR commenced. There are no changes to the tax arrangements for individuals upon receipt of these pension payments.

$1.6 million superannuation transfer balance to retirement products cap

From 1 July 2017, the government will introduce a $1.6 million cap on the total amount of superannuation an individual can transfer into retirement products, which includes superannuation pensions.

The cap will be applied to current retirees and those who have yet to enter retirement.

Current retirees with more than $1.6 million in retirement products (including superannuation pensions) have until 1 July 2017 to either remove the excess or return it to an accumulation superannuation account, where 15 per cent earnings tax applies or 10 per cent if capital gains.

The Government expects this change to impact less than one per cent of superannuation fund members. It also believes a $1.6 million retirement product balance could support a retirement income stream of around four times the single Age Pension.

Changes that benefit those with lower incomes

Low income superannuation tax offset

From 1 July 2017, the Government will introduce the Low Income Superannuation Tax Offset to replace the Low Income Superannuation Contribution when it expires on 30 June 2017.

Individuals with adjusted taxable income of $37,000 or less will receive an effective refund of the 15 per cent contributions tax paid on their concessional contributions, up to a cap of $500.

Superannuation balances of lower income spouses

To help lower income spouses increase the superannuation they accumulate, from 1 July 2017 the income threshold for the receiving spouse (whether married or de-facto) will be increased from $10,800 to $37,000, thereby helping more families to support each other in accumulating superannuation.

A contributing spouse will be eligible for an 18 per cent tax offset worth up to $540 for contributions made to an eligible spouse’s superannuation account.

If you have any questions about these changes to superannuation and how they may affect your retirement savings with legalsuper, please contact us on:

Phone: 1800 060 312 Monday to Friday between 8am and 8pm (AEST)

Fax: 1800 614 431 Email: mail@legalsuper.com.au

About our Guest Blogger

Andrew ProebstlAndrew 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.

legalsuper is an FY16 ALPMA Australian Corporate Partner

7 strategies for building a high performance culture

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

By Fiona Crawford, GM Human Resources, InfoTrack

‘High performance’ gets thrown around a lot these days as a new buzz word, but few businesses know what it is or how to define it. Everyone seems to be striving for it but many find it hard to articulate what exactly it means for their business. It is not as complicated as it seems – here are some simple steps to cultivate a high performance culture in your firm.

Define what high performance means for your business

High performance is something that should have a unique definition for every firm. What are your firm’s values and how do you expect your employees to fulfil them? What do you want to drive and motivate your employees? How will you define their success? Take the time to map this out – what are the characteristics you would expect from a high performance employee at your firm?

At InfoTrack, we have developed an employee value proposition defined by ‘effort over obligation’ – we expect our employees to come into work with a motivation and effort that overshadows any feeling of obligation. If employees are thinking about obligation, they’re missing out on opportunity - we are always thinking about opportunity and where it can next come from. We don’t dwell on what we are obliged to do and that’s why our workforce is brimming with ideas and innovation, and opportunities never pass us by.

Recruit the right people

Once you’ve defined what high performance means to you, you need to recruit the right people. A robust recruitment process should include clearly defined roles and expectations and be run by someone who understands your firm and its values. It should include multiple interviews with different people within your firm, and interviews should be designed to screen for high performance indicators that you are looking for. At InfoTrack, myself and our CEO take time to interview as many potential candidates as we can because we understand how important it is to our business to hire the right people.

Be transparent about your strategy

Being transparent about your firm’s strategy and goals helps foster a sense of trust and mutual understanding. The more employees understand what you’re working towards, the more enthusiastic and involved they will be. When employees can clearly see how their work is adding to the end goals of the firm as a whole they have a greater sense of purpose. At InfoTrack we have companywide update each 4 months to detail our new strategy to our employees across Australia so everyone knows what part they’re playing to reach our goals.

Don’t underestimate the importance of succession planning

Succession planning is key - be open and honest about opportunities for growth and ensure that you speak to employees about their careers and where they see themselves in the future. The clearer vision an employee has about the future of your firm and their place in it, the more dedicated and motivated they will be. It’s important to ensure there are no single points of failure to keep a business running at top performance.

Track employee engagement

Engagement occurs when employees feel an emotional connection to your firm and its goals. Employees essentially want three things; a meaningful vision of the future, a sense of purpose and great relationships. The more engaged employees feel, the more productive they are, the better service they provide and the longer they stay in their jobs. Engagement fosters a collaborative, empowered, innovative, productive and overall positive environment.

There are a number of ways to track engagement – ensuring open communication with employees along with regular reviews and opportunities for feedback is key. Having a formal system in place such as employee engagement surveys helps to hold you accountable and creates a measuring stick. Employees will appreciate the opportunity to give feedback and will feel that they are being listened to.

Seek out diversity

Diversity should be seen as a necessity in any modern firm. Employing people with a wide range of backgrounds brings a unique mix of talents, perspectives and experiences to your workforce. Having a variety of different viewpoints challenges people to think outside the box and encourages creativity and innovation. Diversity helps to ensure your firm will continue to evolve and can be a significant differentiator in today’s competitive market. It can not only help attract and retain the right employees, but also the right clients.

Recognise achievements

The power of reward and recognition should never be underestimated. Achievements of all kinds should be celebrated, from individual milestones to team and firm-wide efforts. Whether it’s a work anniversary or winning a big case, make sure employees feel acknowledged and appreciated. This doesn’t mean you have to break out the cake for every achievement, sometimes a thoughtful email will do and other times a real celebration will be in order –just make sure you take the time give kudos when they’re due.

Always remember that your employees are your most important asset; they are the face of your firm, they are the ones interacting with your clients every day and they will define your firm’s future. A high performing firm requires a high performance workforce.

About our Guest Blogger

Fiona Crawford
Fiona Crawford is GM of Human Resources at InfoTrack, proud principal partner of the 2016 ALPMA Legal Management Summit.

Fiona has been driving the strategic people agenda to keep pace with the growth at InfoTrack since September 2015. InfoTrack recently won an Australian Business Award for Employer of Choice 2016, and has also been among the Best Places to Work in Australia for 3 years running.

Fiona has a wide range of experience with over 15 years’ human resources, training and coaching across a range of industries including sport, fitness, finance, hospitality and automotive. She has operated her own HR consulting business and worked on start-up HR functions, transformational cultural change programs, mergers and acquisitions, and strategic and operational HR initiatives. Her uncompromising commitment to high performance and continual improvement stems from her sporting background - a two-time medal winning Olympian in softball (Silver 2004 and Bronze 2000).

ALPMA Member Q and A with Jane Ritchard, Finance Director - Wotton+Kearney

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In this ALPMA Member Q&A, we interview Jane Ritchard, the Finance Director at Wotton + Kearney, ALPMA NSW Chair and recently appointed ALPMA Board Member about her inspiration, career development and experience as a leader in the NSW legal industry.

1.       What has inspired you this year?

Fortunately there have been a few things that have inspired me both professionally and personally this year.  It actually feels like it's been a particularly tough year for many; I've heard quite a few people saying they are looking forward to this year finishing and hoping 2017 will be a better one.  

Professionally, my biggest inspiration this year has been watching the firm continue to grow and mature.  It's been great to be part of a management team that is helping guide the firm through its journey of development and change.  We turn fifteen early next year, which is a great milestone.   The firm is always looking for ways to improve and innovate.

The corporate social responsibility programme at Wotton + Kearney is a real source of inspiration for me.  We choose a new charity to support and partner with every year.  This year it's been So They Can.  They do amazing work in Africa; providing education and housing to try to break the poverty cycle.  There were some great fund raising events during the year, including some of the team going to Kenya to see the programmes on the ground and to run a half marathon in the Masai Mara.  We're partnering with OzHarvest in 2017 which I'm very much looking forward to.  The concept of reusing perfectly good food (that would otherwise have found itself in landfill) for people in need, is so elegantly simple and effective.

On a somewhat micro level and specifically in my area of the business, I'm excited about going paperless in our accounts payable process.  It might not sound like a big thing, but will make a huge difference both to my team and the wider business.  We'll be able to process accounts payable invoices more quickly - without printing anything out and have approval done through online workflows.  That means there won't be any more lost bits of paper, we won't have to file paper invoices and we won't have to archive them and pay for storage for seven years.  

Personally, I've been inspired by the amazing Australian track cyclist Anna Meares.  She announced her retirement a little while ago, after an extraordinary career as our most successful cyclist.  Anna came back from a potentially life threatening accident in a race in 2008.  She went on to win more medals and set more records.  What an awesome role model.

 2.       How did you become the Finance Director at Wotton+Kearney?

Interestingly it was through ALPMA!  I was approached about the position by a colleague that I knew through the NSW committee.  So many roles at this level are filled through network contacts, rather than through more traditional recruitment channels.  

3.       What do you think is the biggest issue facing senior finance professionals in law 

I think the biggest issue we face is keeping up with the pace of technological change.  We need to make sure that we have the best technology; to ensure our finance teams can give fast, reliable and relevant information to the business.  That includes practice management, business intelligence and other ancillary systems (such as expense management, budgeting and accounts payable systems).  We have to make sure that our systems allow everyone in the business to perform the financial aspects of their roles with the least amount of effort.   It can be challenging to build the business case that asks for the commitment of time and resources to implement new or upgraded software.  We are all competing with our IT, HR and BD colleagues for finite funds allocated to technological investment.

It can also be interesting trying to work out what is best for our firms.  We all have subtly different businesses, so what may work really well for one firm, might not be the best for our firms.   Then, once we've worked out what we need, it's important to set up the best resourcing for the project team.  It's very rare to find anyone with much excess capacity in a finance team; so it becomes a juggling act to keep the wheels turning on normal operations whilst an implementation is underway.

4.       What do you think the big challenge for law firms will be in 2017?

For a long time we've been hearing that the ball is firmly in our clients' court when it comes to the provision of legal services.  I think that's certainly the case and I can't see that changing in the short term.  Our clients are becoming more sophisticated in the way they  run their procurement processes and are demanding more for less.  Coming up with appropriate fee arrangements continues to challenge our ingenuity. It's also difficult trying to work out where the next possible disruption may come from.  Sometimes we won't know what it looks like until it's here, so it's tricky to plan for that kind of eventuality.  The challenge is to stay nimble; to be able to respond quickly to threats to our business models.

5.       How has your ALPMA membership contributed to your professional development?

Being an ALPMA member has made my life as a finance professional in the legal industry so much easier.  It has contributed to my professional development in so many ways.  Initially, it provided me with great networking opportunities; giving me access to people who could answer the questions I had about how things worked in law from a financial perspective.  Once I was settled in, I went to the regular lunch time practice management seminars and the annual Summit which helped me learn more about the legal industry as a whole.  I've developed a deeper understanding about the HR, IT and BD aspects of our industry along the way.  It's been great to be able to give back to the ALPMA community by being involved with both the NSW committee and more recently the ALPMA Board.

Editor's Note

Watch the video learn more about Jane's experiences as an ALPMA member.  

If you are inspired by Jane's story and are considering joining the ALPMA community, now is a great time to get on-board.  From 1 December, membership until 30 June, 2017 is just $250 (ex GST) if are a law firm leader or manager working in an Australian capital city - even less if you are based in a region, live in New Zealand or your firm supports multiple members.  

Learn more about becoming a member.  

About our Guest Blogger

Jane RitchardJane Ritchard has nearly 30 years’ experience as an accounting professional. Jane is the Finance Director at Wotton + Kearney, a specialist insurance law firm.  She has also worked in senior finance roles at Curwood Lawyers and Clayton Utz. 

Prior to this, when not travelling, working in the UK or doing contract work, Jane spent 12 years working on and off at Deloitte, progressing from office junior to auditor, to small business practitioner and then to internal finance manager and consultant. 

She is member of the ALPMA Board and Chair of the ALPMA NSW Committee. 

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