A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Intergenerational Management - why different perspectives are more important than different generations

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

By Ricky Nowak, leadership expert and 2015 ALPMA Summit speaker

The 2015 Intergenerational Report by the Australian Government begins by discussing what it describes as “the three long run drivers of economic growth in Australia – population, workforce participation and productivity.”  Broadly speaking these forecasts of the future suggest “we need to better position ourselves now to meet expanding demand and obligations, and make Australia a more attractive place to invest and prosper in.”  

However, I think it’s fair to say that none of these groups is going to be driving the real change needed if we are going to achieve these projections. As usual, change will be driven by leaders – leaders ‘on the ground’ in Australia’s workplaces and in Australian law firms.

And as a backdrop, let’s consider how lawyers can connect to their clients, their clients can connect with their stakeholders and legal staff can connect to their people and business.

So how do we do that? 

Well, I’m neither an economist nor a politician – certainly not a fortune teller, but what I do know is that it is as important to be as good a historian as it is to be a futurist and that’s the first thing we need to do get right. So let’s take a leadership perspective on the 2015 Intergenerational Report.  

At the outset, it needs to be understood that there will be as many as five generations working side by side  in our workplaces in the coming decades.  That immediately creates a leadership challenge because each generation will have something different to contribute, as well as having different needs in terms of management, leadership and learning:

  • First: older Australians in the workforce will need to be encouraged to share their company intelligence, document their knowledge and mentor others at all levels of the organisation. Easy? No.

  • Next, senior leaders will need to create a culture in which staff can have autonomy and purpose in their work. To varying extents, every generation needs to understand they are part of the bigger picture. Everyone needs to have a reason to connect with others, including those older and younger, and so build their company ‘tribes’. Simple? Not really.

  • Then, management need to provide the conditions for entrepreneurship and innovation to coexist so that creatives can create and ‘analyticals’ can analyse – irrespective of age, gender, department, job or hierarchy. Can it be done? Only if people want to.

  • Now, leadership needs to allow young talent to experiment and create jobs and opportunities that don’t currently exist – they need the freedom to tap into the world of possibility. Sounds idealistic? Not if approached properly.

These are just four of the numerous challenges facing leaders in this era of multigenerational management. It won’t always be easy to get people on board with them – particularly across the generations. Which is why it’s critical to make clear the reasons, motivations and opportunities behind pursuing them, creating momentum for the shift needed in your organisation and its people. It’s about getting the foundations right for the altered future ahead. Oh, and by the way, also preparing the business for the generation who is currently under 18 and may be considering a career in your workplace. Really? Yes, really.

So how do we do that?

In the work we do, we’ve created five important steps that have been designed to work both within and between the generations: 

  1. Ask each generation to conduct their own KASH Audit – a reckoning of their combined Knowledge, Attitudes, Skills and Habits within a given time frame. This can be conducted online, in workshops or facilitated in a mini-forum style either through technology or discussion or both. The results can then be calibrated in a white paper, report, summary or spreadsheet and the information shared across the company. (It’s important to note that this audit needs to be regularly updated as new employees come on board and people learn new skills.)

  2. Have each employee familiarise themselves with the findings of these audits – for all generations, not just their own. In this way they can access different skills to complement current projects; help bring new ideas to complex challenges they may not be able to currently solve; and inject new ways of thinking, fresh ideas and skills across the organisation. Some companies are now making it mandatory for, say, project leaders to find and converse with people in their organisation who (loosely) belong to different generations. This builds familiarity and comfort with different ways of seeing the world.

  3. Hold special events to showcase people’s skills and talents so they can meet and build better commercial and business relationships. This will reveal opportunities for enhancing the business rather than simply working with the predetermined.

  4. Have members of each generation spend time working across different teams to learn how they are operating, thinking and responding. They can do this by spending time ‘on the job’, on site in client meetings, or with clients or customers – all the time recognising how different perspectives are more important than different generations.

  5. Use initiatives like ‘Reverse Mentoring’, in which Multigenerational Project Teams are carefully selected using data extracted from the KASH audit. These high performance teams are made up of people with complementary social, interpersonal and technical skills

We find that this approach works best when it is coordinated by an overall ‘multigenerational champion’ working a team of ‘generational champions’ – one from each team. This multigenerational champion can be an experienced manager or Lawyer or it can be an external resource with the relevant skills and experience. Without exception it also  brings together a compliment of Legal Support Staff, Paralegals, Partners, Senior Associates, junior lawyers, Librarians, HR. to share perspectives and values.

Working with multiple generations will be a given in the coming years, as will the need to change constantly as the world also changes. The best leaders will see this as an opportunity rather than a problem, and the potential to realise the opportunity will come from taking a thoughtful, coordinated approach so law firms can more broadly connect and communicate with their clients.

Editor's Note

Ricky Nowak will be sharing more insights on this topic in her presentation "Intergenerational Management - Why Why Different Perspectives Are More Important than Different Generations" at the 2015 ALPMA Legal Management Summit and Trade Exhibition,  at 10.30 am on Friday 11 September at the Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre.   Check out the Summit program for the full list of expert speakers at Summit.

You can register now to attend Summit (and take advantage of our early bird savings) - or watch Ricky's presentation from your office via our Summit livestream broadcast for just $A99.00 (including GST).  

About our Guest Blogger

Ricky NowakRicky Nowak creates transformational and rewarding experiences for successful people to discover new perspectives, skills and techniques to further optimize their own performance, the performance of their teams and the bottom line results of their organizations. As a Certified Speaker, Professional Facilitator and Author for over 25 years she helps strengthen individual and team capability underpinned by strong and robust business relationships.

With her theatrical and teaching background, Ricky helps her audiences connect and engage with real situations and conversations from the Boardroom to the Meeting Room so communication is clear and outcomes are achievable.

Your Social Media Weapon: Strategy and a Plan

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

By Robyna May, Robyna May Consulting

your secret social media weapon: strategy
Many law firms have a social media presence. Very few firms take full advantage of it. You have the opportunity to be in the latter group.

A marketing manager attends a conference and comes back convinced that the firm needs to be on Twitter. Jones Law down the road set up a Facebook page and now Smith Law thinks they had better do the same thing. A close friend of a partner has waxed lyrical about LinkedIn and now that partner is sure that setting up a LinkedIn profile is the answer to the firm’s business development needs.

Those firms would undoubtedly gain benefit from social media. But what they really need first is a strategy and a plan. Taking some time to critically think about what exactly social media will mean to a firm will yield a much more effective social media presence in the long run.

Let’s look at how you can build an effective social media presence.

The First Stage - Strategy

  • Look through your business plans and focus on your firm’s goals.  Some of those goals may be achieved with the assistance of social media. For example, you might want your firm to be seen as the leading experts in a very specific field. Social media can help promote that.  If your business planning documentation does not lead you to any obvious uses of social media but you still want to pursue it, formulate at least three realistic, measurable goals.
  • What are your firm’s values?  What three things do you want coming to mind when people think about your firm? Your social media presence becomes a part of your firm’s image. You need to be careful that it reflects and strengthens what your firm has built.

  • Who is your target audience?  Where do they congregate online? Don’t be afraid to be very specific or to prepare an audience profile. You need to have a good understanding of who it is exactly that you are trying to reach. These are the relationships you want to build into prospects and clients. There is a wealth of demographic information about social media use that you can tap into online.

  • What can you offer?  The internet is a crowded place, filled with content vying for attention. Think about what you are going to give your target audience that they cannot get from other social media avenues. Think about one to two things that are going to differentiate your firm from the crowd.

  • Who will you connect with?  Explore your clients’ social media channels and the places they are most active. Make a list of five clients or potential clients on social media and take some time noting how they use it. You may also like to do this with your referrers and competitors. This will help you asses where your time is best spent and give you accounts to follow when you set up your own channels.

The Second Stage - Planning

  • Be realistic about the time and resources you have.  Look carefully at the budget and time you have to spend on social media. There is a myth that social media is free. It is not. It will cost you in time and you need to clear at the outset about how much you are willing to invest.

  • Decide on the social media you want to explore.  Being mindful of your resources and your research into where your target audience spends time, choose one to three social media channels that you want to pursue. Don’t be tempted to try everything at once. You will receive much better return on your time if you focus your attention.

  • Ensure you have policies and training in place.  If you don’t have a social media use policy, you need to create one. That policy should contain the general expectations of the firm in regards to personal social media use by team members. It should also set out clear guidelines as to what is acceptable in the context of the firm’s social media channels. Your policy should include items like: guidance as content of posts, any approval processes, grievance processes should negative commentary arise, those with authority to post to social media on behalf of the firm, plans of attack in the face of malicious conduct, disclaimers to be used and confidentiality concerns. A prudent approach would be to perform a risk analysis and work back from there.

  • Create a schedule for content push.  You might like to follow a general template each week, for instance: On Monday, promote a firm event or news article. Tuesday, share a link written by someone else that would be of interest to your clients. Wednesday, post a picture or quote that would interest your audience, Thursday, share something personal that happens in the office.  Friday, share a blog post. It may sound formulaic and inauthentic, but it will give you a structure an ideas for content. It will also ensure that you are conversing, rather than just shouting about your firms’ achievements.  In addition to a weekly template, an editorial calendar is a helpful tool in planning your social media posts. A simple monthly calendar, where you can note down what you would like to share and when will ensure organisation and assist in the use of automated tools. This schedule needs to be flexible. If a breaking news story occurs that is relevant to your firm, you want to be part of that conversation, not married to a calendar.

  • Plan time for engagement.  Social media involves a two-way conversation. You cannot expect people to engage with you if you do not engage with them. You will need to set aside time to reply to comments, to comment on other accounts and to follow those that you are interested in connecting with.

  • Plan quality control.  Each piece of content that you share needs to resonate with your audience. Based on the work you did during your planning phase, create a checklist. Does this post reflect our values? Will this post add value to our target audience? How does this post help achieve our goals? Are we differentiating ourselves? 

Now that you have spent some time building a sustainable strategy and plan, go ahead and set up or review your social media channels. If things are not working, don’t be afraid to tweak them.  Keep in mind your end-game goals and focus on creating and maintaining relationships. Quality content will attract your intended audience. Engagement is what will build those relationships into profitable partnerships.

About our Guest Blogger

Robyna MayRobyna May helps professional services firms extend their reach, maximise their impact and showcase their expertise or product through the power of social media, blogging and other web content.  

She has over 14 years experience in law and IT, with degrees in both. Her career has spanned  working an in-house software developer, project manager, team director and consultant (focusing on social media). 

Her knowledge of the legal market, combined with her IT, design and writing skills give her a unique perspective on digital media.

Having many payment terms - make it easy for clients to pay

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

By Glenn Tullia, Senior Manager, St. George Bank

Businesses today need to be more efficient than ever before.  

Embracing the changes in the payments industry, and adopting innovative payment solutions is important for efficiency, which is of course key to growth, profit and reach.

How many times has your business been faced with customers who only want to pay using card, not cash? Or perhaps over the phone or online rather than in person? 
It’s not surprising to see cash and cheque usage is reducing as more people embrace technology and look for quicker and more convenient ways to make payments. 

According to the Reserve Bank of Australia's research "The Changing Way We Pay: Trends in Consumer Payments", the use of cash in people's wallets had fallen from 62 per cent of transactions in 2010 to 47 per cent by the end of 2013. The RBA also predicted cheques would eventually be phased out as they would become too expensive to use. 

This could mean that sizable payments such as property sales will be completed electronically in a matter of years.

Payment alternatives

Having been in the banking industry for more than a decade, I’m familiar with a number of alternatives to cash and cheque payment solutions that will make it simple and more streamlined to safely and securely collect, monitor and manage your customer payments. For example, you could accept payments directly to your bank account, debit your customers accounts, allow online or BPAY payments or accept credit card payments from your office. 

Solutions such as mobile payments are becoming more popular because it allows businesses to take payments quickly and efficiently – and also keep track of those payments simply and easily. Mobile applications developed for smart phones and tablets allow small businesses to accept transactions on the go. Transactions can be authorised in real-time, providing you with guaranteed cash flow whilst keeping your customers happy by offering alternative payment options to cash and cheque. 

Having an effective payments system is critical for businesses to run smoothly, whether you’re a sole trader, a growing business using the Internet or a large business looking for integrated payments.  These days there is a range of products designed to help collect payments through a variety of channels.  With new developments happening every day it’s worth doing your homework to make sure you get the payment solution that meets your needs.

Editor's Note

St.George Bank is an ALPMA NSW Corporate Partner.  Check out their ALPMA member-only deal.  

About our Guest Blogger

Glenn TulliaGlenn Tullia is Senior Manager at St.George Bank.  Glenn has been with St.George since 2006 and focuses solely on the Professional Services sector. Throughout this time he has developed a keen interest in law firms, and enjoys every opportunity to assist his customers, and the wider industry in achieving their business goals, by offering a high level of service.

More than making money

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

By Justin Whealing, Associate Director, Eaton Capital Partners

Legal leadership means a lot more than putting the bottom line as the top priority.

All managing partners are equal, but some managing partners are more equal than others. That, in a nutshell, sums up the different attitudes to be found lurking in the minds of law firm heads as they seek to implement strategies to ensure their staff are happy and healthy.

The best managing partners have at the forefront of their mind how their leadership of their respective firm can help ensure its staff (not just the lawyers) want to come to work and can fulfil their duties while remaining physically and mentally healthy.

Managing partners that adopt such a mindset know that if you have that as the philosophical basis that informs your leadership style, the professional benefits will flow. Retention and recruitment strategies that are underpinned by an engaged and motivated workforce are much more likely to be successful – with the associated knock-on benefits of establishing a culture that champions collaboration and where client expectations and financial targets are much more likely to be not just met, but exceeded.

When lawyers feel their specific contributions and personal welfare is valued at a firm, clients often reap the benefits via the quality of the legal advice proffered.

While the best managing partners seek to build a firm in this way – they would be in the minority.

For most, billable-hours, turnover, budgetary targets and scrutinising profit per partner numbers remains king. When talking to the media or pitching for work, such a philosophy is traditionally couched around a public discourse of meeting client concerns and demands.

A recent survey of law firm heads (completed in February and March) by Eaton Capital Partners (ECP) provided a sober reminder of why a lawyer’s lot at the moment is too often a tale of woe.

The ECP Survey of 34 managing partners found that around a fifth of them (20.7%) were “not sure” as to why there is such a high rate of depression amongst lawyers.

A further 20.7 per cent essentially wash their hands of the problem, by stating it is something intrinsic in the nature of lawyers. Only 20.7 per cent thought their firm might be at least part of the problem by citing “long working hours” as the main reason.

Simple. Demands of client service mean lawyers prioritise clients over their own wellbeing and needs,” wrote one law firm head.

Law firms featured in the survey included some of the largest global law firms with an Australian practice (Herbert Smith Freehills, Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper), leading independent firms (Gilbert + Tobin, Hall & Wilcox, Johnson Winter & Slattery) and boutique and specialist practices (Hive Legal, Nexus Lawyers, Curwoods Lawyers).

While ECP released the name of survey participants, the survey was anonymous.

When it is broke, it is time to fix it

As to what can be done to address the appallingly high rate of depression amongst lawyers, managing partners seem to be at a collective loss.

While the featured legal leaders in the ECP survey would be comfortable in distilling complex financial metrics into a myriad of performance evaluation mechanisms, many have no idea of how to gauge the happiness and health of their firm’s staff.

It is something intrinsic in the nature of lawyers”,” high achievers”, “strive for perfection” and “adversarial nature of legal practice” were all mooted as potential factors as to the high rate of legal ill-health.

There was a reticence to say we have a problem here, and will reforming the culture and structures we currently have at my firm help to provide a solution. 

Such honesty is what is required from our law firm leaders as a first step in reducing the worryingly high numbers of lawyers with depression.

A number of the managing partners understand the gravity of the situation and provided possible solutions, or at the very least, showed some awareness of possible causes.

No timesheets, reviews of workloads, health and well-being initiatives, work/life balance, supportive ‘work culture’ and leaders with emotional intelligence capability,” said one law firm head.

Another managing partner wrote that; “Firms need to lead the charge on this, not the peak bodies. Improving client management skills and learning to manage expectations in a way that minimises personal cost.

Firms most definitely SHOULD be leading the charge on this.

The current insanity which sees large law firm models and accepted behaviours compromising the mental health and happiness of lawyers will only be amplified, not reduced, unless reform is enacted.

To wish for a different outcome whilst continuing and actually entrenching such practices, or to pretend there is no problem at all, is an abrogation of leadership.

Editor's Note

The ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre has a range of on-demand seminars covering the topics of mental health and resilience and leadership team and cultural development at law firms. ALPMA members can access most recordings free and non-members can purchase on-demand seminars for $99 (including GST).  

About our Guest Blogger

Justin Whealing

Justin Whealing is one of the foremost experts on the Australian legal profession. Justin was the editor of Lawyers Weekly between June 2011 and January 2015, helping to establish Lawyers Weekly as Australia’s premier online legal publication. During this period Lawyers Weekly substantially increased its audience and broke many stories of critical importance to the domestic and international legal profession. 

Justin manages the legal services division of Eaton Capital Partners, working across media training for managing partners to exclusive partner search mandates, to law firm marketing and positioning in the changing legal services marketplace in Australia and Asia.


Are you a thought leader?

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

by Stephen Wood, CEO, InfoTrack

Thought leadership is an overused, and dare I say abused, word in today’s boardrooms. Everyone wants to be a thought leader and every company wants to show thought leadership - but not everyone does.  As we launch the 2015 ALPMA/InfoTrack Thought Leadership Awards, it’s a great time to reflect on what exactly thought leadership is and how, as organisations, we can demonstrate it. 

Daniel W. Rasmus, the US based future strategist, recently defined thought leadership as:

 “…an entry point to a relationship. Thought leadership should intrigue, challenge, and inspire even people already familiar with a company. It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships.”

I agree with Daniel and would go one step further - I believe thought leadership should disrupt markets.  I believe it should fundamentally change the way we see things or think about things, both from a corporate and personal sense. Thought leaders and thought leading organisations create new paths for us to travel down. 

When I think of thought leaders, I think of people who changed our world – from Ghandi to Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates to Steve Jobs - they opened our eyes to a new way of working or living. 

Jodie Baker, Managing Director of Hive Legal, the winner of the 2014 ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Award, discussed her thoughts on thought leadership and innovation with us recently summing up: 

“Innovation is not about improving the way things are done, but changing it. It’s not about thinking outside the box, it's about asking is the box the right shape in the first place, should it be a star?”

At InfoTrack, we constantly ask ourselves what we can do differently, better, how we can fundamentally change the customer experience to enhance their day. This is what moves us forward. While it may not affect the world the way the thought leaders mentioned above did, our mission is to make the working day better for the hundreds of thousands of legal researchers in the world. 

What does it take to be a thought leader?

When we think about thought leadership and innovation in a commercial sense we tend to think of technology – the iphone, flat screen TVs, electric cars – but the most important elements of thought leadership in the legal sector is not about what we are using to innovate our service but how we are enhancing it. 

Recently we surveyed a wide range of legal firms and in-house counsel across Australia and New Zealand and the results showed the areas most in need of change and thought leadership in the Australasian legal sector are:  

  1. Addressing gender diversity (85%)
  2. Enhancing service delivery (53.3%) 
  3. Providing competitive and alternative pricing options (50%).
(Note: respondents could choose more than one option)

While technology can help with all of the above, the change needs to begin with the strategy and then focusing on the tools that can help bring that strategy to life.  The survey also showed us that client demands for greater efficiency and economic conditions continue to be the major drivers for change in law firms. 

Biggest Innovation Drivers

  1. Client expectation and demand (79.17%)
  2. General economic conditions (54.17%)
  3. Regulatory change (31.25%) 
  4. Existing competition (29.17%)
  5. Non-traditional new entrants from domestic market (27.08%).
(Note: respondents could choose more than one option)

Looking Outside

Often we should look outside our own industries to see where change is happening and how that could apply to our sector. We need to expand our reference points to help expand our own sector in its thinking and practice. 

Who is driving innovation internationally?

 Our survey respondents felt that outside of Australia, the countries driving innovation in the legal sector are: 
  1. United Kingdom (29%)
  2. United States (28%)
  3. Asia (18.7%) 
  4. Europe (4.6 %).
And that we could learn most from the following industries: 


I personally can’t wait to see what the entrants to The 2015 ALPMA/InfoTrack Thought Leadership Awards are doing to demonstrate thought leadership – from the calibre of last year’s entries I am sure it will be very exciting. 

Editor's Note

If your firm is doing something a little different, then you should nominate your innovative project for an ALPMA/InfoTrack Thought Leadership Award, which will be presented at the 2015 ALPMA Summit Gala Dinner on Thursday 10 September,  at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre.  

Entry is simple - just complete the nomination form, answering five questions about your project, and provide relevant contact information. Entries close 5pm, Thursday 9 July. 

About our Guest Blogger

Stephen WoodStephen Wood was appointed CEO of InfoTrack in early 2010. As CEO, Stephen is responsible for the InfoTrack business, both in defining its future, and in achieving the steady growth aspirations.  Throughout his 23 years in the ICT industry, Stephen has worked with the legal profession, this sees him bring a wealth of experience to InfoTrack, particularly around how to leverage technology to drive business efficiency in the legal market. 

For readers interested in visualisation, InfoTrack recently gave all clients access to their brand new visual workspace tool at no charge. Named REVEAL, this sophisticated, visual tool enables clients to search multiple databases, and use the results of those searches to create a custom workspace displaying all information in a simple and comprehensible manner. 

Your most important tool

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

By Nicholas Carr, Managing Director, BOAB IT

Second only to your brain, your computer wins the prize as the most important tool in your profession. Depending on your area, you can spend up to 90% of your time working on it, reading, typing, sending emails or managing your matters.

Being as vital to your practice as it is, you should get the best equipment you can find that is right for your office. This part is very important. We often receive requests for the best and most powerful computer that money can buy. This is a big mistake, as lawyers do not require such powerful machines. They may end up being a nuisance, very expensive to service and repair, fans that are very loud (they need to cool down the powerful discs that are running) and they will cost up to 10 times more than an appropriate machine should be. If you are not a gamer, it is definitely not worth it.

So, when looking for a computer, keep a few things in mind:

Mac vs PC

Make sure that the software you are intending to run in your practice is available in the platform you are choosing. Most tools for law firms run better on Windows than they do on Mac.  Virtualising Windows on your Apple computer doesn’t always provide the same performance or level of integration you may expect.

Laptop, Desktop or Tablet?

This is a very personal choice and has to do with the way you practice. Do you work often from home? Are you a “Cafe Lawyer” who is often on the go? If you never work from anywhere other than your office, a desktop is good. If you are on your feet a lot, tablets are a fantastic option, as they are light and can be as powerful as any desktop. A laptop is a good option if you work from home as they collapse and are easy to transport around the house. You can choose one, you can choose them all. With cloud synchronization becoming standard these days, you have more freedom and flexibility than any of your predecessors in history.

Invest in hardware

You wouldn’t buy a cheap chair that is uncomfortable and will give you pain every day, so don’t do that with your computer. A slow computer will end up costing you time and money and may give you endless frustration that will affect your work. Get equipment that is right for you, without overspending or cutting corners.

Custom made or out of a box

Different law firms have different needs. Ask your IT provider what is the best solution for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed. Just keep in mind that, unless you have signed up for fixed managed services, your provider will charge you per visit, so you should also consider this when calculating costs.


You can be one of those independent people who likes to do everything by themselves -  research, purchase and installation. That’s great, but isn’t your time worth more to your clients? You should still consider having a trustworthy company to call when your internet crashes or your email inbox collapses. Granted, you could probably look online for a solution and try to fix it yourself, but it is cheaper to have someone else doing it rather than spending your billable hours on blogs and forums. Do your research and choose a good IT provider before you need them so you don’t have to waste your precious time in the middle of a crisis and be taken advantage of due to the urgency of the situation.

Your computer can be your best friend, there to help you and support you, in good times and in bad times, or it can turn out to be your worst nightmare of stress and frustration. Do your research. Considering the amount of years it will be by your side, it is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Editor's Note: 

BOAB IT are proud partners of ALPMA's Leading Your Firm program, designed specifically to help smaller and regional law firms.  Register now for the upcoming webinar on Wednesday 3 June "Firm Profitability Improvement: Mastering the Law Firm Profit Cycle," presented by Roy West, Business Coach from Talking Marketing. Attendance is free for ALPMA members or $99 for eligible non-members.

About our Guest Blogger

Nicholas Carr is the founder and Managing Director of BOAB IT.  Having spent several years working for LEAP Legal Software as CIO, Nicholas Carr turned his attention to LEAP’s clients and how he could fix the angst a lot of them were experiencing with their IT.

With a background in managed services and data centre virtualisation, Nicholas has a vision to deliver all of the products and services a law firm requires to operate for a fixed monthly cost. Nobody likes surprises, least of all barristers and solicitors, so to minimise the exposure to costly IT services, BOAB IT was born. Leveraging industry contacts and taking advantage of the best and most secure technology available, you can trust BOAB IT with all of your IT support requirements now and in the future.

The hazards of instigating transformational change at law firms

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

By Margaret Fitzsimons, Director at Trans4mation

While the basics of instigating and driving change within professional services environments are essentially the same as corporate environments, many traditional professional services organisations are further complicated by their ownership structure. 

In the corporate environment, management, the board and the shareholders are normally mutually exclusive.  In the traditional professional services partnership structure, management, the board and the shareholders often overlap.  This is why instigating major change in professional services firm can often seem like an insurmountable problem. There are two major stages of organisational transformation.  The first is to actually instigate the transformation.  The second is to ‘drive’ or implement the transformation.

Instigating transformational change

Instigating transformation in legal firms is often the hardest step.  This is because encouraging partners who are in their comfort zone to realise, firstly, that they need to change and, secondly, that they need to actively and enthusiastically embrace change is extremely hard. 

Partners are often reticent to risk what is perceived to be a “collegiate partnership culture”. Other fears include losing staff and having to change silo or personal work practices.  Fear of the unknown and inertia are the major reasons why many legal firms decline rather than making a proactive decision to change.  
Instigating change means working with human psychology.  Finding out what drives the decision makers, appeasing fears and presenting a vision for the future are critical at this stage.  

Change can only ever be instigated by a compelling argument, by presenting facts and figures which support the reasons why change is necessary.  Fear can only be eroded by clear and logical thought. Facts and figures that build a business case for change may include:

  • Declining net profit or returns to equity partners over a given period of years
  • Decline in partner/staff numbers over a period of years
  • Decline in market share
  • High staff turnover
  • Loss of key clients or reliance on a couple of clients
  • High levels of staff or client dissatisfaction 
  • Inability to achieve stated strategic goals.
In addition, the following are often symptoms of a declining business:

  • lack of future direction (no strategy)
  • inability to make decisions at the board room table (or infrequent partner meetings)
  • silos operating in the business
  • high turnover in management staff due to frustration 
  • reactive rather than proactive decision making
  • clock watching 
  • low pay environments
  • poor culture
  • political assassinations.
Legal firms in decline will often only actively search for change solutions once the hip pockets of motivated partners reach a level that leaves them personally uncomfortable.

Driving transformation change

Once the board or partners have accepted the need to change and you have support to progress, there are two imperative roles which must be filled if the change is going to be successful.  These are:

  • The driver – the person with change management and technical experience who will make sure the change happens, will formulate the strategy and implement the project plan.
  • The champion – a partner who is respected by the other partners and the driver, who is a performer and has interpersonal skills to support the driver.  The champion needs to be able to take the lead from the partners’ perspective in supporting the change and is the bridge between the partners and the driver.  This person will be needed when the driver takes on important issues within the partnership and may need to shield the driver during significant periods of instability.  The champion helps to implement the vision of change, prevents white-anting of the process and brings the partnership along on the journey.  
To get the best results from transformational change, consider the following:

  • Launch a formal change program in the firm
  • Educate everyone on why change is needed, what the change will achieve, what to expect during the period of change and how to manage change.
  • It is important to get the partners and senior management fully behind change.  Leading from the top is the only way.  Make sure that any dissention in the top ranks is done behind closed doors and that everyone walks the talk when with staff.
  • Communication is key.  To sell change there must be a silver lining.  Quantifiable goals which are published to relevant groups or people and compared to actual results over time are a good way to show that the changes are working.
  • Have a forum for communication; develop some really good people strategies to build a happy culture.  Try to balance bad news with good news.  
  • Celebrate wins.  Get some quick wins happening at the beginning of the change process to ignite momentum.
  • Teach business skills to all fee earners so they can make the right business decision in their area of responsibility. 
  • When the business starts hitting goals, reward the staff too.  
  • Tie your key staff to the business, be generous with remuneration, be a great place to work.  Say thank you to your staff for their efforts.  
  • Keep the momentum going, keep your staff happy and the business will boom.
Transformation takes strong leadership. While the results of transformational change are worth the pain of the journey, if you don’t have someone (ideally both the Chairperson of the Board and the CEO) who can shoulder pad up and tackle the difficulties, don’t even bother trying to make the changes.

Editor's Note

Margaret Fitzsimons is presenting at an ALPMA QLD seminar on "Net Profitability Reporting" on May 20 in Brisbane. Register now to take part and learn how to price and package services for profit. 

About our Guest Blogger 

Margaret FitzsimonsMargaret Fitzsimons is the Director at  Trans4mation.  Margaret began her professional life as an accountant working for (what is now) PriceWaterhouseCoopers. She has more than 20 years’ experience in the professional services industry and has managed legal firms, two of which she was employed to transform. Margaret has a special interest in helping professional services businesses to realise their full potential by challenging the traditional methods of practice management. 

Margaret has extensive change management experience and has proven her business acumen by assisting the professional practices she has managed to achieve significant growth in both turnover and profitability.

Recruitment Strategies your firm should be adopting

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

By Susie Rogers, Director, Rusher Rogers HR Solutions

What is it that attracts a candidate to a firm?  Research shows that it is not money alone but a firm’s reputation, measured across a number of different indices as highlighted in the 2015 ALPMA/Rusher Rogers Australian Legal Industry Salary & HR Survey and, as a whole, this is what can contribute towards driving talent to an organisation.  
For a candidate this means:
  • A firm’s professional reputation & its performance in the sector;
  • the firm’s type and level of clients;
  • its specialisation and expertise as a leader in vertical markets;
  • the firm’s culture and the profile of its employees;
  • career opportunities (long and short term);
  • benefits on offer;
  • commitment to professional development; and of course
  • remuneration and rewards.

Which recruitment strategy is going harness the right talent?  

The most successful ones that I have seen are:
  • those firms that know exactly who suits their firm from a cultural point of view, and they stick to that without compromise;
  • firms that take their time to hire and plan what talent they need well in advance;
  • firms that have a clear vision of who they are as a practice and can clearly articulate this to their targets;
  • those firms that know what they can offer in return and conversely they have clear expectations of what they expect of an employee;
  • firms that know what direction that they are going as an organisation and invite newly identified targets along for the journey as a part of that way forward; and
  • firms with management that has profiled their ‘high performance’ employees, both the hard and the soft skills of their people so that they are clear when they hire what is important for a team fit, not just an experience/skills fit. 

The WIIFM (What's In It For Me) Factor 

Progressive, forward thinking firms have developed a recruitment strategy that has involved them placing themselves in the shoes of the potential employee.

Instead of coming from the angle of being inside looking out, they have stepped outside their own firm and considered their organisation from an outsider’s perspective, that is, from the outside looking in. The question is, is what they see enticing enough from the outside and does it stack up or perhaps more importantly, standout against all the competition in the market place.

Whether your recruitment strategy involves lateral hires or growing your own talent, the recruitment strategy needs to address both short and long term resourcing needs. The uniform foundation - no matter what level experience you are targeting - will be what you have on offer.  

As this year’s ALPMA salary survey highlights, most firms have some, or many of, a long list of benefits ranging from additional leave entitlements to study allowance, meal allowances to flexible working hours.  But is this enough?  With social responsibility volunteer programs, commitments to career progression, opportunities to work globally within the one firm, to healthy salary and incentive packages, what will differentiate your firm against another and does your recruitment strategy reflect this?

Understanding what attracts targets to a firm is critical and with the provision of benefits, market rate salary packages and comparable, achievable incentives addressed, it’s the firm’s reputation, and culture that is left.  Having a clear and committed strategy to developing and maintaining, let’s say, a ‘high performance’ culture is critical so that if you want ‘high performance’ talent then you can recruit to that culture and attract to most appropriate talent because of it.

Successful recruitment strategies are also well rounded recruitment strategies.  By this  I mean strategies that have a process that captures talent for future roles with a commitment of looking after all the talent that has been introduced to your firm. It is critical that the candidate has a positive and professional experience with your firm throughout the recruitment process even though they may not be the candidate of choice at the time. Leave the door open as yesterday’s candidate maybe tomorrow’s employee. Remember people talk to their network about their experiences with firms, the good, the bad and the ugly. 

Reactive vs Proactive Talent Sourcing Strategy

The ALPMA salary survey indicates that a hefty 65% of firms rely on a reactive talent sourcing strategy,  80% of whom go  to the market as the need arises. This means they have no real long-term recruitment plan, relying heavily on finding the right people at the time of need.  Only 14% engaged in a more pro-active recruitment strategy by investing time in developing their own database of potential candidates, including specific talent pools of unique talent, developing a brand on social media to attract future talent and a process and commitment to an ongoing engagement strategy with potential talent.  These may well be the ‘go-to’ firms for the future ‘high performance’ candidate while less proactive firms fight over those who are left. 

Which type of practice will you be?

Editor's Note

The ALPMA Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey provides a comprehensive, independent review of salaries paid for 60 - 70 positions in legal firms, and reveals the hottest HR issues and challenges for the legal industry in Australia and New Zealand.  This year, we conducted two surveys - one providing benchmarking information for Australian law firms, proudly supported by Rusher Rogers HR Solutions, and one for New Zealand law firms, proudly supported by McLeod Duminy Legal Recruiters.   

If you would like to understand more about law firm compensation strategies and how your firm compares, then you can purchase the relevant report for $A550 (including GST) if you are an ALPMA member who did not participate in the research or  for $A2,200 (including GST)  for all non-members who did not participate in the research.  Participants receive a complimentary copy of the research. 

Please contact Connie Finestone if you have any questions about purchasing the report.

About our Guest Blogger

Susie RogersSusie Rogers is a recruitment specialist with almost 18 years at the helm leading an experienced team at Rusher Rogers HR Solutions, 12 years of which has focused on recruiting and finding talent for the legal sector. 

Established in 1996, Rusher Rogers HR Solutions has invested almost 18 years developing a comprehensive candidate network using a complex, robust and successful sourcing strategy to identify and manage that talent network, placing them in the best position to find the talent when its needed.

Why strategy fails and supporting acts

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

By Sean Larkan, Principal at Edge International

We have all heard responses about strategy in law firms like – ‘yeah we have a strategy, but we’ve been too busy to really motor it’, ‘I think we have a strategy but haven’t heard much about it for a couple of years’ or ‘I know EXCO/MANCO have done something but not sure where its at . . . . ’ and so on. The unfortunate reality is, despite having a strategy document, a majority of firms fail in implementing or getting results from their strategy – after all, that is the point isn’t it? 

Let’s look at some of the reasons why strategy fails (I will suggest below what we must do about this) but first up, let’s be clear about what we mean by strategy.

Strategy is a way of achieving a competitive or dominant position i.e. really getting ahead of the pack. If it doesn’t do that i.e. if it is simply about getting some operational or structural thing done, it’s not strategic, and usually, can be delegated or it’s not worth spending an awful lot of time on.

What are some of the reasons why strategies in law firms stumble?

  • The strategy formulation exercise and strategy document are seen as the sole, key players in the process. In reality they are but one part of an overall group of systems, processes and people who all play critical support roles in getting results from strategy.

  • The group driving the strategy don’t adequately brief, consult or report to the partner group, nor do they keep them interested and ideally, somewhat excited along the way. As a result this secret society does not take the partners along for the ride and they of course don’t become active participants in something they feel they don’t own. This guarantees hit and miss results; 

  • The same applies in the case of senior managers. It is after all, they who will need to supply much of the supporting information and data needed to support any strategy. You need them on board, shown respect, informed and enthusiastic;

  • The strategy exercise is done in-house by people who are not acquainted with getting strategy supported, agreed and achieving results, as a result it drags on and on and eventually gets everyone bored with the process and in truth, uncaring about the outcome;

  • Many critical pre-strategy steps are not done, with a result that they destabilise the strategy process at every turn. For instance, not being clear on what the firm will ‘stop doing’ with the result that these under-performing, resource-hungry areas take up large amounts of time and energy which could otherwise be used to get bang from strategy buck;

  • A long and far too detailed strategy document is compiled, documenting everything in multiple layers to the confusion of everyone. These become impossible to apply and report progress on, with key people not being able to see the wood for the trees. A good, well understood strategy can be summarised in a couple of pages;

  • In the early excitement of strategy preparation it is not unusual for stronger personalities and heavy hitters to take responsibility for implementation. They are often also the biggest fee earners and client getters so, on their own, are not suitable to see strategy through. They simply do not have the time. As a result it keeps getting put on the back burner with excuses from these busy over-achievers accepted on face value;

  • Once the strategy documentation is eventually finalised, not enough energy, budget or time is devoted to implementing it and getting results. Strategies need the right people to drive them, they need to be monitored, reported on, reviewed, and aligned with many other aspects of firm governance and operation. 
There are many other problem areas we could highlight but I am sure you get the gist. 

What can and should we do about this? 

The above might suggest that this is really quite a complex exercise and needs a raft of qualified people and processes to get it all done. This is not so, provided you break it down into sensible steps and understand what needs to be done. A couple of determined people (provided they respect others and keep them in the loop as well) can drive this through to successful completion. It can also be a lot of fun and very rewarding for everyone.  

In essence you need to focus around three areas:
  1. Recognise that there are a number of important steps to be undertaken before you even tackle your strategy as such. Without these in place strategy formulation and implementation will be disrupted or even derailed;

  2. Realise there are things about actually completing the strategy exercise that are crucial for long term success;

  3. Assuming the prior two steps are properly taken, and you have a short, punchy strategy document which is well supported, owned and understood, be clear on the things that need to be done after the strategy documentation is completed and signed off.
The trick is knowing what to do at each of these three stages - and I will cover this in a future ALPMA blog post. 

As always I would welcome comment and queries arising from this post, especially about your own experiences and tips from successes you have achieved or perhaps stumbling blocks you have encountered. 

Editor's Note

If you are interested in learning more, then it is not too late to register now for ALPMA's upcoming livestream broadcast "Successful Strategy: The Essential Supporting Acts" presented by Sean Larkan on Wednesday May 6th. You can attend the live event in Sydney, watch the livestream broadcast online or attend one of our 19 regional hubs across Australia and New Zealand, where you will also have the opportunity to network with other law firms.  Register now

Attendance is free for ALPMA members, so join now for FY16 and get your May and June membership for free!  

This event is part of ALPMA's Leading Your Firm program, generously supported by Principal Partners, Thomson Reuters and BigHand, and  Regional Partners, BOAB IT, CommArc and LexisNexis.

About our Guest Blogger

Sean LarkanSean Larkan BA LLB MBA MPh CMC is a Principal of global consulting firm Edge International. Sean is a specialist growth strategist and consultant to law firms and legal departments. 

As a former corporate tax lawyer and managing partner of leading law firms in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and with eight years consulting experience Sean has been involved in countless strategic initiatives for his firms and clients. 

Sean is an Accredited Practitioner of Human Synergistics, a Certified Master Coach, facilitator and speaker who focuses on helping firms achieve implementation and actual results, which invariably means improved profitability. He is the author of the leading publication on brand for law firms ‘Brand Strategy and Management for Law firms’ and authors the Legal Leaders Blog.

Why do women continue to be paid less than men?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

By Valmai Vickers, Senior Practice Administrator, Ryan Carlisle Thomas Lawyers & ALPMA Vice President

The pay gap between genders has been with us for decades, since it was first identified in the ‘60s when its legitimacy was first challenged. It bubbles along, acknowledged by all to be a measure of inequality and blight on society, but a little like bad weather. Everyone wants and expects it to improve, but it continues, on and on. In fact, by some measures it is becoming worse.

New figures released by Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (‘WGEA’) reveal that within management circles, men enjoy a pay advantage in total remuneration of between 24% and 29%. More concerning is the overall gender pay gap in legal services which shows a 35.8% gap in base remuneration compared to an average across all industries of 19.9%.

These findings are based on data collected from all Australian workplaces with more than 100 employees and as a result of the Gender Equality Act 2012, which makes mandatory the reporting of remuneration discrepancies between men and women, at equivalent levels of seniority and expertise and within like industries.

Closer to home, this study is supported by a progress report on the professional advancement of women within the law, released by the NSW Law Society in 2013 which found that the average income of first-year solicitors in private practice in 2012 was $71,500 for men compared to $66,200 for women.  Overall, average remuneration was $144,100 for male solicitors compared to $113,600 for women solicitors. 

It is possible that the real state of affairs is considerably worse, given that the WGEA’s data is collected only from organisations with more than 100 employees, and includes data from only 66 law firms, in contrast to smaller practices where public scrutiny and equity expectations would not be so pressing.

Why does wage inequality remain stubbornly high?

The question I ask myself is, given that gender prejudice is no longer tolerated, and we now all accept that talent, industriousness, intelligence and leadership are not gender-based, why is it that wage inequality remains stubbornly high? 

No doubt prejudice still exists, maybe not openly but operating undercover, like a cicada which will only appear when the conditions are conducive. 

The factors at play here are complex and impossible to dissect in a short blog. My personal view is that this state of affairs comes about almost inadvertently, that is, through the operation of unconscious bias.  Let me explain this in a little more detail.

The WGEA reports that differences in gender remuneration increase when non-salary benefits, such as car allowances, bonuses, and other incentives, are included in the analysis in addition to base salary. These items are usually negotiated between employers and individual staff members rather than being entitlements under industrial awards or enterprise bargaining.  An individual employee requires keen bargaining skills and strong sense of self worth in order to achieve a good financial outcome. 

Further, it reports that whereas men are remunerated on the basis of their future potential, women tend to be rewarded for past performance. The confidence to argue a case on the basis of what you might do, rather than on what you’ve already done, may have a gender component to it. 

In an article in the Harvard Business Review in June 2014, Hannah Riley Bowles cites the results of a range of research in this area and offers some insight into why women would necessarily fare worse than men in such negotiations. 

According to the research cited by Ms Bowles, the characteristics required to negotiate effectively were generally viewed more positively in a male than a female.  It was widely accepted culturally within an organization that men are permitted to be assertive, according to Ms Bowles. On the other hand, women who adopted a similar approach were considered  “pushy”. 

In other words, one man’s assertiveness is another woman’s aggressiveness. The social cost of negotiating may therefore act as a barrier to women achieving an optimal outcome through negotiation using the same bargaining techniques as their male counterparts.

I have no doubt these attitudes are so deeply ingrained that, like the glasses through which you may look at the world, they are so close as to be transparent. 

But, complacency about the status quo is never a justifiable response.  In this case, it is insupportable given the range of tools now available, often online and free with which to tackle gender pay inequality and engender change on both sides of the bargaining table.

Strategies to address pay inequities

Common to all the corporate self-help kits are a number of helpful strategies that have been proven effective in reducing or eliminating pay inequities. They are:

  • Conduct a proper data analysis of what you pay staff. In this analysis, be careful to include all the little and not so little financial and non-financial benefits that are used to top up someone salary.

  • Raise awareness of the results of the analysis at both senior management level and throughout the organization.

  • Design a plan to address the problem, in which the chief executive officer is accountable for its execution and success. 

  • In framing the pay equity plan, take care to encourage staff at all levels to consider whether their biases might be at work in situations such as performance reviews.

  • Encourage women also to examine how they might be holding themselves back, by self-censorship or from feelings of not wanting to be seen as too pushy. 

There are big benefits to be gained by those companies and organizations that embrace a positive gender culture. 

An organization in which gender plays an insignificant role in career advancement and remuneration unlocks and retains talent that would have otherwise have been under-utilised or neglected. Such an environment also promotes co-operation, innovation, enthusiasm and commitment amongst its employees. Communication is fostered and the organization is less hierarchical. 

In summary, a positive gender culture produces the types of high growth companies that are now setting the pace. 

Useful links

About Our Guest Blogger

Valmai VickersValmai Vickers is Senior Practice Administrator with Victorian based plaintiff law firm, Ryan Carlisle Thomas.

She has been on the ALPMA Victorian Branch Committee of ALPMA for a number of years and a member of the ALPMA Board since 2010, currently serving as ALPMA’s Vice President.

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