A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

The future of performance management for law firms

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

By Ray D'Cruz, CEO and Co-Founder, SkillsScorecard

There’s been a lot of debate about performance management recently. While momentum for change has been building for some time, the April Harvard Business Review article about Deloitte rethinking performance management got professional service firms (PSF) talking.

The message from those advocating for change is simple: a more dynamic business environment requires a more responsive performance management than the traditional annual review process.

As with many public debates, there’s a lot of media hype, and getting a clear grasp of the issues is difficult. In order to help HR rethink its approach we’ve undertaken a PSF focussed study to provide firms with clarity about the current reality of performance management and what the future looks like.

The study conducted jointly by SkillsScorecard, Managing Partners’ Forum and KermaPartners surveyed over 250 firms (50 Australian) about partner and staff performance management. Over 70% of the respondents were from law firms.

While the research paper is to be released shortly, in this blog post we identify three key findings to get you thinking about performance management in your firm.

Simplified processes, and more conversations

The survey highlights a clear desire for more frequent feedback: around 70% of respondents seeking quarterly or six-monthly conversations instead of the regular annual review.

More frequent conversations make sense: they allow managers and employees to pursue opportunities with more agility and deal with problems before they fester and cause anxiety.

A related priority for respondents is simplifying and shortening the process. Put simply, they want to invest time in conversations, not the bureaucracy that often goes with them.

The challenge for HR is employing a simple and enjoyable process with frequent, simple touch points.

Rankings and ratings are not hot button issues for PSFs.

While the current media debate is centred on forced rankings and performance ratings, these are not hot button issues for law firms.

Forced rankings (where employees are plotted on a bell curve based on their performance rating) are rarely used in law firms. Most PSFs never followed the corporate sector down this path.

When it comes to ratings, our study shows that removing ratings is a priority for only 7% of firms. Conversely, 18% of firms are actually thinking about introducing ratings.

While ratings are not a major concern for law firms, the current debate does invite reflection on the role of ratings, especially with emerging neuroscience casting doubt on the motivational effects of this practice.

Like every one of these issues, there are pros and cons. If ratings are (1) accepted and understood (2) deployed intelligently and (3) used for a purpose such as making talent management decisions, then they may be valuable. 

Law firms dragging their heels on After Action Reviews

In our view, After Action Reviews (AAR), feedback gathered at the conclusion of a matter or project, remains an untapped goldmine for law firms.

End of matter feedback has numerous benefits. For groups, it may drive productivity through process improvement. In the age of more for less, finding productivity gains might be the key to maintaining profitability. For individuals, matter-based feedback is timely and contextual.

Despite these benefits, less than 10% of law firms have made AARs part of routine business activity. In contrast, over 50% of accounting firms report that these reviews take place regularly.

While there are cultural and behavioural barriers to making AARs routine in law firms, the benefits are compelling: it’s time to act.

Seizing the moment

Momentum for change is strong: experimentation is taking place, technology is evolving and partners and staff are engaged like never before.

Firms rethinking performance management need to have clarity about the current situation and future possibilities before deciding the right blend of old and new.

Editor's Note:

ALPMA Leading Your Firm Program information

Alec Bashinksy, National Leader - People and Performance at Deloitte will share his perspectives on "Reinventing Performance Management" in the first ALPMA Leading Your Firm program livestream event for 2016 on Thursday March 3 at 1pm (AEDT). 

This event is generously supported by our Major Partners, Thomson Reuters and BOAB IT, and by Regional Partners, CommArc and AMBS/Diversify.  

Registration is free for ALPMA members or $99 (incl GST) for eligible non-members.  Register now!

About our Guest Blogger

Ray D'Cruz

Ray D’Cruz is the CEO and Co-Founder of SkillsScorecard, a company that implements performance management and learning management technology for professional service firms. 

Ray is a former lawyer and head of L&D, and has consulted to over 50 firms in Australia, Asia, Europe and the US. 

He is co-author of Performance in the Professions 2015, published by Managing Partners’ Forum.

How to ignite the spark when the light has gone out

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

By Jo Bassett, Living Savvy

“I don't have the energy to burn bright, I am too focused on trying not to burn out completely.” 

This was a statement a client made to me during a session. 
I have been there. Where I feel like every step I take forward taps into an energy reserve that is almost empty and the ‘destination’ remains far over the horizon. 

When the light goes out

Let’s shine a light on how burn out may be experienced, you may be finding yourself: 
  • Completing a task but your mind is elsewhere
  • At the end of the day and your response to the question “What did you do today?” is “I don’t know” 
  • Find yourself thinking “if I have to do this one more time, I’m going to scream” 
  • Cut corners when completing a task as you just want it to be finished.
  • Make excuses not to show up or get involved.
And be feeling:
  • Cranky
  • Impatience
  • Lethargic
  • Blue
  • A general malaise that impacts on your physically and emotionally.
Often the early warning signs of burn out are missed and we push these feelings to the side and ignoring the signs until: 
  • Others start to comment on our mood
  • Our drop in performance is noticed by the boss, customers and clients 
  • We start to question the bigger choices we are making in our lives “is this the right job, relationship, place to live?”

Dancing the steps to self-leadership and burning bright

When I talk with my clients, from secondary school students or senior leaders self-leadership is a hot topic of the coaching conversation. Self-leadership is the practice of being intentional in your thinking, behaviours and feelings to achieve success (however you define that). 
You are in the business of living. See yourself as the CEO of ‘the enterprise of living’ where you are required to manage the needs diverse people (friends, family, spouses and children) with full schedules and varying needs. Managing the details of this enterprise can find the leader (you), becoming intently focused on the tasks from one day to the next without taking the time to step back and assess what is working? What isn’t working? And defining the way forward? 

These are essential questions to be asked weekly when living a life where you are burning bright and achieving sustainable success without sacrificing wellbeing.

Step #1: Ask

Ask yourself the big (and sometimes difficult) questions in life. 

What is sacred to me?

What do I need in my life to be at my best?

To keep my light burning bright and at times of overwhelm, I ask “what are the things that I need in my life to function well? My answers are simple, when I am: 
  • Moving my body 5 days out of 7 in the fresh air
  • Feeding my family home prepared meals most days of the week
  • Keeping my home organised and clutter free
  • Averaging 6 to 7 hours sleep a night during the week.
My spark remains alight.

Step #2: Do

Experiment with different activities and routines.

Sarah, a single parent works in a demanding and stimulating leadership position. Life is scheduled with her working late into the night after children are asleep. She is coping but is worrying about how long she can keep this pace up. She decided to make the most out of the structure that she has built into her life by scheduling in time-outs. Moments for her to restore her energy and keep the spark lit. These moments include a coffee shared with a friend, eating lunch outside the office in the sun, a walk in the early evening.

Step #3: Discover

Be open to new information, ideas, people and experiences. This is about tweaking habits and routines. When do you feel the most out of sorts? For me, it can be the mornings when I have to get everyone out of the house. After a particularly awful week, I decided to fine-tune how we did things. Each task or routine that I tweaked was only a small thing but, when combined, the end result was quite extraordinary.

Step #4: Commit to change

Make a decision, take action and see what works and what doesn’t. This isn’t about overhauling every system or process, it’s about small and significant changes you can make. Rebecca in her thirties, combines freelance work with full time work. Although she had suspicions she was drinking more than what was good for her, the real a-ha moment came when she was reviewing her budget and saw in black and white how much she was spending on alcohol. She committed to change by owning the size problem and set herself a realistic goal of two alcohol free days a week. On those two days, she started a new routine of exercising in the evening and made these her no drink days.

Step #5: Celebrate

It’s vital to acknowledge and celebrate efforts and achievements—even the ones that seem small. I call these my #champagnefridaymoments, those moments that make me want to ‘pop the cork’ in celebration. It may feel a little odd, but when you are struggling to burn bright 'concise yet regular' celebrations work. Don't overthink it. It can take less than 3 minutes recognise and celebrate your success by finishing this sentence: “Today my life was made more extraordinary by …." 

Stop and celebrate a win, a success or something extraordinary that has bought you pleasure during the day, the hour on in the moment. 
It is possible to achieve big without sacrificing joy, wellbeing and contentment …that’s what I call burning bright without burning out.

Editor's Note 

Interested readers can register for the Resilience and Wellness webinar on Wednesday November 25 at 1pm (AEDST) where Jo Bassett will focus your mind on how you can create pockets of time and space, fine tune the ordinary in your day and take small steps to create and build on your personal resilience.  Register now.  

This webinar is part the ALPMA Leading Your Firm program, generously supported by Major Partners, Thomson Reuters and BOAB IT, and Regional Partners, CommArc and AMBSS/Diversify. 

About our Guest Blogger

Jo Bassett
Jo Bassett is a leadership and wellbeing coach, author, educator and creator of Living Savvy TV

Jo guides people to ask themselves the big questions, dig deep to define their own success, and commit to achieving their best through small, sustainable changes. Jo works with smart, ambitious people who have already achieved important goals, but who aspire to bring more success, fulfillment and well-being into their life.

How practice managers can thrive in this new era of smart technology

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

by James Boocock, General Manager - Legal Solutions and Small Law, Thomson Reuters

For professions that have been reluctant to stray from convention, the era of smart technology has been a game changer. Commoditisation of services and the availability of smart software to enable it has meant law firms have become businesses in the truest sense of the word and must compete for their market share. So what do these shifts mean for practice managers, and how can they evolve their firm to ensure it thrives in this new era?
As the age of smart technology has fallen squarely upon us, commoditisation of services across all industries has created certain expectations as to how services are priced, packaged and delivered. Consumers are becoming increasingly accustomed to acquiring inexpensive, fixed-price, pre-packaged, DIY or instant products and services online, and they are transferring these same expectations to legal services.
To ensure they develop a successful business strategy for growth in coming years, practice managers need to understand how smart technology is shaping prevailing consumer demands, and how they can use technology to meet those demands. 

Here are four tips to survive in the smart tech age:


1. Commoditise

Clients want legal services that match what they're receiving from other industries – instantaneous, fixed-fee, pre-packaged services with little to no commitment.
Rolling legal services into a click-and-purchase bundle is definitely a challenge, but it's not impossible, and innovative firms are finding ways to satisfy this demand. Practice managers should keep their minds open to novel business models that are enabled by smart technology, and find ways to integrate them into their firm's offerings.
Could you deliver some of your offerings as ‘virtual services’ or even create a DIY legal product?

2. Reduce costs to offer lower prices

The consumer demand for faster, cheaper legal services can only be met with increased efficiency at the firm level, which requires quality practice management and workflow technology. The level of efficiency achieved by integrated practice management software solutions is simply unattainable for firms that are still working off paper-based processes.
Technological intervention can also be increased to reduce the fee earner spend on routine legal tasks. Could you deconstruct each legal service and approach it with a tiered taskforce, allocating specific tasks to technology and non-legal staff?

3. Smarten up your marketing

Position your firm where clients expect to find you. For smart technology users, this means online. A large percentage of consumers now prefer to research products and services online before purchasing and will go straight to a company's website or Facebook page.
A brilliant website is the heart and soul of any smart tech marketing campaign. It should be interactive, informative, up to date and allow your clients to learn as much about your products and services as possible before starting a conversation.
Could you increase your online exposure through social media, RSS feeds and blog posts?

4. Be an innovator

The best way to stay at the front of the smart tech crowd is to be one of the innovators. Law firms are in the best position to conceptualise new practical legal technologies. Consider enlisting the help of a pro to develop a firm-specific app or software that sets your practice apart.
Could your firm develop an app to make it easier for clients to log into portals to view their legal matters and check their progress?
As technology advances, no doubt the role of lawyers will change and traditional methods of business will become obsolete. Practice managers who can continue to integrate smart technologies into their firms will be able to offer clients better service, affordable prices and the latest in legal innovation.

Editor's Note:

Interested readers can learn more about investing in technology to stay ahead at the ALPMA Leading Your Firm livestreamed "Technology for Law Firms - Expert Panel" on Wednesday 28 October from 12.30pm (AEDT). 

This livestreamed event brings together legal sector technology experts to talk through the key issues firms face when looking to invest in and upgrade IT systems and infrastructure. Facilitated by Warrick McLean, CEO, Coleman Greig Lawyers and ALPMA National Board member, our expert panel comprising James Boocock from Thomson Reuters, Nicholas Carr from BOABIT and Richard Chew from Sparke Helmore Lawyers will talk through the stumbling blocks firms face and how to resolve these to invest in the right IT with the right contracts in place to move the business forward. 

You can watch the panel discussion live in Sydney, at one of our regional hubs across Australia and New Zealand or online.  Participation is free for ALPMA members or $99 (including GST) for eligible non-members.  Register now!

About our Guest Blogger

James Boocock is General Manager - Legal Solutions and Small Firms at Thomson Reuters. He has been serving the legal community in the UK, Belgium and Australia over the last 14 years, across traditional legal and trade mark practice areas. 

James understands the challenges, the novel ways the market has adapted to commoditisation and other competitive pressures. He has a wealth of knowledge across product development, technology operations and creating innovative environments to drive change within legal firms through practice management solutions. James is intimately familiar with traditional information business models and has significant experience in the changing landscape of the global legal profession in particular in the UK and USA as well as Australia. 

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.

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.

Experts in Silos: They might be essential but are they killing your firm?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

By Graham Winter, Executive Director Think One Team

A well-known and very successful biotech entrepreneur once told me that his advice to every leadership team was:
‘Find the bottlenecks and then open them to unlock value.’

This strategy has worked time and time again, and he happily offers a second suggestion to anyone who isn’t sure where to start: 
‘Find the experts in silos and you’ll find the bottlenecks!' 

Do you have an ‘Expert Culture’?

In biotech the ‘experts in silos’ are often the scientists or brand specialists, whereas in professional firms they are just about everywhere. The reason my colleague calls them ‘experts in silos’ is simple - they think and work from the mindset of their speciality, not from a whole-of-business perspective. 

Like the individual ‘star’ in a football team they meet all their KPI’s (lots of billable hours, large clients, strong personal brand), but in football teams and in competitive markets that’s not enough.

In football the ‘star’ can be dangerous if they undermine team culture and the structures that are essential to winning under the pressure of the big games. 

Twenty years ago the star got away with being the maverick who didn’t have to modify their behaviour. Not anymore. The leaders in the team simply won’t allow it.  The star can still be the star, but only if they fit the whole-of-team game plan. Anything less and they’ll be traded because they diminish more value than they create.

And so…… that brings us to legal (and other professional) firms and to two important questions:  

  • Do you have a culture where unity and strength of leadership enables the firm to leverage the whole of the firm’s brand, client base and assets?  

  • Or, do you find yourself stuck in an expert culture where individual partners and specialists act more like individual stars?

Check the warning signs

Three warning signs signal that your firm could be underperforming (and at risk) due to your experts playing to their own game plan.

1. Missed opportunities

Have you regretted missed chances because two or more parts of the firm couldn’t get their act together to make it happen? 

2. Relationship breakdown

Is there friction (or stand-offs) between partners and / or other professionals?  

3. Delays

Are you frustrated at the speed with which the firm pursues new opportunities or implements new systems and processes?

Are you making the problem worse?

A lot of firms reinforce this culture of experts in silos. An easy way to check if that’s happening is to ask three questions:     

  • Do we ‘hunt as a pack’ or as individuals?  

  • Do we reward individual behaviour over team behaviour?   

  • Do partners and senior specialists co-create solutions to the big challenges, or are some people happy to see these as someone else’s problem? 

If experts have strategies, then what’s yours?

The root cause of delays, overruns, missed opportunities and relationship breakdowns lie in three practices that are typically adopted (with little awareness) by our well-intentioned experts. You need a strategy for each of these:

Strategy 1: Protect your own turf

Experts quite reasonably have strong egos and a sense of ownership, so it shouldn’t be surprising that a well-known professional firm recently missed out on millions of dollars in fees when a partner and two senior staffers played ‘protect your own turf’ by keeping their colleagues in the dark about a client’s plans for a huge merger.  Why? Because they would have lost ‘control’ over their piece of the pie.

There are many issues here, however one is what Wharton School Professor, Adam Grant, refers to as the ‘Give or Take’ culture.

In a ‘Take’ culture people protect their own turf through competitive actions like withholding information, keeping budget hidden and seeking resources and other assistance without giving anything in return. 

In a ‘Give’ culture people share ideas, help each other and form connections and relationships without expecting anything in return. Sadly that’s not the norm in many professional firms.

Is it time to address the whole approach to collaboration and partnering in your firm to create more of a ‘give culture’?

Strategy 2:  Avoid and deny

This sounds a bit Machiavellian, however many firms create a culture that discourages openness and honesty.  By all means our experts will support the notion of robust conversations, but in reality they shun two-way feedback across specialities, functions and hierarchy.

Think again about the football team and the regular and intensive debriefing that just doesn’t allow the star to get away with basking in the glory of scoring goals, when they don’t play their part in team defence.

Strategy 3: Play ‘We win, you lose’

In firms where people identify more with their own team or unit than with the whole organisation, the risk of the ‘smartest team in the building’ mentality is high.

People then attribute success to their own brilliance or hard work, and failure to things external to the team. This sort of culture often rears its head in monthly Partner meetings when the default strategy is to blame other people or departments (often those with least status / power) for anything and everything.

The big cost here, apart from the obvious relationship breakdown, is the loss of lessons learned. When people protect and defend their own patch, they close the window to the single most important capability to embed in any firm that aspires to be agile and adaptive: the ability to learn.

What’s your action?

The current business conditions demand that every firm be as nimble and adaptive as possible. There are literally thousands of pieces of advice on what leaders can do to address this challenge.

Amongst all that noise, perhaps we could ask an entrepreneur who has made more than one fortune buying, merging and growing successful businesses. My guess is that he’d say: 

Find the bottlenecks and break them open to unlock the value.’ 

Editor's Note:  

ALPMA's Leading Your Firm program
Graham Winter is the presenter at ALPMA's next Leading Your Firm program livestreamed event, discussing how "United Leadership" can help law firms achieve breakthroughs in individual, team and organisational productivity and performance on Wednesday March 4, 2015.  Register now to attend this event held in Adelaide, online or at one of 18 regional hub events across Australia and New Zealand.  

ALPMA's Leading Your Firm program is generously supported by Principal Partners, BigHand & Thomson Reuters, and Regional Partners, BOAB IT, CommArc and LexisNexis

About our Guest Blogger

Graham Winter
Graham is an Australian psychologist and management consultant and works with professional firms locally, nationally and internationally on advising partners and management teams seeking to achieve greater success in their business. Graham spent six years as exclusive designer and developer of High Performance Leadership Programs for PwC Consulting in the Asia Pacific.
He is the author of the best seller "Think One Team", the international book "High Performance Leadership", and the recently published "First Be Nimble".

Do law firms need to rethink how their lawyers are working?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

By Anthony Bleasdale, Director - Asia Pacific at BigHand

What would you do if I told you that today’s lawyers are focusing too heavily on written communication at the expense of their oral communication – and that this puts at risk their mastery of fundamental lawyering skills and impacts on the efficiency of your law firm?

 Just think about it for a moment. 
There has been a significant increase in the amount of time lawyers (and the rest of us) spend composing and responding to emails and typing documents on our computers.   Thoughts are articulated via typing, rather than verbalised via dictation.
Making a phone call appears to be a dying art – with many lawyers preferring to text or email their colleagues, opposing counsel or clients, instead of speaking to them on the phone.  We do less face-to-face meetings, believing that electronic communication is a more efficient way of doing business.

Lawyers’ dependence on written communication ‘of  real concern’

A recent discussion panel, featuring lawyers from leading law firms including Maurice Blackburn, Hunt & Hunt, Norton Rose Fulbright and Carroll O’Dea Lawyers,  identified the growing dependence of lawyers, and particularly young lawyers, on typing to express their ideas in written form as an issue of real concern.
  Theodora Ahilas
“This generation of graduates and younger lawyers verbalise their ideas and thoughts by putting it on the screen - by typing. They are fantastic in print, but when you question them on their documents, in some instances, they fall short of being able to articulate their position. Part of our work is actually having a lot of court appearances, so you have to be able to get up and talk. Judges will throw questions at you, and you have to be able to answer them in a well-thought-out, articulate way.”   Theodora Ahilas, Maurice Blackburn , Principal and Director, Maurice Blackburn (pictured)
The way lawyers are working today, with its heavy bias towards written communication, does not support the development of strong oral communication or presentation skills.  

Talking is three times more efficient than typing

Many lawyers will argue that it is more efficient for them to type an email, to articulate their ideas and develop documents by typing them into a computer – and believe that dictation is a relic from the past.  I admit if you’d asked me this three years ago, I would have thought that graduate lawyers would be more efficient at typing!
So we tested this assumption, and our results showed that lawyers are three times more efficient when verbalising their ideas rather than typing them.   Lawyers are also more fluid, expressive and persuasive when talking rather than when typing.    

This is a significant result in an industry where time is money. 

Do law firms need to re-think how lawyers are working?

Lawyers have used dictation for many years, however, technology is making us re-think how we are working and the tools we are working with to maximise our productivity and to ensure younger lawyers are developing the oral communication skills they need in court, with client and peers.

So what should you do about this?
  1. Investigate the potential efficiency gains for your firm offered by digital dictation, ask an expert to help you understand what more you can gain from your solution

  2. Implement a practice of dictating ideas (rather than typing them up) to help lawyers develop strong verbal communication skills, to be able to articulate their ideas on the fly, be succinct, work from memory – as many more experienced lawyers can attest.|

  3. Develop formal protocols around when to email, when to text, when to call and when to meet colleagues, clients and opposing counsel face-to-face

  4. Create training programs for lawyers to develop of verbal and interpersonal communications

  5. Encourage lawyers to look for opportunities to develop and master their practice their verbal, interpersonal and presentations skills.

About our Guest Blogger

Anthony BleasdaleAnthony Bleasdale is the Director- Asia Pacific for BigHand and a past president of ALPMA. With a long history in the legal sector here and overseas, working for a number of leading law firms, and for a range of technology vendors.  He is passionate about driving innovation in law firms through improving firm management, helping develop process optimisation through technology and working with firms to overcome the barriers to achieving their objectives.  

BigHand is the global leader of workflow, document automation, digital dictation and speech recognition software.  BigHand is the Principal Partner for ALPMA’s Leading Your Firm program. Check out their latest ALPMA Member-Only Deal.

Member Q and A with Kerri Borg, CEO, McKays Solicitors

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In this ALPMA Member Q&A, Kerri Borg, CEO of McKays Solicitors based in Mackay, Queensland, shares her insights into life leading a regional law firm with the editor of ALPMA's blog, A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Q. How did you become the CEO at McKays Solicitors?

I’ve had a very long history with McKays, commencing as litigation secretary in 1988 when the firm was founded through the merger of two small Mackay firms. I left the firm to travel overseas in the early 1990s and, when I returned, spent some time in real estate and accounting as well as owning and operating a small retail business.  But the lure of working in the legal industry was too strong and I returned to McKays in 1998 in an administrative role. Since then, I’ve been exposed to all facets of practice management and watched the firm grow from four partners and about 10 staff in one regional office to around 120 staff across offices in four locations throughout Queensland, including the Brisbane CBD.  

I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to grow and develop my own skills as the practice has expanded and grown.  The practice became incorporated in 2011 and, since that time, our business model has gradually evolved to a much more corporatised model.  Part of that transition has involved the appointment of an external director to the board, as well as the creation of Managing Director and CEO roles.  I definitely think that having worked in so many different roles within the business and having a detailed knowledge of the practice’s history is a strength that I bring to the role of CEO but I’m also mindful that I need to look outside our business to see what we can do differently and what we can learn from other industries.

Q. What motivates you?

Learning about something new, seeing new ideas and thinking about how they could be applied in our practice to add value.  I get inspired by working with people who think outside the box.  

One of my favourite quotes is by Nelson Mandela - “It always seems impossible until it is done”.  

It’s an exciting time to be involved in the industry and it will be interesting to see how quickly we all adapt (or not) to the new legal landscape.

Q. What are the biggest challenges facing regional law firms?

From a staffing perspective, attracting and retaining practitioners is always a challenge in regional centres.  People who have never lived outside a major city can have reservations about whether the quality of work, professional development and career opportunities will be more limited in a regional area.  In actual fact, the opposite is often the case – they will often have the chance to do more interesting, complex work earlier in their careers and also have more variety in the type of work they do, as opposed to practising in a very narrow area.  McKays is fortunate to have offices in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Surat Basin which can provide opportunities for staff to relocate for personal or family reasons when we otherwise might have lost them to another firm and had to bear the cost of replacing the staff member.  

Another challenge for regional firms is overcoming the perception of some that you need to engage a top tier firm for large, complex legal matters and only use local law firms for less complex or transactional matters.  Regional firms can and do have many talented practitioners who choose to live and work where they do for a variety of reasons, including lifestyle and family.  For example, one of our principals, who was born and bred in Mackay, has recently topped the state in the QLS Business Law Specialist Accreditation assessment.  Part of the solution to this challenge lies in the way in which regional firms position and market themselves and their capabilities.

On the flipside, there are advantages for regional practices, such as fewer competitors, which makes it easier to differentiate and position a practice as a big fish in a small pond, provided you have the right people in place.  This relates back to the first point I made about the challenge of attracting and retaining quality people.  So if you do well with your people strategy, it puts you in a good position to succeed in terms of your positioning in the local law firm market.                                                                                                                                                                                        
Technology has also provided some remarkable opportunities for small or regional practices to compete on an almost-even playing field with much larger CBD firms, for example by creating a strong online presence on a small budget.  This is in stark contrast to the days when a small firm couldn’t possibly hope to compete with large firms with equally large marketing budgets.  

Being small also makes you more nimble – you can see an opportunity and just run with it.  That’s much harder for larger firms to do because there will normally be a lot more consultation needed and the project itself will likely be a much larger scale.

Q. How has your membership of ALPMA helped you address these issues?  

Definitely having access to the educational resources ALPMA provides is a tremendous benefit for regional firms.  The Leading Your Firm Program, which was developed specifically for smaller and regional practices, has really hit the mark in terms of enabling us regional members to enjoy the same educational programs offered to capital city members, on a diverse range of topics by expert speakers from all over the country.  

I often encourage our managers or practitioners to view a recorded lunchtime session on a topic I think may be of particular interest to them and this is a great way to provide professional development for our staff as well as maximise the value of my membership.

I find the weekly blog posts from  ALPMA another great way to keep my finger on the pulse with topical issues and hear what other firms are doing in response.  When law firm management and administration staff have access to information that is practical and relevant in a way that is convenient for them it’s a win:win for the staff member and the practice.  

Becoming a member of the Qld ALPMA Committee has been a wonderful opportunity to network with and learn from my peers.  The annual ALPMA Summit is another excellent educational and networking opportunity and the quality of topics and speakers at Summit seem to just keep getting better and better every year.  

Q. What advice would you offer those considering working at a regional law firm?

Be prepared for and embrace a working environment that is likely to be culturally different to a big city firm – one that is very warm and welcoming and where work colleagues seek out each other’s company outside of business hours.  

Understand that the local community and relationships are very important – reputation is everything.   

Appreciate that resources and talent are often tight and there is an expectation to utilise the resources you have rather than outsource.  

Recognise the opportunities to cross-skill yourself and others and to “raise the bar” in terms of the way the business is managed and truly make a difference.  

And lastly, make the most of the networking opportunities ALPMA offers by forming a regional hub if there isn’t already one established in the area.  

Editor's Note:

Now is a great time to join ALPMA. 

Membership offers great benefits to you and your firm and is tremendous value. Membership to June 30, 2015 is now only $192.50 (incl GST) for regional members and $255.75 (incl GST) for those working in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth - less if your firm already supports multiple ALPMA members. 

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

Kerri Borg
Kerri Borg is the recently-appointed CEO of McKays Solicitors, based in Mackay, Queensland (although she regularly commutes to Brisbane).  Prior to taking on this newly created role, Kerri was McKays' General Manager for five years.  

She is passionate about importance of organisational culture in achieving firm objectives and the joys of regional-city living.

Kerri is a member of the ALPMA QLD State Committee and the ALPMA National L&D Committee.

Mitigating risk in an evolving legal landscape

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

By James Boocock, Director – Legal Solutions, Thomson Reuters

In these tight economic conditions, small to medium-sized law firms need to risk-proof their practices. Continuing to provide reliable, faultless service is paramount and can secure word-of-mouth referrals, keep profits up and ensure costs stay down. Is your risk management up to scratch for the current market? If not, what can you do about it?
This tough legal market we are presently experiencing as a result of increased competition, fee constraints and pressure to adapt to changing market conditions is creating unprecedented financial strain for small to medium-sized firms.
As pressure to be more productive filters down from principals to fee earners and support staff, decision-makers at every level are subject to mental and emotional strain, resulting in corners being cut and poor attention to detail. 
In such an environment, every human component of a firm becomes a source of higher risk for a professional negligence claim. Thus, now more than ever, firm managers must be alert and quick to mitigate major sources of risk within their practice. 

Here are some tips to facilitate this: 

1. Use technology to enhance workflow management

Even cases of gross negligence can generally be traced back to a latent breakdown in workflow processes. Investing in quality practice and workflow management software can provide returns in both efficiency and risk mitigation.

This software typically combines a suite of powerful tools to guide users through work processes, helping minimising errors and omissions. The ability to link Word documents, Outlook emails and images to clients and matters for easy review and access also helps streamline operations.

Workflow software brings further benefits of global searchability, accessibility and mobility, enabling remote supervision of files by senior practitioners, concurrent file work and secure information sharing.

2. Improve the clarity and detail of your communications

Communication breakdowns (whether it’s solicitor to client or co-worker to co-worker) remain among the largest causes of professional negligence claims against lawyers.
Develop a culture of good communication with these simple habits: 
  • When client instructions are provided verbally, always follow up with written confirmation and a brief outline as to how you have agreed to proceed. 
  • Always advise your client of events as soon as they occur and before you take a significant step in the proceedings (even when you have prior general approval to advance a matter).
  • Don’t credit your support staff with magical mind-reading powers. Instead, provide instructions to co-workers in writing and include as much detail as possible.
  • Get your staff into the habit of confirming receipt of all instructions they receive from you and encourage them to seek clarification where required.   

3. Supervise all legal work performed for or on your behalf

Appropriate supervision at firm level requires not only preventative measures, but the implementation of systems and procedures to avoid, detect and address issues before they escalate, such as: 
  • Ensuring workloads are not too light or excessively burdensome.
  • Conducting regular physical file reviews.
  • Monitoring employee key performance indicators.
  • Requiring all fee earners to follow checklists to minimise oversights.
Supervisors also need to be supervised and should not neglect regular peer reviews of their own files.

4. Use quality online research tools and an intelligent precedent management system to stay abreast of changes to the law

Implementing a precedent management application that provides a comprehensive selection of standard legal forms and precedents that are automatically updated as the law changes, ensures there’s no need to worry about whether or not you have the most current forms. Fully automated templates also ensure the accuracy of layout and content as prescribed by statutory and practice requirements.

An online research tool, with customisable legal alert features, is another invaluable resource that will ensure you stay informed of new developments in your practice areas. 

5. Educate your staff on risk management

Invest time to educate your staff on common liability risks, best practice and the consequences of a liability claim. Sharing the responsibility with all fee earners will reduce risk and ease the burden on supervisors. It will also enhance your fee earners’ capacity and confidence to handle more demanding tasks. 
Yes, mistakes will happen, but with the right technology and committed adherence to best practice and established work processes, firms place themselves in the best vantage point to manage risk in this evolving legal landscape.

Editor's Note:

Readers interested in learning more about using technology as an enabler to improve productivity outcomes (and mitigate risk), should register to attend the "Improving Workflow & Processes" webinar, presented by Kate Hart, Principal, KD Hart Consulting and Graeme McFadyen, CEO of Russell Lawyers, at 1pm AEDT on Wednesday 26 November.  This webinar is part of ALPMA's Leading Your Firm program, generously supported by our Principal Partner, Thomson Reuters and BigHand. It is free for ALPMA members and $99 for non-members.  

About Our Guest Blogger

James Boocock is Director, Legal Solutions at Thomson Reuters. He has been serving the legal community in the UK, Belgium and Australia over the last 14 years, across traditional legal and trade mark practice areas. James understands the challenges, the novel ways the market has adapted to commoditisation and other competitive pressures. He is currently closely involved in how Thomson Reuters is collaborating with their customers and with a view to assisting them with the change process and utilising technology to provide much needed efficiencies in daily business.

Upward mobility: How smartphones and search engines can help law firms win new business

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

By Stanley Hong, Web Content Editor, Thomson Reuters

As the ownership of mobile devices rapidly expands, it doesn’t make sound business sense for law firms to neglect a burgeoning client base. Therefore, it is important that law firms ensure that their online presence on mobile devices allows potential clients to easily contact your practice. Sure, it may be easy to espouse of the importance of embarking on an all encompassing mobile strategy, but how about some statistics demonstrating the potential reach mobile devices offers? Especially when trying to communicate your firm’s message towards a local clientele. 

According to the study commissioned by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in their report, Communications report 2012-13 found that:
  • 11.19 million Australians owned a smartphone as of May 2013;  and 
  • 42 percent of adults accessed the internet via a mobile phone during June 2013
Want some more salient numbers? According to Google’s report, Our Mobile Planet: Australia – Understanding the Mobile Consumer found that:
  • 90 percent of Australian smartphone users have looked for local information;  and
  • 86% have either made a purchase or contacted the business. 
What the results of both reports clearly demonstrate, is the ever growing significance of mobile devices when it comes to generating potential client leads. 

Why local and mobile search is important to your law firm

Law firms that have an online presence, may have dedicated a significant amount of effort towards their search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy for desktop devices. However, has the same focus been directed towards the mobile experience for their potential clients? 

The lack of consideration of local and mobile search may be in many ways understandable, but the results of both the ACMA and Google studies is indicative of the growing numbers of local search being conducted on mobile devices.

Additionally, Google has become adept at ascertaining where a user is located, and with the ‘Venice’ update introduced in 2012, the company began to automatically incorporate the most relevant geographical search results based on a person’s IP address and search settings. Thereby, eliminating the need for a person to type in a physical location when conducting a search query. Hence, why firms that aren’t taking advantage of mobile search in their marketing efforts, may be losing ground to local competitors. 

Smartphones mean smart business

Delving deeper into the findings of Google’s Report shows that 80 percent  of consumers who began their research using a smartphone, ended up making a purchase either via the computer or offline. 
Search conducted on mobile devices offers an unparalleled lead generation opportunity due to the manner that search results are displayed and are broken into three prominent parts which we will cover.

1. Paid advertisements

The first set of results conducted on a mobile device is paid advertisements that also include a “call” button next to the law firm. 

2. Organic search result

As the client continues to scroll down, there is only one ‘organic’ listing that is displayed on a search query conducted via a mobile device.

3. The “Google Local 7-Pack”

Immediately following the organic search result, the “Google Local 7-Pack” listings feature an associated map which Google has categorised having most relevance to the person’s search query. 

The manner that Google sets out results on mobile devices offers two distinct opportunities for potential clients to make contact with a firm via the “call” and “direction” buttons. 

Remember, 80 percent of smartphone leads results in a purchase. 

How to turn your firm into a local attraction

Beyond delivering an optimal mobile website experience, there are a number of other actions that can be undertaken to increase your local search visibility. 

1. Location, Location, Location

It may seem obvious, but providing the address, contact information and office hours in which your firm operates should be a mandatory inclusion within your mobile online presence. However, it may also come as surprise that publicising and leveraging community events that your firm is involved with can also help with the local search presence of your firm.

2. Produce a site that is truly local and mobile search friendly

By including maps, driving directions, and the location of your office on your site is a great start. It also helps to code your site in the proper schema.org that allows your site to become searchable across all search engines.  

The march to mobile device dependency is inextricable, and as more Australians own such devices, law firms that fail to take advantage of the new normal will find their practice becoming as relevant as a Motorola MicroTAC (the first flip mobile phone).    

Editor's Note:

If you are interested in learning how get to your firm found by customers online (and for the right service), then it is not too late register now for ALPMA's upcoming live-streamed broadcast, "Positioning Your Practice", presented by leading legal digital strategist, Dan Toombs on Thursday 2 October.  You can attend online or one of 21 regional events across Australia and New Zealand, where you will also have the opportunity to network with other law firms. Register now!  Get a free guest pass.

This event is part of ALPMA's innovative Leading Your Firm program, generously supported by Principal Partners, Thomson Reuters and BigHand, who are also offering ALPMA members some great Member-Only Deals.

About our Guest Blogger

Stanley Hong is the Web Content Editor at Thomson Reuters specialising in online strategy, marketing, and social media for law firms.  

With degrees in Media and Communication and Law from the University of Melbourne and UNSW, Stanley’s role is focused on how law firms can best make use of their online presence in an increasingly electronically connected world.

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