A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Personal branding - what do you stand for?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

by Shirley-Anne Fortina, Principal, The Pod Consultancy

What do you want to be known for? What do others say about you? We all have the choice to define ourselves, or to be defined by others. If you don’t like what’s being said or thought about you, then it’s time you considered the importance of personal branding. 

The term ‘personal branding’ is not a new phenomenon; if you Google it you’ll notice that people like me have been writing about it for over a decade. But the fundamental truths haven’t changed. It remains a very real fact that you are a walking, talking brand. The way you dress, the way you communicate and the way you present yourself all have an impact on the personal brand ‘you’. Why should you care? Because building an unmistakable and positive personal brand is intrinsically linked to realising personal success. 

Personal branding is a promise of your value, so it’s important for you to be in the driving seat. Are you aware of the brand ‘you’ and are you driving your brand far enough to ensure it’s giving you the right kind of success? To be in a position to define yourself, you need to have a sense of who you are and what you stand for.

5 Actions to Get Started

Here are five things that you could do today to begin defining your personal brand: 
  1. Become more self-aware. This will help build your confidence levels, increase the options that are open to you and help you manage any self-limiting beliefs;
  2. Develop your presence. Watch, listen and be aware of the impact that you have on others;||
  3. Be assertive. State what you want, what you need and the costs of not getting them;
  4. Manage your career and your personal brand. It’s 100% your responsibility;
  5. Evaluate what you are passionate about, your skills and your values, and then be determined enough to take action.

Think of your personal brand as your personal bus! How are you driving your bus? Are the distracting influences of day to day issues and stresses affecting how you cope? Are you really in control of “your bus”, “your brand”? 

We all need to take ownership of our experiences to avoid being swept away by the challenges of our busy lives. For many of us, our lives and our happiness are determined by the subtle and not-so-subtle expectations of others around us. Too often, we hand over control and we let others drive our bus.

You would have experienced this at some stage in your life: parents wanting to live vicariously through you; friends or life partners attempting to persuade you to do something their way, and even the typical expectations of the companies that employ you. And sometimes it feels easier to go with the flow than resist, doesn’t it?

But think about this: if you take responsibility for your life, you move towards the point of self-determination and then you really are in control and driving your own bus!

With that responsibility comes accountability, and each decision you make carries with it a consequence of that decision. You cannot and should not blame anyone for the outcome of your own decisions. Essentially, what I mean here is that none of us can blame others for whom or what is on our bus, nor where our bus is headed or where it ends up. We take responsibility because we are at the wheel and because only we have the map (or GPS!). It is solely up to us to decide where, when, why, with whom and how we drive our bus.

We all need to use our own set of unique skills; our strengths, our talents, our passions, our intellect and not be influenced by others’ expectations. It is when we find this ‘sense of self’, when we can answer, not what we want but instead, who we are, where we want to go, who we want to be, what we value and what we believe in. It is when we take time out of our overly busy schedules to slow down, to stop and think about these questions that we start to take control of our lives.

So what should we do? 

Well, we all know that speed kills, right? The speed at which we’re living our lives also kills creativity, fun, health and wellbeing. It increases stress levels and, most importantly, we miss out on the journey because we are travelling waaaay too fast!

So let’s slow down and – dare I even say it – stop! Stop the bus and take the time NOW to invest in yourself. 

Start with some proactive self-reflection; it will be one of the most important activities that you do in your lifetime. Self-reflection is the foundation to your life. Once you find that ‘inner you’, you can shine anywhere, any place, any time, because the light that shines comes from within. 


Norman Vincent Peale said ‘One of the greatest moments in anybody's developing experience is when he no longer tries to hide from himself but determines to get acquainted with himself as he really is’. 

His point being that, in a world that is constantly changing and providing us with challenges, honest self-reflection is key to our sanity, development and personal growth. We should regularly examine what has, and hasn’t, worked, despite how painful it may be to look in the mirror. Self-reflection helps us with direction, our communication and our life experiences.

Editor's Note:

Readers interested in learning more on this topic can watch Shirley's presentation "The 4P's of Leadership Brand", now available from ALPMA's On-Demand Learning Centre, where she discusses personal branding, leadership and communication in a one hour action packed presentation. ALPMA Members can watch this on-demand recording for free (note that you need to log-in as a member for free access), while non-members can watch it for $99 (including GST). 

About our Guest Blogger

Shirley Anne Fortina
Shirley Anne Fortina is the director of The POD Consultancy and a facilitator, trainer, business development coach and speaker.

She is the author of a report entitled ‘Women in Business’ and co-author of ‘Strategic Internal Communications: Boosting corporate culture, productivity and profitability’ both edited and published by The ARK Group Australia.   

Shirley Anne has a high level of understanding around building and developing strong relationships with colleagues, existing clients and potential clients. She has over 23 years of business experience across South Africa, United Kingdom and Australia.

Q & A with Claire Wivell Plater, Managing Director, The Fold Legal

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

In this blog post, ALPMA member, Claire Wivell Plater, Managing Director of The Fold Legal Pty Limited, shares her insights into leading a boutique law firm with the editor of ALPMA's blog, A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

What are the biggest challenges facing small law firms?

Overcoming scale is always a significant challenge for small firms. Executing a growth strategy, expanding the client base and even marketing generally is tough when you are also managing a busy practice and only have so many people to involve. This is why delivering legal services more efficiently is such a priority.

Differentiation is another challenge, but it applies to larger firms too. The market is crowded and competitive and when you’re hunting for revenue, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to chase every opportunity. Deciding who you want to be, and more importantly, sticking to that, is key!

How have you sought to differentiate your firm?

We made a conscious decision to play to our strengths – being sector specialists, knowing our ultimate client, and leveraging the typical strengths of a boutique, such as personal contact and cost-consciousness. 

The Fold specialises in providing regulatory and commercial advice to financial services businesses, primarily in the insurance, wealth management, credit and funds management sectors. We focus on small to medium sized businesses because we can’t compete with the big end of town (although we often see them on the other side!).

While we regularly work with in house counsel, the majority of our clients are decision makers on the commercial side. This means we target the industry press, have a website that focuses on the business life cycle (rather than our vast technical experience!), don’t use legal jargon and always aim to answer the questions "how does it apply to me" and "what do I need to do". We don’t want to say we’re different – we want it to be very visible.

How have you overcome the issue of scale?

Leveraging knowledge and automating workflows are crucial. 

We've always seen ourselves as being in the knowledge business, not just the legal business. For the vast majority of our clients, the law is a given. So where advice is replicated across a number of clients, we convert our knowledge into manuals, procedures, policies, templates and training which economies of scale enable us to sell at a reasonable cost though our online shop. Our clients can then educate themselves on the basics – our advice only needs to be the icing on the cake which ensures they're correctly applying the law to their situation. 

For any work of a significant volume, we map and systematise the process to ensure we maximise efficiency, leverage our templates and can scale up or down as workflows require it. Contract review is one area where we have successfully done this, enabling us to handle high volumes of enquiries, quickly and at a very competitive price.

One of the best recent examples of “doing more with less” is our approach to accountants’ licensing. Accountants are required to obtain a financial services licence before July 2016. To ensure we capture our share of the market, we’ve created a streamlined process and templates to enable us to manage high volumes of licensing applications and developed a DIY Kit to assist those accountants who wish to do it themselves.

What is your view on the changing legal landscape?

It’s an exciting time to be part of the legal industry with so many firms trying to do things differently. New entrants (like Marque and AdventBalance) have been very successful at breaking the old time based billing model. Clients are also pushing for change. I recently spoke to the general counsel of a large bank who has successfully managed to get her panel firms to forget discussions about hourly rates and move wholly to fixed pricing. I’m sure there will be more clients to follow. 

Is the lawyering being offered by new entrants any better though? As I’m not experiencing their services, I don’t have an answer to that. My interest is in how we disrupt the underlying delivery of legal services. How can we be more user-friendly and meet the real needs of our clients? I think smaller firms have greater flexibility in responding to these challenges.

Why did you join ALPMA?

I was really impressed by ALPMA’s commitment to professional development and its vast library of research, resources and tools. They are invaluable to firms like ours who don’t have all the expertise in house. I also value the opportunity to see and hear what other firms are doing and how they are overcoming challenges similar to ours. The recent benchmarking survey in particular, was very useful for its focus on firms of all sizes; so often the focus is on the large firms.

Editor's Note:

Now is a great time to join ALPMA.  

Membership offers great benefits to you and your firm and represents 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

Claire Wivell Plater is Managing Director and owner of law firm, The Fold

Prior to establishing The Fold in 2002, Claire spent 17 years as an insurance law specialist with Phillips Fox (11 of these as partner) and three years in Corporate Development with ING.

Claire is passionate about finding practical and cost-effective legal solutions to regulatory and commercial challenges.

The Right to a Paperless Office

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

by Adam Nowiski, Regional Sales Director, Nitro

Whether you are a practice manager, a partner, a general manager or the ubiquitous paralegal, one thing is for sure: you don’t love paperwork. So why is it that we are allowing such a unanimous peeve permeate into our everyday work life?

At the ALPMA Summit, we surveyed legal practice professionals to find out what it is about working in a paperless office environment they found most appealing. It was no surprise that we found streamlining processes to be the one thing that these time-poor professionals found most appealing when it comes to paperwork.

True to form, 32% hoped that their firm’s paperless solution is available both online and offline, so they can continue working regardless of where they are, and an encouraging 51% said that having easy set up and support to help them quickly adopt a paperless practice is important to enable the transformation to be successful.39% told us that one of their top frustrations with paperwork is the trouble involved in tracking latest versions of documents, while an overwhelming 44% were concerned at the waste of human and office resources being thrown into traditional paperwork. 

This recent survey supports the paperless trend that has been gaining ground in industries traditionally entrenched with paperwork such as real estate, financial services and insurance. This shows that going paperless can no longer be adjourned - now is the time for the legal industry to adjust their approach to paperwork.

While considering the move to a paperless office, we suggest giving the following some thought:

1. Importance of choosing the best solution 

How easy will implementing a paperless solution be? What level of training, education and support is needed to allow everyone to be competent and well-adjusted to the changes? Will your solution streamline standard legal paperwork such as acquiring and requesting signatures, alongside editing and sharing confidential documents safely, while enabling you to track open files in real time?

2. Making a business case for change

While saving the environment is great, most senior managers need compelling facts and figures to be convinced that going paperless is the best thing for the business. Is the cost of implementing the solution reasonable, and is it value for money?

3. Flexibility to grow with your business

Does your solution complement your current set-up without too much trouble, and will it grow easily with any future plans for expansion? The ability for your solution to scale up or down is especially important as local and international firms adjust to new ways of doing business.The idea of a paperless office is old news. What’s revolutionary about it is the availability of time-crunching, cost-shrinking software, which shifts the idea of a paperless office, into reality. 

Editor's Note

Readers interested in learning more about becoming paperless can watch the 2014 Summit on-demand presentation "Paperless Platform: Powering Performance and Profit"  by Scott Thomson, Managing Director of  Anderssens Lawyers in Brisbane for $99 (incl GST), where he shares the challenges and rewards of becoming paperless.  Anderssens were the 2013 ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Award winners for this innovative project.

About Our Guest Blogger

Adam Nowiski heads the APAC Region for Nitro and is an advocate of the paperless office revolution, having helped best practice firms such as King & Wood Mallesons, Holding Redlich and Maddocks replace or improve their paper-based processes. 

Adam is an integral part of a dynamic global sales team that brings paperless solutions to over 490,000 businesses, including Tier 1 international legal organisations and hundreds of small to mid-sized practices faced with paperwork challenges in and around Australia.  

From the desktop to the cloud, Nitro makes it easy to create, edit, share, sign and collaborate – online or offline. 

Personal Reflections on 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

by Andrew Barnes, ALPMA President and Financial Controller, Lantern Legal Group

This time of year means many different things to many different people.  Many of us are ‘head down’ trying to leave our desks tidy before we take a few days of leave whilst others will not enjoy a break and their year-end urgency is dictated by others void of any festive cheer.  Wherever you sit on this spectrum, I hope this is a safe and enjoyable time for you.

I wrote recently in our December e-newsletter about another great year at ALPMA.  This time, I will reflect on some of the more personal aspects of the year with ALPMA.

1. The rewards of volunteering  

In my relatively short time with ALPMA I have seen many people come and go from our various committees, and I only see a small section from here in Victoria.  We experience annual angst when people resign a position and we worry about who might replace them, only to have new people coming forward to volunteer.  Some people even come back for a second or third tour of duty.  In addition to our interest in driving the interests of legal practice management professionals, the one thing I can confidently say that makes it worthwhile is the collegiality we have amongst our band of volunteers.  The personal connection assists us all professionally and whilst we invest time in contributing to the ALPMA cause, the reality is we all grow (and our firms benefit) from the experience.  I thank our volunteers again and encourage others to become involved.

2. Narrow does not equal small

This remains my favourite take away from our annual Summit, held in Melbourne back in August.  It was part of the fantastic presentation by Tim Williams.  Our firms seem to experience enormous pressure to be everything to everybody.  It is worth revisiting Tim’s presentation in the On Demand Learning Centre on our website.  Clarity in strategy, true differentiation and determining what you do not do all assist us in doing the important things excellently and not doing too many things adequately. 

In this mad year end rush it makes sense, doesn't it?

3. Progress

Some will argue I am not qualified to comment at this early stage, but I do so with the interests of law firm managers in mind.  I am unsure what will confront us with the roll out of the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act.  For starters there are only two states signed on.  The first article I read was barely three pages of text yet had more than 60 footnotes.  Will this be buried in technical considerations such that the intent is lost?  The implementation and living in the reality of this will not be without challenges.  If we do not get this right, it might just remain a NSW/Vic exercise.

4. The Future  

In the face of the disruptors threatening to tip the profession and industry on its head across the world, have we stopped and asked ourselves what we are doing differently today to what we were doing 12 months ago?  What about five years ago?  If we are not doing anything differently, should we be?  

The threat of change means different things to people depending on where they are on their career lifecycle.  If the retirement horizon is near, the disruptors can wait.  If I am new in the game, the disruptors may forge my career.  In these disruptive challenges comes excitement for what it might mean for your firm, your peers and your profession.  Let’s not let this swamp us and leave us behind.  

In many different ways, and particularly for myself and my fellow Board members at ALPMA, we all have obligations to be stewards of the present for the benefit of the future.  

Let’s not permit our vested interests to deny us the opportunity to engage – it might be fun!

About our Guest Blogger

Andrew Barnes
Andrew Barnes is the Financial Controller of the Lantern Legal Group, incorporating the practices of Hardwood Andrews and Sladen Legal.

He was appointed ALPMA President in July, 2014, after serving as Vice President and Treasurer.  He is also an active member of the ALPMA Victorian Committee.  

Legal Technology Buyer’s Guide: Are You Asking These 3 Questions?

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

By Tanya Gleeson, Encompass Specialist, SAI Global

There is no shortage of technologies available to the legal community. The need for change is widely recognised, but many firms don’t yet have a framework with which to evaluate ‘solutions’.

These three questions very quickly distill the merit of new technologies and the impact it will have on you, your firm and your clients:

1. Who really benefits?

The recent surge of automation and practice management solutions has meant that many support staff hours are saved... but what is the real value of this time saving? Is your firm measuring where these savings are occurring?

It's critical to understand who the time and cost savings are realised by; the two hours saved for a support person are significantly different to the two hours saved for a practitioner.

2. What is the problem being fixed?

Speak to your people. What are their frustrations, annoyances or pains experienced trying to achieve their goals? It can be as small as having to turn a light on or as big as understanding massive corporate structure in large scale M&A transactions. 

Solving a problem by looking into the business is far more effective than waiting to be approached by providers solving problems you never even knew about.

3. How will your client benefit?

The pressure for legal practices to remain competitive is higher than ever, which means as a legal management professional, you need to be the advocate for your client in the evaluation of a new technology.

It's a simple but often forgotten principle - how does technology add value to the advice you provide? Successful technology for lawyers will allow you to make better decisions that ultimately benefit your client. 

What other questions have you found bring valuable insights to the technology selection process in your firm? We'd love to hear examples of criteria you have put in place that ensure you can understand who ultimately benefits from a new software or platform!

About our Guest Blogger

Tanya Gleeson is an Encompass specialist at SAI Global.

Encompass helps law firms leverage technology by turning information overload into a competitive advantage - watch this video to find out how. 

Encompass is the 2014 ALPMA Summit Live & On-Demand partner.  

You can watch all the fantastic speaker presentations from the 2014 ALPMA Summit on-demand from ALPMA's On-Demand Learning Centre.

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.

How to build a referral network that works for your law firm

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

by Ron Gibson, Go Networking

For many business people and professionals, networking is their primary source of business, while many others frequently claim to put a lot of effort into networking without seeing much return. What’s going on here? Why does networking work for some people, but not for others? And what about you? Does networking work for you?

Networking, according to those who are successful at doing it - meaning they actually can attribute significant new business from the activity of networking - is actually not about finding people who may be good prospects for your products and services. It’s also not about looking for potential new clients and customers for your firm. 

Looking for 'advocates'

Successful networking is about finding and developing ongoing relationships with “advocates” - people who will refer you, recommend you and introduce you to potential buyers of your products and services. It’s not just “who you know”. It’s “who you know, who knows who you want to meet”. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you won’t ever find a new client or customer while you’re out there networking. In some cases, you will. I’m just saying it won’t happen as often as you would like. Nor am I saying your networking associates won’t ever buy from you. Some will, but not not nearly enough of them.
The reality is the lion’s share of your future new business will not come directly from the people you know. It will come indirectly as a result of those people talking about how great you are to the people they know. This word-of-mouth advertising leads to a referral - your best, most profitable source of new business.

So here’s the rub. If networking is not working for you it means you don’t have enough advocates out there dropping your name and bragging about you and your business to their friends and associates.

You need more advocates!

For anyone that claims to put a lot of effort into networking without seeing much return, there’s a paradigm shift that needs to take place if you’re going to get the results youd’d like to get. That shift is to move from looking for “prospects” to looking for “advocates”. Meaning, if you’re focusing solely on finding your next client or customer, you’ll miss out on making a lot of valuable connections that can send business your way.

To make networking work for you, think referrals, think introductions, think word-of-mouth recommendations. Think about who can make those happen for you. In other words, focus on finding and meeting potential advocates - and if you find a good prospect for your firm, that’s a bonus!

Who could be an advocate?

An advocate may be the CEO of your local chamber of commerce. They may be in the marketing, finance or human resources department. They might be another business owner or professional. They might be responsible for sales or business development in a non-competing firm. They might be a supplier to your business. They may sit on a committee at your surf club or head up a not-for-profit. Typically, they are well-connected and well-regarded.

Advocates may not buy your product or service today, or ever, but in time they may put you in touch with numerous others who could.

One advocate can bring you five, 10 or more clients while if you pursue one potential prospect you will often end up frustrated and with zero new sales. Successful networking requires a shift in focus from trying to meet prospects to trying to find and meet advocates. 

Approaching networking in this way takes the pressure off you to “sell” and means the other person feels no pressure to “buy”.  You won’t be “elevator pitching” your products and services to everyone you come into contact with, trying to make a sale. You won’t be spraying your business cards around like confetti. You won’t be turning people off. Instead, you’ll be better received, you’ll make better connections and, ultimately, you’ll have much more success in gaining new business.

If you just go looking for clients and customers, there is always that tension that you are sizing people up and down, trying to figure out if it is worth investing time in someone.  Take the stress out of your conversations altogether. Rather than looking to turn your contacts into clients, look to turn their relationships into clients. 

The real power of networking is in who they know: there are many more opportunities there.

Successful networking

The process for successful networking in summary: 
  • Identify and reach out to other business people and professionals who are in regular contact with your target clients and customers. 

  • Then your goal is to develop trusting relationships with those people by following up and staying in touch with them. 

  • Over time, you want to ensure that they know what your products/services/solutions are, what problems they solve for what type of people ― and the typical results you tend to achieve for your clients. 

  • If you get the relationship right and your message is easily understood, they will happily refer you and recommend you to the people they know. 

  • And if they see your product or service as a solution to their problem, the means to achieving their goal, they’ll happily buy from you too.
Remember, it’s “who you know, who knows who you want to meet”. 

So who are your potential advocates? 

Think about the businesses, the people who are in regular touch with your ideal clients or customers. 

How will you find them and when you do find them how will you approach them and what will you say to connect with them? 

Then how will you go about getting the relationship right with them and ensure they understand the value you bring to the table so they will want to refer you and recommend you. 

It takes some work and patience, but it pays off big time!

About Our Guest Blogger

Ron Gibson
Ron Gibson is a leading professional expert in business relationships, networking and word of mouth referrals.  His talks distill 20 years of experience and insights gained from building his own successful business exclusively via networking and relationship building.  

Ron's client list reads like a who's who of Australian financial services, professional services and business-to-business services, companies and firms.

Increasing the efficiency of individuals - the next priority for the legal industry

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

by Dr Marc K Peter, Chief Operating Officer of LexisNexis Pacific

The rise of the use of technology in the legal profession to achieve greater efficiencies and flexibility has been well documented.

Up until now, the focus has been on making law firms more efficient; streamlining work processes into a single system to provide a secure working environment and transparency of business performance, satisfying the needs of the whole practice.  

While operational processes have been the focus of most companies to-date, future technologies will concentrate on making individuals more productive, efficient and mobile, according to new research we recently completed with leading figures in the Australian legal industry.

Indeed, the results of the 2014 LexisNexis Workflow & Productivity Survey found that the most popular efficiency initiatives adopted by law firms were the use of technology, knowledge management and staff training.  In-house lawyers also relied heavily on technology followed by outsourcing to external lawyers and flexible work practices.  

What’s Working (and what’s not)? 

When asked which initiatives have been the most successful law firms rated the following in order of preference: 
  • Technology 
  • Knowledge management 
  • Skills training 
  • Flexible staff work practices. 

In-house lawyers ranked:
  • Flexible staff work practices
  • Knowledge management
  • Skills training

Least successful efficiency initiatives for law firms were:
  • Graduate intake reduction
  • Outsourcing to overseas law firms.
This finding suggests that initial enthusiasm for legal process outsourcing may not have fulfilled its promise.

Interestingly, corporate lawyers said their least successful initiatives were:
  • Outsourcing of work to both non-law firm providers and external legal counsel 
  • Alternative billing arrangements.
This result that suggests the culture of ‘24/7 availability’ facilitated by mobile technology is adding to workload pressures in a negative way for in-house counsel.  

Delivering efficiency a critical priority

All lawyers, whether in a law firm or in-house, are presently up against enormous cost pressures.  The survey tells us that for law firms, the pressure is coming mainly from clients pushing for a better deal as well as growing competition as legal work becomes more commoditised.  In-house lawyers on the other hand, cite an increased workload and the pressure to justify their value as the main drivers for their efficiency efforts.

At the recent LexisNexis workflow and productivity roundtable, participants made the point that the battle to make law firms more efficient had largely been won and the greater challenge now is to maximise the productivity of individuals.  More and more legal professionals are using mobile devices for legal research, matter and document management and which can make them available 24/7 in the event of a crisis or serious matter irrespective of their location. 

Both law firm managers and in-house lawyers are strongly unanimous that the need to deliver legal services more efficiently is a critical priority.  Both sectors have turned to technology as their number one solution in their efficiency drive making integration of these technologies an absolute priority with talent management a close second. 

Where do you think the best opportunities lie for your company and the legal industry? 

About our Guest Blogger 

Dr Marc K Peter is the Chief Operating Officer of LexisNexis Pacific.  Marc drives the product and commercial portfolio to add value to the legal and business markets and support the business, practice and rule of law. Marc joined LexisNexis in 2008 in the role of CMO Pacific and has worked with a wide range of international businesses including E*TRADE, eBay International and Swiss Post Bank PostFinance.  

LexisNexis is ALPMA's Platinum Summit Partner.  You can watch Dr Peter's opening presentation "Thriving and Prospering in a Changing Legal Landscape" at the 2014 ALPMA Summit for free from ALPMA's On-Demand Learning Centre.

Commercial Information Management 101

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

by Karen Lee, founder, Legal Know-How

The modern day law practice has entered into a new age and applies equally to practitioners working in-house to those in private practice.  Thriving and surviving in today's legal landscape is determined by our ability to utilise and manage data and information as well as embrace and adopt technology. 

This has led to the emergence of commercial knowledge management as a new discipline.

What exactly is commercial information management?

Commercial information management refers to methodologies or software platforms that help an organisation or  firm search, review and manage commercial information they use in the process of delivering their core services (such as the provision of legal advice).  Commercial information is all around us – information derived from data from the ASIC registers, the PPS Register, AFSA’s National Personal Insolvency Index and Land Titles searches are all examples of commercial information.  

Data is just facts and figures.  Information is data with relevance and purpose.  What we really want is information, not just data.  Information, especially commercial information, that is well managed is useful, and can convey a trend, indicate a pattern, or tell a story.  Better still, we can derive knowledge that germinates from interpreted data and information.  And knowledge is the ultimate competitive advantage.

Three things you should know about commercial information management:

1. Conversion from data to information to knowledge is key

Data needs to be converted, first into information and subsequently into knowledge, otherwise its use is limited.  Commercial information management aids this conversion and deliver a real and measurable return on information.

2. Commercial information management is data agnostic

Data agnosticism refers to the ability of data to work with various systems.  The message here is that commercial information management does not need to be customised for a single system only.  In fact, it can be quite flexible.  

3. Commercial information management is linked to competitive advantage

The ability to generate useful commercial information (which impacts on the ability to create new knowledge), and properly manage that process is at the heart of an organisation’s competitive advantage.If we can have the ability to extract and analyse data which can potentially be converted into insights, and then present this knowledge in a format that enables decision makers within the our organisation or firm to act, and we can do this better than others in the market. This presents a real competitive advantage. 

Four benefits* commercial information management can deliver to a law practice:

1. Improved Discovery and Access

How? By providing lawyers with easy and transparent access to accurate and timely data and information.  Data and information that is easily discoverable can be shared and utilised for a variety of purposes, from conducting due diligence that involves multiple practice groups in a firm, to providing legal opinions in cross-border transactions involving legal teams working in different jurisdictions.  

2. Improved Integration and Accuracy

How? By collecting data once, ensuring its integrity and quality.  This is an incredibly powerful tool for risk management, as commercial information management helps to ensure a legal practice can confidently rely on  any reports and advices it produces based on data gathered and information derived.

3. Improved Decision-making

How?  By providing better information to support analysis, decision-making and risk identification. The best decisions are made when people understand the full picture. In a legal practice, professionals bring years of experience and intuition to the decision making process, drawing information from various sources, considering the context and extracting insights to make informed decisions. Commercial Information Management increases the quality of the information ‘input’, requiring less effort to process and organise complex information to draw meaningful conclusions more efficiently. 

4. Decreased Costs

How?  By all of the above!  Decreased costs is a direct outcome of improved efficiency by improved management while eliminating risk and waste.

*These four benefits have been derived based on Griffith University’s Information Management Framework.

Human intellectual capital + innovative technology = achieve your goals

It is worth mentioning here that there is an aspect of commercial information management that relates to human judgement as well as an aspect that relates to technology and science.  Both the use of judgement and technology and science provide and add value.  Embrace commercial information management and contribute strategically to your legal practice’s ultimate goals.

About our Guest Blogger

Karen Lee is the founder of Legal Know-How and legal industry adviser to Encompass, a leading commercial information management platform and ALPMA's 2014 Summit Live and On-Demand partner.

Readers interested in learning more about commercial information management can watch Karen's free on-demand webinar "Emerging Discipline of Commercial Information Management", now available from the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre.

Communicating with influence

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

By Richard Lawton and Mary Ferguson, Ignite Coaching Australia

Apparently when Paul Keating was asked to identify the secret of Barak Obama’s success he answered in one word – ‘poise’. The good news is, yes, that poise can be learned, and there are certain techniques that can make a big difference to the influence we cast on the world around us.

Use your voice

Voice is a big part of creating a presence of poise. There are some simple techniques you can use to train your voice to increase depth, size and resonance, and therefore a sense of magnetism: a voice that people want to listen to. How many successful people do you know who have a voice that’s hard to listen to? (for various reasons let’s exclude politicians!)

Learn how to read people

You can also develop your awareness of high and low status body language and of how to ‘read’ people. This doesn’t mean that something has to be put on, in fact, what really works best is authenticity; letting yourself shine through. Often, a significant part of the retraining is about trust; in discovering that the place to start is with who you are right now, and that you have what it takes to come up with the goods.

Stay grounded

Staying grounded under pressure is what it’s all about. Knowing how to breathe fully-down into the belly, that is, the hara/centre of gravity, when in a high stress situation, puts you in touch with the training that makes martial artists succeed, and gives you an aura of calm, centered, unruffled readiness for anything.

Stand tall

If you know how to stand tall, whatever your height, people will be ready to listen to you. Psychology has for years named this the ‘halo effect.’ I’ve found that when I show people how to put an imaginary crown on their head, they discover their inner aristocrat. I watched a petite female lawyer, use this and saw her ‘size’ grow exponentially; she acquired a definite ‘don’t mess with me,’ vibe, that served her well in a predominantly male office. 

Learning how to naturally elongate your spine makes you look more impressive and even possibly younger, because you look like you’re ready for action. 

There is a caveat here; mere posturing will not get you very far

Your best bet is to work with a specialist coach to bring out your authentic strengths. Exploring these physical shifts,will bring to the surface those beliefs that contradict our sense of self worth, and this is where the most valuable form of personal development starts.

Editor's Note

Interested readers can learn more about this topic by viewing the on-demand recording, "Presenting Confidently and Authentically" co-presented by Richard Lawton and Mary Ferguson, from ALPMA's new On-Demand Learning Centre.  This recording is free for ALPMA members and $99 for non-members.

About our Guest Bloggers

Richard LawtonAs a coach and consultant, Richard Lawton has worked with all levels of legal professionals, executive level managers, CEO’s and board directors. Past clients include the Vic & NSW Bar Associations, Lander & Rogers Lawyers, Herbert Geer Commercial Law, NSW Crown Solicitors Dept, VCAT, Esso Exxon Mobil, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Telstra, Australia Post, Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Scott Winton Insurance, Workplace Training & Advisory Australia, Sugar Australia, Bouverie Centre.

Richard’s former life as a theatre director informs his ability to help people master self-expression and performance capacity. 

Mary Ferguson is an IAMA accredited mediator, with senior corporate experience in recruitment and psychology services.  Mary’s clients are senior and mid level managers, lawyers and professional services executives who are stepping up in their careers and require the direction, support and encouragement for lasting change and fulfilment. She works with people who want more confidence, creativity and inspiration in their lives and in their jobs. 

Mary’s professional business qualifications and depth of experience in senior corporate marketing and human resources based roles internationally have led her to the role of executive coach and facilitator. 

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