A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Australian and New Zealand Legal Professional Outlook for 2018

Monday, March 12, 2018

By Sam Coupland, Director, FMRC

2017 was a turnaround year in the Australian and New Zealand legal profession. Despite media predictions of doom and gloom, financially at least, most firms had their strongest year for a long time.

There is no one-size-fits-all reason for this, but a number of factors are at play. On a macro level, the economies of both countries are improving, and on a micro basis, the tougher years have seen firms work hard on getting their personnel structure right, which has reduced unnecessary costs and the resultant fiscal drag.

My predictions for 2018 for the Australian and New Zealand legal profession:

Improved Profits

Good firms of all sizes will do well financially. Demand is increasing and so are the key drivers of profitability; namely, rates and hours.

In 2017 rack rates and realised rates for all categories of fee earner increased and the margin between rack rates and realised tightened. This was possibly helped by the ‘bigger bastard’ theory, where clients know (either through experience of osmosis) that other firms or a group of firms are charging a lot more. This applies to the total cost of matters, not just hourly rates.

For the first time in about ten years, recorded hours have increased. I know mentioning chargeable hours is anathema to many commentators, but it is still the predominant way of generating fees and is the best measure of utilisation within a firm.

With price and productivity increasing and a buoyant economy to operate in, 2018 should be a great year for good firms.

Personnel structure will continue to evolve

Leverage (the number of employed fee earners per equity principal) as a differentiator has almost disappeared. Clients are increasingly demanding senior lawyers do their work and they are prepared to pay for it. This coincides nicely with what senior lawyers want to do: after all, they trained to be lawyers not people managers.

I see the trend toward leaner teams continuing in 2018. For practices which do the high-end complex legal work, these teams will be a cluster of experienced senior lawyers with very little leverage. For the more commoditised work, firms will make greater use of technology and contractors to ensure those people on the payroll are fully utilised. Gap-filling by contractors will reduce the need for firms to have a large ‘standing army’ to cope with the peaks in demand.

More merger activity

There is interest at both ends of the acquisition / merger spectrum to do a deal where possible. Firms with an expansion mindset see acquiring a firm or practice group as the fastest and cheapest way to grow their business. They will usually have a support structure that can accommodate – both physically and managerially – an additional practice or two which provides economies of scale.

At the other end, an acquisition or merger can provide a firm with a circuit breaker for some of their managerial challenges or deadlocks. This could be anything ranging from succession to disparity in contribution or a hollowing out of market share.

Cash payments for equity will become increasingly scarce

For firms of all size, a lockstep entry to equity is more common than dollars changing hands from the sale of equity between partners. Similarly a merger is more likely than a trade sale between firms.

The opportunity for the partners in a firm being acquired is usually the likelihood of earning more in the merged entity, plus a one-off opportunity to realise the firm’s balance sheet.

Like most of the economy, sale of law firm equity is becoming a buyer’s market.

Genuine innovation remains on the horizon.

Conferences will continue to be built around innovation, artificial intelligence and a general theme of ‘the machines are coming, so get on board now’. There is no doubt there is plenty of movement in this area but there are also limitations, least of which is widespread client acceptance. So the conference industry is safe for a few years yet.

About our Guest Blogger

Sam Coupland
Sam joined FMRC in January 2000 and became a Director in July 2006. His client facing roles span direct consulting and management training. Sam’s consulting work is predominantly providing advice to smaller partnerships. Sam is considered the foremost authority on law firm valuations and would value more law firms than anyone else in Australia. He has developed a robust valuation methodology which calculates an accurate capitalisation rate that assesses the risk profile, cash flow and profitability of the firm.

How to maximise engagement from social media

Sunday, January 21, 2018

By Nicole Shelley, Operations Manager, Pepper IT 

There is still some hesitation within the Australasian legal industry to embrace digital marketing, including a presence on social media channels.

Some barriers include:

  • a lack of understanding on how to determine the return on investment;

  • a lack of insider industry knowledge around digital marketing and in particular, how this translates into a professional services context. 
The platforms developed to be ‘social’ with family and friends have evolved into the most effective platform on which to share your firms’ stories, successes and values. It’s your opportunity to speak directly to your clients in bulk. Once you gain an understanding the fundamentals, social media for law firms really becomes an effective and essential marketing and client engagement tool.

From our experience, the two largest initial roadblocks are:
  1. How to successfully start. Where do we start? 

  2. How to create social media content. Having the knowledge around what to write about, what to post, when to post, where to post and how to post your content.

Where to start with your digital marketing strategy 

When kicking off any communication and marketing strategy, law firms always carefully consider, and many battle with, the thought of ‘handing over’ their firms’ public facing voice to either an internal marketing team or an external agency.

We generally see that ‘letting go’ is overcome by 1 of 3 factors.

  • It’s brought to the firm’s attention that competitors successfully navigate social media and there is the reactionary position to do the same;
  • Digital savvy senior leaders of the firm champion these initiates; and/or
  • Engaging the right resource to successfully develop, manage and implement digital marketing is key. 

How to allocate the right resources to your digital marketing strategy

Allocating the right resource to managing your digital marketing social media management is an important part of planning for the firm success.

Whilst you may have a junior staff member who is a “super user” and very engaged with posting in a personal context, they may not have the business knowledge and marketing strategy know-how to frame your online communications in the best way. It’s not simply a matter of handing it to a ‘gen y’ or ‘millennial’.

The nature of social is dynamic. Platform algorithms (the science and technology behind how social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn actually work) are always changing and it’s incredibly time consuming to keep on top of it all. This should also be another consideration when setting the digital marketing team up for success. Allow your inhouse team the capacity to continuously upskill and stay abreast of developments; just like lawyers upskill in legislative changes through their CPD programs.

Overcoming this allocation of the right resource, gives comfort to firms. Unfortunately, this can be a long road to success particularly for smaller law firms, many whom initially pilot social media marketing with the resources they have at hand, creating an often less than desirable initial outcome. In turn, if your initial foray into social media is unsuccessful, you may not continue and, in our view, this is a big mistake.

Social media marketing content planning

To help keep your social media tone of voice true to your firm and your content relevant to what you do and for whom you do it (your audience), we recommend having a strategy which loosely follows a 5-3-2 content framework.

  • Five pieces of content should focus on your industry. For specialist law firms this may be changes in family or property law for example or for firms with a broader service offering, don’t be afraid show the breadth of your offering across social media. If you do both family and property law do not be afraid to share both industry updates on your social media platforms. This provides a good opportunity for client cross selling.                                                                                                                                                                     
  • In curating/creating these 5 pieces of content, leverage current and relevant industry news and events. Keep in mind your target client audience. This will facilitate conversation and assist to position your firm as thought leaders. 
  • Three of the ten posts can be used to specifically promote your firm, your practice areas and your lawyers’ expertise. This can include client success stories, lawyer speaking engagements or sharing news and insights from the firm’s website. 
  • Now it’s time to showcase your firm values by sharing posts that highlight organisational core values. In addition, showing your audience that your firm has a human side is a great way to build familiarity and trust. This can be inclusive of events like team fun runs and sporting events or pro-bono and charity work. Professional services firms are in the people industry and social media provides an opportunity to showcase human experiences and values that align with clients or potential clients own values. 

While this is a guide and some weeks this will need to change and flex for business reasons, we do recommend posting on average of at least 7 - 10 posts per week. More content is usually preferable than less content, but don’t post for the sake of posting. The quality of your content should be your top priority.

What can you learn from the mistakes of others?

There are two common mistakes most people/companies will make when embarking on their social media content journey. The first mistake is thinking firms have nothing valuable to share on their social media platforms.

This is simply not true. Take a step back and appreciate the tribal knowledge that is held within the firm and transfer this into content that is easy to digest and appealing to the intended audience, your clients and industry.

The second mistake is doing the opposite - going overboard on sales pitch or another of the above elements and therefore not having a balanced and rounded approach. You can have a little bit of ‘me, me, me’ but you need to have a lot of ‘you, you, you’.

Finally, a holistic approach is essential to social media management. There must be a strategy. There is no point if your posting is ad hoc, inconsistent in the content and regularity of posting or irrelevant to your audience.

Your social media tactics and strategy must be a piece of both your digital marketing and traditional marketing mix.

About our Guest Blogger

Nicole ShelleyNicole Shelley B.Com, CPA, CIMA is Operations Manager at Pepper IT, a full service digital and social media agency with a particular expertise advising clients in the professional services sector.

As a qualified accountant and working at top tier global law firm Herbert Smith Freehills in various strategy and practice management roles, Nicole understands the unique operating environment of law firms. Combining her background with her marketing expertise Nicole works with professional services firm across Asia Pacific on digital marketing.


Creativity is the key to adapting and innovating in the changing legal landscape

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

By John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack

There’s no denying the increase in the push for technology adoption in the workplace (and outside of it) since the turn of the century. Almost two decades in and this push has evolved into a necessity, leaving late adopters at risk of falling behind. According to not-for-profit organisation P21, the key skills of the 21st-century are communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity – the 4 C’s. In anticipation of this year’s ALPMA summit, ‘Sailing the 4 C’s’, ALPMA and InfoTrack surveyed over 100 firms in Australia and New Zealand to gain insight into how well Australasian law firms were embracing the key 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

According to the research results, lawyers and law firm leaders are better at critical thinking than they are communicating and collaborating, while most are ineffective when it came to finding creative solutions. These results are not surprising, but they indicate that the legal industry as a whole still needs to modernise its mindset.

Creativity is not ‘arts and crafts’; it’s the starting point for innovation and the key to not just surviving but thriving in the new legal landscape. You should be thinking creatively when it comes to the other C’s as well – how can you differentiate yourself when it comes to communication, collaboration and critical thinking? What new things can you bring to your firm as a business to provide a better service to your clients?

The survey results indicate firms are all at different stages of the journey and looking for ways to improve these skills. As an innovative technology company, we live and breathe the 4 C’s and understand how each component impacts your success. Bearing this in mind, I’d like to share with you some tips on how you can further embrace the 4 C’s in your legal practice.


How do you open communication while maintaining focus and minimising noise?

  • Create an inclusive culture where staff feel safe sharing ideas. When you make an effort to understand your staff, their working style and what motivates them, you create an environment for open communication. At InfoTrack we’ve conducted employee profiling workshops which have helped our employees not only better understand their own working style, but how they can enhance communication with their colleagues.
  • Create clear outlines for afterhours communications to minimise noise. Ensure your employees know when and why to use certain channels. I’ve worked with many firms who have policies around what certain communications mean at certain times. For example, if you send an email afterhours, know that it won’t be read until the next day. If you text afterhours, know that you’re interrupting someone. If you call afterhours, know it will be treated as an emergency. Set these boundaries to avoid entering a never-ending loop that can cause burnout.
  • Set aside specific time for staff to talk to partners. This is a common strategy I’ve come across that is a great way to encourage more efficient and effective communications. I’ve known some principals who set aside specific hours each week to open the floor to questions from anyone, either via conference call, open door policy or simply being available on their phone during their commute to or from work.


As we become more digitally dispersed around the world, the need for effective collaboration increases. Clients are used to doing almost everything online and that includes legal services now. The younger generation of employees at your firm expects collaborative software and online tools.

How do you maximise collaboration in the digital age?

  • Use platforms that enable you to provide your clients with transparent and mobile service. Many firms are beginning to use portals which enable clients to view all documents and searches related to their matter online.
  • Move processes online to allow for document sharing and better integration across your firm. A lot of firms are beginning to implement Office 365 and other platforms that enable online collaboration across teams.

Critical Thinking

As lawyers, you are pros at critical thinking when it comes to legal projects, but you often forget to use that same critical eye when it comes to business decisions.

How can you implement critical thinking from a business perspective?

  • View technology as an enabler and figure out how you can make it work for you. I’ve been travelling across Australia to educate the market on e-Conveyancing and it’s a classic example of scalable technology that firms of any size can adopt. There’s a way for every single firm to make it work for them, it’s just about giving it a try and working with suppliers to find the solutions that fits your firm.
  • Approach new opportunities with solutions not problems. I’ve been in a number of boardrooms with major law firms while they’re deciding if they should invest in new technology. Firms generally fall in one of two camps; they come to the table with 100 reasons why not to implement it, or they come in determined to find a way to take advantage of a new tool and differentiate their business.


Of the four key 21st century skills, creativity was the least strongly-valued skill. Effectively adopting creativity in your law firm gives you a competitive advantage in the overcrowded sea of competitors.

How can you foster creativity in your firm?

  • Turn everyone into a thought leader, don’t just rely on partners to lead the way. Empower your employees to suggest process changes, to research new tools, to get their voices out there and to always be looking for ways to improve the business.
  • Differentiate your firm and develop new ways to drive more business. I’ve seen firms who’ve implemented iPads at reception that can show clients their matter and a list of all related documents. Others have created bespoke client portals and others are digitising processes to provide a more modern experience for their clients. When you can provide clients with a quality, modern, streamlined experience, they’ll recommend you to their friends.

In an industry that’s constantly being disrupted, the 4C’s are pivotal to your success because they underpin innovation and allow you to be adapt to the changing market. The survey revealed that many firms are focusing all their efforts internally and failing to rely on partners and suppliers in this journey; remember that you’re not it in alone. Lean on your suppliers and demand more from them. Invest in vendors who are investing in their technology and providing you with new solutions that are innovative, flexible and make your life easier. The right vendors will help you develop the 4C’s.

When you’re looking at new suppliers, thinking about new projects or implementing new processes, make sure you ask yourself:

Is this going to help me differentiate my business?

Is this going to enhance the way I interact with my clients?

Is this going to enable me to innovate?

Is this going to help me problem-solve more effectively?

Editor's Note

research front coverThe ALPMA/InfoTrack 21st Century Thinking at Australasian Law Firms research measures how well Australasian law firms are embracing the key 21st century learning skills of creativity, critical-thinking, communication and collaboration, as defined by the influential P21 organisation. You can download your copy of the results here

About our Guest Blogger

John AhernJohn Ahern is CEO of InfoTrack, proud principal partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit.

John joined InfoTrack in 2015 as the Chief Technology Officer taking charge for establishing the company’s technical vision and leading on all aspects of InfoTrack’s technology development. John was appointed to the role of Chief Executive Officer in May of 2015 where he is now responsible for maintaining the extensive growth of InfoTrack in the Australian market.

John has over 20 years' experience in the Information Sector, having worked in a number of engineering, sales and executive positions. With a strong technical background, he has vast experience in designing and developing products and has delivered platforms from inception to production.

Are you well-connected? Embracing technology and tips for choosing legal technology for your practice

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

By Karen Lee, Principal of Legal Know-How, Legal Industry Advisor, SAI Global

The future is connectivity

The dictionary definition of connectivity is the state of being connected or interconnected. “The future is moving towards connectivity” is not an understatement. Did you know, by 2026, cars will communicate with each other and share information about road and weather conditions? They will also be connected to infrastructure such as smart highways and traffic lights, so they can propose a change of plan en route based on real-time conditions.

Connectivity and technology

With this in mind, would you consider driving a well-connected car, or would you opt not too? This pretty much is a rhetorical question as it has an obvious answer.

In a recent PwC report on the future of banking in Australia, the leading multinational professional services firm identifies that changing technology is one of six powerful forces that are reshaping the banking industry. Among other things, the report said that banks need to be more deeply connected to customers.

This, indeed, is true. Australians are known for being fast adopters of new technology, and in May 2017, European fintech company TransferWise found 78 per cent of Australians did their banking online. No doubt we have all observed that some banks have revamped the manner in which they offer products as well as services on mobile devices.

“The future is connectivity” spells true not only for the banking industry, but also other industries, including the legal industry.

Connectivity and legal practice management

Is connectivity relevant to legal practice managers? The answer is a definite yes. The Law Society of New South Wales’s 2017 FLIP report noted that “legal services and the legal profession are evolving in the context of increased connectivity.” FLIP is short the Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession. The FLIP report provides recommendations to enable lawyers to adapt to changes that are taking place. It also looks over the horizon in an effort to gauge what might lie ahead. One of the FLIP report’s findings is that connectivity raises new and great opportunities and threats for lawyers.

Undeniably, lawyers who are well-connected to technology enjoy many benefits. Recently, Lawyers Weekly

has a cover story on the “rebooting” of the legal profession. It reported that law firms are incorporating advance technology such as blockchain and e-signatures into their service propositions, and the “big wins” of embracing technology include increased client retention rates, flexibility and employee satisfaction, together with the ability to offer a more effective and efficient way of doing business. As you can see, being well-connected to technology also means you are well-connected to clients and staff. It also enables access to data, information and knowledge. Importantly, as we have highlighted in an earlier ALPMA blog post, the ability to generate useful commercial information (which impacts on the ability to create new knowledge) is at the heart of a law firm’s competitive advantage. Imagine this – you can extract and analyse data which can potentially be converted into insights, then present this knowledge in a format that enables decision makers to act, and you do this better than others in the market. Isn’t this a real competitive advantage?

In terms of threats, the Lawyers Weekly article reported that technology such as robo-lawyers and artificial intelligence are seen by some as taking jobs away from lawyers and damaging the way clients are advised. One can certainly argue that technology may pose a threat to the traditional way lawyers do business, but it is fair to say that technology also is an opportunity for lawyers to do business in a new and different way.

Lawyers cannot not embrace technology

We already know that technology is relevant to the business of law, but did you know that it is also relevant to the ethics of law?

Earlier this year, Dr Eugene Clark argued that lawyers cannot ethically avoid using technology tools. Dr Clark, as Dean and Professor of Law of the Sydney City School of Law, said lawyers must take responsibility for the digital security of client and other information, they must know about encryption and the risks and benefits of cloud computing, and they must be responsible for keeping up to date with technological advances and the issues they raise in relation to the delivery of legal services.

So, you know you must embrace technology. But how do you choose legal technology for your practice? What are the key things you should consider?

Tips for choosing legal software

Some people (such as lawyers) and some organisations (such as law firms) are scared of technology, and this leads to its slow adoption. Often, after a bit of investigation, the real reason for not embracing technology is not a fear of technology, but a fear that technology would not meet their needs. Here are some check points to help you choose a technology solution that will meet your needs:

  • Does your service provider offer a range of generic solutions which you can adopt at any time? For those who feel jumping into a completely new software system seems like a daunting proposition, starting first with a more generic solution could be a quick win and a confidence booster. May be all you need or all you are prepared to invest in for now in is an easy and reliable way to access people and company information. Once you realise that conducting your searches using certain technology will reduce the time spent sourcing and analysing the information by 49%, then trying a data visualisation tool to display people and company information and addresses their associations in an interactive visual workspace will not intimidate. In fact, once you have a taste of what technology can do, it can be exciting to learn how you can further leverage technology to improve efficiency!
  • Does your service provider offer a range of specific solutions which you can tailor to suit your needs? Look out for custom solutions with software integration that offers the specific functionality you need for your practice, be it workflow automation or document management.
  • Is it easy to use? Look out for legal software solutions that do not need expensive hardware or installations. For example, something that everyone can access through their ordinary web browser is highly flexible.

Choosing the right legal technology that meets a law firm’s needs can be a minefield at times. By selecting a service provider who can help you stocktake what you currently have and guide your transition into using more and better technology, you will be off to a good start. 

Editor's Note 

SAI Global are proud to be a Gold Partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit. To find out more about embracing technology and tips for choosing legal technology for your practice, join Richard Jones, Head of Segment and Strategic Sales, Property Corporate and Justin Cranna, National Key Account Manager at the 2017 ALPMA Summit Partner Connections sessions on Wednesday 13th September at 5pm at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. The Partner Connection presentations are free to attend and part of the public opening of the 2017 ALPMA Summit Trade Exhibition, the largest gathering of legal vendors under one roof in the Southern Hemisphere. If you (or your colleagues) would like to attend the free open afternoon from 3.30 to 6.00pm, simply register here. You do not need to be attending Summit to come along.

About our Guest Blogger

Karen LeeKaren Lee is the founder of Legal Know-How and a legal industry advisor for SAI Global for 2.5 years. 

SAI Global Property is a division of SAI Global, which provides organisations with information services and solutions for managing risk, achieving compliance and driving business improvement and operational efficiency. SAI Global Property supports a range of Australian industries with information and data services and business process outsourcing services that enable our customers to operate their businesses more efficiently and with less operational and financial risk.

SAI Global are proud to announce our strategic partnership with Practice Evolve, a full legal and conveyancing practice management software capable of managing all areas of your practice on one platform.

As an ALPMA member, we offer a complimentary discovery session to review your current systems, understand your processes and drive efficiencies throughout your business. Register for your technology check here.

Innovate – learning to fail fast is the key to leveraging disruption in the legal profession

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

By Neil Shewan, Managing Director, Adelphi Digital

As a lawyer, you must get things right – the first time. Fail, and your career can be on the line. De-programming this thinking is critical for modern legal firms to navigate the disruption that is happening in service delivery. Legal firms are being challenged by changing business models, expectations of the millennial legal workforce, changing client service buying habits, and new technologies like block-chain and machine learning.

Innovation is about failing again and again (quickly) until you find a way to make it work. At most legal firms’ failure doesn’t go down very well. Failure is met with poor performance reviews, frowns, grumbles, and sometimes even job loss. Yet this is what we know from many scientific studies that have looked at how to create a culture for innovation: Encouraging risk taking (and therefore being comfortable with failure) is one of the top five most important cultural factors that needs to be present if you want to be a highly innovative organisation.

When I ran a workshop recently with a successful Melbourne legal firm it was critical to remove the fear of failure before their innovation team could hope to start experimenting with change, and learning from the outcomes.

At the workshop I was asked by one of the senior managers how “accountability” fits with the need to take risks. I am not a huge fan of the word accountability as it has negative connotations. I prefer the word “responsibility” - much more empowering. And from an innovation perspective, it is far more responsible to fail quickly and cheaply than to waste hundreds and thousands of dollars and months writing business cases that stack up on paper (have you ever seen one that doesn't?) but go on to produce a mammoth failure.

So, how do you put in place the foundations for innovation?

1. Accept that failure is mandatory if you want to be serious about innovation. No successful innovation in this world got there without having a bunch of failures along the road to success. I suggest you start with the Lean Start-up Methodology. The method is to create quick and low cost prototypes of your ideas that you can quickly learn from. If they fail, you adjust course and roll the learnings into the next iteration of the idea.

2. Get client/user input early. Once you have a prototype for an idea, bring in your clients and talk them through it. Get feedback on what works and what can be improved. Learn from it. Don’t feel like you need a fully featured “thing” at the outset. The first version of your next service/product/process should be just enough to get the idea across (we call it a “Minimal Viable Product” – MVP). The MVP should be low cost to produce, so that you can start over if you need to change direction.

3. Be ready to clear the way for your innovation team. The innovation team in your practice is likely to face a lot of roadblocks from the broader organisation. There will be resistance to change, people feeling threatened about their jobs and those happy to give you 99 reasons why it will fail or to tell you “we have done that before and it didn’t work”. Often businesses create a “skunk-works” where their team has space to experiment and learn, sheltered from legacy thinking within the business.

Editor's Note

Want to know more about how to develop a culture of innovation in your legal practice? Neil is presenting a Pre-Summit Workshop, "Building an Innovation Framework in Law Firms" on Wednesday 13 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. This highly interactive workshop will help you explore and develop the skills you need to lead innovation in your practice. You do not have to be attending ALPMA Summit 2017 to attend this workshop. The workshop costs $395 for ALPMA members or $495 for eligible non-members. Places for these workshops are strictly limited so register now!  We would also like to welcome our Pre ALPMA Summit Workshop Partner GlobalX.

About our Guest Blogger

Neil ShewanNeil Shewan is the Managing Director of Adelphi Digital’s Melbourne office. Adelphi has won over 80 industry awards in the area of digital business consultancy. Neil is head of user experience globally, working with a broad range of clients to innovate their business. Neil’s twenty years of background in customer and user experience, along with service design thinking – allows him to bring design, technology and business strategy together to create future ready businesses. Current and past clients include Sladen Legal, Victorian Government (Including the Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation), BHP Billiton, General Motors Holden and the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Neil works closely with businesses to identify and implement innovations that will not only help them survive the change around them – but more importantly provide true competitive advantage so they can thrive.

Sailing the 4C's to Innovation: Communication, collaboration, critical thinking & creativity

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cost Cover advert

By John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack

As principal partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit, InfoTrack is proud to be supporting firms to drive innovation in the transforming legal landscape. This year, we’re working with ALPMA to gather insights from the industry on how firms are applying the four key 21st century learning skills: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. If you haven’t had a chance to complete our survey yet, please participate now.

As a technology company, innovation is central to our culture and processes so we're always thinking of how we can use the 4C's to adapt and evolve. Here are some of the things we focus on that can easily translate to your firm.


1. Be transparent about your firm’s strategy

When you’re clear about short and long term goals it promotes strategic alignment across your firm. Whether you work with yearly, quarterly or monthly strategies, make sure to start each new cycle with a meeting where you lay your strategy out for everyone in the firm and give the opportunity for discussion and questions. Working towards a common vision creates a cohesive and determined team. Track progress of your goals on any online collaboration platforms or even on your office wall to remind everyone of what you’re working toward.

2. Learn how to adapt your communication style

Take the time to understand your colleagues and how to best communicate with them. Different working styles respond better to different types of communication. Often, the younger generation prefers constant updates and feedback because they’ve grown up with instant messaging and social media. Some people work better with detailed instructions whereas others just want to know the end-goal. Being aware of your colleagues’ communication styles and how they work best creates better working relationships and increase productivity.


1. Promote knowledge sharing

Don’t let people hold back knowledge out of fear of succession-planning themselves out of a job. Make sure your employees understand that the more they help each other, the further they’ll get as a team and individuals. The more you share, the more you learn; especially in a digital world where change is constant.

2. Encourage mentorship

This goes both ways; senior staff can help the younger generation by providing guidance and imparting knowledge. Junior staff can help introduce new ideas and new technology to the firm. Take advantage of the diversity that different mindsets and backgrounds bring to your firm by encouraging reciprocal mentoring.


1. Set aside specific time for brainstorming

In today’s society, we’re all time-poor and that goes even further in the legal industry. You’ll never have time for blue-sky thinking if you don’t make a conscious effort to block it out in your calendar. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and your never-ending to do lists, but you’ll never evolve if you’re stuck with your head in the books 24/7. Today’s market is more competitive than ever and you need to adapt in order to keep a competitive edge.

2. Have a dedicated innovation budget

Everyone says they’re working on innovation, but there’s rarely follow through to show for it. Have an actual plan around innovation and invest in it – whether that’s an innovation team, quarterly innovation days, training or something else – make sure it’s part of your strategy.

Critical thinking

1. Use time-saving technology

There are a lot of technologies available to you now that cut down on the time you need to spend on administrative tasks and sifting through data. Take advantage of these so that you have more time to work on critical analysis and profit-generating activities.

2. Be open to new ways of working

Recognise that disruption is now a constant in the legal industry; new technology, new business models and a new generation are constantly shifting the way things are done. Learning to embrace some of that change and take it on in a way that works for your firm is critical to continued success. You don’t have to change everything all at once, but take time to consider which new concepts and processes will benefit your firm most and trial them out.

The above advice applies to all businesses – no matter your firm size or area of law - these are simple initiatives you can put in place today to drive innovation and build upon the 4C’s.

We look forward to seeing you at the 2017 ALPLMA Summit in Brisbane.

Editor's Note

The ALPMA/InfoTrack 2017 Research: 21st Thinking at Australasian Law Firms is available for participation by Australasian law firms until Friday 28 July.  Complete the survey by Friday 28 July to go into the draw to win a delegate pass to the 2017 ALPMA Summit, from 13 - 15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. Please note, you must be eligible to join ALPMA to win the pass and the prize does not include travel or accommodation.

The results will be presented at the 2017 ALPMA Summit.  Participants who complete the survey will receive a complimentary copy of the research report, which sheds light on collaboration, communication, critical-thinking and creativity at law firms.

About our Guest Blogger

John AhernJohn Ahern is CEO of InfoTrack, proud principal partner of the 2017 ALPMA Summit.

John joined InfoTrack in 2015 as the Chief Technology Officer taking charge for establishing the company’s technical vision and leading on all aspects of InfoTrack’s technology development. John was appointed to the role of Chief Executive Officer in May of 2015 where he is now responsible for maintaining the extensive growth of InfoTrack in the Australian market.

John has over 20 years' experience in the Information Sector, having worked in a number of engineering, sales and executive positions. With a strong technical background, he has vast experience in designing and developing products and has delivered platforms from inception to production.

5 Five Year Predictions

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

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By Joel Barolsky, Founder and MD of Barolsky Advisors and Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne Law School

The two questions that every small and boutique firm needs to ask are:

1. Where is the legal market headed over the next five years; and

2. What should we do about it?

This blog post attempts to address the first question. The second will be covered during my 2017 ALPMA Summit presentation.

Before launching into my five-year predictions, it important to stress that I’m focusing on the market for legal services for individuals, families, and the smaller-end of SMEs.

Prediction #1: The market will be bigger than it is today

One of the major benefits of growth of online legal providers, is that it’s made the law far more accessible and affordable. Everyone can now access simple legal agreements, forms and advice for relatively a low cost. The experience of fast-expanding legal enterprises in the USA, like LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and AVVO, points to market growth coming from new clients seeking legal advice for the first time. Technology and scalable delivery models are unearthing the latent demand for legal services. I’d expect a similar trend here in Australia.

The rise in Australian property value is also likely to expand the market over the next five years. This means the stakes, complexities and risks are much higher for the majority of family law, probate/estate and property matters, as well as many commercial transactions. The role and involvement of lawyers is only likely increase when interested parties have more to gain, or lose.

Prediction #2: Strong retail brands will emerge

Over a lifetime, a typical family may need legal advice for property purchases, employment issues, insurance claims, marital disputes, estate planning and settlements. In Australia, there are no trusted ‘lawyer-agnostic’ retail legal brands offering a lifetime service relationship. By lawyer-agnostic, I mean clients buying a brand rather than an individual. To me, this is a major gap in the market that someone is likely to fill.

Slater & Gordon was on this path prior to their UK troubles. The other leading personal injury firms seem to be sticking to their knitting for the moment. The onliners, like Lawpath and LegalVision, are still relatively small and appear to be undercapitalised for a major brand assault.

This opportunity may be pursued by major service providers like the banks, insurers or super funds. It could also emerge as an adjacent strategy from leading accounting and financial planning firms.

Prediction #3: Costs will decline (for the innovators)

One of my clients, a 12-partner corporate and commercial firm, recently outsourced their entire IT function and moved almost everything to the cloud. The managing partner stated that this approach has more than halved the costs of IT and eliminated most of the headaches. They are now exploring other outsourcing solutions across their firm.

Another client has shifted one-quarter of her permanent workforce onto contract and now engages these lawyers as and when she needs them. By ‘chasing demand’ with a flexible talent pool she has shifted demand risk and lowered her costs significantly.

Stanford Law School’s TechIndex lists 716 technology companies currently developing solutions for law firms to become more efficient and effective. I predict a 5 to 10% per annum productivity gain for those firms open to innovation and willing to experiment with some of these new tools.

A simple example is the new proof-reading and document drafting application, jEugene. For a low monthly subscription fee, jEugene can potentially save hours in preparing and reviewing legal documents. As a SAAS solution, it has few entry and exit barriers and is perfect for small and boutique firms.

Prediction #4: Disputes won’t be disrupted

While technology can improve case prediction, discovery, research and other process elements of disputes, there is a very human role to play in handling the strategic and emotional nuances of legal conflicts and litigation. Not only is there a strong human element, it’s an area where lawyers have a natural advantage given the structural constraints of the judicial system and regulators. This advantage is likely to be sustained for many years to come.

Prediction #5: Invisible competition will grow

Thomson Reuters data suggests that the larger firms in Australia have reduced their overall headcount by around 7% over the past three years. Many of those leaving have continued to practice as freelancers.

At the other end of the career spectrum, this year, Australia’s 39 law schools will produce over 7,500 law graduates. A significant proportion of these graduates will enter the legal market in some form as freelancers or contingent workers.

The growth of the legal freelancer is the greatest threat to small and boutique firms. These freelancers operate with low overheads and maximum flexibility. They use the same powerful personal branding and social networking tools as everyone else. They can also access sophisticated practice management, legal research and CPD services for minimal cost online. The advantages of firm over freelancer seem to be less significant by the day.

In conclusion

With so much change and progress predicted, those firms that just stand still will go backwards. The market will reward the innovators and punish the laggards. Which one do you want to be?

PS. See you in Brisbane on Friday 15 September 2017 at ALPMA Summit for Part 2.

Editor's Note

ALPMA SummitJoel Barolsky will be speaking about the "State of the Australasian Legal Market and strategic implications for small, focus and boutique firms" at the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13-15 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. Registration is now open for the 2017 ALPMA Summit, and there are great savings for those who register early! Register now!

About our Guest Blogger

Joel BarolskyFor the past 28 years, Joel has helped law, accounting and other business advisory firms plan, innovate and grow.

In addition to heading up Barolsky Advisors, Joel is a Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne and a former Principal of Beaton Research & Consulting. Joel has advised over 100 of Australia’s leading professional service organisations. Over 70% of his client are repeat clients or come directly from referrals from existing clients.

He is a recognised thought-leader evidenced by regular conference keynotes, press mentions and the global reach of his blog, Relationship Capital. Joel’s teaching roles at the University of Melbourne include delivery of an intensive subject on the Melbourne Law Masters program called, ‘Management for Professionals’.

He has in-depth expertise in the fields of strategy, culture, change, organisation design and business development.

Legal Industry Innovation under the Microscope

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

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By Marc Totaro, National Manager Professional Services, Business and Private Banking, Commonwealth Bank of Australia

For some, the word innovation has become synonymous with some of the most cutting-edge changes within the legal industry, and a disruptive force in legal circles. For others, the prolific references to innovation have firmed its place as another corporate buzzword.

In today’s rapidly changing legal services market, we think that innovation is an important part of adapting to ongoing change. But to understand its place within business, we first sought to offer a definition that would unearth the common traits of successful innovation in the legal sector and quantify its value to individual firms.

So what does innovation mean for your business, how innovative is the professional services sector, and how can you put it into practice within your organisation?

In our latest research into the state of innovation within the industry, CommBank spoke to firms in the legal sector to understand the state of innovation and how well legal firms were performing.

To first define innovation, we looked to the Oslo Manual – an international set of guidelines used by the OECD and local government bodies such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics to collect and interpret innovation data.

Therein, innovation is defined “as a new or significant improvement in one of the following four key areas – organisation, product, process and marketing”.

This definition is important when compared to what innovation means to professional services businesses, with almost half telling us they equate innovation with improvement or new processes, ideas or products.

While this indicates that many firms have a high level understanding of the tenants of innovation, we also found that many are yet to enter the realm of genuine innovation when assessed against the international standard.

Innovation ‘Active’

Our research shows healthy levels of innovation amongst professional services firms, with 44% of businesses in the sector qualifying as ‘innovation active.’ This proportion was in line with the national average for businesses across all industries. The top performing industry was manufacturing, with 61% qualifying as ‘innovation active’.

While 44% of professional services firms were genuinely innovative, a further 33% of firms claimed to be innovating but were found to be simply putting in place improvements – a strong foundation to move into the realm of innovation, but nevertheless falling short.

The remaining 23% of firms were either not innovating or had abandoned their innovation plans.

When looking more closely at the four key areas of innovation - organisation, product, process and marketing – we found that firms were more likely to have implemented organisation-based innovation, and less likely to be innovating within their marketing activities.

Business size also appears to factor into firm’s innovation activities with small and medium sized businesses with turnover up to $20 million more likely to innovate than those with greater annual earnings.

3 Key Characteristics of Successful Innovators

Our investigation of the attitudes, behaviours and characteristics of successful innovators shows that there are three breakthrough factors that typically distinguish innovation active businesses from their peers that are only improving:

1. Encouraging employees to ask questions that challenge the conventional approach

2. Adapting products and services to make the most of opportunities, and

3. Running experiments and piloting new ideas to test new ways of doing things

These three factors work to kickstart innovation and generate the initial successes that drive businesses to pursue the benefits that moving up the innovation curve can provide.

One of the largest behavioural gaps between businesses who are innovating and those simply making improvements is their drive to adapt their products and services for a changing market. They also seek to build a culture of innovation and encouraging them to ask challenging questions.

Editor’s Note:

Though Leadership Award NominationIf your firm has successfully implemented an innovative new initiative or is doing something different in response to the changing legal landscape, then enter this project in the 2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards. Nominations are open until 21 July, and winners will be announced at the 2017 ALPMA Summit gala dinner on Thursday 14 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. 

About our Guest Blogger

Marc TotaroMarc Totaro is the National Manager Professional Services, Business and Private Banking Commonwealth Bank of Australia 
Marc has over 25 years of experience in professional and financial services in Australia and the UK. He has overall responsibility for Commonwealth Bank’s professional services industry strategy and client experience. Marc has extensive relationship management experience across a broad range of industries.

If you would like to discuss the latest trends impacting the legal industry and your business, feel free to contact me on 0477 739 315 or email marc.totaro@cba.com.au, alternatively you can read our Legal Market Pulse for the latest developments in the legal industry.


How to successfully navigate the information-rich digital world

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

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By Whit Lee, Executive Director, Strategy & Legal Software Solutions, LexisNexis Asia Pacific

We live in an age of information, powered by technology. Where once a collection of Encyclopedia Britannica was required to find the answer to an obscure question raised in a lively pub discussion, now all that is needed is a 4G signal on one of the many devices inevitably resting on the table.

There are immeasurable benefits to technological development; for one, the wealth of our individual knowledge has grown colossally. But value doesn’t lie in information itself. Even a mountain of data and information does not necessarily equate to better intelligence and decision-making. Value comes from applying analytical and critical thought processes to that information.

The loss of analytical thinking

Over the last few years, studies have started to emerge revealing that we are gradually adapting to respond to information in an automatic, uncritical way. A generation of ‘digital natives’ will be entering the workforce in the coming decade, remarkable for their intrinsic aptitude for technology, but worrisome for their lack of critical nous.

In a Stanford University study published in November 2016, students were asked to evaluate the reliability of information posted online in order to assess their ability to apply critical thinking. For those of us who grew up using libraries, the findings are somewhat alarming: 82% of younger high school students were unable to differentiate between sponsored ad content and genuine news posted online, and nearly 40% of older students believed that a photo of misshapen daisies proved that there were toxic conditions around the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan – despite it being a viral post with no identifiable location characteristics or source given.

We are inundated by information, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Z Generation find it hard to distinguish between fact and fiction. But what it does highlight is the importance of maintaining skills in analytical reasoning. In order to successfully navigate the digital world, we need to adopt a scientific approach of critical, rational and effortful thought. In short: we all need to think like lawyers.

The rise of the machine

Hollywood has long visualised the future of machines, and fact is now surpassing fiction…though some may say the advent of artificial intelligence is far less exciting than we have come to expect; machines will not be taking over the world. But we still need to be prepared for further rapid technological advancement.

We know that the digitally-powered information-overload is not going to slow, but what we will see in the future are tools powered by artificial intelligence that take the analysis of data out of our hands, presenting us just with the most accurate and relevant answers we require. So why maintain skills in analytical thinking ourselves? Well, an answer doesn’t necessarily equate to a decision. A human element will always be necessary to assess and evaluate answers – which are, of course, simply condensed pieces of information.

The analytical thought process of a human is inherently different to that of a machine, because a human can take into account personal experience, empathy, and external drivers across a wide range of topics. Intelligent machines will remove the ambiguity of confirmation bias and the fallacy of false news, but are devoid of emotional intellect; humans are what give information meaning.

In practice management, as artificial intelligence tools start to enhance workflows and provide improved outcomes for lawyers and clients alike, intellectual agility will still be required in the analysis of information in order to make decisions and take actions that best suit the business. So while investment is made in the latest technology, so too must investment be made in that almighty gadget we each possess: our brains.

The future belongs not to those who will build the digital world, but those who will work in collaboration with it to deliver excellence that has undercurrents of both machine and emotional intelligence.

Editor's Note

Thought Leadership Awards NominationsLexisNexis is the proud partner for the 2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards. If your firm has successfully implemented an innovative new initiative or is doing something different in response to the digital world, then enter the project for an award. Nominations are open until 21 June. Nominate online now.

Winners will be announced at the 2017 ALPMA Summit, held from 13-15 September at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre. This year's Summit 'Sailing the 4C's' focuses on the four key 21st learning skills of Collaboration, Critical-thinking, Creativity and Communication. Readers interested in learning more about building analytical thinking skills at their firm should register before July 20 for early bird savings. Register now.

About our Guest Blogger

Whit LeeWhit leads the Legal Software Solutions (LSS) team, which delivers cloud-based and on-premise tools that drive improved outcomes for clients, helping them to make better decisions by combining world-class LexisNexis content with practice management workflow solutions.  Whit is also responsible for strategy and business development for the LexisNexis Asia Pacific business. As strategy lead, Whit is focused on how the organization is executing today as well as planning for tomorrow – ensuring we have the right resources allocated to deliver on both short and long term goals and that our investments in new products and solutions deliver value to customers. Whit holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Embedding 21st Century Skills in Your Firm

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

By Ann-Maree David, 2017 ALPMA Summit Chair

By now, we all know that the legal industry is in the midst of unprecedented disruption. Successive ALPMA Summits have focused on all that is new and evolving - modes of working; technology; systems; understanding clients as customers; NewLaw. The focus has been on helping firms understand what is coming.

In 2017, our focus as legal industry leaders needs to go deeper and become reflective, examining how to effect change, to innovate, to participate in and ultimately thrive amidst constant and rapid-fire of a changing legal landscape.

We need to ask ourselves – ‘how well is my firm prepared to weather this storm?’

‘Have we set ourselves on a pathway for success or are we just paying lip service to the idea of change – while continuing on with business as it has always been?'

And we need to accept that this requires fundamental changes to everyone’s mindset, to the firm’s culture and to the very way that it does business.

The ALPMA Summit Committee too has been reflecting on these issues. And to this end, our 2017 program centres on four core 21st century skills:

creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking, as defined by the influential P21 organisation.

If you think we’ve swapped the annual Summit for a HR forum on soft skills, think again!

While these are each core interpersonal skills and competencies essential for succeeding in the ‘Gig economy’, they also speak directly to an organisation’s systems and processes, its strategy and value proposition and, most importantly, the management style of every successful organisation’s leadership team.

Let me explain further.


In the “old” world of work, professionals built mastery in specific skills – for example, law; finance and accounting; economics. Obviously, those skill sets remain valid and valued. However, when a problem falls outside a specific skill set, creativity and innovation are required to build pragmatic solutions.

Creativity is more than coming up with new ideas; that is merely imagination at play. Creativity requires grunt, a willingness to take risks, and a commercial appetite for investing in ideas to allow them to become reality, perhaps after many iterations. In what has become a truly commoditised world, creativity is what distinguishes one organisation from all the rest.

Creativity is most often seen as a feature of culture. Take a look at some of the innovative giants of our time – Google, Apple, Tesla. Or closer to home, the Big 4 accounting firms and NewLaw firms which are now evolving into our strongest competitors and in some cases led by your former partners or employees. Creative problem solvers are drawn to organisations that promote autonomy and an innovative mindset and encourage and reward thinking and doing things differently.

Creativity also goes to the core of strategy: changing the conservative way of doing business, opening the corporate mind to new drivers and new behaviours to proactively participate in disruption rather than simply be disrupted or, worse still, be left behind as collateral damage. And while often perceived as “freewheeling” and without bounds, creativity should be viewed for what it can generate if resourced appropriately in terms of time, money and training.


Many law firms are still structured to leverage individual skill for the firm’s benefit and to measure and reward solo efforts in terms of productivity, billability and performance. Yet today, collaboration in and between cross-functional teams, workplaces, companies, sectors and countries is the norm.

Thanks to heightened connectivity, there is a very real expectation that individuals may work flexibly and/or virtually. They need to be capable of self-direction but at the same time equipped with strong team-building and participation skills. And while the ability to work together evidences successful work practices and processes, it is the end result of that collaborative effort that affects the bottom line. Collaboration across diverse networks both internally and externally featuring unique expertise and perspectives will give rise to a greater variety of ideas, solutions and innovation than can be generated alone.

Adding clients and even competitors to the collaborative mix is gaining traction in some areas of laws, as firms scramble to retain clients demanding better value and deeper understanding of their business from law firms.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is part of a suite of higher-order thinking skills which also includes problem solving. Critical thinking can be described as the systematic process of identifying, analyzing and solving problems. It entails reflection and independent thought rather than reliance on intuition or instinct. It can be distinguished from the traditional experience of learning or accumulating facts or knowledge, the aim of which is simply retention. Critical thinking encompasses making sense of what has been learned and then applying it to new situations.

Critical thinking as a skill is becoming ever more valuable as the rapidly changing and complex world throws up more and more novel situations and problems which cannot be resolved using a traditional mindset. Critical thinking is also essential to cut through the masses of information and data that are so readily available online.

But critical-thinking doesn’t just happen spontaneously! It is a learned skill that needs to be nurtured and encouraged, embedded within the firm DNA. It has to be ok for your most junior staff to question your Managing Partner on why things are done in a particular way – and then supported in creating and implementing a better way.

Ask yourself – ‘when was the last time that this happened at my firm?’


Oral and written communication sits at the very core of any legal practice. However, in the 21st century, the framework of business and interpersonal communication has fundamentally changed. Once considered effective if there had been a simple transmission of information from one source to another, today communication involves a complex system of synchronous and asynchronous messaging often between a myriad of parties from all over the world, across multiple technology platforms operating 24 x 7, 365 days per year (and not just when your firm is open!) This is an evolving feast – and achieving cut through in this clutter requires new skills and a completely different approach from simply sending out a newsletter once per quarter and banging up a website.

21st Century Leadership

Most importantly, each of the 4C's speak to leadership. Law firm leaders and management teams are having to respond to unprecedented threats and opportunities. They have two choices: assume a defensive posture or adapt and thrive. Modelling traditional leadership qualities such as confidence and courage and optimism – and embracing collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication - sends messages which reach far beyond internal stakeholders to influence corporate brand and, ultimately, the market for your services.

Is it time for you firm to embrace 21st Century skills?

Editor’s Note

2017 ALPMA SummitWant to learn how to help your firm embed 21st learning skills into its operational DNA? Then take advantage of early bird savings, and register now for the 2017 ALPMA Summit ‘Sailing the 4’C’s’ to be held from 13 – 15 September at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre. Check out the website to learn more about the fantastic line-up of speakers, exhibiting at Summit, the social program and much more!

Register now.

About our Guest Blogger

Ann-Maree DavidAnn-Maree David is an Executive Director of The College of Law, the largest provider of practice-focused legal education in Australasia. She has worked in the legal profession for over 30 years, in public and corporate sector roles and in private practice as a solicitor.

Ann-Maree has held a career-long passion for developing and delivering education and training programs to enable all involved in the delivery of legal services to thrive both personally and professionally. She is a longstanding member of ALPMA, and a regular contributor to both the Queensland Branch’s monthly seminar program and the annual ALPMA Summit Program Committee which she chairs.

In addition to leading the College of Law’s Queensland campus, Ann-Maree is President of Australian Women Lawyers and chairs the Queensland Law Society’s Equalising Opportunities in the Law Committee.

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