A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Managing Brand Integration

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

By Tineke Mann, eBusiness Manager, TIMG 

Mergers and acquisitions are common in the legal sector – but as many who have embarked down this path know, getting the post-acquisition integration right is not always easy! In this post, we share some of the key learnings from our acquisition of LitSupport in the hope that this will help you on your journey.

The Information Management Group (TIMG) embarked upon the challenge of successfully acquiring a complementary brand to enhance their service offering in early 2014. TIMG solve information management problems daily for thousands of businesses, large and small, in every major industry, across Australia and New Zealand. Our offering is simple; help clients store, manage, integrate and access important information securely, compliantly and effortlessly.

By December 2014, TIMG successfully acquired LitSupport; a leading organisation that specialises in providing secure and confidential information management services to law firms and corporate legal departments. The brainchild of Val Pitt some 20 years ago, LitSupport grew from a home-based business to a national organisation with over 130 employees and a service network spanning Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Why integrate?

Why would LitSupport embrace being absorbed into TIMG you may ask? 

“Times were changing. The legal industry was and is facing increasing pressure to improve performance and manage costs across all areas of operations” Val Pitt, Communications Manager, LitSupport said. “A union with TIMG enables us to deliver greater efficiencies and innovative solutions for our clients.”

TIMG similarly identified the need for innovation in the managed services and information management space. 

Chris Cotterrell, General Manager TIMG Australia recognised the need to provide a complete service offering to clients, ensuring they continued to grow and revolutionise the space.

“Investigations were completed by Ernst & Young, our parent company Freightways and TIMG management and it was decided that LitSupport offered the services we needed to compete in our industry, as well as offering an excellent cultural fit for both teams”.

The combined expertise in both companies has seen a positive outcome with TIMG now offering a full suite of services with greater capabilities to their clients. 

The integration challenges

The transition, however, has not been easy and has had opposing challenges for both parties in different ways.

Val acknowledges the positives and negatives that have accompanied the journey and acquisition of LitSupport within TIMG. 

“The hardest part for me has been letting go of decision making after twenty-one years of being the key decision maker. In contrast, the most rewarding part of the integration has been being part of a much larger organisation where accountability is shared and you are surrounded by many levels of support and expertise”.

The journey for TIMG has been focused on driving the acquisition from a strategic perspective, ensuring goals in the immediate future and in years to come are achieved. 

“There were areas we needed to tackle head on, areas that required a longer strategy to ensure a smooth transition, and areas we had little control over,” Chris said.

Mr Cotterrell explains how an earn-out period is still in place until 1 July 2017 and resulted in TIMG having limited authority for the first two and a half years of the acquisition which came with its own set of challenges.

Consideration factors in brand acquisition extend far beyond the immediate strategic vision. Chris Cotterrell explains: 

“Culturally, it’s difficult to integrate small owned business structures with a larger organisation that operate with a more corporate structure and related governance”.

“TIMG managers and those involved with LitSupport have been very excited about the service offering and the value this service will have for TIMG clients. TIMG has successfully signed an agreement with Ringtail to resell it as LitReview in line with the TIMG branding. This is an exciting development as legal and corporate clients will now have access to the most advanced eDiscovery tools” he continues.

Advice for others

With every acquisition, ensuring clear communication to clients is vital. 

“Branding and synergies will be the main focus in our immediate plans, with a five-year aim to triple the digitisation and processing revenue” Chris states.

As with all business changes, learnings will be had and will be different depending on the side of the table you sit at. 

Val recalls the experience: “I would not have changed a thing. I never look back – the future is way too bright. If I could offer advice to an organisation exploring the same avenue, I would encourage them to choose carefully, be prepared for change and commit to a successful merger”.

For TIMG the acquisition and integration challenges continue as the company continues to grow. 

At the start of the acquisition, integrating finance and payroll was prioritised; swiftly followed by the integration of CRM and job management to ensure client workflow remained unaffected.

“We should have taken a much more active role in cost control at that point of the journey. Costs blew out and bringing these back in line has been a painful process” Chris recalls. 

Internal considerations should also be allowed for, he said.

“More time should have been spent earlier with LitSupport staff to help them adjust to our wider vision. It’s taken almost three years to adjust the view that we are not two separate businesses, but one; TIMG.” 

As Chris highlights, people and their behaviours play an important role in any acquisition, and the management of these behaviours is time-consuming but necessary to provide clear vision and to set realistic expectations.

“If I could advise a business who were about to take on a similar journey, I would advise them to manage expectations, review systems and processes and don’t assume they will be compliant just because of certifications. 

Above all, make sure the cultures of the two businesses will work well together” Chis advises.

About our Guest Blogger

Tineke MannTineke Mann is the eBusiness Manager for TIMG, the information management service provider. Tineke is passionate about helping lawyers simplify their work-life through more efficient management of records and top data security. In addition to working closely with a range of clients tailoring solutions, she manages teams of eDiscovery experts, Online Backup specialists and in-house developers.

Are you ready for a competitive 2015? Profitable law firms investing for growth

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

By Andrew Barnes, ALPMA President & Financial Controller, The Lantern Legal Group

ALPMA and Crowe Howarth recently released the results summary of our annual Financial Performance Benchmarking Study of Australian Law Firms  – and I wanted to share with you my thoughts on the key findings, summarised in the infographic at the end of this post.

1.  Firm profitability continues to rise thanks to strong cost control

While average revenue per partner fell by nearly 6% for most firms in 2014, the successful pursuit of leaner operations significantly increased gross profitability.   

According to the study, the average profitability of law firms increased to 15% in 2014 compared to 10% in 2013, while gross profitability is up to 58%, compared to 55% in 2013.

Unlike previous years, when firms looked inwards and concentrated on cost cutting right across the board, firms are becoming more targeted in their cost reduction strategies.  Average overhead costs (excluding rent) reduced to 36% as a percentage of revenue, compared to 40% in 2013.  Average lock-up days (time taken to complete matters, invoice and collect fees from the client) reduced from 147 days last to 141 days. This indicates an improvement in internal processes for collecting cash and is a positive for firms’ cash flow.

The study’s Financial Resilience Index, which measures how efficient the generation of revenue is from the capital employed by the firm, also increased to 2.69, compared to 2.23 last year, showing an increase in financial resilience of more than 20%. 

2.  Growth is firmly on the agenda 

Firms are starting to shift their focus from cost savings to revenue growth – there’s really only so far you can cut costs before you start hitting bone.

Growth firmly on the agenda, with firms that participated in this year’s study intending to increase revenue in 2015 by an average of 10%, with larger firms indicating growth over 20%.

3.  Investment in business development and lateral hires

Australian law firms are starting to shift their focus from cost savings to revenue growth – as there’s really only so far you can cut costs before you start hitting bone.

They are opening their purse strings to invest in areas of business they believe will facilitate growth 

Firms are planning a greater investment in marketing and business development activities and focusing on lateral recruitment in order to be competitive moving forward.

4.  Firms transitioning from the billable hour

For the first time this year, the survey also sought to measure the basis of client billing amongst respondent firms, with the majority of firms' revenue (70%) still use the billable hour as their predominant billing measure.

What is noteworthy is that 30% of respondents advised that they use a method other than billable hours, such as fixed or value pricing.  I expect this number will increase over time as clients continue to demand value from their legal spend and firms either reinvent the way they practice or mimic the way their competitors do.

5.  Execution of strategies is key to success

Firms who succeed will be those who can execute their strategies, maintain a lean cost base and, importantly, retain key staff.

Has your firm been building its business development and marketing capability and managing staff engagement over the last 18 months or so?

If so, you will be well-positioned to manage in what is shaping up to be a very competitive market in 2015.

Readers  interested in learning more about the overall results of the study can download the ALPMA/Crowe Horwath Financial Performance Benchmarking Report Summary.  

Results Infographic

About our Guest Blogger

Andrew Barnes, ALPMA President

Andrew Barnes is the President of the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) and the Financial Controller of the Lantern Legal Group, which incorporates the practices of Harwood Andrews and Sladen Legal.  

He has worked in the legal sector for many years and is a passionate advocate of 'letting law firm managers manage' and the Geelong Football Club.

Editor’s Note:

The impact of the changing legal landscape on law firms

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

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

From my perspective, there are five key take-aways from the results of the recent research ALPMA has undertaken with LexisNexis into the impact of the changing legal landscape on Australasian law firms and I wanted to share these with you before the full results are presented at the forthcoming ALPMA Summit.

1. Customer demands for better value is impacting firms...but few are changing their pricing strategy

Customer demand for better value and increasing price pressure is the number one factor impacting on Australasian law firms, according to the research.  Despite this, only 18% of firms report a major focus on changing their pricing strategy (increasing to 25% for larger firms). 

This reflects a fundamental shift in power to clients and a strong buyers’ market for legal services.  

The traditional law firm model has been built around billing clients for time spent on a matter.  But client sophistication is growing and this, combined with the commoditisation of legal services and a plethora of legal providers increasing competition, means that clients no longer have to accept the status quo.

Law firms ought to be working harder at understanding what represents value to their customers. They need to ensure they clearly differentiate their service offering from the next firm and price their services accordingly.

It is a brave step to throw away timesheets and most firms are not yet at the point where they feel they must do so.

In between the extremes of time billing and pure value pricing are numerous approaches which can assist firms with adapting to the changing market and I look forward to discussing this at the panel session I am facilitating with Tim Williams, Colin Jasper and John Chisholm at the ALPMA Summit on August 29.

2. Law firms are investing in technology

Most firms are enthusiastically embracing technology, with this ranking as the number one response to the changing legal landscape for the second year in a row.  

50% of respondent firms are making major investments in technology this year, an 11% increase on last year.  Only 3% of firms (all small firms with less than 25 employees) are making no technology-related investments.  Workflow, mobility and customer relationship management (CRM) are the top three technologies that law firms are investing in over the next 12 months.

It is no surprise that law firms across the board are turning to technology to help deliver the productivity and efficiency gains that they need.   The challenge for firms is to deploy technology in creative and innovative way to improve their business.

The majority of respondents are also continuing to invest in growth strategies (59%) and cost-cutting programs (58%) in response to the current environment.

3. Change is ‘work-in-progress’ at law firms – but slow change is better than no change

Where change is being made at firms, it is very much a work-in-progress, with most initiatives either currently being implemented or in the planning stage.  Of those making changes, very few have completed projects.  Only 9% of respondent firms have completed technology projects, 6% have completed cost-cutting programs and only 2% have completed growth-related initiatives. 

Despite this, the majority of respondents (58%) are satisfied with the rate of progress their firm has made in responding to the changing legal landscape over the past 12 months.  Staff at larger firms are least satisfied with their progress to date, while mid-sized firm respondents are the happiest (71%).

Law firms are risk averse places and they have not grown to what they are today by taking risks at every turn. While change is slow, responding slowly is better than not responding at all.

Firms need to take a medium term view and acknowledge that they should not be practicing law in five years’ time in the same way they are today.

Resistance to change, a lack of partner buy-in and no sense of urgency remain the key barriers to change at law firms. 

As one respondent put it: 

“Our partners are good at buy in but not initially - they take a while to investigate and approve which is not a negative thing. The lack of urgency is a cause of frustration at times. Support staff are slow to uptake some changes and we try to fully engage them to embrace the new initiatives.”

4. Non-Lawyers are playing a significant role in driving change

Non-lawyer managers are playing a significant role in driving change at law firms, most often working in partnership with the managing partner or the partner group to drive change and with support staff to implement change initiatives, according to the research.

A non-legal perspective is an incredibly valuable component in medium term strategic planning, as it is in day-to-day operational management. Progressive firms identify and respect the skills of the non-lawyers amongst them and ensure they apply the right people to the right situation.

5. Positive outlook with improving confidence in law firm leadership

Overall, most firms were upbeat about the future, forecasting a positive outlook for their firm over the next 3-5 years, with expectations for continued growth in firm size, profitability and improvements in firm culture.

I was also pleased to see that respondents are also increasingly confident in the ability of their firm’s leaders to respond to this challenging environment.   72% of respondents were confident or very confident in their firm’s leadership ability compared to 63% last year. 

Don't be complacent!

While the results show an industry that is in the process of transformation (albeit slowly), it is clear that there is no room for complacency.  

Is your firm doing everything that it can to thrive and prosper in this changing legal landscape?

Editor's Note:

The results of the ALPMA/LexisNexis Impact of the Changing Legal Landscape on Australasian Law Firms research will be presented by LexisNexis at the ALPMA Summit ‘Thrive and Prosper’, held from 27-29 August at the Melbourne Crown Convention Centre.  Register to attend Summit in person or online from your computer via our livestream broadcast.

The annual ALPMA/LexisNexis research investigates the impact of change on the Australasian legal profession, including how firms have responded to the changing legal landscape to date, what firms plan to do in the next 12 months, and how prepared the legal industry is to survive and thrive under in the ‘new normal’ environment.

122 respondents from law firms across Australia and New Zealand participated in the 2014 research, conducted via on-line survey in June, 2014. This is the second year the survey has been conducted. The full report will be available from the LexisNexis stand at the ALPMA Summit.

About our Guest Blogger

Andrew BarnesAndrew Barnes is President of the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association, (ALPMA), the peak body representing law firm managers and leaders. ALPMA provides an authoritative voice on issues relevant to legal practice management.  

He is also the Financial Controller for the Legal Lantern Group, which incorporates the practices of Harwood Andrews and Sladen Legal.

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