A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Preparing for staff appraisals

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

By Karen Waldock, Managing Partner at empire group

“It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises but only performance is reality”- Harold S Geneen

The annual performance appraisal is coming up. For some partners and managers it might seem like it was only yesterday that you did the last one! This event is prone to striking fear into the hearts of even the most stellar of your performers, and for those conducting the review it can be equally as stressful, particularly if you have to give some negative or constructive feedback. And particularly if you have not turned your mind to staff performance since the last formal appraisal.

So often in our line of work we find candidates looking for a new job or even career after what they perceive to be an unfair performance review or unsatisfactory salary review – and of course the review or salary may be totally justified. However, the way these reviews are conducted can make the difference between losing a good employee, or one with potential, and keeping them. Of course giving regular feedback, good and bad, to your employees is the best approach – and there are many businesses which are opting out of the appraisal system all together, but the legal profession seems to be sticking to the tried and true method.

Make sure you know the important dates and have them diarised to ensure you complete your part of the appraisal on time. Your HR team will quietly adore you for it. Set aside some time to complete the appraisals without interruption and give honest thought to each of the questions, and to each of your staff, as individuals, and as part of your team.

Here at empire group, we strive to be the best at everything we do, and conducting our own staff appraisals is no different. How we conduct them makes an important statement about our culture to our own staff.

No surprises

In an ideal world, all appraisals should be conducted on the ‘no surprises’ basis; that is, that the feedback you are giving is feedback that staff have already received along the way. Telling a staff member that a client made a complaint about something three months ago is unfair to your employee who may rightly feel ambushed. Giving this feedback in this way will derail an otherwise positive appraisal – and your employee will only be thinking about that one piece of feedback and nothing else.

Time period

It is important to remember that the performance appraisal is for performance over a period of time – usually 12 months, or six months. It is not the last 12 minutes, hours, days or even weeks. It is never a good idea to conduct a performance review the day after a staff member has made a mistake on a matter, or after you have had a disagreement – your judgement, and theirs, will be affected by that event. And that won’t be good for anyone. Think objectively about the person’s performance outside of that one event. On that note, if this is not your employee’s first appraisal with you, read the previous appraisal carefully to refresh your memory.

Common problems and what to do about them

Make sure you are appraising your staff member against the competencies for their role – not against the performance of another high performing staff member; the one you wish everyone could be like! This is called the ‘Contrast Effect’ - the tendency to rate staff relative to each other, 
rather than on the basis of individual performance criteria.

Other common problems include:

  • Halo Effect – This if the tendency to rate a person who is an exceptional performer in one area, 
high in all other areas so that this one factor has a disproportionate influence on other factors. For example, someone who is hitting all their financial targets, but is terrible at delegating, needs to have their assessment fairly done. You need to be very conscious of your own bias in assessing performance. It’s a bit like having a favourite child.
  • Horns Effect - This is, of course, the opposite of the Halo Effect – a tendency to rate a person who is underperforming in one area, low on all other factors. This is especially common where the factor is important to the supervisor.
  • Path of Least Resistance - This is the tendency to avoid both high and low extremes, lumping all 
ratings in the middle category – it is easier than actually having to think about it, and is most common when supervisors leave it to the last minute, or when they know how the staff member has rated themselves and they want to avoid a difficult conversation.
  • Mini Me - Some supervisors have a tendency to give persons who are similar to them higher ratings on the basis of biographical backgrounds, attitudes, approach to tasks etc. Again, a bit like having a favourite child.

Once you have done the ratings you must start thinking about the appraisal conversation.

  • Venue - open plan offices do not lend themselves to appraisal discussions. Choose somewhere private where other staff can’t see you having the conversation, regardless of the content of the conversation.

  • Plan – you wouldn’t go into a client meeting unprepared so don’t go into this meeting unprepared. Jot down what you want to say and how you want the conversation to finish.

  • Good news – if it is largely a ‘good news’ appraisal, still conduct this in private, reflect on the previous appraisal period, and agree goals for the next 12 months. If this is a high performing individual don’t assume they will be happy with a ‘great job’ short appraisal. They thrive on positive feedback – give plenty of it and set some goals for them so that they have something to work on.

  • Constructive Feedback – if you need to give some constructive or negative feedback, choose the time and place carefully. Always start with positive feedback where possible, and frame the conversation about what your employee could do better.

  • Anticipate an emotional response – if you are giving constructive or negative feedback you must be prepared for an emotional reaction. If your employer responds emotionally then it is vital for you to keep your own emotions in check. Is very common for someone who perceives they’re being criticised to attack, blame, deny, shout, cry or generally be upset. Stay calm, let them say what they need to say, then bring the discussion back to the performance under discussion of the time. Don’t take an emotional reaction personally.

  • Wrap up – always conclude your discussion with a ‘wrap up’ of what was discussed and what is being planned for the future.

Preparation and planning are key elements of any project – your staff appraisals are really no different.

Editor's Note

The empire group have partnered with ALPMA to support the 2016 Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey in Australia, while McLeod Duminy are supporting this survey in New Zealand.  Participation is free and now open to all law firms in Australia and New Zealand.  Participants receive the comprehensive report, benchmarking salaries for more than 60 roles at law firms, for free (normally $550 for ALPMA members or $2,200 for non-members).  For more information about how to participate in the survey click here.

About our Guest Blogger

Karen Waldock
Karen Waldock, is the Managing Partner at empire group, a recruitment company with offices in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. The empire group includes two specialised divisions empire legal and legal eagles. 

Karen has been instrumental in growing the business to be a successful and respected boutique consultancy in recruitment. Her extensive knowledge of the legal profession comes from over 30 years' experience in the industry, where Karen began her career in senior legal support roles. She later worked as a recruitment consultant, gaining valuable insight at the grass roots of recruitment.

How technology is changing succession planning

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

By Lisa Sikorski, State Manager VIC/SA, FilePro Legal Software

A brief introduction to the trends, difficulties and objections surrounding succession planning; a launch pad to a rewarding plan; and the pivotal role of technology.

The partner landscape

In Australia, the legal profession generates revenue of over $20 billion. In comparison, advertising has barely one-tenth the revenue, yet many more businesses are publicly listed.

In the USA and UK, law firms are regulated and unable to list on the stock exchange. However, here in Australia, that isn’t the case.

The outcome is that an extraordinary amount of wealth is tied up with law firm partners.

Baby boomer retirement

For most professional service firms, the equity of the business resides in a number of areas – the brand, processes/operations, client lists, IP, IT infrastructure, and of course, people.

A law firm’s equity is intrinsic to its partners. They are very often the brand and are strongly linked to the clients.

As such, it’s imperative that partners have a succession plan in place –whether they’re looking at a successor; choosing to sell, acquire or merge the business; or if they’re suddenly unable to work.

Yet, according to Macquarie Bank’s recent Legal Benchmarking report, only 54% of owners have succession plans in place. While this may seem low considering the nature of law firms, this has in fact increased from 28% in 2011.

Worse still, Bentley’s Voice of Australian Business Survey (which includes all professional service firms), found similar rates of succession planning, and that only 19% of firms have a written plan.

On top of this, by 2009 the number solicitors over the age of 50 increased by 11.6%, while those over 60 increased by 50%. Unsurprisingly, the number of firms with one owner planning to retire in the next three years grew from 20% to 27% between 2013 and 2015.

Making plans to make plans

So if effective succession is so important to ensuring long-term business continuity, what’s stopping people?

In a Lawyers Weekly article Warrick Mclean, then general manager of Coleman Greig Lawyers and vice president of ALPMA said:
"It's quite common, particularly for partners, to get really busy doing what they're doing and [forget] to look at the bigger picture."

Macquarie Bank’s Legal Benchmarking Report found similar results. They asked why partners don’t have a succession plan and received the following answers:

  • 42% – Isn’t the right time
  • 27% – Don’t have a successor
  • 23% – Not a priority
  • 16% – Too busy working

In my experience, succession planning is an emotive process. Many lawyers don’t like mixing their personal and business life, and end up sticking their head in the sand.

Craig Holland, former Tax Partner at Deloitte, summed it up well

“Management-succession planning requires contemplation of one’s own mortality which is unpleasant, leading to many business owners choosing to do very little formal planning when it actually comes to selecting and grooming successors.”

Get started. Now.

The truth is, there’s nothing morbid about developing a succession plan. In fact, a succession plan can act as a brilliant method to measure the health of your business.

You can then use the plan should a partner decide to retire, sell or merge your business (and yes, if they’re no longer able to work).

The first thing to do is to confront your partners to discuss and plan their succession. It takes time and money to develop a satisfactory plan, so manage everyone’s expectations accordingly.

Individual plans will depend greatly on your circumstances, but here are a few starting points:

  • When do you plan on exiting the business?
  • Take a look at your business – where are you now and where do you want to be?
  • Will your successor be internal or external? Do you have a business model that will attract the right talent?
  • Is selling, acquiring or merging the business the right option? If so, see a broker and talk to other solicitors who have taken this option

Improving your succession plan with technology

No matter your situation, new technology can bolster your succession plan in a number of ways.

Technology and process

If one of your partners were to leave the business without warning, would other staff be able to continue their work?

A number of partners take shortcuts on process – the details are kept (often very accurately) in their heads. This is understandable due to the time-sensitive nature of their role. Without an effective practice management system they often don’t have time to take notes or name files correctly.

The right technology can streamline these processes, ensuring they’re properly followed and recorded. For example, a good practice management system will:

  • Eliminate double entries and ensure time is correctly recorded 
  • Consolidate client information – including billings, trust, time, documents and more
  • Create management or accounting reports with budgets and KPIs

By making these processes ‘concrete’, you’re essentially transferring equity from your individual partners to the firm as a whole. This will not only ensure workflow remains consistent during succession, but makes the planning phase much more straightforward.

Technology and talent

If you aren’t planning on selling, merging or acquiring your business, it is even more important to attract and retain the best available talent.

The ILTA’s recent ‘Legal Technology Future Horizons’ report found technology is increasingly becoming a key factor in staff satisfaction.

“A key issue here is accommodating the technology and support expectations of new graduates coming into the workforce. New graduates typically arrive with a high level of IT literacy and familiarity with personalised tools through which they have run their lives and completed their education to date.

The “born-digital” generation will increasingly judge firms on the quality of the IT support provided and the ease with which routine tasks can be conducted.

Generation Z and those that follow them are used to applying their talents to problem solving and creative tasks, leveraging technology to find and present information. They may not be as willing to spend as much time or effort working on search and basic document review tasks that were traditionally seen as part of a junior lawyer’s training.”

Without the right technology you could struggle to find proficient successors, either internally or externally.

Technology and clients

Important client relationships are often the sole responsibility of partners. While technology can’t and won’t replace this, the increase of client-facing IT solutions can help your firm develop a relationship with clients outside of your partners.

Future Horizons revealed that there is a “clear expectation that the decade ahead in legal will be shaped in part by developments that enhance mobility, personalisation and ease of use”.

Of course, you should still continue to groom successors by including them in client relationships. However, by providing your clients with tools such as access to their matters, reports and documents – either online or via a mobile app – you will make the transition a little smoother for them.

Again, this transfers some of the equity of your client relationships from your partners to your law firm – ensuring workflow remains smooth and simplifying your succession planning.

Technology and value

Regardless of your approach to succession planning, technology (particularly your practice management system) is the foundation to any changes you’re looking to make.

Macquarie Bank’s 2015 Legal Benchmarking survey found that high performing firms are more likely to have invested heavily in technology or plan a significant investment in the future. 47% of high performing firms expect to invest in their practice management system in comparison to 36% of low performing firms.

A good practice management system will ensure a straightforward succession by creating transparent firm performance. For example, ensure your practice management system should be able to:

  • Create a client report to see their total exposure, e.g. all commercial clients’ matters and their financial status
  • Review staff performance, manage expectations and identify areas of concern, e.g. not enough work
  • Analyse your credit/debit exposure and P/L with real-time data

If you’re considering succession in the near future, you should also evaluate how different practice management systems could improve the efficiency of your firm and viability of a smoother succession plan.

If a 5-solicitor firm increases their productivity by 2 units a day at $350 per hour, additional potential earnings of nearly $80,000 a year is possible. That will add a tidy sum to the valuation of your business (and to your retirement or next business venture).


A law firm’s equity is intrinsic to its partners. Over the next 5 to 10 years this value will change hands at an increasing rate due to an age concentration of partners.

While many partners believe they’re too busy to put together an effective plan, not having a succession plan is a serious liability to the business.

You should ensure all your partners are aware of this issue and take the time to talk to the right people – whether you’re considering internal/external succession, sale, acquisition or a merger.

Implementing the right technology can assist your succession plan in a number of ways.

  • By transferring the equity of established processes from partner to law firm and maintaining consistent workflow during periods of change
  • By attracting and retaining quality staff, ensuring an adequate successor can be chosen (either internally or externally)
  • By transferring the equity of established client relationships from partner to law firm and ensuring clients remain well serviced during periods of change
  • By improving and accurately measuring the value of your firm 

Succession planning is ongoing – so plan for success and start today. FilePro is pleased to provide a comprehensive Due Diligence checklist to ensure that your next decision regarding new technology strategically and tactically maximises the effectiveness of your succession plan – just click here for your complimentary copy.

About Our Guest Blogger

Lisa Sikorski is FilePro's State Manager  for Victoria and South Australia. She has 20 years’ experience in the legal industry, predominately in practice management, and now has successfully transitioned into legal software business development and solutions with FilePro.  

Her broad ranging experience, business acumen and MBA has elevated her business development skills and  knowledge in the areas of management, HR, finance, business development, IT and business operations.  Lisa was also an active member of the ALPMA Board and Committee for 4 years. 

The cheats's guide to starting a client listening program

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

By Sue-Ella Prodonovich, Prodonovich Advisory 

An effective client listening program is one of the most valuable tools in any firm’s competitive armoury. 

If you’ve been thinking of developing a client listening program but don’t know where to start, you’re not alone. Many firms procrastinate, stall or fall at the very first hurdle when it comes to effective client listening. Here are some ideas for getting a client listening program up and running today.

1. Harness the power of five

A good client listening program will help you refine and improve the service you’re delivering, so that you reduce the chances of clients becoming alienated. It should also help you uncover new business development opportunities (yep, a client listening program isn’t all about one way traffic!) and help you bring a laser focus to any future attempts at winning work.

My advice at the outset is to identify five clients that will be the guinea pigs for your client listening program. These should be the people that you’ve promised you’ll review performance for (eg where you’ve tendered and have pledged to manage quality). But they could also be referral sources or close friends of your firm who you know are going to stay loyal.
I know what you’re thinking… Why bother asking raving fans what they think, when you know it will be positive? Actually, sometimes the people closest to us have the deepest and most ?? insights and they’ll often speak more frankly about you to another person (see point three below).

Besides, it’s usually your biggest fans that will be willing also to help the most. And, by asking a friend of your firm to participate, you’re also showing you’re not taking them for granted.

2. Focus on your MVP

I’m a big fan of the expression that you ‘eat an elephant one bite at a time’, because I think it really applies to client listening.

So once you’ve identified five clients to ask, don’t spend months, or even years, building the ultimate feedback machine so that you can roll out a program of Soviet proportions. By the time you get around to asking your questions it will be too late.

Instead, do what tech startups are told to do: focus on your ‘MVP’ or Minimum Viable Product.

What that means in the context of client feedback is that you come up with something that’s good but you don’t struggle for hours trying to make it perfect. Instead, focus on getting out there asking questions as quickly as you can, with the view that you’ll refine what you’re asking as you go. You’ll soon start to see where any gaps are. But because you’ll have some friendly clients in your list of early participants, they probably won’t care if you have to go back to them to fill them in. Then keep refining.

By the time it comes to spreading beyond your first five, you’ll be well drilled in how to conduct an interview and what information you’re looking for.

Speaking of which...

3. Bring in the big guns

With one or two exceptions, people will never tell you exactly what they think of you to your face. So don’t start going out there and interviewing your own clients.. Instead, get someone senior involved - preferably your Chairman, managing partner, senior partner or CEO You should also consider using someone independent (someone from your management team or an external consultant), either in conjunction with that senior person or in place of them. This allows the interviewing partner to put down the pen and focus on building rapport.

By doing this, you’re not just going to get better information, you’re showing the client just how seriously you take them. Put yourself in their shoes… how would you feel if one of your client’s CEOs took the time to sit down with you to ask how you thought the relationship was going?

Put yourself in your colleagues’ shoes too… You’re likely to have instant buy-in from across the firm when the boss becomes involved.

4. Tailor your meetings

Even so, having the right people at your end asking the right questions to the right people at their end, will still only get you so far. Just as important is the way you carry out the interview.

I always prefer meeting face-to-face because it lets you gauge body language and build rapport in a way that telephone conversations can’t. (Besides how many people are great in person and terrible over the phone?) But I understand that’s not always possible.

The order in which you ask questions matters too. After all, there’s been a lot of science that has gone into when to ask particular types of questions, how to stage the interview. I always like to break the ice with some easy questions that give them the chance to vent if they need to.

A lot of clients just want their voice heard. So ask open questions - don’t put ideas in people’s heads - and let them talk. I always tell people they have two ears and one mouth- use them in that ratio. Save your ‘high value’ questions for when the client has been warmed up - oh, and know when to put the pen down. Often you’ll get your best nuggets when people feel they’re not being judged.

5. Package it up properly

Consider how you invite the client to participate and, if you are using survey material, how you present your questions. After all the packaging provides some tangible evidence of the importance you place on the process. 

An owner of a reasonably large business recently showed me his law firm’s Client Feedback questionnaire. It was dreadful. A poorly photocopied checklist of questions taken from a website and copied onto a blank sheet of paper with instructions to fax back the reply! To make it worse it was attached to an invoice.

Also, be upfront with your clients about how you intend to use the information. Make sure they know what they say won’t instantly appear on your website in the form of a testimonial.

And remember to position the conversation in terms of expectations. A client feedback meeting is a commitment to listen to the client – you can't promise to fix everything but you can promise to listen and do what you can.

Finally, if you’re asking people to give you valuable feedback - and really getting something for nothing - make sure you don’t make them feel like they’re being put through the wringer. Limit the number of ratings or close-ended questions or else your discussion may start to feel more like an interrogation.

And finally…

One of the most important things to remember about client listening programs is that there is no one right way to go about it. Just as every firm and every client is be different, every program should be different to.

But, by following these five pointers, you’ll soon be building the right kind of program for your clients and your firm.

About our Guest Blogger

Sue-Ella Prodonovich
Sue-Ella Prodonovich has more than 20 years senior level experience winning and growing business in the professional services and B2B sectors. Her business, Prodonovich Advisory, has helped many of the Asia Pacific’s leading law and accounting firms develop and implement effective listening programs.

The real difficulty with strategy… (and it has nothing to do with being eaten by culture for breakfast).

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

By Andrew Price, Director, Inspire Management Consulting

Yes, there is an enormous amount of change currently occurring globally in the legal industry. A ‘head in the sand’ approach at this juncture is frankly foolish. As a result of the change, there is a renewed focus on strategic planning by many law firms. The best firms around know where they are headed and how they are going to get there.

Developing your firm’s strategy should not be an overly difficult exercise. Even in this edgy market. If it is, there is something either unusually complex about your firm, or you should rethink your approach to the strategic planning process.

What is the real difficulty with strategy?

No matter how good your strategic plan is, if it is not implemented properly it will fail. End of story.

Strategy implementation is where your strategic plan comes to life. It is the carrying out and execution of your plan. There are various models and views about how the implementation process works and what it consists of. At its most basic level, most share common traits including analysis, action and review phases. Implementation involves many stakeholders. It involves budgets, plans and procedures. But most importantly, it involves change.

Many people fear change particularly in a risk averse industry such as law. Those who fear change resist change and therein lies the problem.

Resistance to change can destroy the most well thought through strategic plan.

Why does resistance to change occur?

If your people perceive the firm’s values and experiences no longer provide a reliable guide to the future, resistance is likely to occur. The basis of the resistance might be a perceived threat of job security or important social structures within the firm may change. It might require a change in an individual’s expertise or a change in their work procedures. Change involves a shift from the known to the unknown. With change comes uncertainty and uncertainty is likely to impact the happiness and security of your people.

But this is natural, right?

Yes. Resisting change is not necessarily a selfish act. If you take someone out of his or her comfort zone, one that they’ve known intimately for some time, what do you really expect to happen? Resisting change is a natural human reaction to change that can have potentially enormous personal impacts.

In today’s legal market, even though there are widespread changes occurring, it is often the uncertainty attached to change that is the issue rather than the ‘technical’ change itself.

The implementation of your firm’s strategic plan will involve a number of projects. Many of these involve, for example, a change in process or procedure to improve the efficiency of the firm. They are not intended to make life difficult for your people or create uncertainty. Those responsible for implementing strategic initiatives must consider resistance to change in the planning process.

The importance of communication…

Communication plays a pivotal role in addressing any uncertainty during the implementation of your strategic plan and in any change program.

Providing as much information as possible through the change process will dramatically alleviate issues associated with uncertainty. People respond well to facts, particularly lawyers! Contradictory messages less so and these can be very damaging. Effective communication will dramatically help with the transition from resistance to acceptance.

An email from the managing partner outlining the planned change does not tick the ‘communication’ box!

A number of different communication platforms should be used. Social media, face-to-face presentations, email, informal ‘chat’, intranets, storytelling, and training are all useful methods. Messages must be conveyed a number of times. Once is not enough. Bear in mind what you say is not necessarily what is heard. There must be effective communication and lots of it!

Communication must do’s in the strategy implementation process:

  • Comprehensively explain to your people why the strategic initiative is important to your firm.
  • Create small wins and communicate them.
  • Consider resistance to change in the implementation planning process. Be ready for it.
  • Get feedback from your people during the implementation. Communication is not a ‘one way street’.
  • Provide a consistent message. Contradictory messages will add to the uncertainty and increase resistance.

Implementing strategy involves change. If not managed correctly, it can create uncertainty and resistance that can derail the best made strategic plans. Effective communication is one of the best ways of dealing with resistance to change and should be a key consideration in your strategic implementation planning.

About our Guest Blogger

Andrew PriceAndrew Price specialises in assisting law firms with strategic planning, implementation, and change management (successfully navigating their way through the raft of changes in the legal market!). He is a former lawyer, COO of a national law firm, and now director of Inspire Management Consulting. He is also an accredited change manager with the Change Management Institute.

On 28 February, Andrew is cycling 400kms in support of Royal Far West which provides health services to kids in rural and remote areas. To support Andrew and RFW on this ride please donate at: http://rideforcountrykids2016.gofundraise.com.au/page/AndrewPrice

Smart ways law firms use social media without getting into trouble

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

By Katherine Hawes, Lawyer, Aquarius Education 

Do you agree with the comments below?  I didn’t think so!  In fact, very few lawyers would agree with those statements. 

But they are common misconceptions about the legal profession - based on stereotypes seen in the media and in Hollywood. They might be true in some cases - but mostly they’re not.  Yet for the regular Joe and Jane, without legal training or education, these are the urban myths about the law that we need to counter.

Until recently, it was difficult to counter these myths and show to the world that law can be affordable and understandable and that lawyers are not creatures from hell but pretty fun people to be around!

Now that’s changed. 

And I can’t figure out why more lawyers and law firms don’t leverage the new opportunities to convey the right message.

You’ve already guessed that I’m talking about social media.

Why The Time To Tap Into Social Media Is Now

The fit between social media and the legal profession isn’t an easy one - social media is seen as fun, entertaining and goofy at times, while lawyers are traditionally serious, responsible and conservative people.

However, we can’t forget that some of the biggest political and social conversations happen over social media. This is exactly where lawyers can step in and provide an eye-opening legal perspective on issues that people are passionate about. And this will happen more and more in the future - even the media include social media accounts and conversations in the news, it’s time we step in.

It’s been a pleasure for me to connect with people through social media for several reasons:
  • I can see different perspectives and better comprehend the problems my clients face
  • I understand issues that are not mentioned in my office
  • I create relationships - people trust me as they would trust their Facebook friends (and this is crucial to change the mindset and beliefs about lawyers)
  • I become more 'human' to people and they can relate to me - they know I’m not just a lawyer but a person as well
Many people, especially the millennial generation (born 1980 - 2000), don’t trust companies anymore, they skip ads and can smell salespeople from a mile. They want to do business with other people just like them, people they can trust. I’m quite sure you’ve felt this shift in the market as well and see the need for changing the way you connect with clients. That’s why I highly recommend you to take this approach to social media now, before everyone starts doing the same thing.

Social Media and The Law - A Love / Hate Relationship

Issues involving the use of social media have become more prevalent, particularly in the past 18 months, in industrial disputes and family law in Australia and New Zealand.

Courts love social media more by the day - it provides evidence that wouldn’t have been available otherwise and it’s contributed by defendants themselves by sharing it online!

But there is a hate part as well.

Social media law is a toddler but corporations are faster to adapt. An example are the 50-page long social media policies that sometimes, well, break the law. Especially when it comes to employment law.

The biggest issue with social media is that is has developed as a communication tool faster than the supporting legislations. That’s why it’s important to create additional company policies that safeguard the firm and its employees from misconduct. For example, employees of the firm should know that defamation of colleagues or misrepresentation of their work is a serious misconduct issue no matter if it happens on their blog or in the conference room.

The law is really not on the side of social media and personal freedom of expression when it’s damaging to others. If you don’t want your firm to get involved in that, you need to make sure everyone knows the rules.

The Social Media Post That Can Ruin Your Reputation

It’s nice to have a platform where you can be yourself, share and engage with your customers, where you can not only be a lawyer - but a person.

But you need to be careful of your reputation. In fact, social media can most certainly ruin your law career and sink your firm.

I’m quite sure you don’t need reminding to not post selfies with your confidential clients and avoid mentioning your competition's latest failure, but does all your staff?

Most often, you’re not going to be the one managing social media accounts. It’ll be one of your interns or marketing associates. As it’s doubtful that they know the law as well as you do, it’s essential to make sure they’re not going to publish that picture or comment that will ruin your reputation. Because once it’s done on social media - it’s done. As soon as you post what you shouldn’t have and the screenshot is taken, even deleting it won’t save you.

So make sure you start your social media journey with a comprehensive policy for your employees and customers.

How to Start On Social Media 

There are now more than 500 million active users on Facebook, more than 120 million videos on YouTube, about 75 million users on Twitter and about 900,000 legal professionals on LinkedIn. With all of that, I’m sure you’d like to hear about my tested route and how to juggle the crowded social media space online.

There are so many social media networks that at some point, I was ready to give them all up. But that’s not a smart move. The best way to handle social media, as I found out the hard way, is to focus.

Here is how to start in a few easy steps:
  1. Research your competition - which social media accounts do they have (and where are they most successful in terms of followers and engagement)
  2. Research your target market - where do they hang out
  3. Chose two social media networks to focus on
  4. Create your social media strategy for the next 3 months
  5. Draft a comprehensive social media policy
  6. Make them both available to your team (maybe a presentation or a memo?)
The thing that usually ruins all law firm’s attempts to any social media presence is the lack of one of two things:
  • social media policy - who, how, what and when is supposed to do (or not do) on social media? You can find a vast variety of social media policies online, but here are some useful links:
American Bar Association
Deloitte Australia
  • social media strategy - why is your firm using social media? You might want to create different strategy for each social media network. It’s a good idea to test different goals and observe how your customers and competition uses social media if you’re a first-timer.
Once you answer all of the W-questions (who, what, when, where, why) about social media you are ready to start changing opinions about the law and lawyers.


Social media has a fun part and a scary part. That’s true. And social media policies aren’t the fun part. However, when those are done right from the start, you can indulge safely in the fun part as much as you want and create a real difference in the mindset of people regarding lawyers and the law.

Because people think that we lawyers, are also scary - that we’re too expensive, too complex and always bring the bad news. Well, let’s change those misconceptions and use social media to transform the traditional view on law. Social media can help! If done right, your social media strategy and policy helps you get closer to your customers, allow them to know you, trust you and come back again and again with a smile and without worry.

Should you take the leap into social media? Yes, definitely! Just do it with a comprehensive policy and plan, safely and with care, as a real lawyer.

About our Guest Blogger

Katherine HawesKatherine Hawes is a lawyer with two dogs as the office companions, who races cars in her spare time. She has practiced law for over 15 years assisting small business grow and understand their legal responsibilities. If you want to connect with her, follow Aquarius Education on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Now it’s your turn!

Share your thoughts on social media, policy and its use in the day-to-day business of the average lawyer. Is social media something you crave or fear? Do you have a social media policy? How about a social media strategy? 

Resolving to do better

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

By Margaret Fitzsimons, Director, Trans4mation

So…….only 3 more sleeps until it is 2016. You have had a wonderful Christmas. Way too much food and drink. And now you are sitting back, contemplating what the New Year will have in store for you. Not just on a personal level, but for your business. You have been thinking lately that you really need to do some work ON your business and not just IN it, but life is so busy!

If your New Year’s Resolution is for your business to thrive in 2016, book out three or four hours in your diary and contemplate the following with your best brainstorming buddy:

  • Ask yourself whether you are running a practice or a business.  Answer this honestly.  The firms who are the most successful focus on being a business, first and foremost.

  • Consider how practice will change over the next five to ten years. Consider the impact of technology and globalisation and how the industry may be disrupted by new players. Think about different business models which may threaten your current business model. Determine what you think your future business model should be. Don’t be scared to think outside the square – that is how Uber was created! Be a disruptor if you can.

  • Look at where you want your practice to be based, which geographical areas you want to service and what services you want to provide. Remember, technology is going to threaten the current focus on geographical service provision so start thinking further afield now before another provider tries to snaffle your clients.

  • Determine what your point of difference is. Why are you different to any other practitioner offering a similar service? Now, come on, you can do better than ‘we are highly skilled and we provide excellent service’!

  • Document your business development plans for the year. Are you using digital marketing to your advantage? Is your website optimised for search engines? Do you have a significant personal network? How can you improve your referral networks? If you don’t have a formal marketing strategy, now is the time to get one. Get an expert to help if you can’t do it yourself.

  • Look at your staff structure. Are the right people sitting in the right chairs on the bus? If not, what is your optimum structure and how will you achieve it? If someone or a group of people are holding you back, do something about it. Who is actually driving the bus? Without a competent leader, nothing will be achieved.

  • Do you have the right KPIs in place for your staff? If you want to improve your overall net profitability, stop rewarding staff based on traditional revenue measures and start rewarding them on profitability measures. Think about implementing Cube Reporting which focuses on individual, team, location and specialisation profit contribution.

  • Have you got the right technology in place? Are you using the Cloud? Is your practice virtual? Do you have automated workflow and precedent systems in place? If you don’t have this, your competitors are already streets ahead in the game.

  • Review your pricing policies and mechanisms. The world is moving to value and fixed fee billing. Are you going to be left behind?

  • Are you efficient? Have you implemented a 'paper-light' office? Have you considered using offshore processing? Many of your competitors have been doing these things for a while now.

  • If this all seems too hard, work out the one initiative that will improve your business and work on that. It is better to do one thing well than do nothing at all. Remember that story about the tortoise?

Once you have worked out what you want to achieve, develop a project plan which details what needs to be done, by whom and when.   Make sure you regularly assess your implementation progress and measure your successes. Most importantly, celebrate all of your wins when you achieve them. 
May 2016 be a prosperous year for you. All the best!

Editor's Note:

Readers interested in learning more about Cube Reporting, can watch Margaret's on-demand presentation on "Net Profitability Reporting", free for ALPMA members or $99 (incl GST) for non-members. In this presentation, Margaret demonstrates how net profitability at differing levels of detail throughout a practice allows partners and managers to better understand the underlying performance of the segments of the business. She looks at the power of being able to identify and package the most profitable services within a firm and how to develop achievable strategies to work smarter.  CPD: 1 CPD Unit/ 1 NZ Hour Practice Management and Business Skills

About our Guest Blogger

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

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

2016 - A Year of Change, Growth and Collaboration

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

By Susan Comerford, People and Practice Development Manager, Cowell Clarke and ALPMA Vice President

As 2015 draws to a close, it is the perfect time for everyone to reflect on the year that has gone past (seemingly in the blink of an eye) and to look forward to what is coming in 2016 on both a personal and professional level. 

With my new ALPMA Vice President’s hat on, one thing we can be sure of in 2016 is another busy year – both for the association and for the broader industry. From an ALPMA perspective, there are three key themes emerging for 2016:

Adapting to Change

In 2016, ALPMA will be doing everything we can to support our members (and the legal sector as a whole) in their efforts to adapt to the changing legal landscape. We know that change does not happen overnight in many firms and can be a painful process – but there is little doubt that the time for talking is past – in 2016, our focus is on taking action! 
To this end, the 2016 ALPMA Summit’s theme is “A Blueprint for Change”. The Summit committee is putting together a program that provides a plethora of practical, “how-to” advice drawing on the real-world experiences of our extended community to help you successfully plan and implement the necessary people, process and technology changes at your firm. The Summit committee is currently developing the program, so if you have been implementing change at your firm (or working with a firm to do this), I encourage you to share your experience at Summit by submitting an abstract. 
ALPMA is also continuing to expand its extensive research program to help firms understand legal industry trends, benchmark their performance to similar firms and identify opportunities for improvement. There are some exciting collaborative research projects with leading universities in the pipeline as well – stay tuned for more information on these.

A Year of Growth

2016 is also shaping up as another year of growth for ALPMA. In Western Australia and New Zealand, we will be offering a full program of 10 practice management seminars per year in FY17, bringing the L&D program in-line with that offered to members in our existing member States. We are continuing our efforts to provide compelling and accessible professional development for law firm managers at smaller and regional firms across the region, via our Leading Your Firm program – and starting to explore market need in the Asia Pacific region for professional development on the business of law. 

We are also planning improvements to our on-demand resources. This is a significant body of knowledge on legal practice management and leadership that is currently under-utilised – and we are looking at how we can share and improve access to this content to better meet industry needs.


Finally, 2016 will be a year of collaboration and co-operation for ALPMA. We are working hard on strengthening our relationships with other legal associations and education providers with a view to working more effectively together for the benefit of the industry. 

But most of all, I am looking forward to another year of connecting and collaborating with other ALPMA members and partners, to learning from each other, sharing advice and experiences – the good and the bad. Being part of a supportive network of people in the same boat as you is the true beating heart of ALPMA membership. 

I wish all of you a safe and happy festive season. 

About our Guest Blogger

Susan ComerfordSusan is the People & Practice Development Manager for leading commercial law firm Cowell Clarke. She was recently elected to the role of Vice President on the ALPMA Board

Susan is responsible for all aspects of human resource management and people development at Cowell Clarke.  She is also responsible for the marketing and communications function and has general oversight of the day to day operations of the firm.

Susan has worked in a variety of roles within the legal profession. Having commenced her career as a lawyer in Adelaide she initially practiced in commercial law, working in private practice, corporate and government for several years. For the past twenty plus years, she has focused on legal practice management, holding a range of senior roles with top tier and national law firms.

The future of performance management for law firms

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simplified processes, and more conversations

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

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

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

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

Rankings and ratings are not hot button issues for PSFs.

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

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

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

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

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

Law firms dragging their heels on After Action Reviews

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

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

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

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

Seizing the moment

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

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

Editor's Note:

ALPMA Leading Your Firm Program information

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

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

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

About our Guest Blogger

Ray D'Cruz

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

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

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

How to ignite the spark when the light has gone out

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

By Jo Bassett, Living Savvy

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

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

When the light goes out

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

Dancing the steps to self-leadership and burning bright

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

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

Step #1: Ask

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

What is sacred to me?

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

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

Step #2: Do

Experiment with different activities and routines.

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

Step #3: Discover

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

Step #4: Commit to change

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

Step #5: Celebrate

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

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

Editor's Note 

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

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

About our Guest Blogger

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

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

Looking Deeper into Mental Health at Law Firms

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

By John Ahern, Chief Executive Officer, InfoTrack

In September R U OK? and 18 law firms launched a 12-month initiative that aims to raise awareness of mental health issues within the legal profession. ‘Look Deeper’ is a campaign that encourages real conversations about mental health in order to reduce stigma and create connections within the profession.

This call to action is yet another reminder that depression in the legal profession has become the elephant in the room that we can no longer ignore. 

Poster from Look Deeper Resource kitIt’s common knowledge that the legal industry has the highest rate of depression in Australia, with lawyers being four times more likely to develop depression compared to other professionals. These rates are often attributed to stressful work environments created by long hours, the adversarial nature of law, and increased competition.

Depression is not just an issue for lawyers; it’s a serious concern among law students as well. One study found that 46.9% of law students, 55.7% of solicitors and 52.5% of barristers had experienced depression.

It’s not clear what impact these rates are having on whether law students choose to pursue legal careers, but it’s widely acknowledged that grads are facing mounting pressure due to the increasingly competitive legal market. Over 12,000 graduates complete legal qualifications each year despite a decrease in mainstream legal opportunities. A 2013 survey found that 53% of law students felt stressed about finding a relevant job after graduation.

As the legal landscape continues to be disrupted by new technology, business models and competitors, it’s likely that students, lawyers and firms will have even more pressure to deal with in the future.

In light of these statistics, it’s important that firms keep mental health at the forefront and view it as a business problem, not a personal one. Depression not only affects the depressed individual, their family and friends, but can also impact the profession and clients. Improved employee mental health should be a goal for all firms, big and small.

One of the main challenges faced by firms is recognising when individuals are affected by depression. Lawyers often avoid acknowledging their issues or seeking help because of the stigma and related feelings of shame and failure.

Law is a competitive industry and no one wants to be seen as weak or unable to handle the pressure. Despite increased awareness of mental health, this attitude is still prevalent in the profession and it’s hard to shake.

Large scale initiatives like Look Deeper are a great way to keep mental health in the spotlight and decrease stigma within the profession, but how can individual firms address mental health issues in day-to-day practice?

Establishing supportive work environments can go a long way to decrease the stigma and encourage people to seek help.

How can firms create more supportive work environments?

Acknowledge mental health issues

Make it clear that you recognise mental health issues as legitimate and let employees know that they will have support. Have open discussions about mental health within your firm to create an environment where people are comfortable asking for and offering help. Provide tools and resources to help deal with stress and anxiety.

Communicate regularly

Check in with your employees and coworkers on a regular basis and have open discussions about workload and expectations. Create a network of support and sense of community to make things feel more manageable.

Share your struggles

Stigma still exists and many people find it difficult to admit to themselves or others that they are struggling. Hearing about others’ experiences can help someone feel like they’re not alone and give them insight into their own issues.

Promote work-life balance

Recognise the need for balance between home and work life. Law is inherently busy - there will always be late nights and looming deadlines, so encourage employees to take advantage of down time when it arises. Provide flexible work options where possible to accommodate employee needs and encourage outside interests and hobbies.

Create a culture of value and respect

Acknowledge and show appreciation of employees’ efforts. Legal work is hectic and it’s easy to get caught up in the rush, but take time to show others that their work is valued.

Encourage physical health and well-being

Staying active and healthy can help relieve stress and create more balance. Consider providing healthy meals and offering meditation or exercise classes.

These suggestions are in no way a cure-all to mental health issues and can’t prevent depression, but they can help foster an environment that empowers people to seek and offer help. Change has to start somewhere and even the smallest changes in work environment can create momentum.

If you’re looking for tools to create a better working environment for your employees, the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation has best practice guidelines for legal organisations that are aimed at promoting psychologically healthy workplaces within the legal profession. 

The following organisations also offer information and support for those dealing with mental health issues:


About our Guest Blogger

john ahern
John Ahern 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.

With over 20 years’ experience in the Information sector, John will lead the way in ensuring the company’s development, its strategic direction and its aggressive growth strategies are met, achieved and exceeded. John is passionate about the technology industry and is looking forward to leading and growing the InfoTrack business into the future as the unrivalled premium information broker.

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