A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

10 reasons why BigLaw managing partners are not sleeping very well

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

By Dr George Beaton, Executive Chairman, Beaton Research + Consulting

BigLaw managing partners are not sleeping very well. Some are deeply worried. Others are truly excited. Here’s a summary of why this dichotomy exists. 

Let’s be clear at the outset, this glass is either half full or half empty. And to mix the metaphor, the coin has two sides. Which it is for you will depend on your view of the future of the legal services ecosystem and where your firm is currently positioned.

Consider how you are responding to each of the following:

  • Client power is rampantly on the ascendancy. Keeping legal spend in-house, the #dolesslaw movement, use of NewLaw providers of many stripes, and intensifying price-down pressure on outside law firms are all contributing to BigLaw receiving shrinking slices of the pie. Bad news for firms with a traditional view of their position in the client’s value chain. Good news for firms focusing on ‘the job to be done’ for clients, using analytics, taking the lead in co-opetition with NewLaw providers, and adopting elements of the NewLaw business model to improve their client focus and operational efficiency.  
  • New competitors are not only taking share of a largely stagnant market, they are also teaching clients about new ways of procuring legal services. These new forms of competition are both substitutes (what Beaton has named the NewLaw providers) and new BigLaw business model-based entrants (i.e. international firms). For many of the reasons in 1. above this is bad news if you still believe NewLaw is a passing fad, and great news if you see the opportunity to learn from and work with NewLaw.
  • The Big Four are back in law. And in a big way too. And this time round they are getting it right, as they did in management consulting 15 to 20 years ago. These behemoths have the platforms, the brands, the client bases, and the appetite to take a large share of traditional firms’ work. The Big Four are diversified professional services firms, no longer accountants. This paradigm makes most facets of law fair game for their voracious growth and competitive rivalry. For most ‘business law’ firms the Big Four are a big threat. For those that position in those (few) parts of the market where the Big Four won’t readily attract the talent or will be conflicted, there is good news. 
  • Technology is becoming ever more substantial in delivering value to clients. The rapid uptake of AI-based apps is one of many examples of this. This trend poses cultural and capability challenges, the like of which the profession has not previously encountered and for which it is ill-prepared. The firms that adapt rapidly to tech-savvy cultures and embrace disruption as an attractive way of being will win. Those conservative cultures based on status quo-ism, profit today imperatives, and risk minimisation will struggle.
  • Firms’ brands are inexorably becoming relatively more important than those of lead and rainmaking partners, as has occurred in other professions. This trend is being driven by the interactions of clients’  buying patterns, technology, globalisation and talent. Building a distinctive brand is more about culture and discipline than anything else. Custom and practice legacies and inertia are the enemies of brand-building.
  • As the world globalises, so are the procurement practices of regional and multinational clients. Many firms are responding by increasing their physical and virtual footprints and capabilities. This is one of the factors driving consolidation – and, somewhat perversely, fragmentation. Any firm can turn globalisation to its advantage through technology and leverage of knowledge.
  • For talent the universal allure of life-time partnership in a BigLaw firm is no more. The implications range across the cost of recruiting, training and retaining solicitors, the risks of breakaways, the appeal and dangers of laterals, the challenges of salaried partnership, and the imperative to develop variable cost human capital frameworks. Building a portfolio of business models, each with a distinct human capital framework and suite of technologies, is not for the faint-hearted or firms without visionary leadership and first class execution capabilities. Those so endowed will win.
  • Effective change management is a capability now mission-critical for survival. Likened to changing an engine on a 747 in mid-flight at 40,000 feet, change management in law firms is still joked about as the difficulty of herding cats. The stark reality of these metaphors now faces every firm. Most are not well equipped. Those starting from scratch or, more likely, those thrown together in a big bang ‘merger’ may well be the ones most likely to succeed as the slate is clean or at least cleaner.
  • The partnership structure of BigLaw firms was once a major strength, but increasingly cultural inertia and lack of real equity on the balance sheet are making partnership an impediment to real change for most, and perhaps even survival for some.  Sensations of the Dewey & LeBoeuf kind do not help the cause of those partnerships seeking to use delegations to give effect to more nimble decision-making and investments in strategy and business model initiatives. It’s perfectly possible to lead a partnership on an effective journey; it’s just hard and many fall by the wayside frustrated and exhausted.
  • Equity management (i.e. partner remuneration) has always been a (the) major lever available to BigLaw leadership in aligning partners with the desired culture and direction of the firm. The post GFC years have seen progressive de-equitisation in many firms to maintain PPEP and right-size in response to market conditions. Ironically, there are now early signs of re-equitisation as firms seek capital contributions to de-risk their balance sheets and, to some extent, to try to lock in partners. Experiments to provide capital value for partners within jurisdictional constraints may well yield some of the most exciting opportunities for individuals and those entrepreneurs making the investments.   

Editor's Note

If you would like to hear more from Dr George Beaton, he will be speaking about "Remaking Law Firms - Imperatives and Opportunities" at the 2015 ALPMA Summit from 9 - 11 September at the Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre. 

If you can't attend in person, you can watch Dr Beaton's keynote presentation via livestream broadcast on Friday 11 September for just $99 (including GST). 

 About our Guest Blogger

George Beaton

Dr George Beaton is a director of Beaton Research + Consulting and Beaton Capital. George has guided clients through a wide variety of strategic decisions in his 25 years as an adviser and consultant to law and other professional services firms in many countries.

His background, in business school teaching combined with his work in public and private companies, universities and governments, gives him deep insights into the challenges and opportunities that leaders and their organisations face.  

George authored NewLaw New Rules – a conversation about the future of the legal services industry, published by Amazon late in 2013.  A longer version of this post was published on Bigger. Better. Both?, the Beaton Capital blog.

Interview with Rhonda Ready, CEO of law firm Tomorrow, Tomorrow & Associates

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

By Tim Elliot, Solutions Specialist, LexisNexis

I didn’t recognise the number that flashed up on my phone – and small wonder, it was a call from the future! Using an app called TimeCall, Rhonda Ready called to make sure that we, in the present day,were on the right track to ensure the law firm of tomorrow had the right thinking and the right tools to survive and flourish.

Rhonda had to hand the results of the 2015 ALMPA/LexisNexis Survey Report titled Preparing Australasian Law Firms for a Digital, Divergent, Differentiated Future. She took me through some of the questions it asked and told me some of the steps that her firm had taken in 2015, to be prepared for the future.

TE: Tell me about your firm and how it got to where it is today?

RR: Survey Results like this helped our management to understand what the industry as a whole is thinking, to define the best way to respond to the key challenges facing law firms and to find out what strategies we needed to adopt in order to flourish. Then we used the survey as an opportunity to really assess where we were at, and where we had to get to. We’d known for some time that technology was changing the way law was practised and having the analysis to hand helped us clarify the issues and identify our blind spots. 
Did we have a strategy in place to ensure we were moving with the times? Were we investing enough in our employee’s skills? How would we stand out from our competitors? Did we really understand the capabilities of our technology, or what technologies we were going to need, in order to achieve long-term growth for the firm? 
TE: Can you talk about some of your strategic goals?

We knew that there were opportunities out there to expand our reach into additional markets, as well as do more with our existing clients. Our strategy had to focus on how we were going to leverage our investment in technology to win more business. We looked for ways our practice management software could do the heavy lifting of the day to day practice of law so we could spend more time with clients. Investing in workflow development to keep the teams on task and on time was a great launch pad. It led to a renewed focus on the automation of our precedents and processes.

Having a great system in place to centrally manage all aspects of the firm’s day to day conduct was an immense boost to our productivity and morale. We wanted to share our improvements with our clients by delivering the best service. This came in two shapes: happier, client-focussed staff and being able to open up direct access for our clients.

Our system’s ability to share clients’ data and documents via a web portal on our site was vital. Clients reported they were more confident in our handling of their matters. Matter and billing information was kept up to date and made available to them on demand. Documents were downloaded and uploaded as required by all parties – and could be kept as an online archive, which has been especially useful for our corporate clients, who don’t always have good systems of their own for this sort of thing. In effect our office was never closed and our clients had all the access they needed. 
TE: It’s great your clients have access to their matters on demand. How about your staff?

We realised that in order to win new business, we had to give our lawyers the tools to do their job in a flexible manner. Clients can’t always make it into the office and prospects aren’t going to knock our doors down. With the ability to work on their smart devices, connecting directly and securely with the practice management system, our staff had the chance to adopt some sales skills and methods into their roles and contribute to the development of our business. 
Mobile staff with access to digital content were a few button clicks away from their matters and online research libraries at all times. Clients and other contacts stored in our system were likewise available from anywhere, any time. Nothing was missed nor time wasted after we enabled them to update their matters in real time while on the road. 
Increased efficiency and better service sound like mutually exclusive goals but we achieved it. We broadened and deepened our online presence, raising our profile with new potential clients and re-assuring our existing clients that they had made the right choice in selecting us.
Combining the right technologies, with a sound management strategy, helped us deliver better, more efficient services and built our reputation for quality and client-focussed service. 
Any final words of advice?

Firms need to adapt or perish. In your near future is a tipping point that will divide the prepared from the unprepared. Consumers, clients and prospects caught the digital wave a lot earlier than law practitioners did. Those who don’t catch the wave will be left behind.

Firms don’t necessarily have to have the latest and greatest technology but they have to have a clear policy to find what efficiency and productivity gains they can reasonably achieve in the digital age. Set clear goals for the firm and ensure that your management team get behind the changes you will need to make in order to achieve those goals. Use technology to differentiate yourself and make the services you already offer even better.

Editor's Note

The 2015 ALPMA/LexisNexis "Preparing Australasian Law Firms for a Digital, Divergent and Differentiated Future" research will be launched at the 2015 ALPMA Summit, with a results overview available from the LexisNexis booth.   It is not too late to register to attend ALPMA Summit from 9 - 11 September at the Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre, or watch Summit presentations via the livestream broadcast

Interested readers can read the preliminary results media release which highlights the eight key strategies firms are adopting to prepare for the future, and download the report for free from 12 August.  Readers who participated in the research will receive the report via email. 

About our Guest Blogger

Tim Elliot
Tim Elliott has spent his entire 20 year career in the legal industry.  From office junior to paralegal, to precedents developer and IT manager, Tim knows what it takes to make a firm run efficiently from many vantage points. 

Having worked with several practice management and document management systems, Tim leverages his experience when advising clients on law firm technology.

LexisNexis are the Principal Partner for the 2015 ALPMA Legal Management Summit & Trade Exhibition,  the largest legal management conference and trade exhibition in the Southern Hemisphere. Visit them on booth 37 in the centre of the exhibition hall. 

Adapting to NewLaw (Part 2)

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

By Jordan Furlong, Principal, Edge International & 2015 ALPMA Summit keynote speaker

Part 1 of this post, discussed the forces driving change in the legal market, the emergence of 'NewLaw' and the implications for traditional law firms.  This post discusses how traditional firms will adapt to this new environment. 

Adapting to the new environment will be a three-stage process for most law firms: First will be the recognition that things have changed and adjustments must be made. 

This recognition will occur first among firms whose financial results are suffering because of disruption from low-cost competitors and online resources, especially in consumer and small-business legal sectors. It will occur next among firms with large corporate clients that are slashing legal budgets, insourcing legal tasks to growing in-house law departments, and finding innovative and lower-cost options for much legal work both onshore and offshore. Last to feel the effects will be the truly elite and specialised firms dominant in their fields and best insulated from these changes — but even these firms will eventually find that insulation is not immunisation. 

In the long run, there will be no exceptions.

But recognition is one thing; action is another. 

Noticing these changes is the job of the firm’s leaders, but persuading their colleagues of what they see isn’t always easy: invariably, at least one partner will deny the reality of change or will insist that his or her practice area will be unaffected, and others will agree. 

Gather evidence of change

This is the point at which the leaders must gather evidence of change from across the profession and, more importantly, from within the firm itself, through a detailed examination of relevant financial metrics and leading indicators of financial trends. Not enough firms treat their internal financial data with as much respect as they should, or look at profitability from the perspective of the enterprise as a whole rather than individual shareholders. These are dangerous management habits, and in this environment, they can prove fatal.

Most significantly, firms should call in representatives of their key clients to deliver wake-up calls to any lawyers who prefer to keep hitting the snooze button. If law firms are in any real doubt about the new competitive landscape and its implications, their clients should be only to happy to enlighten them in the clearest terms possible. 

The firm’s leaders must then do their toughest and most important job: authorise changes to the ways in which the firm acts within its markets, serves its clients, and carries out its work — and be prepared to tell recalcitrant partners that the path of least resistance leads to the exit door. 

Making initial changes

If and when the firm is committed to and prepared for change, it’s time for the next stage: converting talk to action. 

Many firms find they can make good early headway through relatively minor adjustments that bring their firm in line with NewLaw advances. Law firms of all sizes have been adopting legal project management, for instance, in order to bring some clarity and discipline to their internal operations. Other firms have embraced the opportunities created by flexible or agile workforces and have assigned some tasks to project or contract lawyers outside their walls. And even the smallest firms have learned to price both relatively straightforward matters as well as some more complex ones on a fixed-fee, rather than hourly basis. 

Firms have carried out these changes without completely restructuring who and what they are, and have found their clients (and often, surprisingly enough, their own lawyers) receptive to these efforts. 

But with limited investment come limited gains. 

I believe that, to really adapt to the new legal market environment, a law firm must be ready for significant changes to its structure and culture. The heart of any law firm’s business resides in how it prices its work and how it compensates its people. Both of those elements are fundamentally connected to the way in which the firm goes about its work and generates value for its clients. 

The vast majority of law firms still “price” most of their work on an hourly-labour basis and pay their lawyers for business acquisition and docketed hours. In this new market, these approaches simply are not fit for purpose. Pricing and compensation systems must adapt in order for a law firm to take advantage of the benefits of the NewLaw era. 

Putting the client first

The fundamental change that these adjustments will require constitutes what I think of as the third stage of adaptation: turning your law firm into a truly client-first business. Most law firms claim they already do put the client first, prioritizing client service above all. I don’t doubt their sincerity; but even a casual review of how their firms go about their affairs would fatally undermine such claims. 

I would ask these firms: “Is the provision of excellent legal service to your clients what you talk about at your partnership meetings? Is it the basis upon which your lawyers are assessed and compensated? Are the metrics that your firm tracks and circulates internally based on excellent legal service to your clients? Do you award bonuses for excellent client service — or for other types of accomplishments?” You can provide the answers for your own firm — but if your firm is typical of the genre, I’m confident that I already know what those responses would be.

The biggest open secret of the traditional law firm is that it is run for the benefit of its lawyers, not its clients. 

No business model that truly prioritized clients’ interests would entrench the billable hour as its pricing and compensation capstone, or pay so little attention to efficiency, quality assurance, or client communication, not to mention the happiness and health of its own personnel. A law firm that genuinely saw its purpose as the service of its clients’ interests would structure itself to achieve that purpose, would incentivize behaviours that encouraged that result, and would develop, entrench and enforce a culture by which the clients’ interests — not this partner’s profits or that practice group’s bonuses — are everyone’s paramount consideration.

If you want to see examples of law firms and legal service providers that live these standards and exemplify these characteristics, you need look no farther than your NewLaw competitors. Bold law firms like Marque Lawyers and Kain Corporate & Commercial Lawyers, and innovative providers like Hive Legal and Advent Balance, are fundamentally geared towards advancing the interests of their clients. 

This is because the essential characteristic of all true NewLaw entities is that they are client-first, buyer-oriented entities. They recognize that law is now a buyer’s market, and that it will continue to be a buyer’s market for the foreseeable future. And they remember that the purpose of lawyers is to serve others first, ourselves second.

That’s why I don’t really see the NewLaw revolution as the end of all that is good and true in the legal profession; if anything, I see an opportunity for the profession’s renewal. I strongly believe that who we are — as lawyers, as professionals, as officers of the court and servants of the public good — must not change, or must evolve upwards to be even better. The best things that we’ve offered in the past — counsel, strategy, wisdom, trusted advice — will be even more valuable in future, and will constitute the foundations of the most successful law practices. Our ethics and professionalism have always been our watchwords, and that must continue as well.

 But what we do and how we do it — those will change. 

Transactional, clerical, research and knowledge tasks that have powered millions of billable hours in the past will leave lawyers and go to lower-cost but sufficiently competent substitutes, leaving a gaping hole in law firms’ inventory. Lawyer-first business models predicated on this self-serving inventory are stumbling, and soon enough, they’ll fall altogether. 

We’ll have to adopt the methods and motivations of our NewLaw rivals, rewiring our infrastructure and reorganizing our workflow to encourage, not punish, the systematic and efficient provision of services and the prioritization of client interests. We too will have to accept that law is a buyer’s market, and adjust accordingly.

Making it work

All of this is possible. During our ALPMA Master Class in September, we plan to bring attendees up to speed on the latest changes in the legal market and the rapid emergence of “NewLaw” entities that have given clients a very different set of options for achieving their law-related goals. Most lawyers and law firms aren’t fully informed about these developments, not least because they’ve been happening so fast across an incredibly wide and diverse global industry landscape. The goal will be to get everyone on the same page regarding the nature of the competitive environment in which lawyers will be operating in future.

The second objective is to get firms thinking about how they can adapt to these developments — specifically, how they might integrate some of these new options and trends into their own firms. Industry incumbents, as Harvard’s Clayton Christensen established in his groundbreaking work The Innovator’s Dilemma, hardly ever come up with disruptive innovations themselves. 

But incumbents, if they’re sufficiently alert and responsive, can incorporate these innovations to some degree into their own operations. We’ll hold breakout sessions during which law firm attendees will choose a specific aspect of NewLaw — possibilities include process improvement, artificially intelligent software, flexible workforces, non-lawyer service provision, and fixed-fee pricing — and discuss the advantages they would reap, and the challenges they would face, in adopting these innovations themselves.

And most of all, we’ll talk about the shift in market power from sellers to buyers, and what that will mean for how law firms see themselves and conduct themselves. There will be less and less room in the coming legal market for the me-first lawyer and the lawyer-first law firm. That’s why I think the most important change of all will come in lawyers’ attitudes, our beliefs, and our hearts. Why are we in this business in the first place? Who are we here to serve? 

Answering those questions correctly, and acting upon them with alacrity, is the real key to survival in a NewLaw world.

Editor's Note

Jordan Furlong's keynote presentation "Rising Waters: How Law Firms Can Adapt To The New Legal Environment"at the 2015 ALPMA Summit,10-11 September, Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre, will explore this topic in more detail.  

Jordan is also presenting a pre-Summit Master Class Workshop on Wednesday 9 September on "Integrating 'NewLaw' into Your Firm", where together with Dr Neil Oakes, he will explain  how traditional firms can import and integrate 'NewLaw’ features into their own businesses, in order to improve their own competitiveness.  You do not have to attend Summit to attend this workshop. There are only limited places remaining, so please register now.

About Our Guest Blogger

Jordan Furlong is a lawyer, consultant, and legal industry analyst based in Ottawa, Canada, who forecasts the impact of the changing legal market on lawyers, clients, and legal organizations.  He has delivered dozens of addresses to law firms, state bars, law societies, law schools, judges, and many others throughout the United States and Canada on the evolution of the legal services marketplace. He is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and serves as Strategic Advisor in Residence at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. 

He is a principal with Edge International and blogs about the new legal market at Law21.

Adjusting-to-a-NewLaw-World (Part 1)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

By Jordan Furlong, Principal, Edge International & 2015 ALPMA Summit keynote speaker

Legal futurist Richard Susskind once summed up the challenge of bringing his message of change to boardrooms filled with law firm executives: “It’s hard to tell a room full of millionaires that their business model is wrong.” 

You can understand why: The traditional law firm model has been incredibly successful for the past several decades, providing a good life for most of its for its owners and operators and an extraordinarily good life to some of them. Criticizing the law firm business model has, for quite some time, been akin to telling Michael Clarke that yes, he’s doing alright out there on the pitch, but his swing looks a little odd and he should change it.

And in all fairness, the traditional law firm has delivered benefits not only to lawyers, but also to clients. 

Both consumer and corporate clients of these firms invariably have received high-quality products and services in an ethical and professional fashion. Clients have not been so pleased, however, with the prices they’ve paid for law firms’ work (both the size and the unpredictability thereof), or with the often cavalier treatment, patronizing manner, and poor communication that these firms have given them. But when law firms owned and operated by lawyers were the only available provider of legal services, what else could clients do?

Now, of course, that’s all changing 

Thanks to reforms that began right here in Australia, the global legal market is currently experiencing the equivalent of a slow-motion earthquake. Regulatory liberalization has spread to Great Britain and is gradually infiltrating North America. 

New competitors to lawyers and law firms are springing up, both inside and outside the regulated space, giving clients options and changing clients’ expectations about the nature, price, delivery and accessibility of legal service providers. 

Technological advancements, especially in artificial intelligence, are progressing faster and farther than most people in the profession, even me, expected. In isolation, any of these developments would have a profound impact on lawyers. 

Taken together, they’re changing our professional world.

Whatever its merits and its flaws have been, the old law firm model is breaking down, because it’s simply not suited for the new legal environment that’s emerging.  The old model — inefficient, deliberative, unresponsive and complacent — was predicated on vast knowledge asymmetry between buyers and sellers, lawyers’ regulatory monopoly on legal service provision, and the absence of powerful technology that could generate legal products and services at a fraction of the usual time and cost. 

None of those conditions holds true anymore, especially in the wake of the GFC and the upheaval it created in every kind of market worldwide. The result is something new for the legal profession — in the words of Australia’s Dr. George Beaton, who coined the term, it’s a “NewLaw” revolution. And law firms are going to have to come to grips with it.

 My own working definition of NewLaw is this: “Any model, process, or tool that represents a significantly different approach to the creation or provision of legal services than what the legal profession traditionally has employed.” 

I’ve posted here at the ALPMA blog previously about several outstanding Australasian examples of NewLaw, and at my own blog Law21 about NewLaw offerings worldwide. Some of these entities and options can be used by law firms to make their own practices and procedures more effective and productive; others, however, are meant to be used by corporate and consumer clients themselves, and therefore constitute a direct competitive threat to traditional law firms. 

One NewLaw practitioner of the latter variety put it to me in plain language: “Our goal is to take lawyers out of the process.

The end of lawyers' monopoly

What NewLaw really signals is the long-overdue rise of substitute goods in the legal market. 

Lawyers have enjoyed for many years both de facto and de jure monopolies on legal service provision: we had no competitors, because we allowed no competitors to develop. That’s now over. 

Clients have choices that they’ve never had before. They can use a paraprofessional, or a software program, or an out-of-jurisdiction lawyer, or a NewLaw provider, instead of or as a complement to traditional law firms. Maybe they’ll only get 80% or 65% of the quality and impact of a law firm — but they’ll get it for 40% or 25% of the price, and that’s good enough for them. And over time, those quality gaps will close while the price gaps lengthen. 

We’re no longer the only game in town, and we never will be again. 

Editor's Note

In the second part of this blog post, Jordan discusses how adapting to this new environment will be a three-stage process for most law firms and provides advice for law firm leaders guiding their firms on this journey.  

Jordan's keynote presentation "Rising Waters: How Law Firms Can Adapt To The New Legal Environment"at the 2015 ALPMA Summit,10-11 September, Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre,  will explore this topic in more detail.  

Jordan is also presenting a pre-Summit Master Class Workshop on Wednesday 9 September on "Integrating 'NewLaw' into Your Firm", where together with Dr Neil Oakes, he will explain  how traditional firms can import and integrate 'NewLaw’ features into their own businesses, in order to improve their own competitiveness.  The workshop includes a brief snapshot of the global legal market, an overview of NewLaw market participants and an analysis of the essential features that allow these new participants to be so competitive.  You do not have to attend Summit to attend this workshop.

Please note, early bird savings for Summit and the pre-Summit Masterclass Workshops end on Sunday 2 August, so register now.

About Our Guest Blogger

Jordan Furlong is a lawyer, consultant, and legal industry analyst based in Ottawa, Canada, who forecasts the impact of the changing legal market on lawyers, clients, and legal organizations. 

He has delivered dozens of addresses to law firms, state bars, law societies, law schools, judges, and many others throughout the United States and Canada on the evolution of the legal services marketplace. He is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and serves as Strategic Advisor in Residence at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. 

He is a principal with Edge International and blogs about the new legal market at Law21.

Make the most of your Summit investment

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

By Ann-Maree David, ALPMA Summit Committee Chair and Executive Director, College of Law Queensland

There is no doubt that attending conferences, like the forthcoming ALPMA Summit, can be tremendously beneficial for both you and your firm. They provide a great opportunity to step outside of the everyday operation of your firm, to learn from experts about best-practice and to meet others in the same boat as you and share experiences.  You gain valuable insights on how you could be more effective in your role as a leader and manager, and how your business could improve the way it is doing things.  One of the reasons I am so passionate about the ALPMA Summit is the number of 'light bulb' moments that it delivers.

There is also no doubt that attending conferences represents a significant investment of both your time and money - so it makes sense to do everything you can to squeeze the most out of your experience.  

Here are my three top tips to ensure you (and your firm) achieve a strong return on your conference investment.

1. Share the experience

Bringing your managing partner or key members of your leadership team will mean that they come on the learning journey with you, and that you can work together on implementing key ideas gained.  If they can't spare the time to attend for three days, pick out a key workshop to attend together, or bring them along for one day. If you can't bring them along in person, then sign them up to attend the key sessions via the live-stream broadcast.   

After the event, get staff together to watch the on-demand recordings of the most inspirational sessions together.  There is no more effective way of getting everyone on the same page than sharing the experience.  

2. Create an action plan

Create a running action list of things you would like to do or research when you are back in the office (you can divide these into Easy Wins and Longer Term Actions if you like), and take a few minutes at the end of each session to actually write these down.  Make sure that everyone else attending the event from your firm does the same.

This will help you keep track of the big and little ideas that attending an event like Summit will generate.   

When you get back to the office, conduct a post-Summit de-brief and use this list as the basis for creating a combined, prioritised implementation plan.  Assign responsibilities and timelines to each action. Agree when you are going to get back together to review progress and ensure continued momentum.  

3. Utilise every opportunity to connect

Summit provides an incredible opportunity to connect with industry experts, other law firm leaders and managers and industry vendors - so make the most of it.

Come to all the networking events (like the welcome reception and the Gala dinner).  Challenge yourself to meet new people each time. Don't spend the whole of Summit with people you already know.  If you are with your colleagues, make an effort to split up during breaks to meet as many people as you can between you! 

Conferences offer plenty of good conversation starters (from the venue, food, speakers, Award winners, post-Summit plans to holiday at the Gold Coast) so make the effort to step outside of your comfort zone, and you will be richly rewarded!

Do not spend all the breaks on your phone or doing your email!

Enter your information in the Summit app prior to Summit (available to delegates in early August), and use the app to identify other delegates and sponsors that you would like to meet. You can then set-up times to meet during Summit. 

If you are attending Summit by yourself, visit the ALPMA booth and they will happily introduce you to other delegates and ALPMA committee members. 

Make sure you visit each of the trade exhibitors and learn about products and services they offer law firms and legal departments.  This is a very quick and effective way to find vendors that could have the perfect solution for the challenges your firm is facing, to learn about new developments and take advantage of many of the great deals and prizes on offer.

Implementing these tips will help ensure you (and your firm) get real benefit from attending the event.

Editor's Note:  

The ALPMA Legal Management Summit & Trade Exhibition is the largest legal management conference and trade exhibition in the Southern Hemisphere. The 2015 ALPMA Summit will be held from 9 - 11 September, at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre.  

This year, more than 300 law firm leaders and managers from across Australasia will converge for an action-packed three days of intense professional development, networking and fun. 

Significant savings are available to those who take advantage of the early bird rates and register before August 2.  Register now!

About our Guest Speaker

Anne Maree David
Ann Maree David is the Executive Director of the College of Law Queensland, a long-term ALPMA member and the 2015 ALMA Summit Chair.  

She has worked within the Queensland legal profession for more than 20 years, in both public and corporate sector roles and in private practice as a solicitor. 

She holds degrees in Arts and Law and has devoted much of her career to working in legal education in both the academic and professional spheres.

Intergenerational Management - why different perspectives are more important than different generations

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

By Ricky Nowak, leadership expert and 2015 ALPMA Summit speaker

The 2015 Intergenerational Report by the Australian Government begins by discussing what it describes as “the three long run drivers of economic growth in Australia – population, workforce participation and productivity.”  Broadly speaking these forecasts of the future suggest “we need to better position ourselves now to meet expanding demand and obligations, and make Australia a more attractive place to invest and prosper in.”  

However, I think it’s fair to say that none of these groups is going to be driving the real change needed if we are going to achieve these projections. As usual, change will be driven by leaders – leaders ‘on the ground’ in Australia’s workplaces and in Australian law firms.

And as a backdrop, let’s consider how lawyers can connect to their clients, their clients can connect with their stakeholders and legal staff can connect to their people and business.

So how do we do that? 

Well, I’m neither an economist nor a politician – certainly not a fortune teller, but what I do know is that it is as important to be as good a historian as it is to be a futurist and that’s the first thing we need to do get right. So let’s take a leadership perspective on the 2015 Intergenerational Report.  

At the outset, it needs to be understood that there will be as many as five generations working side by side  in our workplaces in the coming decades.  That immediately creates a leadership challenge because each generation will have something different to contribute, as well as having different needs in terms of management, leadership and learning:

  • First: older Australians in the workforce will need to be encouraged to share their company intelligence, document their knowledge and mentor others at all levels of the organisation. Easy? No.

  • Next, senior leaders will need to create a culture in which staff can have autonomy and purpose in their work. To varying extents, every generation needs to understand they are part of the bigger picture. Everyone needs to have a reason to connect with others, including those older and younger, and so build their company ‘tribes’. Simple? Not really.

  • Then, management need to provide the conditions for entrepreneurship and innovation to coexist so that creatives can create and ‘analyticals’ can analyse – irrespective of age, gender, department, job or hierarchy. Can it be done? Only if people want to.

  • Now, leadership needs to allow young talent to experiment and create jobs and opportunities that don’t currently exist – they need the freedom to tap into the world of possibility. Sounds idealistic? Not if approached properly.

These are just four of the numerous challenges facing leaders in this era of multigenerational management. It won’t always be easy to get people on board with them – particularly across the generations. Which is why it’s critical to make clear the reasons, motivations and opportunities behind pursuing them, creating momentum for the shift needed in your organisation and its people. It’s about getting the foundations right for the altered future ahead. Oh, and by the way, also preparing the business for the generation who is currently under 18 and may be considering a career in your workplace. Really? Yes, really.

So how do we do that?

In the work we do, we’ve created five important steps that have been designed to work both within and between the generations: 

  1. Ask each generation to conduct their own KASH Audit – a reckoning of their combined Knowledge, Attitudes, Skills and Habits within a given time frame. This can be conducted online, in workshops or facilitated in a mini-forum style either through technology or discussion or both. The results can then be calibrated in a white paper, report, summary or spreadsheet and the information shared across the company. (It’s important to note that this audit needs to be regularly updated as new employees come on board and people learn new skills.)

  2. Have each employee familiarise themselves with the findings of these audits – for all generations, not just their own. In this way they can access different skills to complement current projects; help bring new ideas to complex challenges they may not be able to currently solve; and inject new ways of thinking, fresh ideas and skills across the organisation. Some companies are now making it mandatory for, say, project leaders to find and converse with people in their organisation who (loosely) belong to different generations. This builds familiarity and comfort with different ways of seeing the world.

  3. Hold special events to showcase people’s skills and talents so they can meet and build better commercial and business relationships. This will reveal opportunities for enhancing the business rather than simply working with the predetermined.

  4. Have members of each generation spend time working across different teams to learn how they are operating, thinking and responding. They can do this by spending time ‘on the job’, on site in client meetings, or with clients or customers – all the time recognising how different perspectives are more important than different generations.

  5. Use initiatives like ‘Reverse Mentoring’, in which Multigenerational Project Teams are carefully selected using data extracted from the KASH audit. These high performance teams are made up of people with complementary social, interpersonal and technical skills

We find that this approach works best when it is coordinated by an overall ‘multigenerational champion’ working a team of ‘generational champions’ – one from each team. This multigenerational champion can be an experienced manager or Lawyer or it can be an external resource with the relevant skills and experience. Without exception it also  brings together a compliment of Legal Support Staff, Paralegals, Partners, Senior Associates, junior lawyers, Librarians, HR. to share perspectives and values.

Working with multiple generations will be a given in the coming years, as will the need to change constantly as the world also changes. The best leaders will see this as an opportunity rather than a problem, and the potential to realise the opportunity will come from taking a thoughtful, coordinated approach so law firms can more broadly connect and communicate with their clients.

Editor's Note

Ricky Nowak will be sharing more insights on this topic in her presentation "Intergenerational Management - Why Why Different Perspectives Are More Important than Different Generations" at the 2015 ALPMA Legal Management Summit and Trade Exhibition,  at 10.30 am on Friday 11 September at the Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre.   Check out the Summit program for the full list of expert speakers at Summit.

You can register now to attend Summit (and take advantage of our early bird savings) - or watch Ricky's presentation from your office via our Summit livestream broadcast for just $A99.00 (including GST).  

About our Guest Blogger

Ricky NowakRicky Nowak creates transformational and rewarding experiences for successful people to discover new perspectives, skills and techniques to further optimize their own performance, the performance of their teams and the bottom line results of their organizations. As a Certified Speaker, Professional Facilitator and Author for over 25 years she helps strengthen individual and team capability underpinned by strong and robust business relationships.

With her theatrical and teaching background, Ricky helps her audiences connect and engage with real situations and conversations from the Boardroom to the Meeting Room so communication is clear and outcomes are achievable.

Turning Thought Leadership into Action

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

by Stephen Wood, CEO, InfoTrack

In a recent ALPMA blog post by Glenn Tullia of St George Bank, Glenn discusses the importance of adopting innovative payment solutions for all businesses “whether a sole trader or a large business looking for integrated payments”.   While at first glance it might seem an unusual point for the legal industry, it is actually very important as legal practitioners should have, or at least be moving towards, a more consumer-centric approach to providing services and using that mindset shift to innovate how they practice and deliver legal services.  

Indeed last year's Thought Leadership Award winner and finalists all have that in common – innovative business models designed to deliver a better service to clients in the way clients want. 

So what do clients want and how can organisations and practice managers deliver? 

1. Be the hare

In the classic children’s story, the slow and steady tortoise won the race but in today’s fast-pace environment, clients want speedy responses.  Encourage practitioners to respond to client queries within a reasonable timeframe and discuss timing milestones with clients at the outset to manage expectations. Use the advanced technology available to your company to automate processes or speed up research work.  

2. Always ‘On’

The 24/7 world we live in dictates any idea of the traditional working day is well and truly over but we also need to ensure our lawyers have a work/life balance. Is there any work that can be outsourced locally or overseas while we sleep?  Do you have automated email responses to let clients know you have received their email and will be back within a certain timeframe?  Appear ‘always on’ particularly when dealing with overseas clients or international work. 

3. Get Mobile 

Gone are the days of being tied to the desk or lugging a giant stack of books to court. Take advantage of mobile technologies and apps to enable lawyers to meet at a client’s office or work from home while still delivering the highest quality research and advice you always have. 

4. Be transparent 

In a world full of choice and information, clients want to know as much as possible before committing to a service provider. If your company can, be transparent about your fees and time expectations. Can you use a value pricing model or publish set fees for certain common practices?  

5. Communicate easily 

Communicate in the best way for clients – do they prefer communication by email or over the phone? Can your lawyers have Skype meetings or even send information by text?  

6. Be clear 

Understanding the law and your own personal or business situation can be complex for many clients so lawyers need to communicate clearly. Take advantage of the latest technological advancements to present information in the clearest way possible. 

7. Lead the Pack 

Last year’s Thought Leadership Award winner Hive Legal has certainly implemented this approach by re-imagining the delivery of Australian legal services to better connect with client needs.  Hive Legal was founded by a group of experienced partners from large law firms and Managing Director, Jodie Barker, explained at the 2014 awards ceremony why they started with a clean slate when it came to building their business model:
Clients are demanding greater efficiency and turnaround times, and allowing employees to determine the best way to provide this, with an open mind to how that might be achieved, ensures that we can accommodate client needs more effectively. Conventional firms push work down to junior lawyers.  
We put principals and senior associates in an efficient infrastructure for effective client solutions.”

Hive Legal leverages technology to its maximum capability, enabling employees to work collaboratively on client projects from any location at any time and reduce costs.  It is also one of the few Australasian law firms to adopt value pricing.  The scope and value of each project is discussed with clients, a resourcing plan and timeline is developed, fees and billing milestones are agreed upfront with the client and the budget is then locked in.

Indeed, all of the 2014 Award finalists showed a very client-focused approach to their innovations: 
  • At AdventBalance, all firm’s lawyers all work on-site with clients rather than in the office yet retain high staff engagement. 
  • Swaab Attorneys developed a digital Separation Survival Kit that helps its family law customers better understand, prepare for and manage legal documentation associated with the separation process. 
  • Whitsundays based firm, Property and Development Law delivers improved client service via a mobile app and client portal.
With so many great examples out there, it is easy to look for ways to turn thought leadership into clear actions for your organisation and your clients. 


Editor's Note

If your firm is doing something a little different, then you should nominate your innovative project for an ALPMA/InfoTrack Thought Leadership Award, which will be presented at the 2015 ALPMA Summit Gala Dinner on Thursday 10 September,  at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre.  

Entry is simple - just complete the nomination form, answering five questions about your project, and provide relevant contact information. 

But hurry!  Entries close 5pm, Thursday 9 July. 

About Our Guest Blogger

Stephen Wood was appointed CEO of InfoTrack in early 2010. As CEO, Stephen is responsible for the InfoTrack business, both in defining its future, and in achieving the steady growth aspirations. Throughout his 23 years in the ICT industry, Stephen has worked with the legal profession, this sees him bring a wealth of experience to InfoTrack, particularly around how to leverage technology to drive business efficiency in the legal market.  

InfoTrack is the 2015 ALPMA/InfoTrack Thought Leadership Awards partner.

InfoTrack's latest data visualisation tool REVEAL has been used for almost 10,000 searches by 2150 clients since it was launched a month ago, as it shows complex data very easily and can help in so many situations such as: 
Family Law – identifying all the assets a spouse has before divorce proceedings 
Acquisition – explore all the debts a business has before purchasing 
Insolvency – easily understand whether you will receive money from a debtor.  

More than making money

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

By Justin Whealing, Associate Director, Eaton Capital Partners

Legal leadership means a lot more than putting the bottom line as the top priority.

All managing partners are equal, but some managing partners are more equal than others. That, in a nutshell, sums up the different attitudes to be found lurking in the minds of law firm heads as they seek to implement strategies to ensure their staff are happy and healthy.

The best managing partners have at the forefront of their mind how their leadership of their respective firm can help ensure its staff (not just the lawyers) want to come to work and can fulfil their duties while remaining physically and mentally healthy.

Managing partners that adopt such a mindset know that if you have that as the philosophical basis that informs your leadership style, the professional benefits will flow. Retention and recruitment strategies that are underpinned by an engaged and motivated workforce are much more likely to be successful – with the associated knock-on benefits of establishing a culture that champions collaboration and where client expectations and financial targets are much more likely to be not just met, but exceeded.

When lawyers feel their specific contributions and personal welfare is valued at a firm, clients often reap the benefits via the quality of the legal advice proffered.

While the best managing partners seek to build a firm in this way – they would be in the minority.

For most, billable-hours, turnover, budgetary targets and scrutinising profit per partner numbers remains king. When talking to the media or pitching for work, such a philosophy is traditionally couched around a public discourse of meeting client concerns and demands.

A recent survey of law firm heads (completed in February and March) by Eaton Capital Partners (ECP) provided a sober reminder of why a lawyer’s lot at the moment is too often a tale of woe.

The ECP Survey of 34 managing partners found that around a fifth of them (20.7%) were “not sure” as to why there is such a high rate of depression amongst lawyers.

A further 20.7 per cent essentially wash their hands of the problem, by stating it is something intrinsic in the nature of lawyers. Only 20.7 per cent thought their firm might be at least part of the problem by citing “long working hours” as the main reason.

Simple. Demands of client service mean lawyers prioritise clients over their own wellbeing and needs,” wrote one law firm head.

Law firms featured in the survey included some of the largest global law firms with an Australian practice (Herbert Smith Freehills, Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper), leading independent firms (Gilbert + Tobin, Hall & Wilcox, Johnson Winter & Slattery) and boutique and specialist practices (Hive Legal, Nexus Lawyers, Curwoods Lawyers).

While ECP released the name of survey participants, the survey was anonymous.

When it is broke, it is time to fix it

As to what can be done to address the appallingly high rate of depression amongst lawyers, managing partners seem to be at a collective loss.

While the featured legal leaders in the ECP survey would be comfortable in distilling complex financial metrics into a myriad of performance evaluation mechanisms, many have no idea of how to gauge the happiness and health of their firm’s staff.

It is something intrinsic in the nature of lawyers”,” high achievers”, “strive for perfection” and “adversarial nature of legal practice” were all mooted as potential factors as to the high rate of legal ill-health.

There was a reticence to say we have a problem here, and will reforming the culture and structures we currently have at my firm help to provide a solution. 

Such honesty is what is required from our law firm leaders as a first step in reducing the worryingly high numbers of lawyers with depression.

A number of the managing partners understand the gravity of the situation and provided possible solutions, or at the very least, showed some awareness of possible causes.

No timesheets, reviews of workloads, health and well-being initiatives, work/life balance, supportive ‘work culture’ and leaders with emotional intelligence capability,” said one law firm head.

Another managing partner wrote that; “Firms need to lead the charge on this, not the peak bodies. Improving client management skills and learning to manage expectations in a way that minimises personal cost.

Firms most definitely SHOULD be leading the charge on this.

The current insanity which sees large law firm models and accepted behaviours compromising the mental health and happiness of lawyers will only be amplified, not reduced, unless reform is enacted.

To wish for a different outcome whilst continuing and actually entrenching such practices, or to pretend there is no problem at all, is an abrogation of leadership.

Editor's Note

The ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre has a range of on-demand seminars covering the topics of mental health and resilience and leadership team and cultural development at law firms. ALPMA members can access most recordings free and non-members can purchase on-demand seminars for $99 (including GST).  

About our Guest Blogger

Justin Whealing

Justin Whealing is one of the foremost experts on the Australian legal profession. Justin was the editor of Lawyers Weekly between June 2011 and January 2015, helping to establish Lawyers Weekly as Australia’s premier online legal publication. During this period Lawyers Weekly substantially increased its audience and broke many stories of critical importance to the domestic and international legal profession. 

Justin manages the legal services division of Eaton Capital Partners, working across media training for managing partners to exclusive partner search mandates, to law firm marketing and positioning in the changing legal services marketplace in Australia and Asia.


Personal branding - what do you stand for?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

by Shirley-Anne Fortina, Principal, The Pod Consultancy

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

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

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

5 Actions to Get Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what should we do? 

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

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

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


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

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

Editor's Note:

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

About our Guest Blogger

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

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

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

The hazards of instigating transformational change at law firms

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

By Margaret Fitzsimons, Director at Trans4mation

While the basics of instigating and driving change within professional services environments are essentially the same as corporate environments, many traditional professional services organisations are further complicated by their ownership structure. 

In the corporate environment, management, the board and the shareholders are normally mutually exclusive.  In the traditional professional services partnership structure, management, the board and the shareholders often overlap.  This is why instigating major change in professional services firm can often seem like an insurmountable problem. There are two major stages of organisational transformation.  The first is to actually instigate the transformation.  The second is to ‘drive’ or implement the transformation.

Instigating transformational change

Instigating transformation in legal firms is often the hardest step.  This is because encouraging partners who are in their comfort zone to realise, firstly, that they need to change and, secondly, that they need to actively and enthusiastically embrace change is extremely hard. 

Partners are often reticent to risk what is perceived to be a “collegiate partnership culture”. Other fears include losing staff and having to change silo or personal work practices.  Fear of the unknown and inertia are the major reasons why many legal firms decline rather than making a proactive decision to change.  
Instigating change means working with human psychology.  Finding out what drives the decision makers, appeasing fears and presenting a vision for the future are critical at this stage.  

Change can only ever be instigated by a compelling argument, by presenting facts and figures which support the reasons why change is necessary.  Fear can only be eroded by clear and logical thought. Facts and figures that build a business case for change may include:

  • Declining net profit or returns to equity partners over a given period of years
  • Decline in partner/staff numbers over a period of years
  • Decline in market share
  • High staff turnover
  • Loss of key clients or reliance on a couple of clients
  • High levels of staff or client dissatisfaction 
  • Inability to achieve stated strategic goals.
In addition, the following are often symptoms of a declining business:

  • lack of future direction (no strategy)
  • inability to make decisions at the board room table (or infrequent partner meetings)
  • silos operating in the business
  • high turnover in management staff due to frustration 
  • reactive rather than proactive decision making
  • clock watching 
  • low pay environments
  • poor culture
  • political assassinations.
Legal firms in decline will often only actively search for change solutions once the hip pockets of motivated partners reach a level that leaves them personally uncomfortable.

Driving transformation change

Once the board or partners have accepted the need to change and you have support to progress, there are two imperative roles which must be filled if the change is going to be successful.  These are:

  • The driver – the person with change management and technical experience who will make sure the change happens, will formulate the strategy and implement the project plan.
  • The champion – a partner who is respected by the other partners and the driver, who is a performer and has interpersonal skills to support the driver.  The champion needs to be able to take the lead from the partners’ perspective in supporting the change and is the bridge between the partners and the driver.  This person will be needed when the driver takes on important issues within the partnership and may need to shield the driver during significant periods of instability.  The champion helps to implement the vision of change, prevents white-anting of the process and brings the partnership along on the journey.  
To get the best results from transformational change, consider the following:

  • Launch a formal change program in the firm
  • Educate everyone on why change is needed, what the change will achieve, what to expect during the period of change and how to manage change.
  • It is important to get the partners and senior management fully behind change.  Leading from the top is the only way.  Make sure that any dissention in the top ranks is done behind closed doors and that everyone walks the talk when with staff.
  • Communication is key.  To sell change there must be a silver lining.  Quantifiable goals which are published to relevant groups or people and compared to actual results over time are a good way to show that the changes are working.
  • Have a forum for communication; develop some really good people strategies to build a happy culture.  Try to balance bad news with good news.  
  • Celebrate wins.  Get some quick wins happening at the beginning of the change process to ignite momentum.
  • Teach business skills to all fee earners so they can make the right business decision in their area of responsibility. 
  • When the business starts hitting goals, reward the staff too.  
  • Tie your key staff to the business, be generous with remuneration, be a great place to work.  Say thank you to your staff for their efforts.  
  • Keep the momentum going, keep your staff happy and the business will boom.
Transformation takes strong leadership. While the results of transformational change are worth the pain of the journey, if you don’t have someone (ideally both the Chairperson of the Board and the CEO) who can shoulder pad up and tackle the difficulties, don’t even bother trying to make the changes.

Editor's Note

Margaret Fitzsimons is presenting at an ALPMA QLD seminar on "Net Profitability Reporting" on May 20 in Brisbane. Register now to take part and learn how to price and package services for profit. 

About our Guest Blogger 

Margaret FitzsimonsMargaret 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.

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