A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Why your best seller may not be who you think it is

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

by Sue-Ella Prodonovich, Principal, Prodonovich Advisory

I’ve just returned to Sydney from the  2015 Legal Marketing Association (LMA) conference in San Diego. The conference is one of the best places in the world to hear the what law firms are doing to grow their businesses. Little wonder then that this year, more than 1,300 people chose to attend. 

All up the conference ran for three days, covered 60 sessions and featured more than 140 speakers. 

Sales is no longer a dirty word  

Key themes this year included Business Development, the Business of law, Client Service, Marketing Technology and Marketing Communications.

And one of the most fascinating addresses was the keynote speech which was given by Dan Pink, best selling author of “To Sell is Human”, covering the new principles of influence. 

Pink argued that the traditional negativity associated with sales was the result of buyers having less information than sellers, few choices of what they could buy and no way to talk back to the seller.  It was, by definition, ‘buyer beware’.  

The seismic shift in the availability and transparency of information today has changed the relationship to one of ‘seller beware’. And with this has come a newfound interest in evidence based-selling.

Sales reimagined

To help professionals reconsider ‘sales’ in light of these changes, Pink directed the audience to research by Adam Grant from Wharton School of Management. His studies showed that, far from the ingrained image of the extroverted ‘spivvy’ salesman, the most effective salespeople (by a wide margin) aren’t really extroverts at all. They are the ‘ambiverts’: the people who are neither extremely introverted nor extroverted, but possess the best characteristics of both.  

Pink argued that, based on this research, there’s “a hidden but urgent challenge for (firms) to shatter the stereotype of who’s an effective leader.”

5 ways to find your firm’s ambivert voice

Pink suggested that there are five simple ways firms can capitalise on the new sales paradigm to help win more work: 

1. Focus on the ambiverts when deciding on your firm’s leadership positions. Ambiverts by their nature know when to push and when to listen. They know they don’t have to try to be an extrovert or a ‘glad handler ‘ to be effective at sales. They’re more likely to be authentic by being themselves. This builds trust.

2. Get leaders to consciously ‘turn their power down’ when dealing with people both internally and external. This will help them take on board more perspectives and consider things more fully. That’s because there's often an inverse relationship between power and the ability to see problems from other’s point of view. 

3. Practice imagining what the other side is thinking.  When we become overwhelmed with data, thinking takes over EQ. So step back and get clarity by deliberately trying to see things through another set of eyes. 

4. Start taking your physical cues from the other side. This can often help you better understand how they are thinking. Even adopting the same stance or language will help adjust your approach.

5. Stop spending time trying to pitch, persuade or change minds. Instead, invest time in making it easier for others to act. This includes creating an ‘off ramp’ of options for decision making.
You can read more on how sales in changing and what you can do to capitalise on it in this article in the Washington Post.  Or read this piece to find out how leaders can lose touch.  Alternatively, you can even test your own ambiversion here

Other ideas that came out of the Conference

While Dan Pink’s talk was fascinating, it was just one of several great sessions that I went to. 

One of the more talked about sessions included focusing effort on building next generation of rainmakers by starting lawyers early with their business development training.  Another looked at the increasing use of client feedback as a way doing business – rather than treating it as a one off project. 

If you want to see what all the fuss is about firsthand, next year’s LMA’s 2016 conference will be held on April 11-13 in Austin, Texas.

About Our Guest Blogger

Sue-Ella Prodonovich
Sue -Ella Prodonovich is the Principal of Prodonovich Advisory. Sue-Ella is a recognised expert in the area of business development and business intelligence in the services sector with more than 20 years of experience in senior roles with international professional service firms, as a coach and trainer, and as a small business owner.

She provides expertise in business strategy, developing and protecting important relationships, creating advocates, and winning new business. She will be writing more about learnings from the conference in her blog.

How to influence your boss

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

By Chris Taylor, Director,  Forrester, Taylor & Associates

Many of us don’t know what outcomes we want at work. And many of us can find ourselves in work situations which are challenging and demanding, which can lead us to becoming disengaged. The latest workplace engagement figures show that only twenty one percent of people are fully engaged at work and that one-in-three employees leave their jobs because of their supervisor – a difficult boss. 

Interactions with our bosses can be difficult and stressful; finding an effective solution can elude us. We can feel tempted to give in to bosses’ demands knowing that this can lead to difficulties down the track for everyone, including the business. We know intuitively that we need to influence our bosses better but how? They are smart, quick, demanding, results driven, at times arrogant and relentless. And they hold the power.

Before you can influence others, you need to become very clear about what you want in your work, the outcomes you want and your purpose. You also need to nurture a strong belief in your right to have what you want. What if you could be the driver of your work life? This means no longer feeling trapped, belittled and victimised but empowered and in control. By creating this situation, one of empowerment, enables you to influence others and effectively manage work-place relationships, even with difficult bosses. 

Being in control of your own situation means you take full responsibility for where you are at and what is happening. By defining clearly what you want in the workplace you will have a purpose, momentum, motivation and energy. You then can design and implement actions that assist you to achieve your desired result.

So what do you need to do?

You need to ask yourself three questions and answer them in positive terms:

1.  What do I want from my work, apart from getting the tasks done efficiently and effectively? 

What is the outcome, the result I want from my work, from my relationships? What is the relationship I want from my managing partner?

The clearer you are about what it is you want, the easier it is to achieve. "What do I want?" allows you to focus on what's most important to you and will change you from focusing on everyone else's demands for your attention or what you are afraid of.  At the least it enables you to balance what you want with what others want. You stop putting yourself last and can be clearer in achieving your desired outcome.

2.   When you have identified your desired outcome, ask why is this of utmost importance to me?   Why is this a priority for me?

The fuel behind achieving your result is having a compelling purpose and a reason that will move you. Sustainable success with a clear compelling purpose helps you to manage the "inner conflict" that may sabotage your achievement of your goals.

3. What actions do I need to take? What are the priorities for me to achieve the result?

Once you decide on what you want and why (the meaning) you can then start to think about the action plan to achieve it. Too readily we move into actions without considering the bigger picture. Some of the priority actions that you may want to consider undertaking might be learning new skills such as influencing skills, observing others who manage the relationships well and modeling them, developing tactics to ensure that you are not taking the reactions from your boss too personally.

Developing this approach is the first step in being able to effectively manage your relationships at work, being influential and having a more fulfilling and rewarding job. 

About our Guest Blogger 

Chris Taylor

Chris Taylor is a Director of Forrester Taylor, a company formed in 1990 focusing on organisational development, leadership and team coaching. 

She has extensive experience in both public and private sector organisations within Australia and internationally. 

Her strengths and passions are in organisational and people development, leadership development, building high performing teams and developing performance driven cultures. 

Experts in Silos: They might be essential but are they killing your firm?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

By Graham Winter, Executive Director Think One Team

A well-known and very successful biotech entrepreneur once told me that his advice to every leadership team was:
‘Find the bottlenecks and then open them to unlock value.’

This strategy has worked time and time again, and he happily offers a second suggestion to anyone who isn’t sure where to start: 
‘Find the experts in silos and you’ll find the bottlenecks!' 

Do you have an ‘Expert Culture’?

In biotech the ‘experts in silos’ are often the scientists or brand specialists, whereas in professional firms they are just about everywhere. The reason my colleague calls them ‘experts in silos’ is simple - they think and work from the mindset of their speciality, not from a whole-of-business perspective. 

Like the individual ‘star’ in a football team they meet all their KPI’s (lots of billable hours, large clients, strong personal brand), but in football teams and in competitive markets that’s not enough.

In football the ‘star’ can be dangerous if they undermine team culture and the structures that are essential to winning under the pressure of the big games. 

Twenty years ago the star got away with being the maverick who didn’t have to modify their behaviour. Not anymore. The leaders in the team simply won’t allow it.  The star can still be the star, but only if they fit the whole-of-team game plan. Anything less and they’ll be traded because they diminish more value than they create.

And so…… that brings us to legal (and other professional) firms and to two important questions:  

  • Do you have a culture where unity and strength of leadership enables the firm to leverage the whole of the firm’s brand, client base and assets?  

  • Or, do you find yourself stuck in an expert culture where individual partners and specialists act more like individual stars?

Check the warning signs

Three warning signs signal that your firm could be underperforming (and at risk) due to your experts playing to their own game plan.

1. Missed opportunities

Have you regretted missed chances because two or more parts of the firm couldn’t get their act together to make it happen? 

2. Relationship breakdown

Is there friction (or stand-offs) between partners and / or other professionals?  

3. Delays

Are you frustrated at the speed with which the firm pursues new opportunities or implements new systems and processes?

Are you making the problem worse?

A lot of firms reinforce this culture of experts in silos. An easy way to check if that’s happening is to ask three questions:     

  • Do we ‘hunt as a pack’ or as individuals?  

  • Do we reward individual behaviour over team behaviour?   

  • Do partners and senior specialists co-create solutions to the big challenges, or are some people happy to see these as someone else’s problem? 

If experts have strategies, then what’s yours?

The root cause of delays, overruns, missed opportunities and relationship breakdowns lie in three practices that are typically adopted (with little awareness) by our well-intentioned experts. You need a strategy for each of these:

Strategy 1: Protect your own turf

Experts quite reasonably have strong egos and a sense of ownership, so it shouldn’t be surprising that a well-known professional firm recently missed out on millions of dollars in fees when a partner and two senior staffers played ‘protect your own turf’ by keeping their colleagues in the dark about a client’s plans for a huge merger.  Why? Because they would have lost ‘control’ over their piece of the pie.

There are many issues here, however one is what Wharton School Professor, Adam Grant, refers to as the ‘Give or Take’ culture.

In a ‘Take’ culture people protect their own turf through competitive actions like withholding information, keeping budget hidden and seeking resources and other assistance without giving anything in return. 

In a ‘Give’ culture people share ideas, help each other and form connections and relationships without expecting anything in return. Sadly that’s not the norm in many professional firms.

Is it time to address the whole approach to collaboration and partnering in your firm to create more of a ‘give culture’?

Strategy 2:  Avoid and deny

This sounds a bit Machiavellian, however many firms create a culture that discourages openness and honesty.  By all means our experts will support the notion of robust conversations, but in reality they shun two-way feedback across specialities, functions and hierarchy.

Think again about the football team and the regular and intensive debriefing that just doesn’t allow the star to get away with basking in the glory of scoring goals, when they don’t play their part in team defence.

Strategy 3: Play ‘We win, you lose’

In firms where people identify more with their own team or unit than with the whole organisation, the risk of the ‘smartest team in the building’ mentality is high.

People then attribute success to their own brilliance or hard work, and failure to things external to the team. This sort of culture often rears its head in monthly Partner meetings when the default strategy is to blame other people or departments (often those with least status / power) for anything and everything.

The big cost here, apart from the obvious relationship breakdown, is the loss of lessons learned. When people protect and defend their own patch, they close the window to the single most important capability to embed in any firm that aspires to be agile and adaptive: the ability to learn.

What’s your action?

The current business conditions demand that every firm be as nimble and adaptive as possible. There are literally thousands of pieces of advice on what leaders can do to address this challenge.

Amongst all that noise, perhaps we could ask an entrepreneur who has made more than one fortune buying, merging and growing successful businesses. My guess is that he’d say: 

Find the bottlenecks and break them open to unlock the value.’ 

Editor's Note:  

ALPMA's Leading Your Firm program
Graham Winter is the presenter at ALPMA's next Leading Your Firm program livestreamed event, discussing how "United Leadership" can help law firms achieve breakthroughs in individual, team and organisational productivity and performance on Wednesday March 4, 2015.  Register now to attend this event held in Adelaide, online or at one of 18 regional hub events across Australia and New Zealand.  

ALPMA's Leading Your Firm program is generously supported by Principal Partners, BigHand & Thomson Reuters, and Regional Partners, BOAB IT, CommArc and LexisNexis

About our Guest Blogger

Graham Winter
Graham is an Australian psychologist and management consultant and works with professional firms locally, nationally and internationally on advising partners and management teams seeking to achieve greater success in their business. Graham spent six years as exclusive designer and developer of High Performance Leadership Programs for PwC Consulting in the Asia Pacific.
He is the author of the best seller "Think One Team", the international book "High Performance Leadership", and the recently published "First Be Nimble".

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

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

What are the biggest challenges facing small law firms?

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

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

How have you sought to differentiate your firm?

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

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

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

How have you overcome the issue of scale?

Leveraging knowledge and automating workflows are crucial. 

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

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

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

What is your view on the changing legal landscape?

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

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

Why did you join ALPMA?

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

Editor's Note:

Now is a great time to join ALPMA.  

Membership offers great benefits to you and your firm and represents tremendous value. Membership to June 30, 2015 is now only $192.50 (incl GST) for regional members and $255.75 (incl GST) for those working in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth - less if your firm already supports multiple ALPMA members. 

Your membership includes free attendance at our regular practice management and Leading Your Firm events, free access to content in the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre - and much more. Join now.

About our Guest Blogger

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

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

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

Personal Reflections on 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

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

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

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

1. The rewards of volunteering  

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

2. Narrow does not equal small

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

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

3. Progress

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

4. The Future  

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

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

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

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

About our Guest Blogger

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

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

Member Q and A with Kerri Borg, CEO, McKays Solicitors

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In this ALPMA Member Q&A, Kerri Borg, CEO of McKays Solicitors based in Mackay, Queensland, shares her insights into life leading a regional law firm with the editor of ALPMA's blog, A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Q. How did you become the CEO at McKays Solicitors?

I’ve had a very long history with McKays, commencing as litigation secretary in 1988 when the firm was founded through the merger of two small Mackay firms. I left the firm to travel overseas in the early 1990s and, when I returned, spent some time in real estate and accounting as well as owning and operating a small retail business.  But the lure of working in the legal industry was too strong and I returned to McKays in 1998 in an administrative role. Since then, I’ve been exposed to all facets of practice management and watched the firm grow from four partners and about 10 staff in one regional office to around 120 staff across offices in four locations throughout Queensland, including the Brisbane CBD.  

I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to grow and develop my own skills as the practice has expanded and grown.  The practice became incorporated in 2011 and, since that time, our business model has gradually evolved to a much more corporatised model.  Part of that transition has involved the appointment of an external director to the board, as well as the creation of Managing Director and CEO roles.  I definitely think that having worked in so many different roles within the business and having a detailed knowledge of the practice’s history is a strength that I bring to the role of CEO but I’m also mindful that I need to look outside our business to see what we can do differently and what we can learn from other industries.

Q. What motivates you?

Learning about something new, seeing new ideas and thinking about how they could be applied in our practice to add value.  I get inspired by working with people who think outside the box.  

One of my favourite quotes is by Nelson Mandela - “It always seems impossible until it is done”.  

It’s an exciting time to be involved in the industry and it will be interesting to see how quickly we all adapt (or not) to the new legal landscape.

Q. What are the biggest challenges facing regional law firms?

From a staffing perspective, attracting and retaining practitioners is always a challenge in regional centres.  People who have never lived outside a major city can have reservations about whether the quality of work, professional development and career opportunities will be more limited in a regional area.  In actual fact, the opposite is often the case – they will often have the chance to do more interesting, complex work earlier in their careers and also have more variety in the type of work they do, as opposed to practising in a very narrow area.  McKays is fortunate to have offices in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Surat Basin which can provide opportunities for staff to relocate for personal or family reasons when we otherwise might have lost them to another firm and had to bear the cost of replacing the staff member.  

Another challenge for regional firms is overcoming the perception of some that you need to engage a top tier firm for large, complex legal matters and only use local law firms for less complex or transactional matters.  Regional firms can and do have many talented practitioners who choose to live and work where they do for a variety of reasons, including lifestyle and family.  For example, one of our principals, who was born and bred in Mackay, has recently topped the state in the QLS Business Law Specialist Accreditation assessment.  Part of the solution to this challenge lies in the way in which regional firms position and market themselves and their capabilities.

On the flipside, there are advantages for regional practices, such as fewer competitors, which makes it easier to differentiate and position a practice as a big fish in a small pond, provided you have the right people in place.  This relates back to the first point I made about the challenge of attracting and retaining quality people.  So if you do well with your people strategy, it puts you in a good position to succeed in terms of your positioning in the local law firm market.                                                                                                                                                                                        
Technology has also provided some remarkable opportunities for small or regional practices to compete on an almost-even playing field with much larger CBD firms, for example by creating a strong online presence on a small budget.  This is in stark contrast to the days when a small firm couldn’t possibly hope to compete with large firms with equally large marketing budgets.  

Being small also makes you more nimble – you can see an opportunity and just run with it.  That’s much harder for larger firms to do because there will normally be a lot more consultation needed and the project itself will likely be a much larger scale.

Q. How has your membership of ALPMA helped you address these issues?  

Definitely having access to the educational resources ALPMA provides is a tremendous benefit for regional firms.  The Leading Your Firm Program, which was developed specifically for smaller and regional practices, has really hit the mark in terms of enabling us regional members to enjoy the same educational programs offered to capital city members, on a diverse range of topics by expert speakers from all over the country.  

I often encourage our managers or practitioners to view a recorded lunchtime session on a topic I think may be of particular interest to them and this is a great way to provide professional development for our staff as well as maximise the value of my membership.

I find the weekly blog posts from  ALPMA another great way to keep my finger on the pulse with topical issues and hear what other firms are doing in response.  When law firm management and administration staff have access to information that is practical and relevant in a way that is convenient for them it’s a win:win for the staff member and the practice.  

Becoming a member of the Qld ALPMA Committee has been a wonderful opportunity to network with and learn from my peers.  The annual ALPMA Summit is another excellent educational and networking opportunity and the quality of topics and speakers at Summit seem to just keep getting better and better every year.  

Q. What advice would you offer those considering working at a regional law firm?

Be prepared for and embrace a working environment that is likely to be culturally different to a big city firm – one that is very warm and welcoming and where work colleagues seek out each other’s company outside of business hours.  

Understand that the local community and relationships are very important – reputation is everything.   

Appreciate that resources and talent are often tight and there is an expectation to utilise the resources you have rather than outsource.  

Recognise the opportunities to cross-skill yourself and others and to “raise the bar” in terms of the way the business is managed and truly make a difference.  

And lastly, make the most of the networking opportunities ALPMA offers by forming a regional hub if there isn’t already one established in the area.  

Editor's Note:

Now is a great time to join ALPMA. 

Membership offers great benefits to you and your firm and is tremendous value. Membership to June 30, 2015 is now only $192.50 (incl GST) for regional members and $255.75 (incl GST) for those working in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth - less if your firm already supports multiple ALPMA members. 

Your membership includes free attendance at our regular practice management and Leading Your Firm events, free access to content in the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre - and much more. Join now.

About our Guest Blogger

Kerri Borg
Kerri Borg is the recently-appointed CEO of McKays Solicitors, based in Mackay, Queensland (although she regularly commutes to Brisbane).  Prior to taking on this newly created role, Kerri was McKays' General Manager for five years.  

She is passionate about importance of organisational culture in achieving firm objectives and the joys of regional-city living.

Kerri is a member of the ALPMA QLD State Committee and the ALPMA National L&D Committee.

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

by Ron Gibson, Go Networking

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

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

Looking for 'advocates'

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

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

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

You need more advocates!

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

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

Who could be an advocate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Successful networking

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

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

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

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

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

So who are your potential advocates? 

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

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

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

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

About Our Guest Blogger

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

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

Q and A with Jodie Baker, Managing Director, Hive Legal

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Start-up virtual law firm, Hive Legal were crowned the 2014 ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Award winner in recognition of their innovative business model at the 2014 ALPMA Summit Gala dinner last week, over finalists  AdventBalance, PD Law and Swaab Attorneys

In this ALPMA Member Q&A, Jodie Baker, Hive Legal's Managing Director, provides insight into how Hive Legal's innovative, virtual business model works.

Pictured (left to right)

Jodie Baker, Managing Director, Hive Legal; Will Irving, Group Managing Director, Telstra Business; Jamie Prell, Legal Director, AdventBalance; Bronwyn Pott, Chief Executive Officer, Swaab Attorneys; Mel Cox, Director and Chief Executive Officer, PD Law; and Lisa Sikorski, ALPMA Victoria Chair and General Manager, Septimus Jones & Lee.

Q: Why did you decide to set up Hive Legal?

Two years ago I was working remotely from the U.S. for a progressive Australian company; I came to appreciate how technology could be leveraged to change the way professional services firms work, and realised that other markets were significantly ahead of Australia. I saw an opportunity to bring true innovation to Australia and the Australian legal industry, and to really change the way that lawyers work and engage with their clients, each other and even themselves.

The founding principals of Hive Legal had the advantage of starting with a clean slate – we were able to re-imagine the provision of legal services without the weight of legacy infrastructure, procedures or costs.

Our business is driven by clients who want a more cost-effective outcome, without compromising the quality of advice. Clients are demanding greater efficiency and turnaround times and we believe that the principals and senior lawyers who service the clients directly are best placed to determine how this can be done.

Q: How does your ‘virtual law firm’ model work?

Hive Legal is founded on collaboration (like bees in the hive), so this is not a silo model where practitioners work independently without co-ordination with other team members.  We work very closely as a team to deliver outcomes to clients. 

While we have a central hub, Hive Legal lawyers can choose when and where they would like to work. We believe that it really doesn’t matter if you produce the work at home or in the office or where you’re located as long as the quality is consistently delivered. 

However, we also recognise that there are a diverse range of demands on the time of all employees, and enabling an employee to accommodate to some extent those demands in a time shift capacity, or by working in different locations, will ensure that high quality staff are happier and more likely to stay with the firm. Our enormous output since the launch of the firm has been derived from hard work and, at times, longer hours - but staff are able to accommodate other demands by shifting their time without compromising deliverables to clients.

Many firms allow their staff to "work from home" or enable mobile working.  However, a corporate firm servicing blue chip companies (which requires significant collaboration between large teams) built on the assumption that this will occur for all staff has a fundamentally different vibe.

Making virtual work involves a number of technology and cultural priorities. 

We use technology to its maximum capability, so our employees can work collaboratively on client projects from any location at any time and reduce costs. 

This involves two elements: first; logistics – we partnered with a high security and highly reliable cloud platform provider and made a commitment to be paperless. Second; collaboration – our corporate clients require a team approach to complex matters, so our staff utilise multi-party video conferencing, collaborative software and a sensitivity to communication with each other to make this work.  And it really does! We have weekly meetings in the office to ensure regular face to face time, but otherwise we find that all employees are embracing the opportunity to work anywhere, any time, but not everywhere all of the time.

The end result is that we are able to have principals and senior associates in an efficient infrastructure for effective client solutions.  

We have adopted value pricing for all of our work.  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. This works comfortably and consistently with the virtual model, by valuing the deliverables our staff generate, not the time they put into it.

Where necessary, we also collaborate with larger traditional firms on specific projects.  A client will unbundle their legal services and expect the firms to collaborate. We’re keen to progress these partnerships and believe there is absolutely no reason that we can’t work together with conventional firms to deliver solutions for clients. 

Q: How is this effort paying off? 

Winning the ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Award is fantastic industry recognition of the value of our approach, and caps off a tremendous and very busy year for Hive Legal!  

Clients are embracing the technology and innovation forward model of Hive Legal at many levels. We have only been operating for eight months, and in that time we successfully attracted some great clients including large blue-chip household names in health, transport and energy and have grown from three to 11 employees. 

Our intention is to keep growing as the client demand dictates and people of the right cultural fit become available. 

Editor’s Note:

Interested readers can hear Jodie Baker and the ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Awards finalists from Swaab Attorneys, PD Law and AdventBalance, talk about law firm innovation in this online discussion panel “Legal Innovation: If It Was Easy, Everyone Would!”

Read the media releases and news coverage of the ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Awards.

Attention Management: Are You Doing it?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

By Martina Sheehan, founder of Mind Gardener®

Is your firm managing attention yet?

You have financial management, asset management, risk management, time management, document management, and many other tools for getting the best out of the firm’s resources.  But the most precious resource in your firm is the attention of your people. When it’s switched on, you’ll find that engagement is high, productivity climbs, and error rates drop. 

But in a world where attention is increasingly overloaded, misused and abused, most people are struggling to give attention to the things that matter most.

The Leadership Challenge – Engagement

Leaders are instrumental in switching on people’s attention, but also in switching it off.  It is well recognised that when a leader focuses on someone’s strengths, their performance lifts and they feel more engaged with their firm.  When a leader focuses on someone’s weaknesses, engagement levels drop by almost 25%, meaning people actively withdraw their precious attention from their work.  

But a survey by Gallup reveals a more fascinating fact.  When someone feels ignored, their engagement levels drop by almost 60%!  When a leader withholds their attention, whether it’s intentional or not, people feel disconnected, neglected, and are very unlikely to bring their best to work.

Leaders may feel that they are too time-poor to pay attention to everyone’s needs, but time is not the right measure of attention. A moment of full attention is worth more than hours of distracted time. For leaders, attention management starts by learning how to give quality attention in the right moments throughout the day. This simple act can switch people on and motivate them to bring their best performance to work.

The Productivity Challenge – Focus

A study from Harvard reveals that 47% of the time we are not paying attention to what we are doing. Every day there any many things fighting for a piece of attention, and the temptation is to stretch it further, multi-task, or work longer trying to attend to everything that arises.  But attention simply does not work that way. It is a limited and fragile resource, and the more it jumps around, the less it achieves. 

It is most common for attention to wander during familiar tasks, and most people’s days are full of familiar tasks. So if you’re seeing mistakes in common jobs like basic letters, procrastination on everyday responsibilities like timesheets, and resistance to changing simple processes, your challenge is an attention management one. The solution is a combination of strategies that wake people up, and developing the skills so people can wake themselves up.

People can learn very quickly how to manage their own attention, and the benefits in developing this skill extend well beyond the inevitable productivity boost. As the Harvard study also revealed, people report feeling less happy when their attention is wandering, than when they are fully absorbed with what they are doing. Which leads us to the wellness challenge.

The Wellness Challenge – Thriving

Positive and negative experiences are processed in different parts of the brain. The part designed to respond to negatives is faster and more consuming than the part that deals with positives. Once something negative, threatening, or worrying captures someone’s attention, it becomes almost impossible for positives to enter their awareness.

In a profession where much of the day is spent attending to problems and considering what could go wrong, it is not surprising that many people in this profession feel the constant burden of stress and anxiety. It takes intentional effort to give attention to positives. But the reason to invest this effort and develop this skill is not just because it makes people feel good. 

When people give attention to the things that are working well, to positive experiences, and to optimistic possibilities, their brain function literally changes. They are more likely to see opportunities, to identify creative solutions, and to give their energy to what can be done, rather than focusing on what can’t be done. Their brain opens up rather than shutting down. Not only do they thrive, but so does the firm. 

So is your firm managing attention yet? 

Try these 3 simple steps to get started:

  1. Conduct an attention audit: are the right things getting attention in your firm?

  2. Develop attention management skills, starting with your leaders.

  3. Actively direct attention to the things you want to grow.

Editor's Note:

Martina will be presenting on "The Power of Attention" at the upcoming ALPMA practice management seminar in Brisbane on 17 September, 2014. This event is free for members or $99 for non-members. Register now.  

She also presented "Wired For Leadership" at the 2013 ALPMA Summit, now available in ALPMA's On-Demand Learning Centre.

About Our Guest Blogger

Martina is passionate about reviving the dying art of paying attention. She is a Brisbane-based author and business advisor who has been changing the way people think for over a decade. With a knack for making science make sense, Martina is a popular speaker who delivers practical ideas that will inspire you to lead, work, and live differently. 

Martina has worked with private and public sector companies in many different industries, including leading law firms. She offers motivation for those seeking a boost to their productivity, performance, and wellbeing. Whether it be Mind Gardener's award-winning Conscious Leadership Program, their books, apps, online programs, or blogs, the message is clear: what you focus on grows. So find out how to focus your attention on the things that really matter.

How to start a sales program in your law firm

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Your 4 step guide for turning lawyers into lead generators

by Sue-Ella Prodonovich, Principal, Prodonovich Advisory

For law firms, a successful sales campaign involves much more than simply cold calling. It requires strategy, planning and - most importantly of all - commitment across the whole firm, from the managing partner through to individual lawyers and support staff. And from every management function, including finance and HR. 
This is my guide for how to build a successful 90 day sales program for law firms. 

But don’t be misled by the name. A 90 day sales program doesn’t involve 90 days of selling. It involves 90 days of groundwork. After all, I find most firms need at least that much time to get from where they are to the point where they’re ready to make a real impact.

Step 1. Roadmap

(More than 90 days before sales campaign)

The first step to any successful sales plan is to agree on what your firm wants to achieve. Of course, the end goal of any sales campaign is to generate sales. But how exactly will you do this?

For instance, do you intend to identify new leads from existing relationships? To re-engage with networks in your community? Or to win new business from new clients? Most likely, you’ll be aiming for a combination of all three.

Once you’ve established this, prepare a roadmap for achieving it and figure out how you will report progress. 

In particular, you should:
  • Work out how long your campaign will last (usually from 3 – 6 months) 
  • Agree key performance indicators and important milestones
  • Work out what you will do in the preparation phase, the activity phase, and also the debrief. 
  • Agree on a budget
  • Identify and remove any red tape or barriers that may be getting in the way of lawyers networking or meeting clients.
So that your staff are engaged and committed,  make your sales campaign fun and something different from the day-to-day. For starters, give it a name. 

Lawyers are almost always competitive types, so consider introducing friendly competition between teams and include as many staff as possible. Why not start a ‘BD Olympics’ or a ‘Sales Apprentice’ competition?

Step 2. Research

(More than 60 days before the sales campaign)

You’ve already gone through the top level strategy. Now it’s time to put meat on the bone. It’s time to start your market research.
  • Work out what your firm’s and lawyers’ strengths are and also where the best opportunities lie.
  • Prepare a list of compelling propositions about why clients should go with you. (Identify clients’ pain points and show how you solve them.)
  • Establish a sales pipeline for your office or your teams. You can do this by building a target lists of clients and referral sources and then providing your lawyers with this valuable market intelligence.  
  • Develop a consistent approach for how you will go about trying to attract more work from them.  Better still, go one step further and give your lawyers real confidence in their ability to convert these prospects into clients through skills training. 

Step 3. Rally

(More than 30 days before the sales campaign)

It’s almost time to go in. But before you do, make sure everything is in place and that you’re geared up for success. 

For starters, make sure your marketing collateral is up to date and reflects the key message you want clients to take away - this includes your website, LinkedIn profiles, capability statements and pitch templates.  

Arm all lawyers and their support teams with at least 20 examples of BD activity. Give each of them at least 3 referral sources and at least 2 existing clients to research and target. 

You should also give your lawyers something tangible they can invite clients to. The best way to do this is to schedule a client-networking event around 120 days after the start of your campaign.

Finally now is the time to carry out a brief client feedback survey, using at least 25 contacts from both your clients and your referral sources.

Do more with your numbers:  Provide data that adds insight into changes in your fee base and uncovers opportunities for lawyers.

Step 4. Ready! 

The campaign begins.

The big day has arrived.

By now the feedback from clients and referral sources will be available.  And some of what they've told you, you probably don’t like or didn't know. So use the first 30 days of the sales period to focus on closing the loop on this feedback.

Spend the second 30 days emphasising meeting new contacts and engaging with networks. 

And spend the third 30 days focusing on introducing contacts to others in your firm or in your networks.

You should also schedule a special meeting 90 days after the start of activity to debrief on the progress you’ve made and the impact on the firm.

But don’t stop there. Keep the momentum going by publicly recognising all sales activity and wins on a regular basis. You can do this through a monthly team gathering, preferably led by your Managing Partner. Use this meeting to share stories about successes to and knock backs and recognise outstanding efforts. 

And remember, no one gets everything right first time. The more you keep refining what you do, the more likely you are to build a successful sales machine. 

Editor's Note:

Prodonovich Advisory is sponsoring the pre-Summit Masterclass Workshop 'Mastering Client Development (aka the Sales Process) for Law Firms', presented by US business development guru, Julie Savarino, on Wednesday 28 August.  It is not too late to register for the upcoming ALPMA Summit on 28-29 August at the Melbourne Crown Convention Centre.  If you can't attend in person, find out how you can attend on-line!

About Our Guest Blogger

Sue Ella Prodonovich
Sue-Ella Prodonovich, Principal of Prodonovich Advisory, has more than 20 years experience helping firms assess their business, gather market intelligence, develop competitive strategies, conduct client listening programs and accelerate rainmaking through coaching and sales programs.  In 2013, one of Sue-Ella's clients won the ALPMA NSW Innovation Award for a sales program that delivered a profit increase of more than 25%.

Sue-Ella's career had included senior Business Development roles with Arthur Andersen and Baker & McKenzie, Senior Consultant with Rogen SI, Owner of PTB Consulting, and Partner with Crowe Horwath.  

 Read more about the 25 BD activities all lawyers should be doing.

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