A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Emails Replace Conversations

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

by Guest Blogger, Trish Carroll, Galt Advisory

Emails are now our most common form of conversation.  If you communicate by email all day long you’d think you’d get very good at it.  Not so, if the alarming levels of email miscommunication is anything to go by.  Consider this advice when using email. 

The trouble with email

In our frantic world, emails get whipped off without enough care or planning. If you subscribe to the school of writing that says "how you write is who you are" and "good writing reflects good thinking" then an errors and omissions excepted (E&OE) approach is unacceptable.

If your emails don't elicit the actions you want all of the time then maybe you should re-read a selection of them from your sent box and see if you would respond to them.  Now there's a test!  

Emails are really good for:

  • asking for specific actions
  • sharing information at a high level
  • passing on detailed information with attachments 
  • keeping a team informed 
  • letting people know you're not around.

Emails are not good for

  • providing personal feedback
  • being substitutes for conversations
  • shaming other people via the cc function 
  • being disingenuous via the bcc function 
  • sharing bad news 
  • communicating to someone who sits near you when they're physically there. 

Some basic email etiquette:

As with all written communication you need to think about who is reading it and how you want them to think, feel or act as a result of your email.  So try:

  • using subject headings that are clear and say what you want up front - e.g. Action needed: budget approval
  • using subheadings throughout the email so people can see at a glance what you're on about 
  • keeping your email to one screen in length
  • only sending it to people who need to know 
  • error checking your emails as closely you would any other form of written communication.
We're all guilty of email crime from time to time but if you follow these simple rules you might find when people see your name in the "from" box they don't save it for later. Much later.

About our Guest Blogger

Trish Carroll founded Galt Advisory after leading the marketing and business development function of Minter Ellison Lawyers for 10 years to 2003. Galt Advisory primarily advises on marketing and business development strategy, brand issues, bid strategy and communication.

Trish has worked with lawyers for most of her working life. This means that she enjoys engaging in lively debate, loves logic, focuses on achieving results, takes the risks and gives the credit, puts her energy and effort into what counts most and believes passionately that humour is your best friend.   

A few years ago Trish decided to focus more attention on her three children instead of her resumé. This wisdom came later in life and Trish is now passionate about keeping life in perspective. Galt is an acronym for 'Get A Life Trish'. Trish still has trouble saying 'no' but she’s learning and when her skill has improved Galt’s meaning will change to 'Got A Life Trish'

11 Practical Tips to Build Your Resilience

Monday, October 08, 2012

by Guest Blogger, Stuart Taylor, The Resilience Institute

 It is Beyond Blue’s Mental Health Week this week – which makes it a particularly good time to start a conversation about better managing depression and anxiety at your firm.
The effects of depression and anxiety are well publicised at all levels of the legal profession. For those new to the profession, resilience failure and depression are at alarmingly high rates.  The Resilience Institute research into Australian (and New Zealand) law firms shows a consistent message.  
Our proprietary assessment instrument “Resilience Diagnostic”, compares an individual’s resilience assets to their resilience liabilities – a ratio called Resilience Ratio© . When viewed as an average, the Resilience Ratio for Law Firms is 1.3:1, well below that of other sectors such as Banking and Finance at 2.2:1 and an acceptable level for high performance teams of 2.5:1.

Why are legal professionals more susceptible to resilience failure and depression?

A productivity paradox exists in many firms.  The harder we are seen to be working, the better the results.
The intense personal environment experienced by legal professionals, with constant emphasis on billable hours, high utilisation rates, attention to detail, and aggressive deadlines, represent only the initial challenge to balance for both individuals and firms. Mental health impacts can also take their toll, especially if the firm and the individual fail to create integral daily practices to sustain human performance and quality of life.
Add to this the lawyer thinking styles that focus on worst case scenario, pessimistic views and hyper vigilance can often become pervasive character traits. Add to this a combination of perfectionism and competitiveness and one can witness a recipe for eroding the resilience of individuals and the firms they operate within.

What can you do to build your resilience?

 In fact, it is the value of regular renewal breaks, sleep, exercise and nutrition that serves individuals, firm and client with greater performance.  Here are 11 practical tips that will help improve your personal resilience: 

1. Breathe Deeply
Create 10 minutes morning and night to relax. Focus on a smooth slow breath using the diaphragm – 5 seconds inhale and 3 seconds exhale. Lower your body and mind into quietude.

2. Eliminate Confusion
 Be draconian in your discipline to delete, delegate and focus on key priorities.

3. Ritualise Renewal
Take regular breaks through the day. Work in ‘Ultradian Sprints’ of 90 minutes with time out to rest, refuel and reflect.

4. See the light
Enjoy a walk of 15-20 minutes in the sunshine of late afternoon. The walk will provide creative thinking space and oxygenate the body. Sunlight boosts Vitamin D3, lifting mood.

5. Lock in Your Wake Up Time
Rise at the same time each morning, 7 days a week and aim for no less than 7-8 hours sleep per night. You will set a consistent circadian rhythm to energise your body and maintain essential recovery processes. Sleep is often the first item we give up when trying to cram more into each day. Avoid such a practice.

6. Bedtime Cool Down
 Reduce the overactive mind and prepare for sleep with a brain ‘cool down’ 45 minutes before bed - a guided, audio deep relaxation is ideal. Prior to bedtime, Avoid laptop, TV, iPad, phone and electronic screens, as these stimulate our mind into wakefulness.

7. Avoid caffeine in any form after 3pm 
This includes coffee, tea, cola, chocolate and energy drinks! Sugary stimulants will spike your blood sugar for a short term ‘hit’, but quickly subside, leading to irritability; poor sleep less productivity and focus. Caffeine after 3pm will ruin quality sleep and recovery.

8.  Snack Wisely 
Reduce temptation of sugar and snack cravings by eating a healthy, low GI breakfast with whole grains and/or protein (eggs). Choose nuts, fruit or low fat yogurt instead of processed chips, sugary snacks.

9.  Get Moving
Cardiovascular exercise of 20 minutes for 3-5 times per week can contribute to reducing depression, boosting heart health and mental sharpness. Aim for something you enjoy, whether it’s running, cycling and swimming. Boost the benefits by challenging a friend to join you for added motivation and social connection.

10.  Witness Your Thoughts
Most depression is a thinking disease. We talk our way down the spiral to depression. Monitor your thinking to observe when your thinking is optimist or pessimistic. Resilient people think with realistic, optimistic thoughts.

11.  Appreciate
 Make a conscious effort to list two or three positive things you did or experienced during the day. Boost positivity and realistic optimism by reflecting on two things that went well, rather than ruminating over the one thing that didn’t go according to plan.

Resilient Leaders

The implementation of the resilience life practices and resilient leadership styles must extend to all partners and leaders. The critical mass of leaders operating with resilient life practices fosters a calm, healthy, and sustainable high performance culture rather than one characterised by overload, perfectionism and fear. The benefit is significant with more effective decision making, greater positivity, creativity, reduced absenteeism and presenteeism and retention of talent.

Editor’s Note

This post is an extract from “Building Firm &Personal Resilience” By Stuart Taylor & Robert Hart of The Resilience Institute, published in the ALPMA March 2012 e-newsletter.

About our Guest Blogger

Stuart Taylor is the Managing Partner, Australia for The Resilience Institute In 2002, while climbing the ladder to corporate executive, Stuart was diagnosed with Brain Cancer; prognosis 2.5 years. Far from accept the prognosis; Stuart embarked on a journey back to physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual health. 

Part of this journey included creating The Resilience Institute in Australia to share his experience and philosophy with Australian organisations. Stuart has recently celebrated his 10 year milestone and is going from strength to strength.  You can read more about his personal journey in "A Story of Four Hats" - Part 1 & Part 2.

Prior to joining The Resilience Institute, Stuart was an Associate Director with KPMG and then worked as a senior manager in a global corporation. Stuart has worked with leading Australasian organisations such as GE Money, NAB, Citigroup and Vodafone and is regular presenter at ALPMA events. 

Lead with Your Thinking: How to Become a Legal Industry Thought Leader

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

By Guest Blogger, Shelley Dunstone, Principal, Legal Circles

Achieving change in a law firm can be challenging.  Law firm managers don’t always have as much scope as they would have in an industrial company.  All the owners are in the building with you, and they need to be convinced before you can start.  At the very least you have to satisfy a management committee.  And lawyers tend to be risk-averse and traditional in their thinking.

It is frustrating when people don’t buy into your idea, or if they make wrong assumptions about your job role and what you want to accomplish at work.  If you have great ideas and want to make a difference in your firm, “thought leadership” will help you get the buy-in and support you need.

By being a thought leader, you can inspire people to take action, or to authorize you to do so.  Thought leadership helps you to communicate your ideas in a unique and compelling way.  Thought leadership helps people see your point of view.

What is thought leadership?  It’s leading - with your thinking.

Thought Leadership

 The term “thought leader” was coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, the founding editor of Strategy + Business magazine.  He used the term to describe the type of experts he wanted to feature in the magazine.  He described a “thought leader” as someone who is recognized by peers, customers and industry experts for having a deep understanding of the business they are in, the needs of their customers and the broader marketplace in which they operate, and who has distinctively original ideas, unique points of view and new insights.

Subject-Matter Expertise

Essential to being a thought leader in your firm is to have subject-matter expertise.  Assuming that you have that expertise, the next step is to position yourself as an expert.  Your job role may not sufficiently describe what you do, or what you want to achieve.  You need to teach people what your job is.

Identify the main principles which guide you in your daily work.  Communicate those frequently and in a variety of ways.  Showcase your expertise and demonstrate how it can benefit others in the firm.  You could produce a White Paper, addressing a particular issue of importance, and recommending a solution.  You could produce a regular blog or podcast.  You could set up a series of seminars to address common problems.  All of this raises your profile and makes you much more visible and valuable in your firm.

Invest in Professional Development

To deepen your expertise and widen your perspective, attend a variety of professional development events.  Join and participate in professional associations.  Give presentations.  ALPMA offers a wide range of seminars and an annual conference where you can network with others working in law firm management. 

A thought leader needs to have strong communication skills, oral and written, and the ability to harness a variety of “modes” – “telling”, “asking” and “showing”.  You need to be able to cater to visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learning preferences.  

Challenge Conventional Wisdom

A thought leader has the courage to challenge the conventional wisdom, rather than simply to echo what everyone else is saying.  Be willing to voice your original ideas and insights. Don’t be afraid to be a “contrarian” – an unexpected point of view gets attention.  But you must have a strong, clear message; be ready to express it in one sentence.

I recommend the book Thought Leaders (2011) by Matt Church, Scott Stein and Michael Henderson (Harper Collins), which outlines nine thought leadership skills that will help you to express, promote and implement your ideas:

  1. Uniqueness. Use your unique perspective to stand out and increase the value of your ideas.  
  2. Expertise. Know what you know.  Unpack what you know and share it in an engaging way, so that your idea will “stick”.
  3. Perspective. What is going on around you? What are the trends that will affect your business? How does your idea fit in with these?
  4. Positioning.  Know how to position yourself and your organization so that people know exactly what you do and why.
  5. Delivery.  Use the most suitable method to get your point across in a meaningful, effective and engaging way.
  6. Adaptation. Adapt your communication approach to fit the needs of different people.   
  7. Execution. Launch your concept, become massively productive and get more done.  
  8. Clicking. Connect your ideas to the needs of others so they are truly valued.   
  9. Advocacy.  Sell the vision and influence others so they engage with your ideas.
Thought leadership helps you sell your vision and ideas.  Your thought leadership makes you more charismatic, differentiates you in the employment market and attracts talented people to work for you.

To make your mark in your law firm, be a thought leader.  

About our Guest Blogger

Shelley Dunstone is the Principal of Legal Circles, which helps lawyers to have better businesses and more satisfying careers.  She has been trained in the principles of thought leadership by Matt Church, founder of the Thought Leaders group.  Join her LinkedIn group, Thought Leadership for Lawyers.

My first ALPMA Summit experience

Thursday, August 09, 2012

By Guest Blogger Vivienne Storey, General Manager - BlandsLaw

Last year was the first time I attended the annual ALPMA National Summit.  I had been looking at it for a couple of years, thinking it looked quite useful, but as I work for a small law firm with a capital "S", I wondered whether I could justify the expense. 

To give you some idea, I work for a boutique employment law firm with just seven of us to manage. It might sound relatively easy, especially for those of you who manage medium and large firms, but small has it's own set of challenges, particularly around growth. I also don't have a professional services background and many of the issues I was grappling with seem to be unique to the legal industry.

Anyway, I took a deep breath, paid the registration fees, presented a business case to the partner (yes, in that order) and crossed my fingers in hope that a day out of the office, a trip to Melbourne, my time and energy as well as the expense, would all be worth it. And that I wouldn't be some odd fish out of water surrounded by highly experienced practice managers who looked at me with disdain.

My first impression was "Wow..."

My first impression on checking in was "wow, this is incredibly well organised". At the welcome drinks you registered and got all the information you needed for the whole summit. As well as that, everyone was incredibly helpful, from the ALPMA organisers through to other delegates.

So, I picked up my Summit pack and headed to the already packed welcome drinks reception, took a deep breath, a glass of wine for fortitude and approached a group to introduce myself to. I'd like to say that I was incredibly lucky at finding a friendly bunch first up, but my experience across the whole summit was overwhelmingly that attendees are approachable and welcoming.  After just ten minutes of conversation with this first group of delegates I knew I had made the right decision in attending the ALPMA summit. How reassuring to hear that they were facing many of the same issues in managing their firms, how refreshing to meet industry colleagues so willing to share their experience and knowledge.

Heaps of useful info, new contacts & a strong sense of community

Over the next couple of days, I not only gathered a whole lot of useful information at the seminars and workshops, but I made firm friends with several delegates and great contacts across the legal industry, including several of the suppliers and exhibitors who have a wealth of industry information. Rather than feeling like an outsider, struggling in isolation to manage a growing practice, I felt part of a whole group trying to do just the same. All in all a very reassuring and valuable experience that has translated into better practices in the law firm I manage.

See you there!

This year is going to be slightly different in that I'm attending as a sponsor (my other job in a marketing capacity) so will be seeing the Summit from the other side. Don't forget to come and say "hello" - I'll be at the FilePro booth, though I will still be asking lots of questions of the delegates about how they manage their practices, to take back to my practice management role at BlandsLaw.

Share Your Summit Experience

We'd love to hear from other members who have attended Summit!  Tell us about your Summit experiences in the comments area below,

About our Guest Blogger

Vivienne Storey is a member of ALPMA's NSW Branch, the General Manager of BlandsLaw and National Marketing Manager for FilePro.

Vivienne has been actively engaged in the legal industry in Australia for the past six years. She commenced in the industry by building up an employment law practice from start up, overseeing both the marketing and growth of the firm as well as the management.  More recently she has been engaged by FilePro, a legal practice management software solution, to lead their growth in the Eastern states.  FilePro is an ALPMA National Summit Silver Partner.

Senior managers and leaders – know thyself (and plan to improve thyself!)

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

By Guest Blogger, Sean Larkan, Edge International Partner & Speaker at ALPMA's National Summit

While this is changing, it is still the case that many of us end up in senior leadership and management roles having had no formal or even informal preparation for the roles. Also, once appointed, there is an assumption that you are the leader or the manager and should just get on with it. Whether you are an aspiring or new leader or experienced in one of these roles I think it can prove invaluable to address this assumption and do some groundwork to put a solid foundation under your leadership or management role. 

If you cannot manage yourself, it is impossible to lead others effectively

When I started my blog a year ago I posted a summary of a talk by the former head of Toyota in South Africa and recognised captain of industry, Brand Pretorius - he and I shared a podium at the Boss of the Year Awards convention; he made some wonderful points of importance to existing and aspiring leaders and managers. One thing he said was "if you cannot manage yourself it is impossible to lead others effectively".
I absolutely agree with this statement but would adapt it to say "if you do not know yourself and cannot manage yourself it is impossible to lead others effectively ". Unless we know our strengths and work to build those, and have an understanding of areas for development (we all have them!), we are really operating in the dark from a leadership development perspective. In many cases we have no idea what makes us tick in regard to our thinking, our behaviours and importantly, how we interact with and relate to others. 

Getting a clear picture of yourself

Whenever I coach or support new or aspiring senior managers or leaders this is one of the first things I recommend they do – get a clear picture of their own make-up, strengths and areas to work on. It is a massively important and helpful starting point. It even works for experienced leaders and managers. Very often we assume things about ourselves which are not what others see and experience. Sometimes this can hold us back.

Fortunately it is possible and relatively easy to undertake some highly reputable, scientifically-based diagnostics which can provide a remarkably accurate assessment of an individual. Some clients have said they found them to be ‘uncannily accurate’! The one I work with provides detailed and graphical feedback on how one stands in relation to twelve scientifically validated styles of behaviour and thinking, backed up by what steps to take to further develop your strengths and address any areas for development. It is a powerful combination. If the diagnostic is supported by a suitably qualified and experienced coach you will also be guided and supported in building on the results of the diagnostic. The handy thing is that they can easily be re-tested each year or so after that. 

'Getting an accurate assessment of one's own style of leadership thinking, behaviours and interaction with others is an important foundational step in developing our leadership and management skills'.

Research and apply new skills

Also, one of the great things is that contrary to past beliefs, while it always helps to have some of the characteristics of a "natural born leader",  both leadership and management skills can and should be learned and developed. With the advent of the Internet and sophisticated search tools it is a relatively easy matter to locate a mind-boggling array of remarkably useful tips, techniques, methodologies and skills one can read about and quickly put into practice.

Obviously the choices and options can be huge and it can help to have some guidance on what to focus on. But for someone keen to develop and learn it opens up a whole new exciting world of opportunity and development.All leaders and senior managers, old and new, are urged to take these steps if they haven't already done so.

About our Guest Blogger

Sean Larkan, a partner of Edge International a global leader in the evolution of the legal industry, is a growth strategist, accredited master coach and former managing partner of leading law firms in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Sean will be presenting on "Leadership to Achieve Results" at the ALPMA National Summit on 14-15 September in Brisbane, providing a flexible framework of key elements and tools of leadership and strategy for success and growth.

Sean's core focus is to help law firms build strength, confidence and well-being. Sean publishes a weekly blog and is presently completing a book on brand strategy for law firms.  

Congratulations Andrew Price, Practice Manager of the Year!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

By ALPMA National President, Warrick McLean

Please join me in congratulating Andrew Price, COO of Wotton + Kearney and ALPMA NSW Committee member on winning the Lawyers Weekly LexisNexis Practice Manager of the Year Award.

As well as being an accomplished and inspirational leader at Wotton + Kearney, Andrew has made a significant contribution to advancing the practice management profession,  as an active  NSW Committee member  for the last few years.   
Andrew recently participated as a panel member in the ALPMA NSW HR Workshop and was willing participant in the recent ALPMA NSW lunch time seminar on Emotional Intelligence.  Andrew was also one of two recipients to receive complimentary registration to  ALPMA's sister assoction in US - the ALA Practice Management Conference in Hawaii earlier this year. Read his key takeaways from this conference here.

 Andrew is a great resource to have on the NSW committee practising previously as a lawyer before moving into practice management he provides great insight and a diverse cross section of contacts.  Andrew's firm, Wotton + Kearney is also greater supporter of ALPMA with a number of management staff participating as active members and the firm generously hosting ALPMA events from time to time. 

On behalf of everyone at ALPMA  - well done Andrew!

Achieving Work/Life Balance in a Turbo Charged World

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

By Guest Blogger, Dr Adam Fraser, author of The Third Space

Previously the competitive advantage was to work harder and longer, this strategy is no longer relevant. We can’t work any harder, we cant fit any more in, time management is dead and boundaries between work and home no longer exist. The fall out of this is that Work/life balance seems to be a thing of the past with a recent Forbes report showing that 98 percent of people do work in home time. 

So how do we have balance in this turbo charged world?

I stumbled across the answer in 2008. Firstly I was visiting some friends who had returned home after serving in Iraq. What I noticed is that they looked incredibly uncomfortable in their own home. It was like they didn’t even know where to stand. When I asked them about this they told me of the difficulty of trying to come home after being away as a soldier. They struggled with the transition from being a soldier to a parent/partner/civilian.

The second one came thirty minutes before I was about to present to 5,000 people, I was blindsided with the devastating news that one of my best friends had died unexpectedly. I was simply devastated, I was distraught and grief stricken. Despite the situation I was somehow able to overcome it and present well. When I reflected on it I realised that what allowed me to present under such trying conditions was what I did in the transitional space between getting the phone call and walking out on stage.

Both these experiences lead me to ask the question, maybe the secret to work life balance is how we transition from work to home.

I call the gap between work and home the Third Space. 

Psychological research tells us that one of the biggest challenges to good behaviour in the home is that we bring the baggage of the day home and take it out on the family. This is called negative spill.

I then partnered with Deakin University on a research project where we took 250 small business owners and measured their mood and behaviour in the home. The initial survey did not paint a pretty picture. Only 29 percent said that they came home in a good mood, with a positive mindset and exhibited constructive behaviour. 

We then asked them to perform three simple behaviours in the Third Space between work and home: 


This is where they reflected on and analysed the day. However they were encouraged to only focus on what they had achieved and what had gone well for them. 


They took time to relax and unwind. Being calm and present, allowed their physiology to recover from the stressful day. 


This is where they became clear about their intention for the home space and articulated the specific behaviours they wanted to exhibit. In other words how they wanted to ‘show up’ when they walked through the door. 

After a month of the participants applying this principle, we saw a whopping 41 percent improvement in behaviour in the home. When interviewed they conveyed that the improved interactions they had with friends and family led to a greater feeling of overall balance. 

If you want more balance stop trying to push back against the world and control it. Rather focus on how you transition from work to home and ensure that you Reflect, Rest and Reset.

About The Author

The Third Space Book
Dr Adam Fraser has been an educator and researcher in the area of human performance for the last 18 years!  In this time he has worked with elite level athletes, the armed forces and business professionals of all levels. In the last 4 years he has delivered more than 600 presentations to over 50,000 people in Australia, US, New Zealand and Asia. In 2005 he was runner up in the young investigator of the year for his PhD research. 

In addition Dr Adam is the author of three best selling books, the latest one is "The Third Space".  Adam is a regular presenter on TV and Radio and has appeared on Today Tonight, Sunrise, Today show, Kochie’s Business and What’s good for you! Also he has been profiled in the Australian Financial Review and BRW

He is married to a woman who is far brighter than he is and has a daughter who has him completely wrapped around her finger and a dog Tilly who routinely outwits him.

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