A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

12 Ways to Add to Your Firm’s Profitability and Competitiveness

Monday, April 16, 2018

By Joel Barolsky, Managing Director, Barolsky Advisors

Every person in your firm should be adding value. Every activity should be adding more value than its cost. Every asset should be leveraged to add value.

…but what does “adding value” really mean? In my view there are 12 ways your firm can add to it profitability and competitiveness, my definition of adding value. These can be clustered into four groups and detailed as follows:


12 Ways to Add to Your Firm’s Profitability and Competitiveness


Ways to add value

#1 Profiling and Pitching

  • Brand and Network Building - branded premium providers command higher prices and attract top talent. Firms with better networks spend less on mass marketing and get more low-cost referrals.
  • Client and Industry Insights - firms that really understand their client's business and industry have better bid-win strike rates and a higher percentage of sole-sourced work.
  • Selling and Pricing - firms that are adept at selling and pricing capture more value, discount less and win more.

#2 Resourcing and Communicating

  • Process and Workflow Design - firms that have streamlined workflows use fewer resources for the same outputs. They generally have faster and more predictable response times and enjoy lower error rates.
  • Resource Planning and Project Management - significantly higher margins can be realised by configuring the right combination of talent, tools and technology for each matter or project. More and more clients are choosing firms based on their ability to plan and project manage their work.
  • Client Interaction and Co-creation - better client communication and engagement usually increases the chance of client satisfaction and value perceptions. These, in turn, improve client loyalty, pricing and billing outcomes.

#3 Delivering and Controlling

  • Technical and Commercial Capability - firms that are perceived to provide better quality and more commercially relevant advice are usually able to command a price premium.
  • Service Delivery, Quality Assurance (QA) and Billing - firms that are able to deliver efficiently, effectively and consistently usually outperform their peers. So too are those that bill and collect fairly and promptly.
  • Team Engagement - firms that can motivate and inspire their staff will usually enjoy higher productivity, better quality work and less regrettable turnover.

#4 Connecting and Innovating

  • Client Relationship Management - firms that have wider and deeper relationships with their key clients will usually enjoy lower business development cost, higher share-of-wallet and more predictable revenue flow.
  • Client Education and Support - firms that support their clients through ongoing education and other activities relevant to their needs will enjoy better client relationships and loyalty. Informed purchasers often brief better, respect their providers and know what they don't know.
  • Service Innovation - firms that continue to evolve their service offering to address new market needs will retain current clients and attract new ones. Innovation that lowers costs will give firms more price-setting discretion.

Using the model

Where to invest

The value chain model can be used to assess where resources are currently deployed and where they should be. For example, most law firms put a lot of time and energy into just five areas: Brand and Network Building; Technical and Commercial Capability; Service Delivery, QA and Billing; Team Engagement and Client Relationship Management. This means that seven other value-adding areas are potentially sub-optimised. A more deliberate focus in each of these areas could add up to a significant improvement in profitability and competitiveness.

Where to innovate

Many professional service firms are looking to innovate and "digitise" their business. The model can be used to determine what elements of the value-chain should be the focus of change and investment. For example, rather than spreading themselves too thinly, a firm might want to focus their energy and dollars on getting closer to their key clients and enhancing client connectivity and engagement. This would mean an emphasis on Client Engagement and Co-creation, Client Relationship Management and Client Education and Support.

What should we make, buy or borrow?

By analysing its value chain, a firm can decide which elements it should make, which it should buy, and which it should borrow. So, for example, one of my accounting firm clients has engaged a specialist lead generation company to help out with Sales and Pricing. They recognised that prospecting for new clients was a key weakness, and that re-training the firm's partners would be like flogging a dead horse. They pay the consultancy $500 for each meeting they set up within defined 'right client' parameters.

How do we compare?

The value chain model can be used for head-to-head competitor analysis. Further insights can be gained by examining each of the 12 areas, assessing where a firm is ahead, where it's at par, or where it's behind its key competitors. A firm can then use the model to decide its core strategy, that is, how it's going to win and what capabilities will be needed for success. For example, if very few direct competitors are focusing on Resource Planning & Project Management, this might be a source of competitive advantage in the period ahead.

How do we organise?

The final application area of the value chain model is to ensure there is oversight of each of the value-adding areas or categories. For example, a firm may elect to create a Resourcing and Communicating SWAT team, with a blend of Practice, IT, HR, Finance and BD executives, charged with identifying and making improvements.


About our Guest Blogger

Joel Barolsky

Joel Barolsky is Managing Director of Barolsky Advisors, Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne and Creator of the Price High or Low smartphone app designed to help you with pricing your projects.









Lawyers win tenders - not the tender writer

Monday, April 09, 2018

By Clemtine Scahill, Business Development Manager, Prodonovich Advisory

How to have your law firm’s tenders taken seriously, as a first step and how to win the work as a result of your tender preparation.

If you want to throw the cat among the pigeons in your law firm, submit a competitive tender for a major new client or project.

Not only does that ensure people will be distracted from their main role for a few weeks, it’s also a guaranteed cause of stress and the derailing of other important projects.

And the best part? After all the late nights, early morning coffees, neglecting of existing clients, and harassing your colleagues (or being harassed by them) for essential information, you’re still more likely than not to miss out.

How I know that is through my work with law firms, where the average success rate is below 45%. That’s better than in many industries and professions, but it’s still hardly the stuff of legend. And it means around half of all firms are actually performing below that mark – sometimes well below.

My own success rate in this arena is about 85%. While I’m proud of that, I’m also certain it’s not a function of having been born with a special bid writing gene. Consequently, I’ve become deeply interested in whether there’s a formula for consistently producing winning tenders – something I’ve been doing without fully appreciating how distinct it is from the typical approach.

The short answer: there is a formula, and I’d like to share it with you.

What is the minimum needed to have your tender considered seriously?

If you’re not already meeting these criteria, this is where you should devote your attention first:
  • You demonstrate you have the legal expertise and can prove it
  • You actually answer all the questions required of the tender. Sounds simple but often a piece is written and it sounds good but it doesn't answer the question
  • You demonstrate that you have the technology, insurances, policies, systems and processes, as well as security needed for this client
  • You are in the right ballpark with price
As I said, meet those criteria, and you can expect to be taken seriously. But that’s not the same as winning.

The four things I believe you need to do to have a real shot at winning the tender

  • Demonstrate and provide proof that you know the client – and their industry 
  • Show that you ‘get’ what bothers them in their daily routine
  • Show that you also get what makes them say ‘thank you’ meaningfully and with relief
  • Finally, show what you do – outside of legal expertise – to make your clients look good.
How do you do all that? The only way to get it right is by working closely with the experts (the lawyers) at the tendering firm. It is they who win the tenders – not the tender writer.

This is one thing I am very clear about – a good tender will have spot-on information from the best lawyers in the firm. The lawyers who know their client and know their client’s industry.

A good tender writer is extremely curious and draws out both information and the tone of the tender, then manages that information for use in the bid document.

That’s a little like being a referee in a sporting contest; I know I’m needed and I know I need to be masterful in my role, but everything I do is designed to allow the real experts knowledge and understanding to shine. Our shared moment arrives when the contract is won.

Getting the right information starts with finding the people in the firm who know a lot about the client and their industry, and then listening hard to what they have to say

I keep questioning until the “ah that’s what I wanted to know and hear – let me get that down word for word” moment. The deeper my understanding of the client, the better I am able to address the needs, fears and the big expectations of clients.
I trust the experts in my client’s firm. It’s easy for a tender to get derailed by enthusiasts for a seductive, marketing/comms-driven approach.

The best marketing people, in my experience, have a level of humility that allows them to enhance rather than dictate. They’re not seductive; they’re clear thinking and outcome driven, and they make sure the experts’ voices are heard.

What your law firm does, and will do, makes all the difference to the client

Usually, it comes down to a combination of saving time, saving money, creating efficiencies and showing that firms understand exactly what the right result is for their client (and it’s not always a win in court); but it may not be limited to those things.
Rather than simply write in the bid that those will be achieved , I keep digging until I’m clear how the law firm will do that. If we can’t demonstrate and provide proof that what we promise will actually happen, it’s questionable whether we should be saying it at all.

And the bottom line, always, is that the most valuable expertise lies with others, not me. When I allow that expertise its fullest expression, magic happens and positive results show up time after time.

Along the way, the valuable insights and documentation that get produced are categorised for future use – for marketing, tender proposals, internal discussions, and more.

One final point to improve your tender’s likelihood of success

In an effort to win new business, many firms tender for opportunities that they really shouldn’t. The reasons not to tender, are many – and a subject for another blog – but for now I suggest that before undertaking a new bid, you always ask yourself what opportunities you have among existing panel appointments and other clients. This is your true low-hanging fruit, and in the excitement of pursuing entirely new opportunities, it’s easy to miss it.


About our Guest Blogger


Clementine Scahill has worked with Prodonovich Advisory since 2015 helping firms pursue new business including managing projects to ensure firms are ready for winning. Clementine assists firms with their strategy development, importantly helping them execute their plans. She has particular expertise in target account plans, competitive pitches and corporate communications. Her career has included senior roles with McKinsey and Company (in Australia and the US), PKF, Hunt and Hunt Lawyers and more recently Bartier Perry Lawyers.






Facebook updates are good news for law firms

Monday, April 02, 2018

By Caitlin Ritter, Marketing Manager, Carter Capner

If you’re managing your law firm’s social media presence or strategy, you’ve likely heard about the coming changes to the Facebook news feed and the algorithm behind it. These changes have already started to roll out.

On the surface, it’s about quality controlling news feeds so people see more of the stuff that makes them happy, like posts from friends rather than content from businesses, brands and media publishers. The branded content you do see will be shown because it sparks genuine connections between people – that means people are engaging with it on more than a superficial ‘post like’ basis. 

So those blog posts, news articles and testimonials that you’re publishing organically (that is, not paying for), while all fine pieces of content, will potentially cease to exist for Facebook users who tend to scroll within their news feed. They will, however, still be visible if a user visits your actual Facebook page.

On the other hand, businesses and pages will be encouraged to continue to pay to have their content shown, meaning boosted posts and advertisements will be all systems go. 

Sounds bad – and expensive – right? 

Wrong. 

This Facebook update is good for law firms and here’s why

Law firms are in a great position to offer the types of interactions that Facebook may see as valuable to its users. 

This is because everyone needs legal information at some point in their life. And by its nature, legal information can be tricky to understand. 

With the demand for informative and helpful legal information in plain English, it’s up to firms to create content that fills the gaps and answers the questions people have. 

You can identify these topics through a variety of different methods. You might want to:
  • Ask the legal teams what questions people commonly ask throughout their matters. 
  • Delve into search trends in your practice areas to find out what questions people search for online (or ask your digital agency to do that for you). 
  • Look into your Google Analytics account to see if any blog posts are particularly popular. 
  • Use past social media posts that have had high engagement levels as indicators of what topics work well. 

Qld Estate Lawyers is leveraging the market for information to achieve good reach and engagement on Facebook

What does this mean about posting on Facebook moving forward?

Here are some tips on what and how firms may want to post over the coming months. 

1. Keep it classy – don’t beg for people to interact with your brand

The Facebook overlords have made it pretty clear that posts with ‘comment bait’ (think of brands who add “comment Y if you like cookies!” at the end of a post) won’t be rewarded. While a call to action (“like or share this post if you found it helpful”) is generally OK, make sure any requests for interaction are genuine and relevant to the topic at hand. 

2. Quality over quantity – don’t post for the sake of keeping a schedule

Ever since the news feed ditched its chronological post order, the need to post regularly has been a bit baffling. People will see your posts when they see them, and if your posts aren’t high-quality, then they won’t see them at all. It’s as simple as that. So focus less on sticking to your 3-times-a-week schedule and put more focus on creating content that adds value to your audience’s experience. 

3. Cause some controversy – don’t shy away from having opinions

  • Should artificial intelligence determine sentencing in criminal cases? 
  • Should road rules be adjusted to offer more protection to cyclists?
  • Should the government impose heavier regulations on property developers?
No matter what your area/s of law happen to be, there’s guaranteed to be a hot topic you can use to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to take a stance – passion takes sides, and as long as you’re not being offensive or antagonistic, there’s nothing wrong with having an opinion. Be respectful of commenters who disagree, and listen to any feedback your readers offer. 

4. Switch to camera mode – experiment with video if you have the resources

Show the softer side of the firm with short videos and live videos on your Facebook page. It doesn’t have to be fancy – you could do some short meet the team segments or a Q&A session.

In an earlier ALPMA post on increasing engagement on social media, Nicole Shelley said “You can have a little bit of ‘me, me, me’ but you need to have a lot of ‘you, you, you’”.

That’s truer than ever with the coming changes. And to do that, you need to identify what your audience wants to know, answer those questions thoroughly, and get those answers in front of the right people. It’s not about beating the system – it’s just about giving value back to the people you want to connect with.

About our Guest Blogger

Caitlin Ritter - Carter Capner
Caitlin Ritter is the Marketing Manager for Carter Capner Law, a firm with specialist brands for compensation, wills & estates and business & property. She holds a Bachelor of Business and a Bachelor of Journalism from QUT, and applies her keen interest in consumer-led marketing to the job on a daily basis.
Caitlin comes from a digital marketing and content production background, and enjoys turning technical talk into plain English.





The 6 rules to getting your law firm's fees right

Monday, March 26, 2018

By Sue-Ella Prodonovich, Principal, Prodonovich Advisory

In my blog “6 things law firms need to accept”, I mentioned that law firms needed to accept that this was a buyer’s market. Now I’m here to tell you that this doesn’t apply just to lawyers; it’s the same for all professional services.

That means, you could well be told in 2018 that your prices are too high. It also means that getting your pricing right will be one of the keys to building a successful practice over the next 12 months. So, if you’re feeling powerless and confused about what to do, try following these 6 rules.

1. Understand the emotional side of buying

While professionals may deal in the analytical and rational, it’s always worth remembering that buyers are seldom analytical and never rational. Why else would people fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a different badge on a handbag or a motorcar? It’s because they see these as denoting higher status than other goods.

The same principles apply to professional services as they do to retail. People, including the hard nosed management teams of serious corporates, will pay a premium for services that they perceive as premium. Similarly, if they see something as run-of-the mill, they’ll expect to get it for the best price they can.

To make sure you fall on the right side of the equation, you need to understand the emotional side of buying. If you want help doing that, there are a lot of good books that can point you in the right direction.

You also need to understand what will make a client pay top dollar. And, whether that’s through specialising in a niche, providing a personalised service, or innovating, one thing is certain: clients always pay more for professionals who understand them.

If you’re being told your prices are too high, perhaps you’re simply not getting this right.

2. Don’t dive straight into fixed fees

In the current climate a lot of professional services think that all they need to do is move to fixed fees and the pricing problem will take care of itself. Anyone who has read any of my blogs in the past knows that I have very strong views on this. While fixed fees may be part of the solution, they’re not the solution every time.

Fixed fees tend to work brilliantly when the scope of work is known and its commoditised - for instance, a conveyance or a simple contract for a lawyer, or a basic end of year tax return for an accountant. In my view, fixed fees don’t work at all where the scope of work is unknowable and the work you’re doing is bespoke and highly skilled.

And, for most types of work, they’ll fall somewhere in between - effective sometimes and not others. 

So, instead of going straight for an “alternative fee” model, I always encourage people to go straight for an “appropriate fee model”. Analyse what’s going to work out best for both you and the client and stick to that, rather than being rigid. If you're not sure what to charge, here's what i think should influence your pricing.

3. Start with the client

In my experience, a lot of professional services firms get their pricing the wrong way around. What I mean by that is that they have no pricing strategy, so instead the starting point for what they’ll charge will be their remuneration policy.

If they pay a staff member $100,000 a year, they’ll use this figure to calculate how much they should charge to pay their employee, cover their overheads and take a bit of profit. That sounds logical, but doing it in isolation can lead to a raft of pricing problems, the effect of which can lead to a short change for both your practice and your client.

A better place to start is with the client. Figure out how you can bring them value, by delivering what they want and making their experience with you pain free. Once you’ve put some thought into that, you can then work backwards, figuring out how to utilise technology and your fee earners to deliver it in the best possible way.

By putting things in this order, you may uncover more profit than you could ever dream about rather than using salary as your starting point.

4. Work out where your value lies

Good law firm pricing always comes by knowing the value you bring. In other words, what is your client really paying you for?

To work this out, you’ll need to engage in a bit of good old fashioned soul searching and problem solving. So what is it that your client wants from you? And what could they just as easily get anywhere else and at a cheaper price?

When you look at things this way, chances are you could take something off the table to bring your prices down without compromising your profitability.

For instance, are you spending too much time of admin? Could you push some of this back onto the client? Could you deconstruct the service you offer, breaking it up into many parts so that you retain the high value stuff and outsource the other parts somewhere else?

If you do have this option, I’d suggest you try taking it because it’s likely to lead you into building a network of referrers who pass you work in return - that is the stuff you really want to be doing. And that will help protect your fees and your profits, while still keeping your clients happy.

A new tool that can help law firms with pricing dilemmas or decisions is Price High or Low. Designed by Joel Barolsky for professional service firms, this is a very clever and timely application.

5. Look for the real motivation of clients

If a client thinks your pricing is too high or they start going to a cheaper provider, it’s easy to look within. But sometimes, it’s not you, it’s them. So look beyond the rejection to find out why they don’t want to pay.

Chances are they simply may not have the budget. Perhaps there’s been a restructure. Perhaps they have a new CFO who’s stepped in and is slashing costs. Otherwise, perhaps they’re really just not the client for you because they’re simply not prepared to pay for the value you provide. 

I liken it to the petrol pump selling High Octane 98 fuel. To me, this makes no difference; I’ll just buy the cheapest fuel on offer. But a motoring enthusiast will probably really notice, and care about. The 1% difference it’s making to their performance. If people don’t value what you have, you need to find your own enthusiasts; the ones who really do get it.

6. Talk about pricing with your clients

Finally, I always think the best way to find out what a client thinks about your pricing is simply to ask them. I know, I know. Our mothers told us it was rude to talk about money. But sometimes, when you’re in business, you’ve just gotta. 

Ask your clients what they think about your pricing. Are you cheaper or more expensive than your competitors? There is no winning formula. It really often is sometimes about sitting down and talking about what is fair from both ends.

After all, in my experience clients price shop a lot less than most people think.

So if someone does say you’re too expensive, maybe they’re really trying to tell you something else…

About our Guest Blogger

Sue-Ella Prodonovich
Sue-Ella has more than 20 years senior level experience in winning and growing business in the complex business-to-business services and professional services sector. Over that time she has helped many of the Asia Pacific’s most recognised legal and professional services firms sharpen their business development practices, attract and retain clients, and become more profitable. Sue-Ella is the principal of Prodonovich Advisory, which she founded in 2012.






7 things your law firm can do to make money before the end of the financial year

Monday, March 19, 2018

By Sue-Ella Prodonovich, Principal, Prodonovich Advisory

By the end of February, law firms should have billed 70-80% of their revenue for this financial year, as well as having a good idea about how they’re going to make the remainder of their budget for FY2018.

If you haven’t - or if the pipeline looks a little bare - you don’t have to panic just yet. Instead, look for the tree with the low hanging fruit and shake the branches hard until it falls.

To find out exactly how to do that, read on and discover my 7 tips for finding more fees today, without needing to bump up your prices.

1. Speak to your clients

It’s almost always easier to get new work out of existing clients than it is to find new ones. And better still, the lead time - ie the time between the initial conversation and the work arriving on your desk - is almost always much shorter too.

So if you need more work now, your first port of call should be to get in touch with everyone on your current client list. When you do, don’t sell. Simply check in to make sure everything’s ok. Better still send them something of value, such as an article or an invitation, and follow it up with a phone call if you can.

Always remember, 80 percent of life is turning up. If you’re not doing that, you’re not even in the game.

2. Look for triggers

As I’ve pointed out before, no matter what product or service you’re selling, people will buy more easily when there’s a trigger to do so.

To cite an obvious one, people see their accountant when they need to do their end-of-year tax. So when you do contact people, even better than saying hi, is casually mentioning or writing about a trigger; what’s happened lately in your field, any regulatory changes, big events going on, or new trends emerging.

Alternatively, has something changed at your client’s end - a restructure or a change of personnel?

Whatever it is, call your clients to tell them about it, or send an email to your mailing list letting them know how it affects them and how you can help. You may be surprised by the results it brings - especially if you show how it will save them money or how it’s otherwise relevant to what they do.

Again, as I’ve said before, I once asked the project manager of a large listed property group why he chose a particular law firm to act for him on a significant dispute. He said that was easy....

He’d received an update from a lawyer he’d never met, working with a law firm he had never heard of. But the content was bang on the money and the timing was spot on. And because he was facing an almost identical issue, he picked up the phone and called that lawyer instead of his incumbent.

3. Call dead leads

Go through the list of everyone who’s contacted you over the past 12 months (or even two years) and get back in touch with them.

Let them know you’re still around and ask them if there’s anything you can help with. If this seems confronting it shouldn’t be. What’s the worst they’ll do? Say no again? Then you’re still where you are right now anyway.

Any decent salesperson will tell you that you should never write off someone just because they’ve said no in the past. If you get back in touch with say, 20 people, you only need one to say yes and you’ve probably made yourself money. Just don’t come across as pushy or desperate.

4. Change your targets

Building and maintaining referral sources is critical for law firms. In my experience, most work for professionals doesn’t come direct from clients, it comes from referrers. So if you’re not getting work through the door it could be that your referrers either aren’t saying the right things about you, or aren’t meeting the right people.

If you’re worried about the amount of work coming your way, tee up a meeting with each referrer and find out how they’re positioning you and who they’re positioning you to. Do they really know what you do? If not, now’s the time to tell them.

While we’re on the topic, is there someone else you think would be a good referrer? Someone who knows the right people or whose client base complements yours? Well, why not get in touch with them and try to meet them too.

5. Repackage

Perception is 9/10ths of reality. In other words, how we present something or how it is perceived matters just as much as what it is.

So ask yourself, are there any legal services you have that could do with an overhaul?

Could you change the way you charge for something or reposition it, or introduce it to a new market? Take a quiet moment to look at your processes and see how you could rejig them to create something new.

Or why not see if you could team up with another complementary department to create a new product or service. The “cross sell” opportunities with law firms should be constantly looked at.

6. Open up the floor

When it comes to generating ideas, two heads are always better than one. And three heads are better than two. And, four heads is better than... well you get my drift.

So don’t do your sales push alone if you can help it. Call a meeting of everyone in your team - especially those in day-to-day contact with your clients - and see what they can contribute.

Have they had conversations they forgot to tell you about? Do they have ideas about how things could be done differently? Have they seen aspects of your client’s business that aren’t bring serviced or other new opportunities for work?

These days partners should never be the only ones responsible for a practice’s business development. Get everyone to pitch in and see the difference it makes.

7. Get professional help

Finally, there’s always the option of bringing in the professionals: whether that’s through BD and sales coaching, advertising or even appointment setting.

After all, I know of some very good professional services firms who use the services of appointment setters and it can work to devastating effect. That’s because it shifts the emphasis on the routine matters to someone else - someone who’s an expert in it - and leaves you to pitch to someone who’s already partly interested.

If you don’t do this, there’s always the option of a digital or email campaign or some other tactic that will bring in new work now.

About our Guest Blogger

Sue-Ella Prodonvich
Sue-Ella has more than 20 years senior level experience in winning and growing business in the complex business-to-business services and professional services sector. Over that time she has helped many of the Asia Pacific’s most recognised legal and professional services firms sharpen their business development practices, attract and retain clients, and become more profitable. Sue-Ella is the principal of Prodonovich Advisory, which she founded in 2012.






Australian and New Zealand Legal Professional Outlook for 2018

Monday, March 12, 2018

By Sam Coupland, Director, FMRC


2017 was a turnaround year in the Australian and New Zealand legal profession. Despite media predictions of doom and gloom, financially at least, most firms had their strongest year for a long time.

There is no one-size-fits-all reason for this, but a number of factors are at play. On a macro level, the economies of both countries are improving, and on a micro basis, the tougher years have seen firms work hard on getting their personnel structure right, which has reduced unnecessary costs and the resultant fiscal drag.

My predictions for 2018 for the Australian and New Zealand legal profession:

Improved Profits

Good firms of all sizes will do well financially. Demand is increasing and so are the key drivers of profitability; namely, rates and hours.

In 2017 rack rates and realised rates for all categories of fee earner increased and the margin between rack rates and realised tightened. This was possibly helped by the ‘bigger bastard’ theory, where clients know (either through experience of osmosis) that other firms or a group of firms are charging a lot more. This applies to the total cost of matters, not just hourly rates.

For the first time in about ten years, recorded hours have increased. I know mentioning chargeable hours is anathema to many commentators, but it is still the predominant way of generating fees and is the best measure of utilisation within a firm.

With price and productivity increasing and a buoyant economy to operate in, 2018 should be a great year for good firms.

Personnel structure will continue to evolve

Leverage (the number of employed fee earners per equity principal) as a differentiator has almost disappeared. Clients are increasingly demanding senior lawyers do their work and they are prepared to pay for it. This coincides nicely with what senior lawyers want to do: after all, they trained to be lawyers not people managers.

I see the trend toward leaner teams continuing in 2018. For practices which do the high-end complex legal work, these teams will be a cluster of experienced senior lawyers with very little leverage. For the more commoditised work, firms will make greater use of technology and contractors to ensure those people on the payroll are fully utilised. Gap-filling by contractors will reduce the need for firms to have a large ‘standing army’ to cope with the peaks in demand.

More merger activity

There is interest at both ends of the acquisition / merger spectrum to do a deal where possible. Firms with an expansion mindset see acquiring a firm or practice group as the fastest and cheapest way to grow their business. They will usually have a support structure that can accommodate – both physically and managerially – an additional practice or two which provides economies of scale.

At the other end, an acquisition or merger can provide a firm with a circuit breaker for some of their managerial challenges or deadlocks. This could be anything ranging from succession to disparity in contribution or a hollowing out of market share.

Cash payments for equity will become increasingly scarce

For firms of all size, a lockstep entry to equity is more common than dollars changing hands from the sale of equity between partners. Similarly a merger is more likely than a trade sale between firms.

The opportunity for the partners in a firm being acquired is usually the likelihood of earning more in the merged entity, plus a one-off opportunity to realise the firm’s balance sheet.

Like most of the economy, sale of law firm equity is becoming a buyer’s market.

Genuine innovation remains on the horizon.

Conferences will continue to be built around innovation, artificial intelligence and a general theme of ‘the machines are coming, so get on board now’. There is no doubt there is plenty of movement in this area but there are also limitations, least of which is widespread client acceptance. So the conference industry is safe for a few years yet.

About our Guest Blogger


Sam Coupland
Sam joined FMRC in January 2000 and became a Director in July 2006. His client facing roles span direct consulting and management training. Sam’s consulting work is predominantly providing advice to smaller partnerships. Sam is considered the foremost authority on law firm valuations and would value more law firms than anyone else in Australia. He has developed a robust valuation methodology which calculates an accurate capitalisation rate that assesses the risk profile, cash flow and profitability of the firm.







How artificial intelligence and technology can create a better you.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

By Todd Keeler, Director, FilePro

With the influx of artificial intelligence and the constant introduction of new technology, it appears that we are losing access to some of the work tasks that we often rely on to recharge or take a breath. Whilst you don’t want to be wasting time on the more low-level tasks, I think you’ll probably agree; there’s an almost meditational quality to switching into autopilot as you scan those documents or fill in your time sheets.

It’s not news that as a lawyer your time is increasingly valuable. It doesn’t make sense for you to be wasting time on tasks that anyone, or anything, can do. But as technology continues to focus on delivering efficiencies and AI becomes widespread, will the mundane and repetitive tasks become extinct? And if so, what does this mean for maintaining sanity during the work day?

Whilst the future of AI is out of our individual hands, you can control how you incorporate productive mini-breaks into your day. Here at FilePro, we were recently joined by Executive Coach and time management guru, Linda Murray. During her sessions, Linda encouraged us to deliberately structure our days; to build balance, to work in manageable blocks, and to take regular breaks in order to maximise efficiency.

Here are my three favourite tips from her sessions:

1. Be realistic with your daily to-do lists and schedules. Work out how long each task will take, and allow a buffer for over-time and unforeseen issues. Don’t create a to-do list which you know you can not complete in a day. Start a second list for the next day if necessary.

2. Focus on the task at hand. Multitasking does not save time! Focus on completing one task before you move on to the next.

3. Divide your day into deliberate blocks of focused attention (maximum 90 minutes). In between these sprints of effort, try to switch your mind off, be present and recharge your mind ready for the next sprint.

Once your time management is under control, start to incorporate some breathing techniques into your day. Dr. Herbert Benson believes that controlling our breath can counteract the fight or flight response and replace it with a relaxation response. Breathwork can be used to physically change the structure of your brain so that it performs at a higher level, even when you’re under pressure. You can read Dr. Benson’s advice on breathing techniques here.

Mindfulness expert, Jodie Gien, recently equipped FilePro readers with 3 quick breathwork strategies she uses to manage stress and anxiety in the moment. Anchoring, 7/11 breathing, and breath counting are all ways in which we can force our brains to remain present. Jodie takes you through her simple techniques step-by-step here.

Next time you're feeling nostalgic for some quiet time at the scanner, have a go at practicing the above strategies. We can’t control the future of AI, but you can control how it works for you.

About our Guest Blogger


Todd Keeler
Todd Keeler is a Director of FilePro, a fully integrated practice management solution for law firms looking to streamline office processes without sacrificing service. Having worked with law firms since 1999, Todd now leads a team of professional staff who are passionate about upholding FilePro’s key value; building strong, enduring relationships with each and every client. Feel free to contact Todd on a no-obligation basis to discuss any technology, workflow or productivity challenge you may be facing.


How to maximise engagement from social media

Sunday, January 21, 2018

By Nicole Shelley, Operations Manager, Pepper IT 

There is still some hesitation within the Australasian legal industry to embrace digital marketing, including a presence on social media channels.

Some barriers include:

  • a lack of understanding on how to determine the return on investment;

  • a lack of insider industry knowledge around digital marketing and in particular, how this translates into a professional services context. 
The platforms developed to be ‘social’ with family and friends have evolved into the most effective platform on which to share your firms’ stories, successes and values. It’s your opportunity to speak directly to your clients in bulk. Once you gain an understanding the fundamentals, social media for law firms really becomes an effective and essential marketing and client engagement tool.

From our experience, the two largest initial roadblocks are:
  1. How to successfully start. Where do we start? 

  2. How to create social media content. Having the knowledge around what to write about, what to post, when to post, where to post and how to post your content.

Where to start with your digital marketing strategy 

When kicking off any communication and marketing strategy, law firms always carefully consider, and many battle with, the thought of ‘handing over’ their firms’ public facing voice to either an internal marketing team or an external agency.

We generally see that ‘letting go’ is overcome by 1 of 3 factors.

  • It’s brought to the firm’s attention that competitors successfully navigate social media and there is the reactionary position to do the same;
  • Digital savvy senior leaders of the firm champion these initiates; and/or
  • Engaging the right resource to successfully develop, manage and implement digital marketing is key. 

How to allocate the right resources to your digital marketing strategy

Allocating the right resource to managing your digital marketing social media management is an important part of planning for the firm success.

Whilst you may have a junior staff member who is a “super user” and very engaged with posting in a personal context, they may not have the business knowledge and marketing strategy know-how to frame your online communications in the best way. It’s not simply a matter of handing it to a ‘gen y’ or ‘millennial’.

The nature of social is dynamic. Platform algorithms (the science and technology behind how social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn actually work) are always changing and it’s incredibly time consuming to keep on top of it all. This should also be another consideration when setting the digital marketing team up for success. Allow your inhouse team the capacity to continuously upskill and stay abreast of developments; just like lawyers upskill in legislative changes through their CPD programs.

Overcoming this allocation of the right resource, gives comfort to firms. Unfortunately, this can be a long road to success particularly for smaller law firms, many whom initially pilot social media marketing with the resources they have at hand, creating an often less than desirable initial outcome. In turn, if your initial foray into social media is unsuccessful, you may not continue and, in our view, this is a big mistake.

Social media marketing content planning


To help keep your social media tone of voice true to your firm and your content relevant to what you do and for whom you do it (your audience), we recommend having a strategy which loosely follows a 5-3-2 content framework.

  • Five pieces of content should focus on your industry. For specialist law firms this may be changes in family or property law for example or for firms with a broader service offering, don’t be afraid show the breadth of your offering across social media. If you do both family and property law do not be afraid to share both industry updates on your social media platforms. This provides a good opportunity for client cross selling.                                                                                                                                                                     
  • In curating/creating these 5 pieces of content, leverage current and relevant industry news and events. Keep in mind your target client audience. This will facilitate conversation and assist to position your firm as thought leaders. 
  • Three of the ten posts can be used to specifically promote your firm, your practice areas and your lawyers’ expertise. This can include client success stories, lawyer speaking engagements or sharing news and insights from the firm’s website. 
  • Now it’s time to showcase your firm values by sharing posts that highlight organisational core values. In addition, showing your audience that your firm has a human side is a great way to build familiarity and trust. This can be inclusive of events like team fun runs and sporting events or pro-bono and charity work. Professional services firms are in the people industry and social media provides an opportunity to showcase human experiences and values that align with clients or potential clients own values. 

While this is a guide and some weeks this will need to change and flex for business reasons, we do recommend posting on average of at least 7 - 10 posts per week. More content is usually preferable than less content, but don’t post for the sake of posting. The quality of your content should be your top priority.

What can you learn from the mistakes of others?

There are two common mistakes most people/companies will make when embarking on their social media content journey. The first mistake is thinking firms have nothing valuable to share on their social media platforms.

This is simply not true. Take a step back and appreciate the tribal knowledge that is held within the firm and transfer this into content that is easy to digest and appealing to the intended audience, your clients and industry.

The second mistake is doing the opposite - going overboard on sales pitch or another of the above elements and therefore not having a balanced and rounded approach. You can have a little bit of ‘me, me, me’ but you need to have a lot of ‘you, you, you’.

Finally, a holistic approach is essential to social media management. There must be a strategy. There is no point if your posting is ad hoc, inconsistent in the content and regularity of posting or irrelevant to your audience.

Your social media tactics and strategy must be a piece of both your digital marketing and traditional marketing mix.

About our Guest Blogger

Nicole ShelleyNicole Shelley B.Com, CPA, CIMA is Operations Manager at Pepper IT, a full service digital and social media agency with a particular expertise advising clients in the professional services sector.

As a qualified accountant and working at top tier global law firm Herbert Smith Freehills in various strategy and practice management roles, Nicole understands the unique operating environment of law firms. Combining her background with her marketing expertise Nicole works with professional services firm across Asia Pacific on digital marketing.





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Why is a Legal Practice App Essential for your law firm

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

By Garth Brown, Brown and Brown Conveyancers

How to embrace change, stay relevant and satisfy client needs is a challenge facing today’s law firms, and will only keep evolving as time moves forward.


Business is now transacted on the move, meetings are held online, and the virtual environment is rapidly expanding thanks to mobile technologies. This means an effective mobile strategy to represent your firm involves more than just a mobile-friendly website.

Leveraging technology to increase productivity, profits and optimise organisational and individual performance is redefining how law firms deliver services to existing and future clients and traditional marketing/advertising methods are rapidly changing.

I started my Conveyancing firm nearly 20 years ago and was an early adopter of leveraging technologies moving very quickly to remote servers and establishing a virtual office for my practice. Having a well branded website was critical to how

I communicated. I then progressed to video content, social media and self-publishing an eBook (available to ALPMA members at a discount*).

The next logical step was an App and I developed my first “Ask Conveyancer” App for consumers and then released a Pro version with significant enhancements.

So, who is my market and how is the App a lead generation tool?

Millennials are a big market. That’s those born between 1980 and 2000 with an average age in Australia of 37.3 years according to the ABS.

This type of consumer is very tech savvy and will look to a firm who employs technology as a leader in their field of expertise and discipline.

The App also reduces the amount of emails and telephone calls between the client and lawyer by supplying critical information in a timely manner.

I have personally found journalists and leading industry providers will contact me for opinions and advice because of my App that is designed to reduce “client pain points”.

A law firm without its own Legal Practice App could be missing the immense potential an App can deliver - don't let your law firm fall behind!

It’s a big opportunity to enhance your clients’ experience.

The process for developing an App for your law firm

Working with the right designer/developer is easier than you think.

They will provide you with an App strategy/brief, assist you to work out the content and add niche features that apply to your specific practice, making your App unique to you. During the process there are beta versions to test before publishing so you don’t go live without full testing.

I have worked with the same agency for many years and highly recommend them Please feel free to contact me for if you’d like to be connected with them.

Once you go ahead with your Law Firm App, you will not regret your decision.

About our Guest Blogger

Garth Brown
Garth Brown is a Degree Qualified Accountant and Certified Conveyancing premium property specialist offering; highest property law, quality solutions, trust and service.
Brown and Brown Conveyancing have over 16 years experience in Conveyancing and Real Estate matters we are well placed to handle the conveyance for either Vendor or Buyer. 







Don't Automate - Obliterate!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

by Gene Turner, Managing Director, LawHawk

In a recent LinkedIn post, Tim Boyne (a founder of legal tech company LawVu) made a deliberately provocative statement:

“On average, less than 5% of the tasks lawyers do every day require a law degree. In some areas of law it's less than 1%. That means ~ 95% of the $Trillion NZD legal industry is up for grabs. There’s gold in the streets. Right now that bounty still belongs to traditional law firms and they're reaching for their trusty clubs and slingshots ready to go to war for it. The problem is that the venture backed LegalTech industry is building a high tech, robotic arsenal of weaponry the likes of which the world has never seen. There have been over 700 LegalTech startups created in the last few years. Each one of them looking for a piece of that action. Interesting times, and well worth everyone in the industry spending a little time thinking about how they'll maintain relevancy moving forward.”

Tim wanted a response, and he got it, including the following: 

  • Derision from a young lawyer, because Tim was not a lawyer, and therefore shouldn’t presume to comment on the topic of law; 

  • A comment by a partner of a law firm that her firm can already do whatever the legal technology (any of it apparently) does, better, and at a lower cost; and

  • Requests to know where the 95% figure had come from, and doubts as to whether it was accurate. 

  • There were assumptions that legal tech suppliers are looking to take work away from lawyers, rather than work with them; that legal technology is primarily for the high-end legal market, given that they have the most money; and that legal technology is still something that is coming, rather than here and available today. 
In response to these points, I would say: 

  • We should never dismiss an idea just because it did not come from a lawyer.  In this case, Tim has 10 years of experience managing IT for a law firm, and knows very well how law firms work.  But would it matter if he didn’t?  As ALPMA members know very well, non-lawyers such as practice managers and IT specialists already add a lot of value and ideas to the legal profession.  In the legal tech space, many vendors are looking to bring improvements to law which have already been proven in other sectors and we should be encouraging those ideas. 

  • Legal technology and law firms should not be mutually exclusive. Most of the legal technology suppliers I know would prefer to partner with law firms and help them use the “robotic arsenal of weaponry” to provide better services at better value, but many law firms don’t want to know about them.  Why? 

  • Law firms need to continuously try to improve the way they work, as any business does.  Everything can be done better – often dramatically so. Just a small amount of curiosity would allow law firms of any size to trial many of the technologies that are now available, and to see how much they can help to save time, reduce risk, improve quality, and win more work.  

  • It doesn’t matter where the 95% figure came from, or if it is totally accurate. As Warren Buffett has said, “It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong”, and I bet it is approximately right. Even if it was only 50% that would be substantial.  But take a minute to imagine if it is as high as 95%.  If new technology means that up to 95% of what the organisation does could be done at least as well – if not better – at lower costs, wouldn’t that be awesome?!  Any business owner should be excited by those type of opportunities for their business. 

  • Let’s not forget all the “legal” and “non-legal” (whatever that distinction means) work that law firms currently do not get, and never will if they keep working as they currently do, but could if they provided services clients wanted at a price they were prepared to pay.  Technology will enable law firms to understand and respond to their clients’ real problems and integrate into wider business processes in very profitable and enduring ways.  The potential market for lawyers’ services is far greater than what lawyers currently serve. 

  • Legal technology is absolutely not just for the large law firms, and you don’t need a lot of money to start using it today.  In fact, many of the solutions are cloud based and as available right now to small firms as large. Some legal technology such as document automation are far from new, having been available (but largely ignored by lawyers) for 20 years. 
Automation is essential for law firms.  It is already happening – with or without law firms - and those who adopt it will be able to offer profoundly different services to those who don’t.  Instead of cautiously seeking incremental improvements to the traditional ways lawyers work and focussing mainly on risks, lawyers should embrace the opportunities it provides to completely transform what lawyers can do. 

In September, I spoke at the 2017 ALPMA Summit on the topic “Don’t Automate – Obliterate” where I looked at the opportunities legal technology is opening up for lawyers, and how they can use it to reinvent the services they offer to their clients.  

Despite many lawyers’ ongoing resistance to change, I was pleased to be able to point to progressive firms like Page Seager, who recently launched Page Create, as examples of firms who are looking to use technology to create better ways to deliver legal services and greater value to clients through innovation.  I also enjoyed meeting a number of lawyers and legal technology vendors who are excited by the potential to re-engineer the way legal services are provided.  

As Tim says, “Interesting times, and well worth everyone in the industry spending a little time thinking about how they’ll maintain relevancy moving forward.”

Editor's Note:

Want to know more about legal technology opportunities for law firms? Watch Gene's presentation "Don't Automate - Obliterate!" session from the 2017 ALPMA Summit On-Demand for just $99 (incl GST) or purchase the whole package for just $395 (incl GST), thanks to the generous support of our Summit Live and On-Demand partner, BigHand.  

About our Guest Blogger

Gene Turner
Gene was a corporate & finance partner of Buddle Findlay from 2009 until retiring from partnership in 2014. In 2011 to 2013 he was ranked as a leading lawyer in both M&A and banking as a result of leading a number of substantial transactions such as the very successful $700m acquisition by Infratil and the NZ Super Fund of Shell’s New Zealand business.

Gene is now managing director of LawHawk – a ‘new law’ venture providing advanced automated legal documents via the HotDocs cloud and helping lawyers provide better quality services to their clients, faster, at lower prices that are more profitable. In March 2017, LawHawk and Wellington law firm Succeed Legal released a free online will that anyone in New Zealand can use.

Gene is on the advisory board of The College of Law Centre of Legal Innovation.


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