My colleague Jordan Furlong and I penned an article in August 2014 on NewLaw  for the ALPMA website. In that we defined NewLaw as “any strategy, structure, model, process or way of delivering legal services that represents a significantly different approach to the creation or provision of legal services than what the legal profession traditionally has employed”.

We featured some firms as examples of NewLaw, including some from Australasia. At the time it was quite easy to identify firms ‘doing something different’. In the short time since then, this type of ‘new’ simply does not seem so unique and special any more, and a number of firms are doing something in this space.

We didn’t mention Nexus Law Group then, mainly as we didn’t know of them or what they were in the process of doing. That has changed: Nexus Law seems to be getting a lot of attention and recognition and it appears, for good reason. Continue Reading New angle on NewLaw

There are many interesting and innovative structural and strategic options for law firms nowadays which can be attractive to clients. It is wise for these to be considered in planning for your future.

The way legal services are delivered to clients and how firms are structured to do so, should undergo a significant transformation. This must also be factored into planning for the future.

So-called ‘NewLaw’ firms have been quick to capitalise on the opportunities this has presented, with an array of innovative structures and service delivery models all of their own. In this way they are determining their firms’ destinies, rather than having this dictated to them by market forces.

You can learn about these transformative practices as well at a Masterclass Workshop to be presented by my Edge International colleague, Jordan Furlong.

Jordan (at Edge we call him our ‘futurist guru’!) is a leading legal industry analyst, commentator and consultant, and will provides practical advice for traditional law firms looking to import and integrate relevant ”NewLaw” features into their businesses, in order to position themselves for their chosen future.  Jordan will be supported at the workshop by new Edge International Australia principal, Dr Neil Oakes.

Continue Reading Determine your law firm’s destiny

NewLaw, particularly in Australasia, has quietly begun to call some shots, pushing old ways (and larger firms) aside, winning some important chunks of work and clients, and recruiting top people in the process. (Sean Larkan – Edge International)

I recently posted on nimbler firms chipping away at others’ brands. Well, it seems they have been at it again – baking some more of BigLaw’s cake and eating a few more slices along the way.

Following this theme, an Edge colleague (Jordan Furlong) and I recently published a short Inventory of NewLaw in Australia focusing on what some smaller and mid-tier firms have been up to. The definition we used for NewLaw was:

“Any strategy, structure, model, process or way of delivering legal services that represents a significantly different approach to the creation or provision of legal services than what the legal profession traditionally has employed”

This definition allowed us to encompass not just law firms, but also new legal talent combinations, legal service managers and legal technology that both changes how lawyers practice and places the power of legal service provision in clients’ hands. We decided not to include American legal documets and consumer law portals, innovative legal companies and technologies whose primary focus is the marketing or management of law practices or e–discovery providers or accountants

I have long been an admirer of the mid-tier in Australasia – about a decade ago people were about to write them off but they have bounced back and then some. This has translated for them too – many are earning the same and more than the top ten, and doing some really exciting and innovative things into the bargain which is going to set them up against all comers for the future.

Continue Reading Well dang! Those nimble NewLaw firms are at it again!

Open plan offices are not new, even for law firms, and no doubt there are a couple of examples in your region. The jury does still seem to be out though in regard to the pros and cons.

While there are those who proudly espouse the virtues of ‘open plan’ with benefits like:

  • better staff interaction;
  • everyone seen to be on the same footing;
  • more work gets done, etc.

others think they are a crazy idea. Arguments against tend to revolve around confidentiality, the need to work in peace, no interruptions and so on.

Continue Reading Open Plan offices and Darwin’s natural selection bring unexpected law firm benefits

Like horse’s hooves, partnerships have to deal with different conditions throughout a year. There is a well-known equestrian saying: ‘no foot, no horse‘ which means keep the hooves in order or you don’t have a fit, usable mount.

No foot, no horse – like horses’ hooves, partnerships need maintenance and the fundamental building blocks for success need to be carefully thought through and put in place. One of these is clear performance and contribution criteria.

Similarly, successful law firm partnerships need to get the basics in order and thereafter ensure that they are functioning well. It still surprises me how many firms adopt a fairly laissez faire approach to these things and don’t address some of the basics around key partnership functions. In some cases I suspect it is simply that leadership do not wish to ruffle partner feathers and so allow some of them to slip into the ‘too hard for now’ basket. In other cases the firm is doing well so some of these essentials fall off the radar.

One of these is setting partnership performance criteria. When asked to advise firms on performance and growth one of the first things I ask to see is the criteria or key performance indicators (‘KPIs’) that the partnership uses to guide, encourage and measure partner behaviour, thinking, contributions and performance.

Frequently there isn’t one or it is a hotch-potch of half finished lists which have never been fully debated, agreed and not implemented or communicated in any meaningful way. In other cases, there is a list, but that is all there is. Partners do not react to lists of things to do – it takes a lot more. Sometimes new partners come into a partnership blissfully unaware of their existence. As a result performance and contributions can be variable and overall, not delivering what the firm is after.

What then are some considerations to bear in mind when putting together performance criteria or KPIs?

  • ideally these criteria should not be determined in isolation, but in the context of the firm’s core purpose (vision, values, cultural attributes), strategy and guiding principles. This stands to reason as the criteria should be one of the key ways in which the vision and strategy is achieved;
  • you need to get all partners involved in the debate. Communicate and explain. Ask them for input. Encourage their involvement and thinking. Make a genuine effort to do this. Get to the bottom of what truly makes the partnership tick. Done well, you will find a number of the criteria and other strategic key objectives for the partnership drop out of this process. It will also be owned by the partners which will make implementation that much more effective;
  • you are going to come across some opposition, some of it very subtle, but if you don’t anticipate it and are not prepared it can undo all your good efforts;
  • you usually only get one good shot at this – make it count by getting it right first time – if necessary get experienced external counsel, especially to deal with any ‘curved ball’ queries you may encounter in meetings;
  • be patient. Introducing such processes means a lot of change for a lot of partners and thus can cause fear and demotivation;
  • don’t however be patient at the price of inaction or unnecessary vacillation and delay. It is important to commence the process and maintain momentum. Partners need to know leadership is determined to see this through to a successful conclusion for the long term benefit of the partnership. This is everything; Continue Reading No foot, no horse

The challenging future legal and business environment which is widely anticipated will demand a lot more from law firms than providing quality legal advice. This is the view of Ian Robertson, long-standing managing partner of Holding Redlich’s Sydney office, writing in The Australian (apologies; link requires subscription or log-in) recently.

Whether it be around service offerings, fee levels, management of fee-related activities or developing individual brands and thought leadership around industry sector knowledge, law firms will want to work out what they will bring to the client table in future. Simply basing decisions on past experiences is not likely to be enough.

This advice backs up on the findings of a recent survey of Australian managing partners and chief executive officers indicating tighter times ahead – with recruitment levels and profit margins expected to be down over the next five years based on deteriorating business confidence.

For Australasian law firms the writing is on the wall for some or more of the following:

  1. Better service at lower fees: this is simply because clients have more choices, are more canny and have realised it is increasingly a buyer’s market. Even more challenging is that given market conditions this will be coupled with fewer and smaller transactions and disputes. The only possible exceptions will be in resource–rich states such as Western Australia.
  2. Fee estimates, fee capping and fixed fees will be the order of the day: on top of this clients will look for real value and will carefully analyse all charges to ensure they are justified.
  3. Quantitative leverage will be rejected: clients will accept leverage, but only qualitative leverage, in the sense of high calibre, suitable staffing on a team where work is pushed down to the lowest (highly)competent level and charge-out rate. Continue Reading Volatile future will demand law firms bring more to the party

Issues and challenges around pricing, alternative fee arrangements and value understandably still get plenty of air-time. They received top billing at the recent COLPM (College of Law Practice Management) Futures Conference in Chicago. I read through my notes from talks by two senior in-house counsel  – there are strong words and some important messages and tips for law firm leaders, particularly in non-USA jurisdictions:

In-house counsel are adopting different approaches to working with law firms around price and billing - some want a collaborative arrangement while others have had enough and are doing all they can to avoid using law firms. Firms need to take careful note of these developments. (graphic - Sean Larkan MPh)

Mark Ohringer, General Counsel of Jones Lang LaSalle (invented outsourcing of real estate management; top two property managers globally; 40 000 staff in 62 countries) didn’t pull any punches:

  • We have tried fixed fee deals and hourly billing with law firms – ‘in our experience it all sucks and the law firms simply don’t manage this well. I am flummoxed by how to deal with this – if I could have 100% of my legal work done in-house, I would – unfortunately for me, reality dictates otherwise’.
  • We minimise work we send to law firms as fees are not managed and are sky-high. ‘I choke when I see the bills that come through’. Continue Reading Pricing, billing and value – tough messages and ideas from two senior General Counsel

In a letter to the Australian Financial Review (26th of August 2011) Robert Milliner, Chief Executive Partner, Mallesons, highlights the dilemma faced by the legal profession in Australia following a decision by four of the eight States and Territories not to support a plan for the national regulation of lawyers. He points to:

  • the rapid change the profession is undergoing in a volatile global market
  • the pressing need for simplified, single standards for entry and regulation in the profession.

He also touches on some of the potential benefits of national rules rather than differentiated State–based systems – it would:

  • potentially reduce the cost to law firms of doing business
  • improve access to inter-state markets
  • provide firms with greater flexibility and the ability to move resources efficiently between State and Territory jurisdictions.

After a ten-year push for national regulation and a more seamless market, it appears that a great opportunity has been lost to the profession by ACT, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia refusing to endorse the National Legal Professional Reform.

At a time when the legal profession in Australia is also seeing forceful incursions into its space from UK and USA law firms, it seems the time has come for the Federal Government and those State Governments in favour (which include the two larger ones, Victoria & New South Wales, as well as Queensland and the Northern Territory) to pool their resources, take a lead and make this happen. They can then work to prove their business model benefits the profession, law firms (including non-national smaller firms in smaller States who have concerns about benefits and costs to them) as well as consumers, and over time bring the remaining States and Territories on board.

I talked on leadership tips and frames at a keynote at the annual Boss of the Year Awards Convention in South Africa in August 2011.

Brand Pretorius, recently retired former head of Toyota and McCarthy Motor Holdings in South Africa and a recognized ‘captain of industry’, also delivered a keynote drawing on his extensive leadership experience, with some very wise counsel for aspiring and existing leaders. I thought his leadership tips would be of particular interest to legal leaders – what follows is drawn from my rough notes of his talk –

Image by Patrick Hoesly

By way of introduction he noted that:

  • throughout his career he learned something new about leadership every day of his career and continues to do so.
  • a search on the internet will reveal in excess of 15 million books on leadership and management; clearly, a complex subject.
  • leadership is both an art and a science.

Important leadership tips:

Leadership is not management

  • to be an effective leader one has to strike the right balance between leadership and management
  • management is about things, processes, planning and speed
  • leadership is entirely different;
  • with leadership you have to have the courage to go first
  • leadership is about giving direction and inspiring and influencing people.
  • he said at times he felt he erred in placing too much emphasis on management and not enough on leadership – one often sees this in organisations, many of which are over-managed and under-led.

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

  • you have to develop the ability to lead and manage yourself.
  • it is vital that leaders must have sufficient Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in that leaders need to be able to both understand and manage their own emotions and cultivate good relationships with others.
  • some leaders are functionally good but emotionally illiterate.

Continue Reading 8 leadership tips for legal leaders from business leader