You never stop learning. And with so many big conferences this time of year, there’s no shortage of opportunities. This week the Association of Legal Administrators held its 2013 Annual Conference and Exposition, covering a wide spectrum of law practice management topics, from leadership to finance to, yes, social media. We asked Lorri Salyards, a longtime law firm manager and ALA leader, to share five things she learned there.
Do you know what you don’t know? I am wise enough to realize I don’t know everything. That’s why I attend the ALA’s Annual Conference. This year’s conference theme was “Effective Leadership through Changing Times,” and choosing which sessions to attend was difficult. There was really no way to go wrong, though, and I was not disappointed!
1. Managing change: Be bold! First, I walked into a session that promised to teach me how to gain new perspective and turn challenges into opportunity. Peter Sheahan, CEO of ChangeLabs and author of Fl!p: How to Turn Everything You Know on Its Head and Succeed Beyond Your Wildest Imaginings, had the audience enthralled while teaching us how to change up the “same old, same old.” Innovative, counterintuitive thinking, he said, can catapult you ahead of your competitors. How do you lead that kind of change? Start by making better assumptions about what is in front of you today. Create a sense of desire for your firm to move in a new direction, and use that desire to create alignment behind your value proposition. Moving forward, make small, manageable bets before you scale. Effective leaders co-create across the whole value chain—they don’t stay within their own walls. You need to get out and actively, openly create a new model with your clients. Change is always really slow, said Sheahan—until it’s not!
2. Insurance need-to-knows. Next, I headed to a session about increasing and strengthening memory skills—something we all want, right? But I ended up in the wrong session room. Ha! Too embarrassed to leave after the speaker had been introduced, I stayed and learned about various types of insurance that firms may not think they need, or even know exist.
- ProQuest briefed us on “management liability insurance”—sort of the directors and officers (D&S) coverage for law firms—that protects elected or appointed firm management for decisions made on behalf of the firm. Who would sue management? Are you familiar with Brobeck or Dewey? Management needs to be able to act in the best interest of the firm as a whole and not be influenced by naysayers.
- Ever worry about missing an enrollment date for an employee benefit plan? Maybe you should. Employees can sue you for that, along with a plethora of other reasons. You can protect yourself with EPLI—employment practices liability insurance.
- And then the biggie: lawyer’s professional liability insurance. Did you know that the better your broker knows you, the better rates you’re going to be quoted? Makes sense. If a broker is just the paper shuffler—the person who passes the carrier’s question to you and your answer back—he or she isn’t working for you. A good broker will understand your policies and procedures—especially your client intake procedures—and relay that to the carriers who want to bid on your coverage.
3. Watch your dollars with better internal controls. Who would imagine that their long-tenured accounting manager could embezzle over $300,000, or that a tenured office support employee buying toner and selling it on eBay could cost a firm $200,000? Who was responsible for watching the bank accounts? Discussing other horror stories like these sent me packing with new ideas for my own firm.
- Could a receptionist open all accounting mail and make a list of checks received? This procedure puts another control element into place—and utilizes existing staff.
- Positive Pay, an automated fraud detection tool offered by most banks, places another safeguard against fraudulent checks being drawn against your bank accounts.
- Controlling the wire-transfer process by use of dual authentication and IP verification are two new methods to help minimize wire fraud.
- A discussion on the timing of trust account deposits and disbursements taught me that 10 working days should pass before disbursing funds. Ouch. Won’t the attorneys in your firm love that?
4. Legal project management pointers. LPM is taking center stage these days, and two sessions focused on it. We’re all looking for increased profitability in a world of increased client demands and dictated limitations on what clients will pay. How can we grow the bottom line when we have to charge less while the firm’s expenses are increasing? That’s where efficiencies—and project management—come in. We still have to meet client needs. Clients squeeze us because they are being squeezed. We need to understand those two concepts and look differently at our approach to delivering legal services. It’s about changing processes and using resources differently to create the greatest efficiencies. All processes—landing the work, pulling together the team, managing talent, making technology decisions, communicating progress to the client—can benefit from increased efficiency. That’s where a firm can add value—and that’s what will keep clients coming back to you, and keep them talking about their success with your firm to others. If you’re not knowledgeable about LPM, you better get there. It is the future of practicing law.
5. Good social media practices. It’s social media knowledge that I’m lacking in a big way. So, to understand whether I’m a “Twitter twit,” I went to a session explaining how the new generation of lawyers can generate revenue faster than their predecessors by using social media. I learned that Twitter brands. Well, of course. After all, our client base is getting younger. It makes perfect sense that lawyers need to reach them in the ways they want to be reached. If you’re smart, you’ll make sure social media is included in your firm’s marketing plan. Just like with other, traditional marketing tools, there has to be accountability for using social media, too. But beyond that, because there are security risks to understand as well, you need to take proper security precautions if social media is introduced into your firm.
It’s difficult to limit this report to merely five things. I learned just as much in the exhibit hall as I did from the sessions. Talk about information overload! Suffice it to say that there are limitless resources for raising your proficiency and ability to serve your clients. Exciting times are ahead!
Lorri T. Salyards, CLM, is Executive Director of Doerner, Saunders, Daniel & Anderson, LLP, a 43-lawyer firm in Oklahoma. She has 20+ years in legal administration and has served in various leadership roles in the Association of Legal Administrators. Lorri is an Adjunct Professor in the University of Denver Sturm College of Law’s Master of Science in Legal Administration program and a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management.