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From the CEO: Tough times require lateral thinking

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Cite as: (2008) 82(12) LIJ, p.6

As tougher economic times begin to have an impact, practitioners are reminded the LIV has many resources to help - both professionally and personally.

The legal profession, like most professions, is not immune to economic downturn. Recent world events have shaken the confidence of many lawyers, leaving them wondering what the future has to offer. It is during these times that the lawyer who thinks laterally may be able to maintain a satisfactory flow of work. Fortunately, the legal profession tends to suffer downturn slightly behind the rest of the economy. This will give lawyers time to plan ahead and hopefully meet some of the forthcoming challenges.

A lawyer's client list is the best place to start as it is your current clients that are likely to produce ongoing work, as long as you tap into that resource.

Lawyers should use any downtime they have to review the services they provide to clients and to use their current clients as an increased marketing opportunity. Usually there is untapped potential among the clients, and in the busier times lawyers tend to avoid tapping this potential. Now is the time to use up the goodwill stored previously and source other forms of work. The good lawyer will be forward thinking rather than sitting waiting for the doom and gloom to dim the lights.

Few legal practices have an effective marketing plan. Now may be the opportune time for a firm to establish one. This plan is not just about meeting the immediate needs, but should be framed with a view towards ongoing contact with clients, effective communications and sensible targeted promotion.

It is during these quieter periods that solicitors can organise their workflow. For solicitors who have a deed register, this is the time that it would be prudent to write to clients who have wills older than 10 years to suggest that they review them and look to the organisation of their affairs.

The majority of legal practices have an extensive bank of precedents. Unfortunately, often these precedents have not been reviewed since they were established. This may be the time to undertake a full review of all precedents, including looking at recent legislative change and at constructing letters of advice to clients in plain English. This undertaking should be backed up with an ongoing program of review.

At the same time it would be worthwhile solicitors reviewing their current accounting systems.

There is also the opportunity to review the business structure of the firm. The implementation of a more tax-effective business structure may provide a long-term benefit. At the same time it may be worth looking at the possibility of incorporating the practice and the opportunities that may flow from that process.

Members should look to the support that the LIV can provide to practices.

Many firms will take on trainees in 2009. The LIV has set up a section of its website [http://www.liv.asn.au/members/sections/younglawyers/about/younglawyers-Supervis.html] which has an interactive training plan [see "Plan for the future" on page 75 of this edition of the LIJ] which provides all the information needed and allows a document to be printed and lodged with the Board of Examiners.

For an in-depth look at LIV services, see the practice resources section at http://www.liv.asn.au/members/resources. The website has a wealth of information and resources to assist in the running of a member's business and their professional growth.

These include:

  • LIV Small Practice Support Kit - an extensive range of practical information and resources to equip members with strategies to help run a better business;
  • business development and marketing pages - information and advice on practice promotion, client management and satisfaction, and understanding your market;
  • human resources - information about recruiting and managing staff, including standards for awards wages, terms and conditions; and
  • member services - an array of information on CPD, costing services, ethics, dispute resolution services, telephone information services, careers in law and events.

The LIV acknowledges that as well as placing strains on businesses, the economic situation may affect members' personal health and wellbeing. The member services section has an extensive list of personal services such as LawCare, the Members' Advocate Service, senior and junior counsellors and an initiative with beyondblue to help practitioners cope with depression.

Members are urged to take advantage of the many resources we have available.

As the year draws to a close, I want to take the opportunity to thank the president Tony Burke for his untiring work during the past year and to welcome the new president Danny Barlow. Danny, who practises in Shepparton, will bring a more regional focus to Council, while maintaining a national perspective.

Next year will be an exciting one for the LIV as it marks its 150th anniversary. Members will be kept informed of celebration details in forthcoming issues of the LIJ and Friday Facts.

Finally, I want to thank the LIV staff for their work during the year.

To our members, staff and families, I wish you a happy holiday season and a safe New Year and look forward to working with you all in 2009.

Mike Brett Young
CEO, Law Institute of Victoria

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