Let non-lawyers in on firm management, says newly appointed ALPMA president

by Sophie Schroder07 Jul 2014
Andrew Barnes, the financial controller for the Legal Lantern Group, has just been appointed as the president of the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) following the departure of Anthony Bleasdale.

Barnes is passionate about encouraging an environment where non-lawyers have an active seat at the decision making table at law firms because he says this will expose firms to unique expertise and innovation.

“While the ultimate decisions may rest with the partnership or executive committee, the perspective non-legal managers – who have deep subject matter expertise in the management domains like finance, marketing, HR, IT or business development -  should not be under-estimated,” he tells NZ Lawyer. “Lawyers are trained to think and challenge situations in a unique manner - but that is not always the best way a firm should grapple with the management or operational decisions it is faced with.”
Encouragingly, Barnes says New Zealand law firms are already ahead of the curve in this respect, and have embraced non-legal managers before other markets.

The balance these firms are striking enables the legal and business/client developments aspects to move forward without the handbrake of management and administration to slow them down, he says.

“A good non-legal manager will facilitate all support, operational and strategic directives alongside the managing principal to enable clear outward focus. We are a profession and a business, so we need to let the lawyers lawyer and the managers manager.”

Barnes says lawyers who work their way up into equity often “trip up” on the ownership aspect of their roles.

“We must remember they got to where they are because of their abilities as a lawyer and the firm wants them to continue in that vein.”

And he says that although the market is starting to open up to the concept of non-legal management, law firms are still reasonably conservative in nature and no new manager should expect to walk in and change the colour of the carpet in week one.

With time and familiarity will come respect and involvement in key decisions, and progressive firms will understand they have a valuable resource in management who they can entrust with responsibility, while the lawyers service clients and develop new work flows.

As well as changes in management at Australasian law firms, ALPMA’s new president sees pressure on law firm pricing and moving beyond the billable hour as another trend that’s only set to increase.

“I see this as a generational issue on both sides of the fence. The law firm resistors will become fewer as that generation moves through. Similarly, the buyers of legal services are becoming increasingly aware of the alternatives and are demanding that the cost of their legal solution is not just determined by how many minutes were spent working on it,” Barnes says. “Firms all move at different speeds in response to this but nobody in law can afford to stick their head in the sand and ignore this shift.”

Barnes is also the treasurer of the ALPMA Victorian Committee and is a member of the ALPMA Summit Committee. He served as vice president before his appointment to presidency.
His ALPMA president predecessor, Anthony Bleasdale, has accepted a new role as director of BigHand in Asia Pacific.

As BigHand is one of ALMPA’s major sponsors, Bleasdale will continue to work closely alongside the association.