Back to Basics for Lawyers: December 2011

Welcome to the December edition of Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers.

This month the focus is on Forward Planning.

Whilst there is no substitute for knowing where you want to go, unless you put in the time and effort to plan your journey you will probably end up anywhere but the place you want to go.

This edition of Back to Basics focuses on forward planning—or planning for the future. The future will come whether you like it or not so be ready. Decide what you want, set out your plan and go for it!

It doesn’t need to be complicated—often, the best plans and ideas are the most simple ones – so remember the KISS principle. December it traditionally a month when we look back at the year just past and start to think about what the coming year will bring. It’s amazing what you can learn from a little bit of reflective practice.

If you need any help or support with your Forward Planning activities or setting your objectives—or even just exploring what your options are, please get in touch with me—I’d be delighted to help.

Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA
Business Consultant
t. 07855 838395

What do you see in 2012?

They say that hindsight has perfect vision, but there’s nothing like a bit of foresight to help you get to where you want to go—that is, if you know where it is you want to go.

I have a colleague who, at the time of writing, is three days into an Atlantic crossing on a cruise liner on his way to New York. He didn’t just wake up on Monday morning and think “I’m going to go to New York today”. His trip was a long time in the planning stage—from the selection of the date, which Cruise Line, his departure point, method of travel to the departure point, the type of cabin he would book, the number of nights in New York and selection of return flight. There were lots of variables to consider from a vast array of choices. And here we are, he made it to Southampton and is now well on his way to New York. It didn’t just “happen”.

My colleague had an objective in mind before he set out on his adventure and to help him achieve it and to enjoy the experience, a lot of time went into the planning. He’s an experienced traveller and particularly enjoys cruises—but on each and every occasion, he plans his trip meticulously. When you go on holiday how well do you plan your trip? It may surprise you to know that many business people spend more time planning their holiday than they do planning the future of their business —and that’s a shocking truth!

Be honest with yourself as you look back on 2011. Did you start this year with a plan? Did you sit down in December 2010 and say “2011 is going to be the year when…….” complete the sentence with whatever objectives you had at the beginning of the year—if you had any, that is.

There can be no substitute for forward planning. To do that effectively, you really do need to know where you are going. We are in December 2011 and, for many, it has been another tough year. Many businesses are struggling through low or no growth whilst others are going backwards with profits down (or losses up!) on last year. You might be interested to know that there are some businesses that are thriving in the current market.

They have not been idle in the downturn and have been continuously planning to meet their objectives. You see, once you know what it is you want, it is far more straight forward to start to lay out the things you need to do to achieve what you want.

It’s December—where do you want to be this time next year? Why don’t you spend some time reviewing what it is you want and then set about planning to achieve it?

Keep it simple

KISS—keep it simple…..stupid!

Yes, that well worn saying that, if anything, has been overused. But then again, it does have tremendous value. Whether you’re the experienced Partner running the business or the new Trainee just in the door, there are some very basic steps that you should take . There are lots of ways to do forward planning — but I’m a big fan of keeping it as simple as possible.

Start off by being absolutely clear where you are starting from. What is the reality of your current situation? Are you happy with it? Are you moving towards your objectives (do you have any objectives to move towards)? How are you measuring your progress? These are just some of the initial questions you MUST ask yourself. You MUST do this before getting into any detail or serious planning—otherwise you’ll just end up going round in circles.

Once you are clear on your current situation and your objectives you’re then in a position to start to plan. You will know the “gap” between where you are and where you want to be—so now you MUST set out the things you need to do to bridge that gap.

You must also be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your practice and focus on capitalising on the strengths. Be aware, also, of the threats that you face and how to counter them as well as the opportunities that present themselves—and how to take advantage of them.

You need to consider the financial resources you will need, the new skills you might have to acquire, the business development work you will need to do to grow your business and the tactics you will employ to achieve your aims. All of these elements form your plan—when you will need them and how you will apply them. Write it all down and, most important of all, take action on it.

When my colleague left on his Atlantic cruise, the Ship’s Captain had a very clear objective in mind—to sail the ship to New York. That is his objective. He set out on Monday with his destination in mind and will chart his course in accordance with his plan. His destination is not in doubt – is yours…..?

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Simon says…..

The story of the Christmas tree – December 2011

This month’s topic is as tall and wide as you want to make it and in some ways that’s the problem with future planning, where do you start and where do you finish?

My partner and I went to buy a Christmas tree on Sunday. We went to our usual place, a small local company whose business it is to grow Christmas trees, that’s all they produce – they don’t make anything else. She remarked that their business plan must sound a bit odd because they only have a sales period of about 1 month in a financial year; I agreed that on the face of it was pretty limited. However I noticed some distinct changes this year with their sales proposition. Instead of just selling trees this year – they had a little Christmas shop in the barn, it wasn’t a big selection but we did stop and peruse; we bought a candle. He is also selling Christmas wreaths; we bought one. After selecting our tree, it was wrapped and taken out to our car by the assistant (nice touch). There was a burger van in the car park.

So what has happened here? And why is this a good example of planning for the future? Because earlier this year they planned to increase Turnover and are executing their plan.

There are 2 basic ways to increase Turnover. Attract more customers, or, increase the average amount your customers spend with you. (Or, both). They have planned to increase the average spend per customer. This has meant organising their premises, identifying and buying stock. Hiring or buying electronic point of sale tills (they now need to handle payment cards, whereas previously they were cash based). And, recognising that customers will spend longer with them – providing hot snacks and drinks (it’s a barn; it’s not heated). The stock has cost money, which is a risk, but has been mitigated by the wreaths (which they make from the bits of tree that get trimmed before sale, plus trimmings). I imagine the burger van pays a pitch fee.

My point is this. It is possible for any business to grow in this economy. It requires thought, it requires a knowledge of your customer, it requires the ability to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and imagine a better buying opportunity.

So what actually happened when we went to buy our Christmas tree? In this case my partner bought a candle on an impulse buy (ladies like candles – its romantic). I brought the wreath, I know (I guess they do too) they are on sale in garden centres for between £40 – £60, I also knew we ‘needed’ one. These were £15. (guys like a bargain – if it’s ok with the ladies, it was! – close the deal Simon). And the tree is really good too! (You get to see them standing (unwrapped), select the one you want and then they wrap it for transporting home).

So my Christmas message is this – understand why your customer is your customer, understand the dynamics involved, then think about how to maximise your opportunity, think about what you need to put in place to achieve this, cost it out – know where you’re break-even point is, mitigate as many of the risks as possible, and then do it.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.

Simon Greig is Sales Manager of LawWare Limited, Edinburgh. Contact Simon at

A little bit of reflective practice is a good thing

After what is always a hectic run up to the bit day, the festive break is a time to relax and enjoy the occasion of Christmas. If you have young children it can be a magical time as they get off to bed early dreaming about what Santa will bring them. If you are taking some time off, whilst it’s always great to get away from work, why not take just a little bit of time out over the holiday to do a little bit of reflection on the events of the year.

What are the things that have gone well for you? Think about how these came about and how you felt when they came to pass. What decisions did you make that helped bring about these good events and who was involved in making them happen. Most importantly, what can you do to make events go your way in the coming year.

On the other hand, what things didn’t go your way this year? There’s always something that didn’t turn out the way you thought it would. Reflect on the events that led up to it and why it happened. Did you see it coming? Were there things you could have done that might have prevented it happening? Most importantly, whether good or not so good things happened, think about what you’ve learned from them. Did the way things turned out teach you anything about yourself? What about the way you handled the situation?

There’s nothing you can do about these events now—they’re in the past—but just maybe, the lessons you’ve learned as a result of these experiences will stand you in god stead as you plan for your future.

Finally, it’s the season to be jolly. Give yourself a pat on the back for making it through a difficult 2011. Relax and enjoy the festive period and have a very Marry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year. See you in 2012!

Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA
Business Consultant
t. 07855 838395

LawCloud features on The Law Society of Scotland’s Cloud guidance web page

A leader in cloud for law firms in the UK, LawCloud now features on The Law Society of Scotland’s website regarding guidance about cloud computing.

As the Law Society notes,

“Cloud computing offers many potential advantages to firms and the opportunity for more efficient and safer working. However, it also introduces new risks, from compliance with EU and UK data protection rules through to causing regulatory problems such as accounts rules compliance, and opening up new potential for service and conduct complaints.

To support members and also reduce risk to the overall profession the Society has issued ‘advice and information’ on the use of Cloud computing by law firms and solicitors in Scotland. This advice has been developed by the Society’s Technology Sub Committee in consultation with the Scottish Society for Computers and Law Group as well as industry experts and providers.”

The Law Society also notes that if members have any questions about the Cloud for their law firm, they should contact Neil Stevenson, Director of Representation and Professional Support, on 0131 476 8360 to discuss further.

We have already blogged about the recent Law Society of Scotland event at The Hollyrood Hotel in Edinburgh focusing on the Cloud Computing for law firms in Scotland, at which LawCloud provided expert input, assisting with the development of the guidance.

As LawCloud’s Managing Director, Warren Wander, noted in the recent blog post,

“The Law Society’s guidelines are a welcomed piece of collateral for the profession at a time when guidelines are well needed and I look forward to working alongside these advisory notes to offer the comfort that practitioners need in order to make the most of emerging innovations and trusted technologies.”

To discuss how LawCloud can take your law firm to the Cloud, please contact us on 0845 2020 577 today.

Failing to plan is the same as planning to fail — as is failing to plan properly

I have to commend Brian for starting his recent Business Briefing with the key business message that everyone needs to hear at this time of the year. It’s unpalatable for some but I know that those people who do make plans, continue to do so, year after year, so there is something in it. One tip that I have learned over quite a period is similar to the ‘keep it real’ message — especially if you are just starting out setting objectives — keep it really achievable!

It is awfully tempting to push and aim too far. If, for example, you have sat down and looked at your Net Profit Percentage for the last 3 years and seen it drop from 30% to 15%, don’t set an aim to get it back to 30% this year. It would be nice, it would be more than nice! But, truthfully, it ain’t gonna happen. Go for something more graspable — like 5%. You can work with 5%; you can plan strategically and tactically for a 5% gain in profitability, because profit is influenced by two factors—income and expenditure and you have a good deal of control of the first and a lot of control over the second.

This is a classic example of working ‘on the business’ (rather than ‘in the business’) and before you say it; I know it is difficult to tear yourself away from dealing with clients and case files that are, after all, earning the fees that create the income that pays the expenditures – but you must. Also, there is more to looking back than just picking over the bones of last year. Think about how the legal landscape is changing, and how this affects you — positively & negatively. Brian illustrates the SMART technique below in order to test an objective. I’ll introduce SWOT analysis — Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats with which to consider your firm and the environment within which it operates. Its not a science, there are no black and white answers, but it is useful to pose these questions periodically: -

What Strengths do you have? Why is this? How can you maximise these? – What Weaknesses do you have? Why is this? How can you minimise these? – What Opportunities exist or could be created to do more or be better? – What Threats exist or could appear and what would this mean?

A firm I know started last year as normal (no plan), along came an opportunity to hire some staff, they did so, it cost a bit but the prospects looked good. Those staff left 2 months ago and set up their own firm. They agree that they failed to plan properly and now the reality is that they are struggling to pay wages. Who sees this as an opportunity? Now you’re thinking! Have a more prosperous and Happy New Year.

Take a reality check!

Jack Welch, the famous former CEO of General Electric used to start every meeting with a question—”What is the reality?” He would remind his executives that before setting any objectives it is essential to establish a true picture of the current situation. If one of your objectives for the coming year is to increase your business, a good starting point would be to look at the total number of cases you did last year—and then calculate the average number of cases you did per month.

Based on that, set the additional number of cases you need to do every month to achieve your new annual target. This works hand in hand with the total amount of fees you generated last year — and again, work out the average fee per case. Once you’ve got your fee figure, work out the average fee per case and multiply it by the number of additional Tools and cases you expect to do this year. Did the results surprise you?

Setting the “SMART” Challenge

When setting any objectives, it is essential that they meet a tried and tested criteria. To achieve this, use SMART principles to set up and manage your Objectives.SMART objectives 2012

Specific: each objective must be specific. There is little point in setting an objective to fee “more” in 2012 than in 2011 — that could mean anything from £1 to £100,000. So, the more specific you are the more likely you are to achieve the objective.

Measurable: Establish a firm and clear criteria for measuring progress toward the achievement of each objective you set. When you measure your progress, you stay on track, reach your target dates, and experience the thrill and satisfaction of achievement that spurs you on to continued effort required to reach your objectives.

Attainable: When you identify objectives that are most important to you, you begin to work out ways you can achieve them. You develop the attitudes, abilities, skills, and financial capacity to reach them. As you focus on your objectives you begin seeing previously overlooked opportunities to bring yourself closer to the achievement of your objectives. If you set an objective that you have no hope of achieving you will only demoralise yourself and erode your confidence.

Relevant:: An objective must be relevant to what you are trying to achieve. If it’s not, it will simply distract you or, at worst, de-motivate you and divert you from achieving any other objectives you may have. Set widely scattered and inconsistent objectives, and you’ll fritter your time away.
Simon Greig
Time-bound: An objective should be grounded within a timescale. With no timescale there’s no sense of urgency. If you want to achieve something, when do you want to achieve it by? “Someday” isn’t good enough and won’t work. But if you anchor it within a specific timescale, you have a focus to begin working on the objective.
Finally, write down what it will mean to you if you achieve your objectives in 2012.

Simon Greig is Sales Manager of LawWare Limited,
Edinburgh. Contact Simon on

Back to Basics for Lawyers: Have you made your New Year Resolutions?

Over four thousand years ago, the Babylonians celebrated New Year’s Day — although their celebration was in March rather than in January, coinciding with the spring planting of crops.

The New Year, no matter when people have celebrated it, has always been a time for looking back to the past, and more importantly, forward to the coming year. It’s a time to reflect on the changes we want, or often need, to make if we’re to have the motivation to move forward. Resolutions are a reflection of the Babylonians’ belief that what a person does right at the beginning of the New Year will have an effect throughout the entire year.

If you do nothing else in January, take a little time out to reflect on the past 12 months. It’s been tough out there for lawyers in the last couple of years. 2012 is likely to be no less challenging.

When you’ve done that, start setting down your objectives for the current year. By failing to review where you are now and where you want to go in the next 12 months you are doing yourself and your firm a huge disservice.

Any objective setting session needs to be based on some sort of realism. If it’s not, it will be demotivating and troublesome. In this edition of Back to Basics, we will look at setting some realistic objectives for the current year. Based on your own situation, you will be able to gauge whether what you set out to achieve is, in fact, realistic.

As always with any objective setting activity, you need to adopt a SMART approach. Are you up to the challenge?

Setting your objectives

90% of the population do not have any set objectives – you could say that if they don’t know where they’re going, they’ll probably end up somewhere they shouldn’t have.! This is equally true in business. When people first start out in business, they usually have a clear idea of what they want to do, when and how they want to do it and why they want to do it. Over time, however, these reasons become blurred and people end up doing what they’ve been doing day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year – out of habit and without stopping to consider why they started out in the first place.

In January you should take some time out to re-set your objectives – if you spend all your time working on specific cases for clients, you are doing yourself no favours if you fail to set aside the time look after your own business. Every individual in the firm as well as the firm itself should have and regularly review their objectives. This will help them to work out if they are going forward towards those objectives or backwards away from them.

Objective setting is a very powerful tool and should be used by every firm as well as every individual in the firm.

 Test your current objectives — set out what you believe your business objectives are — and don’t be surprised if you don’t actually know what they are or that you don’t actually have any specific objectives. This is not unusual. Whether you have any current objectives or not, it is vital that you set down some for the next 12 months.

You MUST write your objectives down.

You might want to use an objective setting tool to help you to create your objectives. This will help you to check that your objectives are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Bound). You should then clearly communicate your objectives to those who will be involved in helping you to achieve them.

Check that your objectives do not conflict with one another or with any personal objectives you may have. Once your objectives have been developed you should look at your objectives every day, every week and every month until they are achieved.

Finally, set frequent and regular dates in your Calendar or Diary to review your objectives and measure your progress against them. Don’t worry if it all seems a bit haphazard at first, you can “tweak” it as you go. The important thing is to take action NOW — don’t leave it till later as you will find other less important things to take up your time.

You now have the basics. Take action now. You can always move on to more sophisticated models over time.

Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA

Business Consultant

t. 01294 833220


Back to Basics for Lawyers: Welcome from Brian O’Neill

Welcome to Back to Basics for Lawyers. The aim of this Business Briefing is to help support lawyers in their efforts to manage their firms, their workload and themselves.

In each edition, which will be published regularly on this LawCloud blog, I will take a look at a different topic and provide some recommendations that have been useful to many lawyers. You too can join in by sending me your questions and comments with suggestions on how you do things to improve your business.

If you need any help with anything that appears in this Business Briefing, please get in touch with me.

Finally, may I wish you all the very best for 2012 and that everything you hope for becomes a reality.

Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA

Business Consultant

t. 01294 833220


LawCloud’s Cloud for Lawyers Google+ Page now Active

Google+, the new social media network powered by Google, recently activated business pages.GooglePlus Red

Opening the service in November, Google Senior Vice President (Engineering) Vic Gundotra, wrote in a blog post, “So far Google Plus has focused on connecting people with other people. But we want to make sure you can build relationships with all the things you care about–from local businesses to global brands”.

With that in mind, LawCloud’s Cloud for Lawyers Google Plus page is now active. Please do circle us to keep up to date with relevant cloud computing, law and tech news.

LawCloud: Cloud for Lawyers UK