Collaborating with other lawyers & legal firms: Back to basics for lawyers

Welcome to the March edition of Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers. This month the focus is on Collaborating with others.

Unless you are a full service legal firm, it is likely that there will be areas of law where your firm simply does not have the skills, knowledge or experience to deal with client business—and that’s where Collaboration comes into its own.

We will look at recognised routes of collaboration and consider even the simple things—like, what do you do with your conflict cases—and do you have reciprocal arrangements with other legal firms? This is Collaboration in its most basic form and whilst there might not be a direct money exchange, it is likely that the relationship will create new business for your firm.

If you need any help to explore potential areas of Collaboration, please get in touch with me—I’d be delighted to help.

Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA
Business Consultant
40c Drakemyre
Dalry
North Ayrshire
KA24 5JE
t. 07855 838395

e.   brian@drakemyre.co.uk

Can you provide all the services your client needs?

Last month we looked at Business Development and focused on the Boston Matrix—a well known business tool that helps those managing the business work out which services they should continue to provide, which ones to invest in and which ones to stop providing. It is very likely that you will need to take some very serious decisions about what services you do provide and what services you don’t provide—and if you don’t provide them, what you will do with your clients who need these types of services?

This is not an uncommon problem. Whilst many “high street” firms provide a wide range of services, they tend not to provide every service that might be needed by their wide and diverse client base. This can lead to serious problems, not least of which is how to make sure that the client has the work carried out correctly without taking the risk of losing the client because you didn’t do the job properly due to your lack of experience in the field—or worse still, lose the client and get sued for negligence in the process—because of your lack of experience in the field!

The next important step once you’ve discovered the services you do want to provide is to work out a way to provide your clients with services that you don’t provide—and still retain them as clients.

Recently, I’ve been in discussions with clients about this and a recent turn of events immediately springs to mind.

One of my clients is about to commence a structured and managed Wills review process that will be carried out over the course of the next few months, but they were concerned about a gap in their knowledge of how to deal with certain types of Trust  work. They didn’t want to take the risk of providing a service that they did not know enough about. I put them in touch with another of my clients who specialise in this area and they now have arrangements in place where this type of business can be passed from one firm to the other without the fear of the client being lost for other services.

An interesting thing happened at the meeting I attended when the arrangements were being worked out. The firm who didn’t provide the Trust work did provide a PPI Claims service to clients—a service that the firm that does provide the Trust work does not provide—and the discussion was widened to discuss reciprocal work which could be done in the PPI Claims area.

This is a very simple straight forward example of how two legal firms can collaborate to maximise the benefits that they are able to bring to their clients through referral from one to the other for specific types of work.

So, there we have it—not only did we have a collaboration for one type of business to be passed from one firm to the other—we had a reciprocal arrangement for another type of business to flow in the opposite direction. I do like happy endings and this one seems to me to be a perfect ending—a means of providing the client with a service whilst retaining the client as a client………..and new business being generated by each firm into the bargain!

Simon says…..

Collaboration? For what purpose?

I have no problem with collaboration, and I know many firms that have both informal and formal relationships with other solicitors and for that many other types of businesses, for the referral or introduction of clients interested in other services. Many firms are not ‘full service’ and many individuals are asked about a service that they cannot supply. The referral network operates at different levels and you can pick and choose whether to recommend someone or suggest someone depending on the level of risk you want to subject yourself to.

Let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment and ask – what is the objective? Everyone responds with the answer – “I don’t want to lose the relationship that I have with my client.” Fair enough, in principle, but what does that mean in reality? If you are the type of firm that does nothing in the way of client focussed business development – then what’s the point in pretending to yourself that you want to retain and develop a relationship with a client when in reality you don’t actually do anything? It’s all very well to recognise a potential value but if you then fail to capitalise on it, then you are only kidding yourself.

Isn’t this just a form of cross-selling? I work with new start-up law firms as well as existing practices. It is interesting to note that all the new starts are focussing on just one or two areas of work and in this scenario there is no interest in cross-selling. But I have also noticed that, generally speaking, established practices that do offer a range of work-types don’t have any methods for cross-selling either. If you won’t open up your client base to your partner colleagues, why would you open them up to other businesses?

Conversely, as has often been stated previously in this publication – the easiest people to sell to are existing clients. There is clearly a bit of a dichotomy here. Why is that?

Is it because Partners don’t really want to share? Is it too much bother?

Is it because it’s no one’s job to do this? Is there a perception that ‘selling’ is distasteful?

It’s probably all these things and more.

The first stage is recognising what you can and cannot do as a business in the whole. The second stage is about finding out how much the work you cannot do is worth and deciding if you want to do it yourselves or if it’s better to pass it on. If you pass it on then you need to work out who you can pass it too, assess the basis that you want to do this and the risks involved, and then monitor it yourselves.

Tip – Appoint someone to manage this. Whilst they are at it, get them managing all the client relationships across your whole firm. If it’s done correctly – it will more than pay for itself.

Simon Greig is Sales Manager of LawWare Limited, Edinburgh. Contact Simon at simon@lawware.co.uk

Collaboration—the basics

Working together is never easy. Indeed, some say that it’s even difficult for partners to work together in the same firm, so diverse are their interests, focus, methods and habits!

Collaborating with others is a whole new ballgame and there are certain things that need to be done at the very beginning to make sure that the arrangement gets off to the best possible start—it is only by doing so that can you ensure that the enterprise will be a success.

First:         identify the services that you don’t want to or can’t provide but that your clients have told you they need.

Second:    identify a firm that can provide this service (or ask around to find out about firms who may already have arrangements in place). Alternatively, consider joining the Connect2Law Network to access the very wide range of services available from a full service legal firm (more on Connect2Law on page 2)

Third:        open up a dialog with the firm (or firms) you’ve selected and find out if they’re interested in providing a service to your clients and on what basis.

Fourth:     ensure that the “ground rules” are in place and that there is clear understanding on each side that the client being passed on is only the client for the specific type of work.

Fifth:         explore services that you provide that the other firm may nor provide and find out if some form of reciprocal arrangement can be put in place that would benefit both firms.

Sixth:        if there is to be some form of fee sharing, make sure that you agree this at the outset and set in place systems to track which clients are passed so that you can monitor receipt of the share of the fee you are to receive.

Seventh:   meet regularly with the firm you’re collaborating with to work out any issues that may exist in the process and to smooth out rough edges as you move forward—and continue to explore other areas where collaboration would benefit both firms.

How do you deal with conflicts?

It makes no sense from a risk management basis to act on behalf of two clients in a potential conflict situation even though you can do so in those very limited specific areas allowed by The Law Society of Scotland. Why don’t you consider having discussions with those solicitors you respect in another local firm and find out if they’d be interested in a reciprocal arrangement for conflict cases. I know some firms who will never act in a conflict situation and profit through reciprocal work by passing on clients so that the conflict situation is avoided—and it also means that you are likely to be able to charge a full fee for the work you do—as will the solicitor in the other firm……..think about it!

You can always formalise your arrangements….

Last year around this time I heard about Connect2Law from one of my colleagues. I thought that this was an excellent idea and spoke to Anne Macdonald who is the Manager of the Connect2Law Department of Harper Macleod. This is what I found out:

Connect2Law is an innovative referral and support network set up in Scotland by the award-winning Scottish law firm, Harper Macleod, to help smaller legal firms provide clients with a wider range of legal advice. Through Connect2Law member firms are able to extend their firm’s offering by utilising the services of specialists within Harper Macleod, on a non-poaching, fee share, referral basis. The theory behind the approach is that the service helps smaller firms retain their clients in the long term.

Anne, a Partner in Harper MacLeod commented at the time “Many smaller High Street firms have an impressive client list and consequently encounter a variety of interesting and complex cases for which they might not have the time, capacity or experience to handle alone. The demand for the Connect2Law service is continuing to grow – the fact that we now have 150 member firms and have recently reached our 1000th referral is proof of that. We would welcome any other firms with similar requirements to get in touch”

I subsequently had the pleasure of attending the Connect2Law Annual Conference and had the opportunity to speak to solicitors who had signed up to the Connect2Law network. Those who I spoke to said that they felt that Connect2Law was a valuable resource they could call on whenever necessary in the knowledge that their client would receive the correct advice when they could not provide it themselves. They would still retain that client for the services they did provide—and make some money out of it at the same time. What a comfort  it is to know that you are not placing yourself at risk by doing things you know little about and making sure your client receives a service whilst still retaining the client as a client—nothing could be better!

You can find out more here.

Anne Macdonald can be contacted on 0141 227 9280 or email at

Anne.macdonald@harpermacleod.co.uk

Contact us

Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA, Business Consultant, t. 01294 833220, m. 07855 838395, e. brian@drakemyre.co.uk

Simon Greig is Sales Manager of LawWare Limited, Edinburgh. Contact Simon on simon@lawware.co.uk

LawCloud: Legal Case, Matter and Practice Management for Law Firms UK

LawCloud: Helping to create more agile and responsive Law firms

LawCloud is a new generation in Practice Management Software for law firms in the UK and is brought to you from the developers at  LawWare Ltd. Established in 1998 and now serving more than 200 law firms from its HQ in Edinburgh, LawWare has established a strong reputation for an innovative and forward looking approach to the business of running a Law Firm

Since its launch in March 2010, LawCloud now hosts over 65 law firms on its platform representing almost a third of the LawWare user base. Many small law firms lack the IT infrastructure to support the latest systems and find the upfront costs of new IT prohibitive.  LawWare now rarely installs its on premise system and over the last 18 months, 95% of its new systems have been LawCloud.

Depending on who you are talking to, you may hear this kind of technology referred to as hosting, SaaS, Outsourcing, Cloud and more. At the heart of the offering, they refer to a very similar thing and the terminology is simply stylistic. Our preference is Cloud. In our experience, any perceived risks associated with the Cloud clearly outweigh its benefits. Law firms appreciate peace of mind. Their confidential information is backed up and protected with a level of security that is often out of reach for smaller organisations. All data is stored in one of the foremost data centres in the UK which falls under data protection laws.”

LawWare has enhanced relationships with its customers by simplifying their IT and as a business is more agile and responsive. This flexibility is a hallmark of LawCloud. Users can access it from anywhere they have an internet connection”. This new future technology has levelled the playing field, allowing smaller organisations to compete with bigger firms in new ways. The legal technology market has seen a great deal of consolidation over the last few years and the legal services industry is also consolidating and fragmenting. This presents an opportunity for lawyers and smaller technology suppliers to offer a real value added personal service to their clients that some of the bigger firms find may have lost sight of.

 

Business Development for Lawyers: Back to Basics

Welcome to the latest edition of Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers. This month the focus is on Business Development.

To help you with your business development, we take some time to work with a recognised business modelling tool—the Boston Matrix. This is a tool that helps you assess the strength of your services in terms of market share and market growth. Used properly, it will help you work out which services to build and grow, which services that you might consider ceasing to provide and which services that are currently marginal and could go either way.

If you need any help to review your business development, please get in touch with me—I’d be delighted to help.

Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA
Business Consultant
40c Drakemyre
Dalry
North Ayrshire
KA24 5JE
t. 07855 838395

e.   brian@drakemyre.co.uk

Is this the “new reality”?

It is a real benefit being able to talk to someone like Simon Greig of LawWare, who, whilst working within the legal profession as I do, is not and has never been a lawyer. I met Simon the other day when he was in Ayr and we had a chat about how things were and what we were each busy doing. Simon repeated something to me that he had first said a few months ago when we had last met and it was this: “You know, it’s about time everyone stopped talking about coming out of the recession or whether we’re going to go into a double dip and started to accept that what we now have is a new reality. We are where we are and businesses need to look at what they’re doing right now and whether that behaviour is going to help or hinder their future growth” Wise words, indeed.

In recent editions of Back to Basics, we’ve looked at Forward Planning and Taking Action but it seems that many legal firms are still waiting in the forlorn hope that some volume will return to the residential conveyancing and estate agency market. Alas, that doesn’t look like happening any time soon. Banks are still facing liquidity problems and, until they resolve these, mortgages (particularly the higher loan-to-value mortgages) will remain difficult to come by and mostly out of reach of first time buyers.

By now, you’re probably running a pretty lean ship, having stripped out costs as the recession bit—but by now also, there’s probably very little else that you can strip out without damaging the fundamental capabilities of the business beyond repair!

So, if this is the new reality, what are you going to do about developing your business? Do you know where to start? Have you started already? What are the things you need to do first?

These are all sensible questions (and questions that you should continuously ask as you develop your business) and the answers are reasonably simple.

Do a quick SWOT analysis. Look at the Strengths you have in your business (but also be aware of the Weaknesses). Look at the Opportunities that are available to you (but also be conscious of the Threats). Look at the services you provide—which ones have capacity for growth? Which ones generate decent profits? Which ones are you not entirely certain about?

Again, these are all fundamental questions that you need to ask yourself—and once you have the answers, why not do a bit of forward planning to put them into context and then take action and implement those plans?

You won’t be able to change your current direction without getting into motion—so make the decisions you need to make and off you go!

Simon says…..

Developing your Business for professionals

When Brian posed the subject for this month and mentioned the Boston Matrix, I thought ‘what the heck is that? However 15 minutes on the internet and I have now learned about Dogs, Cash Cows, Problem Children and Stars in completely new contexts! I don’t know everything and I’m happy to learn about new ideas and develop new skills; mostly because I spark off them and they tend to lead somewhere – a change in perception, understanding or attitude. Whenever I type the word ‘change’ I’m reminded of the lawyer I know that said to me a year or so ago “you know Simon, the only constant nowadays is Change”.

If you want things to change, then you have to make it happen, which means changing something you do. I would suggest if you want significant change – then significantly change something you do. This business development malarkey doesn’t happen by wishing or just thinking or even just planning – it needs action. This publication is aimed at educating, informing and encouraging. I know how much effort Brian puts into it and, as we all know, he then gives it away! Why is that? Well it’s a business development technique called Give to Get.

The Give to Get idea is simple enough – give something to a potential client and they will remember it and give you some business in return. In the context of legal services it is a bit more sophisticated than that – give something of value to a potential client that will impress them enough to engage you as their representative. The value aspect here is measured in terms of the potential client and not the lawyer, it is easy for a lawyer to give away their time (which is in many ways the lawyer’s most valuable resource) but that on its own is only of value to the lawyer – the trick here is to think in terms of the potential client and what is of value to them. It might be time—but it’s more likely to be an outline of the approach you would take toward dealing with their issue, identifying the risks involved and how you would mitigate these, whilst demonstrating a clear understanding of the aims and benefits that your client would derive from instructing you. Anything written/emailed must be in terms that the client can understand (which might be different client to client). Use your imagination to put yourself in your client’s shoes. Remember, if you say the same thing as everyone else then you are inviting a price comparison scenario. Even if it is a standard procedure there are always nuances that the client brings; you need to find them and bring them to the fore in order to distinguish yourself from the rest. I would call this being Professional. Of course, you don’t have to Give to Get to operate in this Professional manner as it is a good technique in itself—the more techniques you employ the better you enhance your business proposition and the more clients that you will win.

There will always be clients that buy on price and there may be times when your cash flow position necessitates a quick win – but only where it’s a quick delivery too (otherwise it’s a false economy). But if you build yourself a professional reputation, then people will hear about it and they will gravitate toward you.

Simon Greig is Sales Manager of LawWare Limited, Edinburgh. Contact Simon at simon@lawware.co.uk

Look to develop your services

There is no point providing services that nobody wants and that don’t make any profit for your business. One of the ways of working out which services you need to stick with, which ones you need to develop and which ones you need to ditch is by using a tool called the Boston Matrix.

This is a tool developed a number of years ago by the Boston Consulting Group and it’s designed to consider the produces and services that a business provides in terms of Market Share and Market Growth. The graphic opposite shows you the type of chart you will need to lay out your services in the different categories to aid you in your decision-making efforts. The Boston Consulting Group divided services into 4 categories: Cash Cows, Rising Stars, Question Marks (called Problem Children in some versions) and Dogs. These groupings can be explained as follows:

Dogs: Low Market Share / Low Market Growth—In these areas, your market presence is weak, so it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get noticed. Also, you won’t enjoy the scale economies of the larger players, so it’s going to be difficult to make a profit.

Cash Cows: High Market Share / Low Market Growth—Here, you’re well-established, so it’s easy to get attention and exploit new opportunities. However it’s only worth expending a certain amount of effort, because the market isn’t growing and your opportunities are limited.

Stars: High Market Share / High Market Growth—Here you’re well-established, and growth is exciting! These are fantastic opportunities for the services that fall into this sector and you should work hard to realise them.

Question Marks (Problem Children): Low Market Share / High Market Growth—These are the opportunities no one knows what to do with. They aren’t generating much revenue right now because you don’t have a large market share. But, they are in high growth markets so the potential to make money is there. Question Marks might become Stars and eventual Cash Cows, but they could just as easily absorb effort with little return. These services need serious thought as to whether increased investment in them is warranted.

Now that we know what the categories mean, on the following page, we’ll look at how we can use this tool.

So, how do you use the Boston Matrix?

Step One: Plot your services in terms of their relative market presence, and market growth on a blank matrix.

Step Two: Classify them into one of the four categories. If a service seems to fall right on an intersection between two categories, take a real hard look at the situation and rely on past performance to help you decide into which category you will place it.

Note: Be careful about these categories – there’s nothing magical about them or their position. There may be very little real difference between a Question Mark with a market share of 49%, and a Star with a market share of 51%. It’s also not necessarily true that there is a line that should run through the 50% position. As ever, use your common sense.

Step Three: Determine what you will do with each service. There are typically four different strategies to apply:

Build Market Share: Make further investments (for example, to maintain Star status, or turn a Question Mark into a Star)

Hold: Maintain the status quo (do nothing)

Harvest: Reduce the investment (enjoy positive cash flow and maximise profits from a Star or Cash Cow)

Divest: For example, get rid of the Dogs, and use the capital to invest in Stars and some Question Marks.

Key Points

The Boston Matrix is an effective tool for quickly assessing the options open to you, both on a corporate and personal basis.

With its easily understood classification of Dogs, Cash Cows, Question Marks and Stars, it helps you quickly and simply screen the opportunities open to you, and helps you think about how you can make the most of them.

Play to your Strengths

I briefly (and perhaps a little bit glibly) mentioned on the previous pace that you might want to carry out a quick SWOT Analysis. I don’t intend to cover this item in any detail in the short amount of space I have here, but simply want to clear up some confusion I frequently hear when people are talking about carrying out a SWOT analysis.

You need to be aware that Strengths and Weaknesses are things that are internal to your firm or business whilst Opportunities and Threats are in the external environment. Armed with that information, why don’t you spend half an hour with a piece of paper and a pencil and do your own quick SWOT analysis—and then see how you can build on your Strengths to take advantage of the Opportunities out there as well as to counter the Threats.

Contact us

Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA, Business Consultant, t. 01294 833220, m. 07855 838395, e. brian@drakemyre.co.uk

Simon Greig is Sales Manager of LawWare Limited, Edinburgh. Contact Simon on simon@lawware.co.uk

LawCloud: Legal Case, Matter and Practice Management for Law Firms UK

LawCloud: Cloud for Lawyers UK