Back to Basics – a Business Briefing for Lawyers: Checking out the Competition

Welcome to the July edition of Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers.  This month the focus is on checking out the competition—in management speak it’s called Competitor Analysis.

It’s not often that I dedicate a large part of the briefing to a graphic, but if you have any aspirations to compete it’s essential that you know how to check out the competition and what you may find when you do.

Michael Porter’s 5 Forces Analysis is an ideal tool to help you think about your competitors—and not just those who are in the same business.

There are competitive forces coming at you from all angles and to be aware of these is the first step towards shaping your offering to address the ever-changing competitive world.

Again, I need to be brief—Michael Porter dedicated a whole book to Competitive Strategy and this model appears in the first chapter— but I hope to cover the essentials

If you need any help in carrying out your analysis of the competition or using Porter’s 5 Forces Model 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

 

Existing Competitors

Like it or not, you are continuously in competition with other legal firms that do the same things as you, are in the same locality as you and trying to attract and service the same client base as you. This has been the traditional position of the legal profession in Scotland for years (although that is beginning to change). There are two aspects to this part of the analysis– the first part is to establish your own competitive strategy (and we looked at strategy in Back to Basics in July 2011) and once you’ve done that be aware of what other firms are doing to win and keep their clients. You need to consider whether your competitors are competing with you on price—and if they are and you don’t want to compete on price, then you might need to think about trying to attract a client base that is not as price sensitive as your competitors. Are your competitors’ differentiation strategies suitably robust that there is a clear difference in what they provide when compared to your services—or are yours suitably different from theirs? If not, then what can you do to change that? Please take some time to consider how you challenge to win and keep your clients and what other firms do to try to win them from you—and develop your strategy to meet that challenge.

Client Power

Clients are not, in the main, silly people. They are getting more and more savvy as time goes on and have realised for some time that their business is something that they can bargain with. This means that they  can choose to “sell” their business to whoever will provide a service for the lowest cost. Yes, I hear you say, this has been going on for years—remember the “any conveyance for £250” of the early 1990s?

We’re in a double dip recession. Inflation is coming back to the expected levels after a bit of a high where wages were pegged back. People (your clients—be they individuals or businesses) are cost conscious and, as a result, many will want to know exactly what you will charge and, if the figures don’t suit them, may take their business elsewhere.

So, you need to consider what value you can provide to the client—your own reputational value will not be sufficient unless it is backed up by excellent service to the client at a price that the client is prepared to pay. Remember, a client will tell 10 people about a bad experience he or she has had but may not tell anyone about a good experience—and the same goes for the service you provide.

The threat of substitutes

The final threat you need to consider is what alternatives are out there that can do what you do? These exist already. A simple example of this is the Link2Law offering that is available to the public at large—essentially a document assembly web application that allows you, through a series of questions to create a range of documents that might otherwise traditionally be provided by a solicitor—but without a solicitor being involved (and this web offering is owned and operated by a large firm of solicitors in the north east of Scotland). This is the tip of a very large iceberg and over time we will see more “self service” web offerings without any solicitor being involved in the delivery.

Supplier Power

We’ve already seen lenders flex their muscles. They’ve thrown solicitors off their panels, restricted their panels to a very small number of solicitors and then suggest that the purchaser of property should use that small panel of solicitors to act on their behalf in the purchase transaction. I think this type of behaviour is anti-competitive and could be subject to challenge. Just think, you have a client who wants you to act but is told by their lender that it would be cheaper if they used the lender’s panel solicitor to deal with the purchase than their own solicitor. This is a very simple example of a supplier of services influencing the marketplace and introducing practices which put pressure on your clients to switch to a new solicitor—and once they’re gone, they might never come back.

Do you have other suppliers of business to your firm who are beginning to dictate the fee levels you can charge if you want to be passed business by them?

Do some of these suppliers actually provide part of the service you would normally provide and only leave you with a much smaller involvement—for which you can only charge a small fee?

Review your relationships with your suppliers and find out where the pressure points are—or where and when they are likely to come.

New Entrants

Yes, we’re back to that old chestnut—ABS, something that’s caused a lot of trouble within the legal profession in the course of the last couple of years and which is coming ever closer to reality. An ABS organisation will be part owned by non-solicitors and we have already seen a raft of licenses granted by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority in England to organisations ranging from the Co-op to Eddie Stobart (yes, that’s right, the haulage company). If you don’t believe me, have a look at this. Don’t be so naïve to think that the 51% ownership by qualified solicitors will be here to stay for ever—remember there is provision in the legislation for approved professionals being allowed to own that 51% share (in other words, the whole organisation) without there being the requirement for a solicitor to be involved in the ownership. We’ve already seen that Chartered Accountants being granted that status and it will not be too long before others follow. It’s not only ABS organisations that solicitors should worry about—the Legal Services (Scotland) Act  2010 also makes provision for the introduction of Registered Will Writers and Confirmation Practitioners who, along with ABS organisations, will be challenging for your business. Remember too that there are organisations that are looking at introducing services in non-reserved areas and these too will be competing with you for your clients. Prior to being authorised as a provider of legal services by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority in England, the Co-op last year turned over THIRTY MILLION POUNDS in revenue generated from the provision of legal services in non-regulated areas of business—and lest you think that you have time to spare before they get up to speed, I can tell you that I’ve already had a mailshot from the Co-op offering their funeral planning service coupled with their Wills and Executry services.

Think about it this way—you have many, many clients that you should be in touch with on a regular basis. The Co-op has many, many members that it is in touch with on a regular basis. Now, if the Co-op is in touch with its members who are also your clients and is offering them the kind of services that you provide and you haven’t been in touch with your clients to offer them these services then you will certainly be challenged to retain those clients for very much longer.

Simon says…..

What are you saying?

I’ve said it before – it’s an interesting time to be a law firm.

I think most lawyers have now realised that the recession has ended. It actually ended shortly after it began, there is no sign of any further recovery therefore it is safe to assume that this is it. So where are we? We find ourselves competing in a market that is smaller than it used to be and the results of firm’s not adapting to this are very evident. However, the question remains – how can you attract more of the active clients that are out there (than your competitors can)?

I am amazed that some firms still rely on a singular source of business particularly if its ‘word of mouth’! I can’t really count listing type adverts in Yellow Pages – if you are simply in a list with loads of other solicitors then I don’t see the point. Unless your advert really stands out; has a powerful message and strong call to action.

And there’s the first point of my piece – what is your message to your market place? How are you getting that message through? Is it working? Once you start doing that then your competitors have something to worry about. Until then, they don’t.

You will need to keep an eye on what they are doing. Those firms that are more focussed on winning new business will be easy to find – that’s the point. They have sorted out what they want to say and who they want to say it to.

Put yourselves in the shoes of different types of buyer – and imagine how they would go about finding you. There are different types of active clients and you may find your competitors are targeting particular types e.g. the cost conscious, the distraught, the elderly, the young, family owned businesses, sole proprietors, plc.’s, etc, etc. Notice that I haven’t said what type of work is involved – that is because I am targeting a type of person or type of business. This is how marketing works.

is my second point. Promoting yourself is a very necessary and vital aspect of business nowadays. You have survived the recession – congratulations; many firms haven’t. Now is the time to build your business. It’s up to you but if you should assume that your competitors are because everyone is in the same boat and those that take proactive steps will have a better chance of progressing into the future than those that stand still. That’s what promoting yourself does – it improves your chances. It is a competitive world for the majority of law firms and it’s only going to get worse. Whilst the number of mid and large firms contract, the number of small firms emerging is growing and then we will have new entrants coming next year. And there will be new entrants. The competition is increasing and will increase further despite the smaller number of active clients! They must be confident that they can attract a decent share.

Now is the time to position yourself in your market place.

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

Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers: Managing

Welcome to the latest edition of Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers. This month the focus is on Managing. Each edition of Back to Basics addresses a single management item and on this occasion I felt that it would be sensible to consider some of the processes that go into managing. It’s made up of many, many components and we can only scratch the surface in the limited space we have available in this publication—but we’ll touch on some of the essential elements you need to consider. Effective management is something you need to work hard to achieve—and you need to use a very wide range of skills and tools. It can take years to develop as an effective manager and you have to start somewhere—and where better than with the basics! If you need any help in creating systems or tools to assist you in your management efforts 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

Managing

Running your own business can be a bit like fitting together a jigsaw puzzle— you know all of the pieces are there, but it’s not always easy to find the right pieces in the right order and fitting them together. Management in a legal firm has always been viewed as something you learn on the job—or not, as the case may be. This leads to many, many difficulties, not least of which is having to make decisions without enough information to support them. Ad hoc management decisions inevitably produce results that are unexpected and generally poor. These lead to further ad hoc decisions being made which simply compound the problems. I’m not suggesting for a minute that management is an easy thing to do or that it is a panacea for everything that goes on in a legal firm.

If management is simply a case of “doing it by the numbers” then everyone could do it and become a success. There are, however, some fundamentals that need to be put in place for the smooth operation of any firm. There should be a clear purpose—where is the firm going? There should be some sort of “plan” to get there—and a written plan with specific objectives or milestones is critical. This is an essential tool to help you assess how you are performing. You need to ensure that your financial information is current and that you can see how your monthly results impact on your overall annual projections—and what that will mean to you in cash terms. You also need to make sure that you let your clients and the public know what you can do for them. These are just some of the pieces of the puzzle and your challenge is to fit them together in the right way to create a business that is effective and successful.

A view from the High Street

I’m delighted to welcome Austin Lafferty as my guest contributor in this edition. In his firm, Austin has developed his managing role over the years and now operates a distributed practice across 3 branches. In addition to managing his firm, Austin is Vice-president elect of The Law Society of Scotland and takes up office at the end of this month.

Here’s what Austin has to say on the subject:

Like so many solicitors with a relatively small firm, I started out with little idea of management, and, frankly/sadly, something not much more than contempt for that function, which was regarded as a minor function that sat in a backroom role around the edges of running a law practice. In other words, it was assumed that clients would come in, the solicitor and staff would do the work, get paid, and move on to the next case/transaction. I learned over a few years that if this philosophy had any traction, it would have been many years ago in a different world. The reality was and is that structured, planned management can either increase your profits while reducing your risks, or, in rough times, can secure your survival. I remember watching an episode of LA Law (it dates me, I know) and the story was that the managing partner (Douglas Brackman – bald but handsome…) was ridiculed by the glamorous litigators and real estate whizzkids for creating no fees and being a boring and almost worthless functionary who was only holding them back from bigger and better things. He went on strike. Within 3 days the whole firm ground to a fractious halt with mayhem and loss everywhere. Message received. No lawyer is an island.

It was the rise of computers that really got me into a full appreciation of management values. From the early 80’s I was involved in media work, and although this was the birth of commercial IT for law firms, I had to learn to type and use a PC (or Amstrad) to write scripts for TV and radio shows, and for newspaper columns. Having worked in these environments, I could quickly see how the techniques could be adapted to a small law practice. As I began to apply them, that led to other ideas, rationalizations, developments, changes. And as these played through, it became apparent to me through chatting to clients, friends, colleagues in other professions and trades that what I thought of as innovation was either standard procedure or even best practice in the wider business world. And that realization was the tin lid on it – management is not a lesser exercise or something that happens to other people, it is a universal tool of organization, and in effect essential to the profitable and safe practice of the law.

It is a sad fact that still, well into the second decade of the 21st century that so many law firms don’t yet appreciate this. I was involved in a number of seminars and conferences in my Law Society of Scotland role, aimed at helping the high street general practice division of the solicitor profession in Scotland in the light of the general economic downturn. Although I used as much of my ability, experience and understanding of management to suggest a wealth of ideas for firms to use to help themselves (not my personal ideas, just general tactics known to be useful). Some listeners got it, but a fair few looked blank, and some, even in the questionnaires completed by attendees, treated the ideas with naked contempt (makes you wonder what they were doing there). Let me leave you with this thought. Management is a never-ending story. You cannot rest on your laurels, there is always a better mousetrap, a new challenge to face, a risk or an opportunity arising. It is never enough to be a good lawyer. You need to have a business brain, and treat your practice as an organic enterprise that is capable of being grown, harvested and pruned when necessary. Profit is the crop, and the fertilizer? Constant vigilance and hard work – with always an open mind.

Simon says…..

There is a great deal written about this subject. A Google search for the specific term ‘law firm management’ will list millions of hits (over 43 million – I checked!). A lot of people appear to know a lot about it! So why is it something that features so little in many Scottish law firms? I know this is generally true from personal experience. I do think you have to be of a certain size before ‘management’ becomes a definable aspect, which can probably be summarised as the point at which it regularly encroaches too much on client work time. Then it becomes time to get an Office Manager and the problem goes away. Ironically it is at this point that Management disappears and get replaced by Containment, when Management gets associated with Staff and this ‘problem’ is delegated to the new Office Manager or promoted secretary.

The issue I have with this is that Staff is the single most important resource any firm has and if responsibility is delegated to someone with no interest in how effectively this resource is utilised then it won’t develop, it won’t improve – it will be contained. Yes, I know! – lots of ‘management speak’ in that statement. You’ll know if this has happened in your firm as you will have heard this phrase – ‘We have always done it this way’ – numerous times. This is not to say that Staff is Management. Management is a multi-disciplinary facet. There are 4 areas in a law firm that should be constantly changing and evolving and thus require managing:-

1. Case Load Performance 3. Business Development
2. Financial Performance 4. Staff Development

And these need to be proactively managed by setting a target, actioning a plan and reviewing the results.

Simply reviewing performance is not Management, anyone can review performance. Managers set targets and think about how to achieve them. I personally describe this level of activity as tactical because there is always something going on with each of these, a bit like plate spinning, and each contributes to the overall success of the firm. As I’ve just hinted, each of these has a supporting role in something bigger and more overarching – Strategy. A firm of any size should have a Strategic Plan, encompassing the 2 vital ingredients that all successful law firms have – Vision and Direction. Ask yourself two questions – Where are we going? [Jot the answers down]. And then – How can we get there? [Jot the answers down]. Now you have started your Strategic Plan; keep at it!

Prioritisation

Deciding what is or is not important is a key part of the management function— whether it relates to managing your cases or managing your business. By creating a grid like this you will be able to separate out and prioritise your tasks. Write down all the tasks you need to do on a separate piece of paper. Once you’ve done that, think about them in terms of importance and urgency and then list them in the quadrant that best matches the priority of that item—the most urgent and most important go into the top right hand quadrant and the least urgent and least important go into the bottom left hand quadrant. You should then work your way through the most urgent and important before anything else—then move to important, but not urgent. You then need to consider whether things that are in the bottom half of the grid—the urgent but not important—or non urgent and unimportant items need to be done at all. You must always remember that if you don’t manage your work—and that includes all the various management tasks—your work will manage you. You must make it your priority to ensure that it’s the former and not the latter methodology that you practice!

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

Back to basics – a Business Briefing for Lawyers: Managing Performance

Welcome to the latest edition of Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers. This month the focus is on Managing Performance. It is essential that every firm has a range of Performance Management tools—not only of a financial nature (although those are very important) – but more wide ranging.

Armed with these tools, firms will be able to make decisions based on factual foundations rather than on “gut feelings” or “instinct” which, sadly, can prove disastrous. We will touch on just some of those tools in this month’s Briefing. You should not only check your performance for the current month but also over a period of time to help you gain an understanding of the way your business is working and what trends there are that are affecting it. If you need any help in creating systems or tools to assess your performance, please get in touch with me—I’d be delighted to help.

Performance Managing

You see them vying for victory every week during the F1 season – trying to improve their performance week on week. They try things to see if they work, and if they do, they keep them and if they don’t they discard them and try something different. The whole team knows what it’s trying to achieve and they all have a part to play. They measure everything that goes on because they know that by doing that they will find ways of improving that will help them win the race. In your business, there is no difference between what they do in Formula 1 to what you need to do.

Every business needs to have a range of Performance Measurements against which it can test its progress. There are the obvious financial measurements in the form on budgets and projections which you can compare to actual results. You can measure the number of new cases that you opened this week, month or year against the same period last year. You can count the number of new clients that you’ve taken on— and where they came from. Are your Sources of Business continuing to perform as you expected them to? You must identify the information that is important to you and once you to that you must check your progress against that. Are you going to make the effort to improve week on week or are you just in the race to make up the numbers?

If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it!

It’s well known in the world of management that you can’t manage something if you can’t see it—and if you don’t set any performance measurements then there’s nothing to see. It is an essential element of running any business to set performance measurements. Without these you will have no accurate idea of how your business is doing. Simply relying on the bottom line in your bank balance will not give you a very good idea of which parts of your business are performing well and which are performing badly. To do this you need to introduce a range of performance measurements. There need not be a huge range of measurements—but you do need some. As I mentioned earlier, it is prudent to have a range of financial measurements. You really should set out a budget for your financial year (and if you’re part of the way through the financial year and haven’t set a budget—set one for the remainder of the year). Every month you should compare how you’ve done against your budget. You should look at which areas performed well and which areas performed badly—and, in each case, work out why. You should also benchmark your results against the Cost of Time Survey conducted by The Law Society. You will find a range of Financial Ratios in that Report against which you can test your own results.

If you are intent on growing your business profitably, you will be interested in where your new clients are coming from and to compare how many new cases are created by new clients against the number of new cases generated by existing clients. A monthly Source of Business report is a good barometer as to whether you have solid connections that supply you with new cases month after month—and whether a once successful Source of Business is now in decline.

Reading rows and rows of numbers can be difficult and don’t necessarily help you to spot trends. Try putting the resulting into a Chart to compare your projections against your actual results or, in the case of Source of Business Reports consider establishing trends over a period of time to see if there is an improvement or decline from your various sources of business. As can be seen from this chart, existing clients and client referrals are performing well, referrals from the firm’s Web site are increasing month on month, Yellow Pages produces a very small number of cases and might not be worth the money and there is a declining trend in IFA Referral work. This assists you in making decision about which areas you should focus on for growth.

Simon says…..

If I was a budding Olympian (I wish!) then the term performance management would be an oft used phrase. If I was CEO of an FTSE company it would be part of the furniture. So is it something only associated with participants that are at the peak of their chosen field, or, is it something to do with how you attain the heights of capability. The above have teams of dedicated people to measure, analyse and report, which of course isn’t the case for your average law firm in Scotland. Having said that, I reckon you only need the teams of experts if you are trying to win a medal or keep investors happy. The average law firm in Scotland can be informed about its performance much more easily – simply use modern Practice Management software that takes a holistic approach to the firm rather than just the Cashroom.

The most common tool to measure a law firm’s performance is probably the cash accounting system. Unfortunately far too many cash accounting systems were designed for cashiers to use, which means they pander to the needs of the few rather than the needs of the many. Compliance isn’t difficult to achieve and it’s certainly not an aspect to be feared or shrouded in ignorance. Any decent Practice Management System (PMS) will make Compliance transparent to all and automatically alert Partners as to how Anti –Money Laundering and Cash is performing – and, it will show you how your Fees Rendered and Fees Recovered are performing – although don’t be one of those people that think Fees Rendered is the goal; it isn’t – only Fees Recovered (i.e. cash in your bank account) is of practical use to today’s law firms. A good PMS will reveal how quickly you fee (by Work Type, by Partner, by Department) and how quickly you get paid; by revealing the number of days it takes to be paid – then starts you thinking about how you can reduce it. It will also show you any clients with a £500+ credit balance — and show you any clients with a Credit Balance and Fees Outstanding if your Terms of Business says you can take a fee if sufficient client’s funds are available, then call client and let them know you are taking it. If your Terms of Business doesn’t say this – change it. If you are currently using the Bank Statement as your primary performance management tool, then have a look at a modern Practice Management System; you will get a very pleasant surprise if you do. You may be one of those that waits for the accountant to tell you what’s what after the financial year end. The difficulty with this is that by the time you find out there’s a problem; it’s too late to do anything to improve things in the relevant financial year.

Many firms are trading on an overdraft, in which case the bank has probably taken a proactive role as far as reporting is concerned – in many cases this was because the firm itself wasn’t proactive. However, don’t simply be feeding the bank with what it wants to know; understand how good your business development is – report on new clients introduced and new instructions received as these are the things that will feed through into your cash figures in due course. Understand the dynamics of your business: what number of cases lead to what level of income, what are the overheads and expenses that underpin which levels of work type; How are they performing? Is a good question. How can they perform better? I would suggest is the goal.

Fee Earner Performance

Because of the nature of legal firms, it is very important that Fee Earners have their performance measured. In many instances Solicitors are not only the owners and managers of the business, they are also the prime producers of the firm’s income through the work they carry out to generate fee revenue. You should consider measuring the number of cases a fee earner is dealing with at any given time, when it is likely that these cases will generate an income—and how much. You will be interested in the number of fees the Fee Earner renders each month and, most importantly, the number of fees the Fee Earner recovers each month. You can look at the averages of both the number of fees raised each month as well as the average value of fees rendered and recovered and by doing do make a reasonable projection of how much a Fee Earner is likely to generate over a future period.

You can also test what the effect would be of either increasing the average number of fees raised or the average value per fee (or both) or, more worrying, what the impact of a decrease in either of these figures would lead to. To follow this process to its logical conclusion, you will be able to set costs against the Fee Earner—not just the Fee Earner’s salary but also Employers NI and the share or overhead that is attached to the Fee Earner for use of the office space and systems –and the cost of any secretarial or administrative support. By doing this exercise you will be able to calculate Fee Earner profitability. This is a very useful measurement to help you with your decision making. It may seem from taking a “top line” approach based on the value of Fees Rendered that a particular area of work is valuable to the firm but when you analyse out the cost of that work you may well discover that when the cost of carrying out the work is applied that the profitability is simply not there. This may help you to determine how that can be dealt with or whether the firm should continue to do that particular type of work.

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

Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers: Managing Change

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

This month the focus is on Change and Change Management. What a topic to try to cover in a couple of pages! There’s a school of thought that says all the best companies are in a constant state of change—and that’s not wrong. I should make clear, though, that it’s not always wholesale change. Incremental change can be extremely effective. Be careful to make sure that you can justify the reasons for change—there’s no point in introducing change for change’s sake. Make changes that will support your objectives, improve your services and increase your profitability— that’s what you’re in business for, after all. If you need any assistance to introduce and/or manage change, 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

If it’s so hard to change—why bother?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the phrase “but this is how we’ve always done ……”. (add your own ending). There is no doubt that many people in most businesses are change resistant—they would rather do anything other than change the way they do things. They are emotionally attached to internal processes that can be shown to be outdated, obsolete, time consuming and no longer fit for purpose—but suggest that they change the way they do something and many people behave as if you’ve just suggested that they should jump off a very high cliff! I’ve mentioned this before in this Briefing, and I believe it’s worth repeating. If you want to change the results you’re getting then you need to do things in a different way—or to put it in a much less charitable way—the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Change is a challenge and many employers shy away from that challenge, sometimes because they fear change themselves! In the last few years change has been forced on many legal firms. External pressure caused by the recession meant firms had no choice but to review the ways that they structure their staffing requirements and be selective in the work they do.

Some firms moved away from doing what they believe to be unprofitable work whilst others diversified into areas where, in the past, they did not provide services. These changes have been forced on the profession by external circumstances and it is clear that there has been a great deal of pain. Change forced by external pressures will inevitably result in unpalatable decisions being made and changes implemented that would not be the first choice of the partners in the firm—I know many partners who had to make the very painful decision to make staff redundant or put people on short time in order to cut the cost base just so the firm would survive. It will come as no surprise, then, to learn that change driven from within and implemented through choice can have a much more significant impact on the future of the firm. This is change that’s introduced not for survival but for a positive purpose. Finally, there must be a reason for change—and what better reason than to achieve the objectives that the firm has set –Oh!, you did set those back in January when we discussed them…….didn’t you?

Back to Basics – a business briefing for lawyers: Marketing made simple

Welcome to the latest edition of Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers. This month the focus is on marketing—and it’s not just advertising that we’ll be talking about. Marketing touches every aspect of your firm. It starts with your ability to deliver to your clients what you say you’re going to deliver and ends with winning new business through a process of designing systems and methodologies that allow you to provide services that are fit for purpose and then telling the world at large about them.

Gone are the days when a solicitor could depend on having a “client for life”. There are very strong competitive forces out there—and the worrying thing for lawyers is that their competition is no longer just other lawyers, but other more commercially minded enterprises— and that’s before we even have to consider the impact of ABS! This edition will look at marketing as a tool to help you improve your business performance by ensuring that you’ve done the ground work and then proclaimed your capabilities to the world at large.

Marketing is not a “One-off” activity

The are many anecdotal stories of solicitors conducting a “Wills Campaign” and then declaring “It didn’t work for me”. Well, there’s a very clear difference between sending out a mass mailshot to a whole bunch of people who you believe are still clients and conducting a well thought out, structured and continuous campaign to ensure that those of your clients who might not have a Will think about making one—and those of your clients who do have a Will, review it on a regular basis.

Whatever else Marketing is, it is an activity that must be undertaken on a continuous basis—and that means that there is a need to ensure that it is properly resourced. I don’t mean by this spending a lot of money on expensive advertising. What I mean is that someone in the firm needs to take responsibility to ensure that whatever the firm does to design and promote its services , it is done, properly, professionally and, most importantly, continuously.

The four Ps of marketing—Product, Price, Place and Promotion apply just as much to the legal profession as they do to any other commercial organisation—with the P of Products being replaced with the S for Service. So, try this for a very quick exercise: Review the Services your firm provides, determine the Price at which you will provide those Services, decide where you want to Place your Services and then Promote them sensibly and continuously. You need to plan this carefully and engage with others in the firm to do this. And once you have your plan it’s not always necessary that a lawyer has to actually run it—some would say that it would be best if the lawyers weren’t involved in the aspect of running it at all!!

Don’t keep your services a secret

How often have you heard one of your clients say “I didn’t know you did that”. This is not unusual in the legal profession because lawyers are not particularly good at promoting their services to their clients. This also raises the question of who are your actual clients and who should you be promoting your services to.

The legal profession has a tendency to count as its clients those people for whom they’ve carried out a piece of work. So, if you bought or sold a house for someone, say, 5 years ago, it is likely that you still count that person as a client. As a result of some accident, rather than anything else, your “client” contacts you at the end of that 5 year period to say that he’d like to use you to sell his house—and that he’s using “Such and Such Estate Agent” to do the marketing. While you’re on the phone to the client taking his instructions he tells you that since the last time you met he’s made a Will through another solicitor (or, even worse, through a “Will Writer”), arranged the winding up of his mother’s estate through her solicitor even though he was the Executor, used a “no win, no fee” company to help him claim compensation for the accident he had 3 years ago and, then, remortgaged his home last year on the expiry of the fixed term mortgage that he had when you bought the house for him in the original transaction. When you tell him you also provide estate agency services the now infamous words “I didn’t know you do all of that!” are uttered! In this case, just think about the amount of business (and money) you’ve lost by failing to keep in touch with this client.

If your client was aware that you provided all of the services he needed over the years there is every likelihood that he would have used your services rather than going elsewhere. Don’t keep what you do a secret. Let your clients know the range of services your firm provides. Keep in touch with your clients on a regular basis. Don’t fall into the category of the “can’t be bothered”. It costs you far more to win a new client than to keep and continue to provide services to an existing client. Do this: work out what services your firm provides (yes, this is a good idea—some firms are not entirely clear what services they do actually provide), set them out in an easy to read format (either electronically or on paper) and devise a means of communicating them to your clients. It is absolutely essential that you are in touch with your clients on at least 2 occasions every year—3 is better but as a minimum you need to be in touch more than once. Make the effort—if you don’t, someone else will. If you can’t allocate the time to this, outsource it—but make sure that you do it in such a way that you retain control of the activity AND the cost—marketing has a tendency to run away with the budget if you let it. Finally, use whatever means possible at your disposal to market to your clients—electronic as well as paper—and best of all, a combination of the two. Solicitors have a “lead list” that commercial organisations would give their eye teeth for—you should use this to this maximum extent possible.

Simon says…..

I wrote an article for the LawWare Newsletter (Winter 2011) which took a cursory look at the current state of legal marketing in England, as they are further down the ABS line than we are, and noted the influx of professional marketing organisations entering the market using TV advertising to communicate with the target market and the Internet as a delivery base for the service, highlighting QualitySolicitors and Wigster as examples.

The approach of these professional marketeers is very different from that of legal firms themselves. The approach of Legal firms both north and south of the border is similar – either they know what they do and can communicate it, or, they don’t and don’t. I went on to develop a few points – Once the English marketing model is established – the marketing machine won’t stop; it learns, it develops, it gets better. Other suppliers come into the market, offering slightly different services, but at a better price point. And so the marketing machine gathers momentum and pace. Scotland will be regarded as just another target audience and the numbers will be crunched, the strategies written and executed. And remember – your ‘Client’ is someone else’s ‘Prospective Client’. The two examples of change I highlight are both Internet based.

The Internet is the medium of choice for demographics A1-3, B1-3 and C1’s to find potential new suppliers and services – these are the people that have any kind of disposable income. The sort of people firms should be trying to attract! Change is often powered by IT. It is usually delivered by IT. But it is rarely because of IT. Change occurs when someone wants to achieve an objective, understands how to achieve it and can convince others to back the objective.

None of these characteristics are ‘Legal’ – they are ‘Entrepreneurial’. So as well as being good legal analysts and good business managers; Partners of Law firms have to be Entrepreneurial too. So YOU might have to change, maybe develop new skills, maybe hone existing ones. This is not a bad thing; to develop oneself is an admirable personal aim. There are many books and courses that can help. Perhaps look at the CPD requirement in a slightly different shade of light – the personal development requirement is there for good reason and I think it is time that we all got better at this side of our roles.

We are here to; provide a service; different clients require a range of services to suit their needs, and so we must develop and adapt those services as our clients’ needs change or are changed, and, we must attract new clients. It’s up to us to secure the future of our organisations, especially so when the future changes faster than it ever did before. So for this new year I resolved to be a bit more entrepreneurial and I encourage you to be too, for your own good and your clients. Simon Greig is Sales Manager of LawWare Limited, Edinburgh. Contact Simon at simon@lawware.co.uk

It’s the little things that matter

Just saying “Thank you” to a client can reap huge rewards. As an absolute minimum, you should thank your client on your engagement and on completion of the transaction—and for goodness sake, don’t say “thank you” at the end of a case and at the same time try to ram further services down his throat! Leave a decent space between completion and the offer of any new services you can provide to the client—and always remember—if the client should happen refer someone else to you, you must thank the client for that referral.

Is social media the answer?

The Internet offers a fantastic opportunity for lawyers to communicate with their clients, no more so than through the use of social media. The Facebook and Twitter phenomena means that people are in touch with each other on a daily basis and by using blogs you can get your opinion out to the masses. Professional media sites like LinkedIn give business people the ability to make contacts and the old words like “networking” and “making friends” seem to have gone by the board. This is all very well—and it is good to use social media, blogging and other online tools to promote your business—but it pays to make sure that you are able to capitalise on the opportunities that this medium offers—and that you don’t ignore more traditional marketing routes. If you do engage with social media, please make sure that you do so professionally, respond to enquiries promptly and that your online presence is managed. Doing this will ensure that your services are being promoted continuously and in the right way. Stephen Moore of Moore Technology Limited is an expert in this field and his advice is that before embarking on any online strategy it pays to decide what you want to achieve, how you want to achieve it, how you keep it current and how you manage the resulting enquiries. Visit Stephen’s web site on www.moorelegaltechnology.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

Back to Basics for Lawyers: January 2012

Welcome to the January edition of Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers and a belated Happy New Year to all my readers.

This month the focus is on taking action.

Even the best laid plans depend of solid action to make them happen but how many times have those best laid plans come to nothing because of your own inertia.

The best way to get to your objective is to actually do something about it.

We will see in this edition of Back to Basics that even the smallest of steps are important.

Any journey must start with a single step—don’t let your hopes and ambitions be thwarted by failing to put one foot in front of the other!

If you need any help with your plans or putting them into action, 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

I’ve got the plan……how do I start?

In the December issue of Back to Basics we looked at Forward Planning and made some recommendations of what to do and where to start. You’ve all don’t that….right?

January gives everyone an ideal opportunity to throw off the old and look to the new. It’s a new year with a whole twelve months to look forward to. If you’ve really taken time to think about what you’d like to do in 2012 and how you’d like to achieve it, then taking action is the very first step to achieving your objectives.

It doesn’t matter whether your plan is written on a single sheet of paper or is a professionally bound and presented plan – without taking that first step you will never achieve anything.

All the best plans depend on action. If you’re travelling to your destination, you need to start somewhere. You might not be able to see your destination but you usually know how to get to the end of your street. Start with the end in sight and take those small steps that will lead to achievement of your goal.

January last year saw the first publication of Back to Basics for Lawyers. I had had an ambition for quite a long time to produce such a publication—short sharp management tips and recommendations that take up no more than two sides of an A4 sheet of paper (for those of you who print this off).  I planned out the topics for the first twelve months, I spoke to some colleagues and asked if they would contribute occasionally (and to Simon who I asked to contribute in every edition) and then went about  listing the things in each topic that I wanted to cover—and the list grew and grew and grew……..but I still hadn’t achieved anything. I didn’t actually achieve anything until I typed my first word—then my first paragraph and, finally all the words for the first edition. I then assembled the Briefing into the style of publication you are now reading and incorporated Simon’s piece. At last, Back to Basics for Lawyers was born—and here we are, 12 months and 12 editions later in a brand new year and yet another edition of Back to Basics for Lawyers.

All this couldn’t have happened without those first words. All the planning in the world wouldn’t have achieved anything and it would all still have been a dream.

If you truly have done some work in setting your objectives, start to realise them by taking even the smallest step that will help you on the way—and if you haven’t yet started—don’t you think it’s about time you did? Nobody else is going to do it for you!

Simon says…..

Growing your business – January 2012

In last month’s article my main point was this – it is possible for any business to grow in this economy. It requires thought, it requires knowledge of your clients, it requires the ability to put yourself in the client’s shoes and imagine a better buying opportunity. I asked you to think about why your client is your client. Hopefully you have had some quiet time to contemplate this.

The potential for a law firm to grow is different for each firm. A sole practitioner is different from a chamber practice, which is different from a corporate law firm; so the strategies have to reflect this. But the principles for increasing turnover are the same – these I also talked about last month – attract more clients, or, increase the amount each client spends (ideally both).

Attracting more clients – promote yourself. It’s tremendously effective when carried out well. Doing it well means being clear about the message and the benefits, and, targeting this at the right recipients. Here are a couple of examples – having thought about things over the break you may feel that at this time of the year a good message to target your existing clients with is – the importance of up-to-date Wills and the benefits of Powers of Attorney. An alternative plan could be one that says – we need to remind our clients of the range of services we provide. The former plan is value based; it offers some information and advice up front and persuades the recipient that there is some knowledge and potential advantage to be gained from further investigation – when done correctly it also achieves the second plan’s aim. Embarking on the second example is not necessarily a bad plan, but it is difficult to establish a ‘call to action’ with it, i.e. give a reason for the recipient to contact you. You could put an ‘offer’ into the message, for example a free or discounted will with every purchase, but in my opinion the overall message is weakened by being price led as opposed to quality led. Now that you have spent some time analysing your clients – come up with the best plans that cover all types of clients so that everyone gets at least one message this year.

Increasing the client spend – this often requires some even smarter thinking as there are a few strategies you can examine. There is the discount store scenario – how much can you deliver for a set fee. This is often useful for conveyancers, particularly those that perceive the market is price led. Understand what you can deliver for the market rate and call this the Bronze Standard, then create 2 higher levels of service, the Silver Standard and the Gold Standard and specify what you will provide and a price for these. When someone asks for a quote, offer all 3. The questions that follow tell you all you need to know about the prospect and how to handle them in terms of whether they are truly price driven or if they might appreciate a little more by way of service and fee. These are the clients that you must identify, across the board. Those that appreciate a little more and understand that they need nurturing; they appreciate the concept of value, so mark them out for this because you can provide them with more services. These are your good clients not the ones that buy on price.

All firms must be able to identify and send messages to their good clients. Use your Practice Management System to flag these clients and keep their details up-to-date. Regularly correspond with them, 3 or 4 times a year, without fail. It’s no use just doing this sporadically. It must be regular and reliable, in order to build a relationship and persuade these clients that you are interested in them and that you do have their best interests at heart. Don’t expect massive results immediately, just because you send 1 letter. But by the end of the year you should be able to see the difference, easily.

Have a good 2012 by making it a good 2012.

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

Financial Actions

I make no excuse for revisiting this topic over and over again. You might have the most complex and detailed plan and be desperate to put it into action but you will never ever achieve it unless you have the funding to make it happen.

In any plan, you need to carefully set out your projected revenue and expenditure—what income you calculate you will generate when you carry through with your plan and how much you will need to spend to achieve your objectives. It is incredible the number of legal firms that do not have even the most basic financial projections and yet still expect to be successful year on year.

Why is it that in any business plan, a large portion is taken up with the financial aspects? Simple really. Without the right funding any plan is doomed to failure from the start.

Review your plan in conjunction with your financial projections—your Profit & Loss and, most importantly, your Cashflow Projections. It is surprising how many lawyers still struggle with projections and have difficulty explaining the difference between profit and cashflow only to find out the difference late in the day when they are showing decent profits but have failed to collect the cash due to inadequate credit control policies!

As Mr Micawber in David Copperfield famously said “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery”.

Make sure your plans are properly costed out and if you’ve not yet done that, this is one of the very first things you need to do.

Sit down, work out what you and the other fee earners in the firm are likely to generate in the coming 12 months. If you’re really stuck, have a look at what was generated for each fee earner last year and consider whether there is likely to be an increase or decrease in that level. You should know your business and the challenges in the market, be able to take into account what impact your plans will have and come up with figures that you can support.

From an expenditure point of view, take each of your expenditure headings and really challenge yourself on whether you need to spend this money or not—you might want to spend it on this item or that but you might not need to spend it—know the difference and discipline yourself to spend only what you need to spend. Do not trust your finances to luck—the odds are always stacked against the gambler!

Don’t wait to get it perfect

If you really want your plan to fail, then try to get it perfect. Learn quickly that there is no such thing as the perfect plan—it simply isn’t achievable.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t aspire for excellence, but if you’re trying to create something that’s perfect, you’ll spend so much time trying to create that perfect plan that you’ll never get round to putting it into action.

Consider what options are available to you. Ask your partners colleagues and staff. Make sure you have a common understanding of the problems and when you gather the information from these sources you will have a list of what’s available to include in your plan (there is a specific workshop that I run that helps you with this part of the process). This will help you develop a plan that is robust and resilient and up to the challenges you are facing.

Every plan has some sort of shortcoming or defect and you’ll usually only find that out when you start to put it into practice. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t start until you’re sure or that you need to think through every conceivable option.

You should strive for excellence and part of that exercise is setting down the actions you intend to take—what comes first, what’s next and what’s after that. And so on and so forth. You’ll learn fairly quickly what’s working and what’s not and which of your assumptions (and you will need to make assumptions when putting your plan together) work and which don’t.

Think about it this way:

You need to be in motion before you can change direction. If you don’t like the direction your business has been going or the results you are getting you need to do something about it. You can only do that something if you are in motion—and they way to get into motion is to make a start. Once you’ve build up some momentum it’s likely that you’ll realise that there are opportunities available to you that you might not have thought about and because you’re in motion you may be able to avoid some of the threats that are out there.

If you are standing still when the threat comes along it can be very difficult to avoid it and that can have a disastrous impact on your business.

Make sure your plan is fundamentally sound and not fanciful or over-ambitious—remember the SMART objectives we looked at in January 2011 edition. Get up and running and follow your plan and fine tune things as you go.

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
e. brian@drakemyre.co.uk

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 simon@lawware.co.uk

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
e. brian@drakemyre.co.uk

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

e. brian@drakemyre.co.uk

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

e. brian@drakemyre.co.uk

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