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

LawCloud’s data centre partner is named global Microsoft Hosting Solutions Partner of the Year.


We are delighted to announce that today, Rise, LawCloud’s Data Centre Partner has been named as Microsoft’s global Hosting Solutions Partner of the Year for 2011. This acknowledges Rise as the partner of choice for demonstrating Cloud solutions, innovation and our commitment to partnering with Microsoft.

Our selection criteria for hosting LawCloud was stringent and an absolutely essential choice for the future of LawCloud. This award confirms that our choice of hosting partner was absolutely correct.
Beating strong competition from over 3000 entrants, Rises’ revolutionary DataCenter on Demand service has been recognized for providing outstanding solutions and services to the partner community.

This award is a testament to our alliance with Microsoft and Rise and we are proud to be officially recognized on the global stage as working with Microsoft’s Hosting Solutions Partner of the Year. This award reflects Rise’s commitment to its partners and their customers by offering them the most flexible, affordable and manageable platform possible, and we are delighted to reinforce that through this acknowledgment.

Get more LawCloud News here, find out more about Rise here

Security in the Cloud: White Paper

In March, LawCloud published a White Paper called “Cloud Security Considerations: A Best Practice Guide for UK Law Firms” which can be found at http://www.lawcloud.co.uk/security. If you or your law firm are having any concerns about security with client data or with any other considerations when seeking to adopt a cloud computing model, this will be worth a read.Cloud Security Image

Executive Summary

Cloud computing, or “Cloud” as it is becoming known, is a new choice of IT platform for lawyers in the UK and, indeed, around the world, with firms moving their IT processing and data, to servers which are located outwith their own law offices. For many of these law firms, Cloud has been an appropriate choice for them because it is a flexible and affordable alternative to traditional or ‘on premise’ server and desktop-based platforms.

Despite these benefits and the continued growth of cloud computing both by the business and legal worlds, there are still concerns that the adoption of cloud technology by law firms in the UK may bring with it security, confidentiality and data protection issues. These concerns are indeed justified if cloud computing is not implemented under expert IT guidance, particularly where the firm has no in-house IT support. Nevertheless when addressed properly, these concerns can be alleviated.

The White Paper, “Cloud Security Considerations: A Best Practice guide for UK Law Firms”, sets out to stimulate discussion about the key issues and provide practical guidelines to help law firms in the UK settle on a solid position for their cloud computing model.

What is Covered?

The following questions are answered in the White Paper:-

Does your law firm have and implement a defined security policy?
Where is your client data held? (Within the UK? or at least in the EU?)
How safe is your physical data?
How secure is your data over the Internet?
What happens if your laptop is lost or stolen?
Is your data always available?
Is your Cloud management system technically well designed?

For the Paper in full see http://www.lawcloud.co.uk/security. We have already discussed this on our Cloud for Lawyers Linkedin group, but should you wish to discuss further, comments are welcome on this blog below…

How the Cloud can help law firms expand into new locations

Cloud computing, or “Cloud” as it is becoming known, is a new choice of IT platform for law firms in Scotland with firms moving their IT processing and data, to servers which are located outwith their own law offices. One of the benefits of this is that it allows smaller law firms to expand into new locations. There are three main reasons for this:-

1. Accessibility

First, practice management software in the Cloud is accessible from virtually anywhere in the world with certain exceptions. Provided that lawyers are given access to a computer with an Internet connection and authorised access to the secure Cloud platform, setting up in a new location is, from an IT perspective, made considerably easier with Cloud;

2. Cost

Second, access to the Cloud involves little or no capital outlay, with subscription on a pay-as-you-go basis, usually on a monthly basis. Whereas previously the IT overheads may have been too expensive because of the need to install a proficient IT infrastructure, now the overheads are greatly reduced with access to professional IT infrastructure that many law firms would be unable to provide for themselves; and

3. Security

Third, and perhaps most significant, the security risks involved in transferring physical and electronic client data can be alleviated with a secure Cloud platform. Previously, it may have been more unsafe to transfer client data from one office to the next via USB sticks and hard drives. Now, since that client data can be stored securely on private Cloud infrastructure, such as via a server located in the UK or at least within the EU, there is no need for such a transfer. There is, therefore, also an adequate risk management solution in respect of data protection and confidentiality.

Based in Edinburgh, LawCloud houses the successful LawWare practice management software through its leading Cloud service. An evolution in legal technology, LawCloud ensures that, for a fixed low monthly cost, solicitors across Scotland have access to client files wherever they may be. Contact LawCloud on 0845 2020 577 for further information or get in touch on Twitter.

LawCloud: Cloud for Lawyers UK