Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers: Productivity

Welcome to the latest edition of Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers. This month the focus is on Productivity. The Oxford Dictionary defines Productivity as “the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input:” and in this month’s Briefing we will look at getting more out from the effort you’re putting in. Much of this means working with the resources you have and applying them properly to make sure that you can improve the productivity of the firm. If you’re not getting the best out of your resources then you are harming the productivity and, inevitably, the profitability of your firm. Take some time out to consider how you work on a daily basis and whether there are some things you might think about doing differently that will give you a productivity boost. If you need any help in creating systems or tools to assist you in your productivity 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

Productivity

Every business must be conscious of the need to continuously improve its productivity and to apply its resources as effectively as it possibly can. Unfortunately, due to established working practices and inertia, many businesses fail to take advantage of the tools available to them and instigate the changes needed to achieve those aims. The resources of any business are precious, not least in the legal profession, where fee earner time is probably the most valuable resource. There are only 24 hours in every day—and, despite what the more young and energetic amongst us might think, we still need to sleep. After that, we’re left with somewhere between 16—18 hours every day to carry out a whole host of activities—washing, eating, drinking, getting dressed, relaxing—oh, and working!

To get the best out of the time you spend working it is absolutely essential that you are organised. You need to consider the other resources at your disposal—money is usually pretty high on the agenda as are the people who work with you. As with time, it’s highly likely that your money resource is not limitless. In the course of the last few years, money has been very “tight” for many, many legal practices and this has resulted in redundancies and short time working. As the recovery, such as it is, continues, it is important to consider all options to aid productivity rather than simply engaging more people. You are likely to have some form of office that you use—even if it’s a home office—and tools with which to do your work—a PC will probably feature in the mix somewhere as will, potentially, a Practice Manager system. Do you use these resources wisely…. properly…. at all? Finally you need to look at the processes you employ to carry out your day to day work. People say it’s hard to change and think about doing things differently.

If time is your most valuable resource and if you don’t use it properly you will lose it then it makes perfect sense to look at the ways you and those in your firms do things and work out the ways you could do things differently to employ your resources more effectively and improve not only your personal productivity but that of the firm as a whole. Improved productivity inevitably leads to improved profitability—after all, that’s what being in business is all about —isn’t it?

What are you going to do today?

In a previous issue of Back to Basics we looked at Objective Setting—and the need to write down your clearly defined objectives. This helps you to keep focused on what’s important to you and what you want to achieve in your business. Last month we looked at the Importance/Urgency Matrix that you can use to help you decide what parts of your work are top priority and which parts are unimportant. Another tool that many successful people employ is the To Do List—and not simply a list of all the things you need to do, but a To Do List that’s prioritised. To start off you need to list everything that you have to do—yes, everything. Then assign a priority to each item on the list, starting with A items and ending with F items. A items are the most impactful on your business and should be the things that will do most to help you achieve the objectives you’ve set. They might not always be the most urgent (but many are) but they will certainly be the most important to you. B items are not as important as A items but tend to support them whilst being more important than C Items. C Items are the third priority items which are less critical than A or B items. When it comes to D items, you really need to consider whether you should be doing these items at all.

By prioritising your A, B and C items you’re deciding that only you can do these things—and if, when reviewing your list you feel that there are some things on it that might be best dealt with by others, then demote them to Ds and delegate it to others. The E and F items on your list tend to be the “like to do” items and you need to consider whether you need to do these things at all! Once you’ve assigned each item a category you should then group all your A items together and prioritise the most important item in that group as A1. Decide on the next most important and assign it A2. You go thought your A list and assign a priority to each item. Then start to work on your highest priority item—your A1 item—and you don’t move on to any other item till your A1 item has been completed. Then move on to your A2 item and do the same thing. If something comes in during the day that you need to deal with (as it inevitably will), add it to your To Do List and determine its priority rather than just starting the task without thinking about it. Try to avoid distractions—particularly email distractions.

People tend to work with Outlook open, with prompts telling them a new email message has arrived. This is probably one of the biggest “attention thieves” that you are likely to come across. You should ring-fence some time each day to deal with email—and close down Outlook outwith those times—and if you can’t bear to be without Outlook being open, at least turn off the new message prompt! Solicitors work hard—it’s just sometimes they don’t work smart. Have a go at creating and using your very own Prioritised To Do List. Do this every day and watch your productivity soar!

Simon says…..

‘Performance’ is one of those often thought about aspects of running a law firm but one that is rarely attributed to any individual’s job description. Which is odd really because it can be easily measured, compared, analysed and then improved or worsened; by just a single decision. When I meet Partners of law firms to talk about IT, we often stray into other areas and a favourite question of mine is this – ‘in order to improve efficiency would you foresee doing more tasks yourself or delegating more tasks to others?’ By the way, there is no right or wrong answer – all 3 possible answers are perfectly acceptable (the 4th one involving not changing is obviously not acceptable). There are some common aspects of achieving an increase in the performance of all law firm staff. The quality of your Style Template Library is a vital component. I don’t mean simply having one. I mean having it in electronic form, having it available immediately to anyone that needs it, having all the common fields in-filled automatically from your client and case file information, storing the resultant letter or form automatically and distributing it electronically to the recipient – this would seem to me to be a utopia of performance. I rarely find it.

Even if you fell short in the final stage it would still be a tremendous leap up the performance ladder for the vast majority of law firms. A common failing of some Partners is the failure to agree on common styles for the firm itself to use, preferring instead to adopt individualistic forms of standard correspondence that fails to grasp any form of economy of scale that a basic Document Management system can provide. Some firms will be unwilling to invest any time or effort to produce a style library – fortunately there is an organisation called The Styles Bank that can supply ready-to-run Style Libraries that are kept up to date for you. I strongly suggest that you check them out. As I have suggested above having an automatic store of electronic documents – often referred to as a case management system – can make it easier for colleagues to retrieve files when you are out of the office and they are trying to cover for you.

This is doubly useful if you have also filed your emails in it as well (both Sent and Received). This means that there is a phenomenal reduction in staff time spent printing and filing (always a challenge in itself) and then locating the appropriate file (a lost file is a real daytime nightmare). These simple gains in productivity will convert directly into improved performance – and clients will notice. No Fee Earner is an island – there is always a team. People are change resistant, so there is often a proving stage to be negotiated, but if your improvement programme is sound, implemented well and people can see the benefits, they never want to go back afterwards. Your role is to keep them moving forward and to praise them when they achieve good results. By the way the 3 possible answers are:- 1 – Doing more myself. 2 – Delegating more. 3 – Both.

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

Get organised

Keep your workspace clear, clean and tidy and try as hard as you can to have only 1 file on your desk at any one time. This will help you to focus on the matter at hand. Keep other files that you intend to work on nearby on a shelf or table so you can move on to them after you’ve dealt with your current file. When you deal with a case, do everything that can possibly be done at the one sitting—don’t do a little bit and then ask for the file back to do another little bit and then repeat the process. Do as much as you can in one sitting—”single-hand” everything you possibly can. Put a reminder in your Diary or Task List or, better still, your Practice Management system, and after that put the file back in the filing cabinet—then, at least, you’ll have half a chance of finding it when you need it.

Do you know that you can spend up to 30% of your working time looking for something that has been misplaced in some way? That’s a huge waste of one of your key resources and should not be viewed lightly. It can get worse, of course, when you engage the assistance of others to help you find the file. Just think of all of the productive things that you and they could be doing instead of trying to put your hand on a missing file—and if everything you do is in your Practice Management system, you might not need the file at all! It pays to be organised—don’t let that thought ever leave your mind.

Review your processes

We all take the way we do things for granted. Stop for a minute and think about all of the things that are done in your firm on a daily basis and why they’re done in that way. Is this just because “that’s the way it’s always been done” or has someone actually determined that it’s the most efficient and effective way to do the task? Make sure that the right person is assigned to do the right task—don’t have high cost people doing low cost work! Think very carefully about every process in your office. If you find any that are inefficient or ineffective—change them.

Lawyers love documents!

I’ll bet every lawyer who receives this Briefing generates several hundred letters and documents every week. Unfortunately, many of these documents are created from scratch when they don’t need to be—with the same thing being dictated over and over again. That means something that could easily be incorporated into a standard Work Template taking a few seconds to produce takes minutes to dictate or type (or have a secretary type). All of these minutes add up to weeks of wasted time. Do yourself a favour, consider having as many of your documents as possible created using Word Templates that can be easily accessed. It will take less time to produce your documents and letters and give you half a chance of enhancing your risk management processes.

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 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?

Cloud and the Convergence of Technology

I was at the Microsoft’s Partner Briefing in Edinburgh yesterday and the keynote speaker spoke with passion about the “Convergence of Technology” that is currently happening in the technology world.Law Cloud Image

I started out developing games on a Sinclair Spectrum at the age of 12 which I received as a Xmas present after showing an interest in the ZX81.

I still have these “little fellows” in the mini museum in our board room and every time I glance over at them, I am reminded of the good old days when developers had to cram code into 1k of RAM. A few months later, the massive 64k RAM expansion pack was released which broadened the scope of possibility. These machines plugged into your tape recorder and data was saved onto cassette tapes with a screeching wave of audible binary being magnetised onto the media. If the tape didn’t corrupt or jam, you were doing well.

It has been said that these machines created the birth of today’s IT directors, software houses and leading technologists. You only need to look at the successes of Bill Gates and the former Steve Jobs who both started on equivalent machines in the U.S from their garages.

Since then and with the advent of the internet, we’re all now connected and the possibilities are only limited by our imagination. Facebook, linked in and twitter have created unrivalled communication media and these and platforms like it continue to change our world at a radical pace.

Moore’s Law surmises that computing power doubles approximately every 18 months and the evidence is here today. My Windows Phone 7 has a 1Ghz processor, 16Gb RAM and a display to die for. I opted not to go for the 64Gb dual core processor but if that’s what mobile phones are now spec’d with, imagine what they will be like in 5 years’ time!

Technology for a long time was (and still is) mooted as geeky and you can see why. It’s roots are complex, mathematical processing machines and even today, achieving real value involves a real in depth know how by specialists who have dedicated a good proportion of their passion to making these incredible machines tick.

The latest development is Cloud and the biggest IT companies in the world see this as their next “Big Bet”. They are investing enormously in what they see is the future, “Cloudifying” their software and investing masses in secure & robust, high performance data centres.

Apple software has always had a close relationship with its devices which is why the Apple brand is so strong. It’s devices and solutions are elegant and well-formed so that the end user’s experience is consistent and streamlined. Apple devices are a thing of beauty and long may this be.

On the other hand, PC’s come in all shapes and sizes and whilst Windows arguably offers more control, the Windows experience is varied. Microsoft has cottoned on to this and they see their future in the convergence of devises and with a consistent end user experience. Windows XP will be end of lived in 2014 and Windows 7 & 8 will be Microsoft’s flagship operating systems.

All vendors see a close and consistent relationship between device, operating system and end user experience being key and over the next few years, the technology underpinning mobile phones, tablets, slates and other portable devises will become much more of an art as well as a science.

Cloud is only the beginning of this convergence in technology and we are living in times where we will see an even bigger radical shift in the way that we work, play and live.

How incredible to have seen the birth of the PC, email, the browser, the internet, the mobile phone, Google, amazon, Facebook and to watch these technologies mature to even the early stages that they are at today.

There’s a lot more technology to come and as IT people, we are so fortunate to be so well positioned to help shape the future by being involved in this multi trillion dollar industry, to be able to play with the latest gadgets and enjoy the way that they can help us live more fuller lives.

If you’re as excited about technology as I am, you’ll see how easy it is to get carried away with these things and it’s important to keep your feet on the ground. We’re living in challenging times where the world’s economies are in turmoil, it’s sometimes difficult to see a way forward where dreams can be fulfilled. It is important to keep things in perspective and find a good balance between possibilities and realities. Live in the moment, take every day for what it is and take one step at a time. I have enormous faith in the human condition and with technological advancements in all fields; our quality of life is improving by the day.

This post was originally published in the Firm Magazine here .

Cloud computing: A bright light for business

One of the most successful business people of our time, Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs, was one of the first to recognise the benefits of the “cloud”, which put simply is a term used to describe a model of computing which enables on-demand network access to a shared pool of resource. When Jobs rejoined Apple in 1996, one of his first acts was to move all of the company’s data – including fiercely protected information about the business’s future plans – to Apple’s servers, rather than entrusting that valuable information to individual computers.

Andy Burton, chairman of the Cloud Industry Forum, an industry group, cites the case of LawWare, based in Edinburgh, which writes software for legal practices (LawCloud): it wanted to speed up implementation, and so turned to cloud providers so it could rapidly develop projects for customers. “The time taken to implement a new system went from weeks to hours,” says Burton.

He says that the problem with the word “cloud” is that many people find it ambiguous: is it about flexibility, or speed, or cost? He argues that “it makes you a more competitive organisation” and that the key question to ask is which of those three is the most important to improve, and focus on how cloud systems can help.

In June 2009, just after Michael Jackson’s death, Twitter saw traffic peak at 456 tweets a second but, by August 2011, following news of Beyoncé’s pregnancy, it was generating 8,868 tweets a second. Flexible cloud-based servers meant that Twitter could handle that explosive growth – few companies could forecast and manage such expansion on internal systems.

The idea that cloud services will make a big difference to businesses has been a recurrent theme of technology discussions for the past 10 years or so. Certainly, UK businesses have indicated that they are ready to adopt cloud computing. A study in the first half of 2011, which polled IT and business decision-makers across the private and public sectors, found that almost half already use cloud services. The private sector leads the way, with those employing more than 20 people ahead of smaller businesses in adoption (52% v 38%) – even though the latter could gain more because of the lower capital spending cloud computing requires. The driver for adoption is overwhelmingly cited as flexibility, with only 16% citing cost savings, though that figure rockets up to 69% among those already using cloud services.

It’s not just going to be about Hotmail any more. The cloud is coming, and the only question soon might be why your business isn’t on board.

Read the full article in The Guardian Newspaper, in the Cloud technology supplement, printed on 17th October 2011 or see their Cloud technology news section at Guardian Cloud News

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

What is Cloud Computing?

Video presentation by a company called SalesForce showing what cloud computing. This is a generic video. But, watch this and over the next few minutes you’ll be able to work out and realise why law firms are turning to cloud computing.

Likewise, this simple presentation reinforces the point. Law Cloud uses essentially the same format EXCEPT that the legal software to which you would be subscribing is bespoke within the “cloud”.

Please see our contact section for more details.

Best wishes
The Law Cloud Blog Team

LawCloud Feature Article in Journal Online

Good news! The Journal Online are publishing a short feature article on LawCloud and LawWare itself. These will appear within October’s Journal. In the meantime, in case you have been wondering what LawCloud is, what it does and why it could help to grow your law practice, here is a preview:

LawCloud is the latest development in cloud based software solutions for law firms. It is designed for lawyers who want to work with modern software, in a smart manner and secure environment that is accessible from anywhere.

LawCloud brings together the best of a mix of traditional, proven and robust systems alongside the latest innovations in secure cloud-based technology for law firms, making it easier for lawyers to protect their practices, save costs and work flexibly. It also includes an optional outsourced cashroom and compliance capability.

In essence, we’re all about making IT easier, providing innovative technology, looking after our clients with great personal care and attention, and letting our IT work for you. Contact us on 0845 2020 577 or by email at lawscot@lawcloud.co.uk

The Journal Law Cloud

The Journal Law Cloud

LawCloud: Cloud for Lawyers UK