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: 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

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