Category Archives: IT & Technology

Your business will suffer if your practice doesn’t get started on this … but your competitors do?

Unlock Cash4 “Lean” tools to radically improve your legal practice, but few lawyers in the UK have applied them … yet.

Given the current economic climate there has never been a better time to be leaner, more resilient and operationally agile, but what do these approaches actually mean in the context of running a lean legal practice? In this article, I will introduce you to “Lean”, its five core principles and some of the lean tools that you can apply to make your business more resilient, agile and profitable; also reducing WIP and improving cashflow.

What is Lean?

“Lean” has five ways of thinking at the core of five basic principles, enabling a business to ensure customer/client satisfaction, driving up profits and creating business processes that are efficient, effective and agile. To live by these principles, I can help lawyers to understand and apply a number of Lean tools and techniques to support its adoption that most are unlikely to have considered before (outlined below), adding a completely new perspective to how a law firm and lawyers could operate more effectively.

Without this Toolbox of lean techniques, it is very difficult for lawyers to envisage how they can work (often very) differently, to constantly improve the business and value of services to clients. Lean thinking should introduce radical improvements by enabling lawyers to capitalise fully on their expert knowledge but also release them to think afresh and “out of the box” about what best practice can be.

The five core principles of Lean are:

Customer Value – companies compete by consistently delivering greater value to customers than their competitors, and the first principle of Lean is the identification of what customers value, or more specifically, what they expect. To do this you need to engage with your customers and ask them! It may appear obvious that a legal client may want to win a case or mitigate risk, but how they do this and the processes they go through may be very different. Some may value an online process that is quick and simple; others may prefer the personal touch. Some want to maximise use of technology; others aren’t equipped to do that. You need to know that and to respond to their situation. A Voice of the Customer (VoC) study is a great way to elicit what your customers actually value.

Value Streams – all customers measure value through experiences. Your customers’ experience when engaging with you and other companies they deal with has a profound effect on how they perceive your value and set their expectations of you. The way you interact with customers to create value are “value streams”; interlinked processes that describe how you create value or – when they fail – how you destroy value. An example of a value stream within legal practice can be the process of completing a residential or a commercial conveyancing transaction. Both are made up of a set of basic building blocks. However, the value created at each stage for one customer can be very different for another. A “Value Stream Mapping” (VSM) exercise helps you to describe and understand how you create value … so you can then modify your approach to add more.

Flow – once you have described the way in which value can “stream” to your customers, it is essential to understand the efficiency and effectiveness of the streams. We call this flow and it describes how efficient and effective your “streams” are in actually delivering value to customers. An optimised stream will have zero waste, zero defects and deliver 100% on customer expectations. i.e. the “experience value” equals the “expectation value”, but this is rare. Examples of how “flow” is visualised in a legal practice can be:

  • The number of backwards and forwards communications between the various parties; and,
  • The amount of time spent waiting between each activity.

Based on experience, I’d estimate that the total time spent on a transaction is less than 10% of the total elapsed time. This level of inefficiency has a cost and an impact to the customer and your business. A “Waste and Defect Analysis” (WADA) helps to understand flow capability.

Pull – this principle focuses on the laws of supply and demand. It is generally easier to create supply than to stimulate demand and so there is often an imbalance. “Pull” centres on having the right level of resources/services available to meet demand as it materialises; often described as “Just in Time”. We see pull failures everyday in stockpiles and traffic jams where we experience the value destruction effects when we have to wait for things to happen before we can take the next step. Pull is a way of optimising delivery of value by ensuring supply is delivered to the ‘drum beat’ of demand rather than creating supply and hoping that customers will fall in line!

The new smart motorways are a way of controlling the supply of road space in order to meet customer demand. In legal practices this can mean the alignment of marketing and business development activity to ensure that all departments are working to capacity and not over burdened with work; or where a flexible and agile workforce or processes enable the practice to adapt to changing customer demand. To understand pull you need to complete a “Customer Demand Analysis” (CDA).

Perfection – imagine a world where everything you do is perfect; nothing goes wrong, everything works and there is no waste. You win every case you get or every contract is immediately accepted by a third party and never challenged. Perfecting a process is best achieved by internal teams focused on creating Zero waste/Zero defects. When your teams are embracing the other four principles of Lean, the focus on “perfection” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. An example of how “perfection” can be built into a process would be the use of checklists or “field-required notifications” to ensure that you gather all the data you need at the right time; otherwise some effort would be wasted or reworking might be needed.

Being “Agile” Helps Too

A further benefit of being lean is that it also makes your practice agile. By constantly reviewing what customers want/need and the value delivered; then adapting business processes accordingly, you are able to maintain customer satisfaction. A proactive “Voice of the Customer” activity enables firms to stay ahead of the game by starting to adapt processes and develop services that meet the customers’ demands. Agility does however add complexity, so there has to be a balance in how flexible you want to be.

Strategically, every business should be “agile”. Listening to the Voice of the Customer is invaluable in enabling you to achieve this as you develop your business strategy and improve your business.

As you start to adopt lean, your people will increasingly recognise business processes and they will begin to work more closely and collaboratively with your customers. Your business will become more resilient to changing demands and market pressures as you become more efficient and effective in what you do.

The question should not be whether to adopt lean, but “what happens to your business if you don’t adopt lean thinking … and your competitors do?”

If you want to discuss how Lean can help your legal practice, contact our leading consultant in this area, Dr Lee Williams at solutions@inpractice.co.uk or call +44 (0)161 929 8355.

Making CRM work for you. Whether you are starting afresh or re-launching your initiatives, we have the people and support to help you.

Client Needs AnalysisJust a reminder of the team we have available here at Inpractice UK to support your CRM and other business development initiatives:

Strategy, culture change, client research, employee engagement, planning

Cleansing & Managing Data, Implementing Technology

Sales & Key Account Management – hands-on support and training for your people to generate more business from  new prospects and existing clients.

Software tools to support employee engagement and development of new skills

TO FIND OUT MORE about our approach to implementing CRM, contact Allan Carton on 07779 653105 or at solutions@inpractice.co.uk

FREE ONLINE ACCESS: The Jan / Feb Issue of Internet Newsletter for Lawyers is now available.

infolaw, Internet Newsletter for Lawyers, Delia Venables, Nick HolmesA helpful review of the new Free2Convey portal here for conveyancers amongst another interesting range of topics covered in this issue of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers from Infolaw:

  • Publishers – Paul Magrath describes how ICLR are developing their service by expanding coverage online only
  • Resources – Delia Venables looks at the most important sites for free current awareness legal resources online
  • Conveyancing – Matthew Lancaster of Pracctice tells us about Free2Convey, the new free conveyancing portal
  • Marketing – Gavin Ward of Moore Legal Technology provides his ten top tips for effective content distribution
  • Technologies – Alex Heshmaty of Legal Words on driverless cars, their relevance to lawyers and the legal issues
  • Resources – Rosalind English describes the background and current activities of UK Human Rights Blog
  • Documents – Nick Holmes offers guidelines for working with documents sourced via the internet.

FREE ACCESS to the newsletter web pages here >>

Develop your legal practice using Cloud applications … but get your data security right. You need to anyway!

In the Cloud, walking a tighrope

I recently presented on this topic at the Law Management Section’s Finance & Business Conference, so you can download a copy of the full presentation at the foot of this post.  

The presentation includes screenshots and information on some of the key hosted applications that are helping law firms to implement new initiatives more quickly and effectively than they could do in the past; all of which are worth checking out.

However, there is more to consider to make sure you make the right moves, as discussed below.  If you want to find out more about what solutions and approach might work best for your people and your practice, I’m always happy to have a preliminary discussion about options for free if you call me on 07779 653105 or contact me here.

Lawyers don’t have to wait to “move to the Cloud”; most of you are already there, using online and hosted applications.  There are many good hosted / online tools you can use now to fill gaps in current on-premise systems. Some examples given in here include:

  • Management Information and KPI dashboards
  • Market and Business Intelligence
  • Client Relationship Management (CRM) systems
  • Automated time capture
  • Social media e.g. Linkedin and Twitter
  • Conveyancing searches
  • Microsoft Office 365

We want our clients to use more cloud applications where it makes sense, but there is a quandary …

Using applications “in the Cloud” today means that your people are entering passwords to access data from various locations and more, posing data security risks; often without the IT team really knowing who is using what – and being poorly equipped, funded or supported from the top to implement effective and essential data security systems.  Not a lot of management time has gone into addressing risks here in – I would say – most law firms.

And by the way, the biggest risk to data security, is your own people; not hackers – so you can do something significant about this to reduce the risks.  Using encryption more consistently would be a good start.

When you actually move your IT infrastructure to the Cloud (e.g. moving to a hosted practice management system), it is more likely that data security issues will be considered, but are still not fully addressed in most firms.

However, perhaps we now have the answer?  Because clients are beginning to demand proper data security from their lawyers; and because cybercrime has been recognised as a serious risk for law firms, senior management in law firms are just beginning to invest time and money in data security e.g. to achieve ISO 27001 accreditation.

If that means proper security systems are implemented, then lawyers can get on and use these Cloud applications (which are inherently more secure and reliable than systems running in your office) then get on and use more of these Cloud applications to develop your business … with confidence.

They can help you engage people more quickly and produce results earlier with (almost) “ready to use” systems involving less IT development pain on new initiatives. However, lawyers need to catch up on IT security to do this safely.

DOWNLOAD the presentation here >>

Is engaging your people high on your agenda for 2016? If it is, now is a good time to explore new options that can help you leapfrog competitors.

Employee EngagementIt should be!  Engaging people in what you want to achieve – when there is a lot of change and re-focusing of priorities needed – is a critical area of management where most law firms should be focusing right now …. but where is the best place to start afresh or re-engage? 

Let us help you explore how you can use some tools to make this happen (to keep the momentum going), with confidence.

Senior management in most law firms struggle to engage and develop people and to implement new business development initiatives on target.  Nobody feels they have enough time, but a lot of precious management time and energy is easily wasted through lack of consistent focus on what everyone is trying to achieve.  

The Challenges and the Opportunities for UK Legal practices – READ MORE HERE >>

It could be so very different, with Simitive to help structure and manage engagement, projects and development of people.

People – from the CEO or Managing partner to the office junior – work more effectively if they are helped to understand what they can do to make the best use of their skills and experience – and fill gaps as they become apparent; not having to wait for the next formal appraisal.

Many senior managers are too busy because they feel only they can do all of the jobs they do; eating up every second of the day. That does not make for a sustainable business. Management need to find a way to develop others around them to share the load, contributing more, with sound support to ensure results now and fill the gaps in skills and experience along the way.

Arrange a FREE Demonstration of Simitive for you and your team.

Simitive – developed and implemented successfully in other professional services sectors – provides a framework to support better and more effective, routine engagement of people in all aspects of the work they do;  fee earning, management, projects, personal and business development, mentoring etc.  Transparency and alignment of objectives and tasks enables managers to constantly review progress and provide input when needed, quickly adapting the plan by agreement as things progress.  Internal communication, collaboration and innovation all benefit too.

The Simitive solution comprises 3 key components to add structure to management of your practice:

  • Simitive ObjectivesSimitive Goals & Projects provide interactive, real-time management and monitoring of organisation, team and individual goals, objectives and projects. The system ensures that all organisational, team and individual goals and projects are clearly defined, agreed, visible and up to date, with a clear line of sight upwards and downwards through the whole organisation. Clients using Simitive Goals & Projects report a 20% saving in administration time, a 20% saving in wasted effort and a significant increase in the level of employee engagement on the desired outcomes of the organisation.Simitive Review
  • Simitive Review creates an on-going ‘living review’ that aligns with an individual’s goals and allows a more sophisticated, ongoing and adaptive way to communicate. Users of Simitive Review typically see completion rates increase to over 90%. At the same time the quality of conversations increases with over 85% or reviewees and reviewers reporting significant improvements in the quality and value of their appraisals.
  • Simitive LearningSimitive Learning Management helps law firms manage the SRA’s new competency requirements (that are replacing CPD), providing a real-time learning management platform that engages every individual directly in identifying, agreeing and completing learning and development activities.  It enables you to work together with your people to define what learning activity is required, when, and by whom.  It also chases your staff pro-actively to advise of training required.  Simitive’s Learning Management System (LMS) supports SRA-style behavioural, competency and skills frameworks, providing the platform for talent management and succession planning.

To arrange a demonstration contact Allan Carton on 0161 929 8355 or at acarton@inpractice.co.uk

INNOVATE like Pinsent Masons. ENGAGE and DEVELOP your people to PRODUCE RESULTS.

business organizationInnovation and new value-added service propositions seem to be the order of the day but where do you start or re-launch new initiatives to generate the best possible returns?

Having been named Innovative Law Firm of the Year 2015, Pinsent Masons launched a microsite showcasing some of the stories and products that won them the award – see the links to their site and some solutions that can help you get there at the end of this article.  All well worth checking out.

What Pinsent Masons are doing is  certainly “innovative” for the legal sector, so full marks for doing it and for spreading the word to challenge others.   Some lawyers in other firms will rightly be frustrated that they are not “doing something” to match this, as clients will increasingly choose the law firms that tangibly offer more value.  Others will of course be dismissive.

Before you stir things up too much at your practice because you want immediate action  on some of this, make sure you start by getting the groundwork right.  To produce successful results, you need to get – and keep – people on board because this can’t happen overnight. Pinsent Masons have been at this for a long time already.

Ask yourself and your senior management team:

  1. Do we know what our clients want that will add value to your services?  Have we asked? Have we started again from a clean sheet in exploring options?  How can we make it more tangible?
  2. Are we equipped to engage our people effectively in developing and delivering something new and maybe quite different from what they do now?  Are people being coached constantly as we go along to develop and harness their thinking?
  3. How does the way we work together need to change to prioritise and manage these new projects and services effectively?  How do we make that happen?

Key challenges to tackle at the outset then are to engage people to deliver in line with the strategy, develop their skills to match and support them in constantly improving performance and developing those propositions.  These are critical stumbling blocks for too many law firms that start with good intentions on innovation.

We have a number of innovative solutions that can help you bring your people on the journey with you, equipping them to make the transition needed for them to be comfortable and capable of dealing with some clients and delivering some legal services differently.

We can help, working with our business partners on:

  • Independent client listening to develop new service propositions
  • Engaging people, supporting collaboration, project and “real time” performance management – adopting Simitive to structure your approach – focused on outcomes, sharing accountability, making more productive use of time.
  • Learning and developing essential new skills for all employees, ensuring that it is effective, affordable and flexible enough to enable you to let you invest in them.

The Pinsent Masons “Bringing Innovation to Life” website is here >>

To find out more about how we at Inpractice UK can help you to develop, implement and deliver innovative services that add tangible value for your clients, contact Allan Carton on 0161 929 8355 or at solutions@inpractice.co.uk

Great plans, but people need to be “engaged” in the business to make them happen?

Businessman holding up an OK signNow, as law firms are trying to change their business radically to meet new and changing demands, there is a critical need to deliver on new business strategies and initiatives. “Employee Engagement” is where most potential lies to improve the short term performance and long term sustainability in most law firms.

The Challenge … and the Opportunity

Top management can have all the best business development plans, new service propositions, process maps, key account management or new technology in the world, but if employees don’t understand and value the part they play, efforts to implement them WILL fail.  They won’t produce the results hoped for; probably missing the mark by a very long way.

We’ve seen it happen many times before, where initiatives lose momentum, detractors snipe at the advocates and everyone gets stressed out.  The job may get done … eventually, but it has been much more painful than it should have been, people get worn down and the results are nowhere close to what was achievable.

Your people should be your most valuable asset.  In many firms they are not.

People work more effectively if they understand their role in the business they work in and are supported effectively on projects allocated to them.  Effective communication, mutual respect, collaboration and understanding what is expected of each other amongst colleagues contribute significantly to motivation.

Lawyers have never been good at finding time to engage the people around them; nor to develop the skills needed to do that effectively.  Maybe that didn’t matter so much in the past.  I have interviewed a lot of capable and dedicated, but seriously disenfranchised people on projects over the years – not just management and support, but lawyers too.

In the past, this failing has just made a lot of law firms more stressful – but maybe also less challenging – places to work, which was a shame, but not fatal to the business.

Going forwards it will be an obstacle to survival as others establish a new momentum, actively supported by the people working for them.  Law firms stuck in old ways, unable to get people to do things differently will suffer.

Research has shown that “engagement” pays off.

  1. About 37% of an employee’s time in the office is wasted just because they do things that don’t make any difference; and that applies to both lawyers and support staff.  That is about 14 hours per week that could be used much more productively.
  2. You can radically reduce this wasted time by as much as 17% to release about 7.5 hours per week to more relevant work by creating better focus on better aligned organisational goals.  That might be earning fees, developing business, mentoring their team, training others …
  3. Clarity of Success Criteria also reduces stress and promotes focused contribution to the business aligned to corporate and individual development.
  4. Consistent, regular monitoring results in early identification of potential issues in either individual or organisational performance, creating the opportunity for pro-active intervention.

Why does that really matter?

If you move your practice to one where employees are “engaged” you would expect to:

  • Improve the profitability of the business
  • Maximise the engagement and utilisation of all resources.
  • Generate effective collaboration between people, teams and departments
  • Reduce stress and anxiety that derives from uncertainty
  • Develop innovative improvements in internal operations and added value services
  • Visibility of roles and tasks so each person knows what is expected of them and others
  • Deliver projects on time and within budget
  • Improve clarity, ownership and reporting of Organisational Goals.
  • Facilitate Organisational and Cultural change to meet business challenges.
  • Improve the engagement of staff in their own and organisational goals.
  • Improve visibility of skill and resource shortfalls.
  • Facilitate succession planning.
  • Simplify compliance and associated reporting.
  • Provide a platform management of programs and projects.
  • Deliver Staff training and development including compulsory training (e.g. health and safety, diversity, fire, environment) with compliance validation

What does “Engagement” look like?

You will get the message from this thought provoking X-Model of “Engagement” video.

How to build effective engagement into the fabric of your law firm?

Making it happen is the subject of the next post on the topic of “Employee Engagement”. Please come back soon; or register on the site and we will let you know when the next update has arrived.

To find out more in the meantime about how we at Inpractice UK can help you develop and implement an effective approach to engaging your people to improve the performance of your practice, contact Allan Carton on 0161 929 8355 or at solutions@inpractice.co.uk.