Category Archives: Client Relationships

Three Boxes: a Clear Strategy to lead effective innovation in your legal practice.

Well worth watching.  Simple and rational – but I hadn’t looked at this clearly before.

At a time when the most successful lawyers will be those that become more pro-active in developing innovative ways of delivering legal services that give clients and business partners more value from using legal services … here is an interesting way to structure your thinking.  It should help you create more thinking time about new services, while also getting on with running the current business.

With this clarity, there is a better chance of making it happen!

To Innovate, You Have to Manage the Past, Present, and Future

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

Meeting EU requirements for Online Dispute Resolution is the best approach for clients … and law firms.

EU ORD Directive ComplianceThe European Union has stipulated that consumers who buy a product or service online should be able to submit complaints to the supplier via an EU Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform, so – from 15 February 2016 – all e-commerce businesses must carry a link to this platform on their website.  The complaint, once submitted, will be transmitted to a recognised alternative dispute resolution entity to try to facilitate a solution.

It appears that law firms are probably caught by these regulations as providers of legal services,  so the safest approach is … to comply and then make the most of this approach to improve client satisfaction.

The link to the EU ODR platform is accessed here.

Weightmans Solicitors, which advises on regulatory issues in respect of law firms, has advised members of Manchester Law Society to update their websites to include the ODR EU Platform link due to a new EU requirement that came into effect on 15th February 2016 – and they practice what they preach here where you will find their wording for this on their own site.

Why Lawyers Should Take Steps Now to Comply

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) considers that the regulations will affect law firms who send or receive contracts and client-care information by email as this constitutes “offering goods or services on a website or by other electronic means”.

An advert for legal services on a website is not an offer; merely an invitation to treat, but emailing  a contract or an engagement letter might be construed as an offer “by other electronic means.”

To comply with the regulations, businesses MUST provide:

1. A link to the ODR platform

2. The firm’s email address

The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) will continue as one option to resolve any complaints, but there is also an obligation to nominate a certified ADR entity such as ProMediate (with particular experience of legal services) to mediate complaints and claims.

  • LeO is not a certified ADR provider, so complaints coming though the EU’s ODR system cannot be referred to them.
  • ProMediate offer faster turnaround times than the LeO, which both law firms and their clients generally want, which increases satisfaction with the complaints process.
  • Many clients will prefer engagement in the dispute resolution approach in contrast to a complaints process.

Even if the LeO become an approved ADR provider in the future – which is unlikely as they decided NOT to do this in early December 2015 – there would still be a requirement (in addition to any existing regulatory requirements under relevant Codes of Conduct) for law firms to provide information regarding the ODR platform to clients by email and in Terms and Conditions.

We recommend that law firms should:

  • Include a link to the EU ODR platform on their website; and,
  • Identify and nominate an appropriate certified ADR entity to deal with:
    • At least any complaints that are initiated through that platform; but also,
    • Other disputes that arise with clients if they or you consider mediation is a more attractive approach than making a complaint to an Ombudsman in the circumstances.
  • Nominate ProMediate as your certified ADR entity because they have all the accreditations needed, commit to a short turnaround time, charge a reasonable fee and have experience with legal services.

For more information about how to comply or about nominating ProMediate, contact Peter Causton on 07827 961764 in confidence to explore options; or by email to enquiries@promediate.co.uk options.

ProMediate is a CTSI Certified Alternative Dispute Resolution Provider under the ADR Regulations 2015 and have partnered with Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce to deliver a dispute resolution service to their c. 4,500 members.

Conveyancers’ New Year Resolution – Get closer, dig deeper with new prospects and clients to win more business … and enjoy the job more.

Silhouette person jumping over 2015 on the hill at sunsetEvery conveyancing practice that wants to grow their client base by providing more service to existing clients, their family, friends and work colleagues should help their conveyancers take a step back; help them to think and talk between themselves about what they could do to make it easier to help their clients to recommend them. 

This would help … so read on to find out about just some of the opportunities that are currently being lost (there are more that we discuss and address during this workshop).  Something to share with your team to help kick 2016 off in the right direction?

Key conclusions from our review of the results of the most recent research by the Property Academy and TM Group of 4,500 consumers and comparing them against the previous year (which we reported here):

Finding:  Confirming our research over many years, only 13% of the clients chose conveyancers that offered the cheapest price; down from 18% the previous year.

Our Advice: Conveyancers should be investing time now to learn how to sell their service much more effectively on value, not price.  Our mystery shopping of conveyancers confirms that very few firms are getting this right with most of the questions being asked revolving around “how much?”

Finding:  It also no surprise that clients who chose the service primarily for a lower price were significantly less likely to recommend their conveyancers enthusiastically to others.

Our Advice:  The key lesson here is that if you want to keep clients for life and build your business around new business from their friends, family and work colleagues, it is dangerous to cut your prices and service.  If you have little margin to ensure they get a service they really value, the chances are that a good number will not be happy and won’t come back.

Finding:  21% of people chose their conveyancer through a recommendation from a friend; up by a third since the previous year.  However, more than double that number (42%) would be willing to recommend their conveyancers, so opportunities are still being lost here.

Our Advice:  Conveyancers should focus on understanding and delivering what each client values in the service and relationship; then make it easy for existing clients to recommend them.  That involves routine ongoing research and review of what clients want and get; both formal and informal. Always ask clients if they would recommend.  You don’t want any “smiling assassins”, so talk to your clients and show willing to adapt.

Findings:  Choosing from an estate agent recommendation is still the most frequent route, but the 38% of clients who made their choice this way was down by 8% from the previous year.

Our Advice:  Perhaps clients are becoming more cautious, which gives conveyancers more opportunity to win new business directly by selling services better – on value.  However, there are clearly significant benefits in working with estate agents.

Property Academy Research - How did you choose your conveyancer, 2013, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Findings:  Older clients and owners of higher value properties are more likely to recommend their conveyancers to others.

Our Advice:  Again confirms all our research and experience in practice over the years.  It hasn’t changed but lawyers have failed to be pro-active in developing the opportunities.  If you are going to invest time in developing relationships, focus on them as you are likely to get the best return on your investment.  Few firms segment private clients by age and property values, but should do.  These are also the most likely people to benefit (directly and for their families) in other higher value private client legal services.  Have you done this and initiated relationship-developing initiatives focused on their particular needs?

Findings:  On how and how often to communicate with clients during the transaction …

Property Academy Research - How to contact, 2014

Property Academy Research - How often to contact, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Advice:  When it comes to deciding what a client will see as giving them the value they want, you simply must ask them.  Different people want different things; confirmed in the critical questions about communication (where many firms unintentionally get it very wrong); how and how often clients feel they want to be contacted by their conveyancer?

There is more enlightening information in this Home Moving Trends 2014 report; well worth downloading here to share across your practice.

If you are interested in developing your conveyancing services and your people to make the most of the opportunities available now, call me on 0161 929 8355 for a free, confidential discussion to explore some options; or complete this form and I will contact you.

Tackle the Problem: Help fee earners get focused effectively on their own financial performance

Unlock CashThis is a big problem for many law firms, but here is one of our  solutions to enable you to address it effectively; capable of producing big returns for your practice.

Focused on results from the initiatives we introduce in law firms that include technology, client relationships, development of people and process improvement, we are very aware of the obstacles to performance improvement that result from fee earners not fully understanding the impact of their own day-to-day financial management of cases and clients.

Very significant benefits can be achieved if all fee earners understand the financial implications of their day-to-day actions.  However, this is an area often overlooked in developing the business and personal skills of lawyers … and support staff in contact with clients.  Appropriate communication with clients is a critical part of any improvements, so it’s not just about the numbers.

Fee earners have the potential to make the greatest impact on the financial performance of any law firm. If they aren’t aware of the financial implications of how they interact with clients and are not comfortable with having financial discussions with clients, how can law firm management teams expect them to demonstrate the right behaviours?

The Solution:  Inpractice UK has partnered with the co-authors of the Law Society toolkit on financial stability in law firms, Armstrong Watson, to help fee earners improve their understanding of financial management.  The key aim is to help them get fully in tune with what and why senior management want them to evaluate their own performance (and that of their teams where appropriate) and introduce very specific steps to help achieve better results; often the beginning of a continuous improvement process.  There will be some quick wins immediately but much more to gain by carrying plans agreed here through, longer term.

As the SRA CPD regime is changing, we are finding that more law firms are getting a better grip on training; being pro-active to identify gaps in competence – then planning a blend of the most cost-effective training to develop people with knowledge and skills better aligned to improve the performance of the practice.

In this area, there are very significant benefits to be achieved by arranging training that is very specific to your practice in small workshop sessions in-house.  Fee earners can then be introduced to very specific opportunities to improve (and the potential direct financial benefits that can be achieved) in the context of your practice and their work.

Armstrong Watson currently provide this in-house training to partner and fee earner teams within law firms to:

  1. Make them more financially aware,
  2. Increase productivity and recovery rates,
  3. Reduce lock up to free up cash.

If you think your people could benefit from these interactive workshops please contact Andy Poole at Armstrong Watson on 07828 857830 to discuss how this could be designed to work most effectively for you – no obligation.  Quote our partner reference: INP10.

If you want to speak to us first for more background, please complete this contact request form or call us on 0161 929 8355.

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