Monthly Archives: November 2009

Have you considered coaching for key lawyers and managers?

Time and time again, Managing Partners, CEO’s and Practice Directors talk to us about their frustration with partners who say all the right things about improving the way they run their part of the business, but don’t actually do it!  The partners themselves get frustrated because they want to do it (whatever “it” is) but don’t know enough about what they need to do or how to change to put it into practice.  That includes many managing partners who have taken on the job without being fully equipped, but really want to get it right for the benefit of the firm and for themselves.

Personal coaching is probably the most effective solution in these circumstances; a type of initiative that law firms have only taken on board seriously in the past few years, where the value and impact and willingness of lawyers and managers to get involved has traditionally been grossly under-estimated.  These valuable people need and want more support, knowledge and understanding of the role they should play in their practice, given their personal traits and characteristics and the environment in which they work. 

Coaching can be for for just one key person in the firm, or individually to teams – both for managers and for lawyers and can produce radical improvements in the ability of lawyers to make the changes they want and changes that are being asked of them by others. For each person involved, you can expect successful coaching to: Build understanding and skills on business leadership; delegation, team effectiveness, empower/engagement; Develop key behaviours needed to deliver on business objectives; Provide managers with the essential space they need to reflect; Build self awareness; Motivate, inspire and support them to be their best in order to deliver superior performance; Develop emotional intelligence; e.g. emotional resilience, motivational leadership, intuitiveness etc; Build confidence and creativity; Help them to manage the complexities and challenges of change within their organisation; Help them stay focused on tasks whilst building team cohesion; Helps managers to learn rather than teaches them and Equip them to become the coach to their staff, ensuring a coaching style of management throughout the organisation.

Anybody interested should call me please on 0161 929 8355 or email me at rmaguire@inpractice.co.uk This is one of the areas we explore in our introductory in-house Performance Management workshops.

How do you feel about this? Is this a good thing for lawyers to get involved with?

Microsoft v salesforce.com: An online debate on cloud computing at The Economist

Follow and take part in the interesting online debate about “cloud computing” that is unfolding now at The Economist.com between Mark Benioff (Chairman & CEO, salesforce.com)  Stephen Elop (President, Microsoft Business Division). Stephen Elop will discuss Microsoft’s three screens and a cloud strategy outlining why a hybrid approach to the cloud, with the choices afforded by software plus services, is the best approach for businesses.

The debate will be conducted via written statements (not live video) and is presented in Oxford style. The weeklong debate was opened on 10th November.  There will be a rebuttal (Nov. 13) and closing statements (Nov. 18). It will be moderated by Economist reporter Ludwig Siegel.  Throughout the debate, readers will participate by casting their votes, changing their votes and providing comments for the debaters and moderator. At the end, there will be a declared winner and a declared loser.  The discussion promises to be both lively and informative and we hope you will be able to participate.

Compare changes in PowerPoint presentations – from Workshare

Here is an online demo of an interesting new tool from Workshare that allows you to compare changes in Microsoft Powerpoint in a similar way to the compare documents feature in MIcrosoft Word.  Looks good to me and very useful when you have a number of people developing their own versions of presentations.

What do you think?

Time to kick-start or accelerate development of your practice?

To prepare for the recovery and the impact of the Legal Services Act, partners in law firms need outside help now to break the mould; to be more innovative in developing new ways of working and to agree realistic and meaningful plans to improve business.

Every law firm, large and small has to take steps now to become more agile and capable of responding to changes in the market for legal services. That means getting overheads down to be able to offer value for money, while improving service to clients – focusing on areas that really matter to clients and introducers of business.  Lawyers and others in your practice need to be helped to perform better and have easy access to whatever they need to do their job as efficiently and effectively as possible. Lawyers need to get closer to clients, introducers of business and prospects to make sure they are getting what they want and are being listened to – otherwise they will go elsewhere. 

We are in the early stages of recovery from the recession, needing still to be cautious, but also getting ready to provide the value for money, quality of service (not just legal advice) and different services that will be demanded from here on.  It is generally agreed that there is a sea-change in what will be expected in the future because of a) demand for better value following the recession; b) the impact of allowing more competition through Alternative Business Structures allowed by the Legal Services Act (potentially from mid-2011 onwards) and c) the Internet, which has transformed options.

The focus of lawyers’ lives needs to be on helping the client, not just handling a legal issue.  Lawyers have to work in teams (however small – maybe just 2 people) to be more flexible in delivering services.  Client satisfaction should be the key measure of performance, with the most important question to measure – “Would you recommend us to a friend?”  How can your people convert more clients to “advocates” of your services? 

We can help with a short, sharp review of your business that involves a half day workshop with partners and other key players that costs less than you will expect.

Why and How Should I Be Marketing Now?

The biggest crises that legal practices are facing right now during the current recession are difficulties in retaining existing levels of business from existing clients and introducers, in selling more services to them and in attracting new business. Installing a new CRM or marketing system will not produce results quickly enough to solve weaknesses in running the business that too many firms have failed to address when business was flowing in; without too much need to be proactive in generating it.  There are other decisions, with more immediate impact and long term implications that should be addressed now.

Well before the current credit crunch, 36% of managing partners responding to a CLT survey said that Marketing and Practice Development was the number one priority – ahead of financial management, technology developments, HR activity and general management.  Even in a September survey by Inpractice, nearly 40% of senior managers in law firms surveyed said that “client relationship management” was their top priority, followed closely by “developing new business strategies” at 38% – and “people performance management” at 36%

So what have law firms been doing to respond to these challenges over the past six difficult months?

Financial pressure has been mounting and it is understandable that some lawyers have been paralysed by fear of the consequences, reinforced by the reality of law firms being pushed into administration – but business goes on! Partners who want to produce better results need to be proactive in making decisions about how their practice should respond, to enable it to survive now and to capitalise on opportunities that will begin to open up as the economy improves. 

Those decisions, which all relate to marketing, include:

  • Whether to drop lower margin work and focus on higher margin work?  Whether to join referral networks and how much time to commit to them?  Whether to merge – for image, service offering and scale of operations?
  • How to respond to clients whose needs and perceptions are changing; where corporate clients have more in-house legal expertise and individuals have more access to free information? They all demand a higher quality of service, are less loyal and demand value for money and expect lower prices.
  • How best to capitalise on the new purchasing generation – the c14m 16-34 year olds – half of whom will purchase a legal service over the next five years and the first point of call will be the Web.
  • Whether and how – or in which areas – to compete with a new generation of competitors from retail and financial institutions; and other traditional law firms who are already changing how they do business.
  • Business development and management roles?  We should now take it as read that no partner can be too busy for business development. Networking (in all its guises), for example, should be regarded as a routine part of work as a lawyer.  How do we equip our people with the opportunities, understanding and skills to make the most of every opportunity?
  • How do we instil zero tolerance of client dissatisfaction? A common understanding that disgruntled clients disappointed by poor performance, attitude or communication who don’t come back will inevitably tell a lot of other people (who will go elsewhere) and will take a long time, money, resource and effort to replace.

What can we do now?

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Lawyer's Management Checklist

The current recession is an opportunity to clean up your practice. Although the drop in business and fear of the impact of the Legal Services Act are impacting on the morale of many lawyers and managers within law firms, there are key steps that very many firms can take to improve business now and for the future.

Here is a checklist to help you and your colleagues take stock of how your firm is progressing in key areas as you aim to bring your practice out of the recession, well equipped to be successful and to provide you with a good return in the longer term. Use the time you have now to get these right.

Whatever you do, all of this has to be achieved whilst enhancing the client’s experience of dealing with the firm. The most crucial change for most lawyers is to start thinking as a client.

1      Business Management

It is a time for level heads, direction and leadership from the top and much of this must come from considered information rather than emotion and gut feel. There are decisions to be made that not only ensure the management of current priorities but also get the firm ready to respond to the inevitable upturn in the market whenever that might be. The behaviour of management has an immediate impact on morale and can have an adverse impact on stability when the upturn comes.

  • It is critical to take stock fully understanding the key management information available or what should be available within the firm.
  • Highlight key components for the firm’s profitability, client relationships and cash
  • Priority actions need to be identified and agreed; they will require constant focus.
  • There needs to be a strategic plan that represents the short, medium and longer term direction for the business
  • This plan needs objective milestones which can be regularly monitored and there has to be a willingness to change direction when it appears necessary
  • Prime KPIs need to be established by department (they will be different) and they will also need to be varied over time
  • The whole team at the firm needs to be harnessed, which requires sharing of plans and targets; also delegation of responsibilities, supporting a move to a platform of “accountability” rather than “responsibility” where it is essential to establish fair decision making processes

2      Cash Management

For many the biggest challenge in the short term is working capital, you will need:

  • Effective credit control is a necessity but needs to be handled firmly and with sensitivity. However, there are earlier steps in the billing process that can be applied well before this stage to make credit control easier and more effective.
  • Effective deployment of rule 2, including sensible estimates and a client risk assessment (ability to pay) is a good first step for every lawyer in every firm.
  • To establish, working with your IT people, a means to monitor costs against the estimate to trigger early warnings when an estimate needs to be changed; and be bold enough to do it, making changes clear to the client..
  • Review your client/file inception procedures to add in the agreement with the client of when they are to pay what; establish this billing profile and bill on time in line with the profile
  • Review costs and timing of expenditure

3      “Strategic” Cost Reduction

This has to be handled objectively and has to be done! Preferably, harnessing the knowledge and skills of staff, who generally understand the need in the current climate. To make this work, you should aim to:

  • Establish cost management as one of the KPIs for a department, engaging staff and creating accountabilities to focus minds on this area.
  • It is the time to address – in priority order – the business processes for the firm that affect profitability, efficiency, client relationships and encourage the removal of the restrictions by some to changing working practices to get the financial benefits of improved division of labour. Review the capability of existing IT to support these process improvements.
  • Review the effective use of IT already available in the firm, such as Case/Matter Management and even the enterprise roll-out of digital dictation systems
  • Complete an inventory of supply contracts and be prepared to renegotiate at the appropriate time or event
  • Make sure that IT/Systems maintenance is only being paid on licences that are actually being used. You may still be paying for people who have left?
  • Consider outsourcing of IT may cut costs, improve reliability, remove niggles and ease the payment timetable.
  • Rationalise printing and copying – get a competitive tender underway
  • Ensure money spent on marketing and marketing material is in line with the marketing plan.

4      Client Relationships – Retention and Development

To maintain and enhance client relationships which are more critical now during the downturn than ever:

  • Establish x% client satisfaction as your number one non-financial KPI; measure it, share feedback and respond to it.
  • The client database is a valuable asset. It probably needs to be cleansed and segmented so that it can be used to generate repeat business and to cross-sell.
  • Get IT and client marketing people to work together.
  • Conduct client audits, potentially using a third party to really establish what the client perception of the firm is
  • Train and coach staff on how to speak to a client with telephone and face to face enquiries
  • Have an effective process in place to manage complaints efficiently and effectively – another KPI?
  • Make everyone in the firm aware of the forecasted 800 people who will get to hear of a bad client experience.
  • Establish clearly the role of the client partner and the interface with others that also deal with the client

5      New Business

There is new business out there but you and your colleagues have to win it from other firms or from the new suppliers to the “always online” Y generation. Gut feel on where new business is or is in the best interest of the firm is not enough. To do more, you want to:

  • Be prepared to use targeted market research to identify low hanging fruit opportunities, perceptions and routes to market. It can be surprisingly cost effective.
  • Ensure the web site is effective and there is the necessary investment in SEO
  • Make it easy for people to make an enquiry and get a response online, on the telephone and face-to-face. Many opportunities are lost at this stage
  • Make sure reception and other staff know how to handle an enquiry from a potential new customer – still too many are asked to call back!
  • Get people involved in developing local referral networks.
  • Ensure marketing material is effectively targeted at the appropriate audience

6      On Compliance

  • Be ready for the SRA by ensuring that simple processes and manuals are in place
  • Be able to prove readily that compliance actions have been undertaken
  • Create a focus on quality to ensure that the business process and culture wants to get it right first time
  • Be clear on how much the IT applications can support compliance

7      IT & Technology

There is a great deal of investment in IT but, all too often, real returns on this investment are not being achieved through lack of ownership and the absence of clear objectives from departmental managers, lack of training, sticking to old processes, poor relationships between partners and the IT people; and between the firm and its suppliers.

  • Ensure a clear understanding of where and how the IT system, with its enhancements since installation, could better support the firm to improve the performance against defined business priorities. That includes PMS, CM and MI systems.
  • Ensure you are getting the best from other systems, such as digital dictation
  • Sort the client database to enable you to segment your contacts into groups you want to sell your services to and to support your marketing initiatives
  • Find out how the massive changes resulting from consolidation of legal IT suppliers are going to affect your firm in the short and medium term. A strategy is needed.
  • Find out enough about outsourced and managed IT services to make a decision on whether you should be doing it or not. IT infrastructure is getting increasingly complex to maintain and support with increasing demands for home working, extended out of hours support, access from anywhere, continuity of service and disaster recovery.

8      People

People are the critical asset for now and the future. Nobody likes it but most understand the need for redundancies as a last resort. How the firm pursues this course of action can impact on the ability of the firm to retain others when the upturn arrives; it’s not just about the impact on short term casualties.

  • Make sure that skills and experience of all staff are involved in tackling the firm’s short term challenges. Respect their views.
  • Make the changes from “responsibility” to “accountability” with the implementation of SMART objectives
  • Delegate
  • Recognise who can and cannot do different jobs. The best lawyer is not necessarily the best manager or team leader. Not everyone can sell or maintain good client relationships.
  • Establish a meritocracy with partners, with defined management and client development tasks to perform for the firm; allow time and start to reward against these achievements.
  • Ensure that competencies are recognised, with development needs and accountabilities are clearly reflected in appraisals
  • Ensure that a training and coaching programme is in place linked to the firm’s strategy and plans for succession; not just the challenge of amassing CPD points
  • Be prepared to introduce incentives and reward for performance targeted to address the immediate challenges that your firm faces today

How are you faring on each of these?   Identifying the gaps and setting out a plan of action on each would be a good move now.