Monthly Archives: December 2009

Richard Blasdale's predictions to the Society for Computers & Law for 2010 and beyond

Law firms, IT managers and IT Directors that are going to be successful from this point (particularly the mid-market firms) will be under pressure and driven harder to find more efficiency and productivity improvements and/or cost reductions. All of which is totally justified because there is still plenty of scope for radical improvements if IT, lawyers and managers would just start to talk the same language. Who is holding who back varies from firm to firm – but CEOs and Managing Partners, who may now be better equipped (because they are getting better) to be more understanding of the issues, will be less tolerant of failure to manage projects and achieve change in working practices to improve results .

As IT people slowly get more involved with business strategy, it’s more likely that any investment in IT-related projects will be backed up with some kind of ROI-driven business case (now that more commercial IT minds are coming into the sector – and not before time). Historically, few firms have done this; and even fewer firms measure actual cost savings achieved, post implementation. In 2010, there will be more frustration with more decision-makers in each firm who expect a strong ROI-driven case to be made prior to project authorisation being given. Information and benchmarks will continue to be hard to find – so there needs to be more serious thought, research and innovation in this area, which has huge potential to lead radical improvements.

With improving options available, heads of IT who are keen to take a more strategic position in the business will begin to promote use of more specialist support from third-party managers of IT – from outsourced and managed services and, increasingly, from hosted providers of solutions. Use of some elements of managed services will become an aspiration in many more IT strategies, with the objective of enabling IT people to adopt a more effective project management approach to new initiatives that improve the business – not just keep it ticking over. Projects need to involve participants from all areas of the practice; enabling IT to focus on development and use of legal and business processes.

Too many firms will fail to make effective decisions in these areas. There will be a steep increase in acquisitions of the weaker legal practices that have failed to get their house in order, where partners will suffer financially as a result because they cannot negotiate a deal from a position of any strength.

A selection from the predictions posted at will appear in the SCL magazine, arranged by topic. Check back regularly for more predictions – they will be posted in batches throughout December.

Business Planning: Good Plans Have Goals and SMART Objectives

I’ve just been running a planning session for partners in one of our law firms, which reminded me that the need for and the difference between “Goals”, “Objectives” and “Action Points” are not always easily understood or applied in practice. So these notes that I used as the background for part of the session might be useful.  Old hat to some I’m sure, but new to many and always useful as a reminder.


Before we dive into how to go about setting SMART objectives, it’s important to understand that there is a world of difference between goals and objectives.

Goals relate to our aspirations, purpose and vision. For example, I have a goal of becoming financially independent.

Objectives are the battle plan, the stepping stones on the path towards the achievement of my goal.

Action Plan – sets out how to take the steps from one stone to the next.

A goal may have one or many objectives that would need to fulfilled to achieve the goal. For example, to become financially independent I would need to:

  • Get out of debt;
  • Improve my saving; and,
  • Start a business.

The most well known method for setting objectives is the S.M.A.R.T. way, the SMART approach is well understood amongst managers, but is poorly practiced. S.M.A.R.T refers to the acronym that describes the key characteristics of meaningful objectives, which are Specific (concrete, detailed, well defined), Measureable (numbers, quantity, comparison), Achievable (feasible, actionable), Realistic (considering resources) and Time-Bound (a defined time line). Lets look at these characteristics in more detail.

Specific: means that the objective is concrete, detailed, focused and well defined. That is the objective is straightforward, emphasizes action and the required outcome. Objectives need to communicate what you would like to see happen. To help set specific objectives it helps to ask the following questions:

WHAT am I going to do? This are best written using strong, action verbs such as conduct, develop, build, plan, execute, etc. This helps your objective to be action-orientated and focuses on what’s most important.

WHY is this important for me to do?

WHO is going to do what? Who else need to be involved?

WHEN do I want this to be completed?

HOW am I going to do this?

Diagnostic Questions

  • What exactly are we going to do, with or for whom?
  • What strategies will be used?
  • Is the objective well understood?
  • Is the objective described with action verbs?
  • Is it clear who is involved?
  • Is it clear where this will happen?
  • Is it clear what needs to happen?
  • Is the outcome clear?
  • Will this objective lead to the desired results?

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Time to get on with it!

Heads are up again amongst managers of legal practices, even if much of the new initiative that is being shown is driven as much by becoming resigned to the need to “get on with it” regardless, as by any optimism that the end of the recession will be here any time soon. However, there is a growing realisation that any legal business that is going to be here in the long term has to get moving again or be swallowed up by others that are taking calculated risks early to build a better position for the long term. There is a lot of this going on right now.

And there are clients out there who are still willing and need to buy, whatever the economic climate. I was at the huge Trafford Centre shopping Mecca on Saturday two weeks ago, only to find that that EVERY car park was full! Last Sunday, I drove past the centre’s junction on the motorway and was held up for 25 minutes by the queues waiting to get in! So the Internet may be making it easier to buy some things online, but touch and feel are still the top of the list. However, access to internet information, pricing and convenience will have had an impact in the shops and will make sure they have sharpened their offerings to compete. Lawyers are no different.

To get more clients queuing up for your services, lawyers need to dress them up the right way to make them appeal. It’s not just the recession that has changed things, but it has made an impact that will stick for a long time after it’s gone. But there’s more than the recession going to make an impact on lawyers. The Internet has changed expectations and how people communicate for ever, even if some would argue that the recession has not. And the Legal Services Act will bring more competition with new ideas in many areas of legal work. Some areas may not change as much as others, but there will be a knock-on effect and a “creep” over time.

Time To Take A Step Back: Challenge established perceptions

Coming out of recession, into an uncertain, most legal practices need to make changes. Every firm and every department should take a fresh look at every area of service being offered by your practice. Some of the questions every firm needs to ask and try to resolve as frankly, honestly and innovatively as possible. Do we really know:

  1. How to position and price ourselves to win business from your competitors?
  2. The right niches to tap into? Are we sure?
  3. How we can provide the best value in each of these areas?
  4. What we do that clients, prospects and referrers of business really value?
  5. What they don’t want in the service we provide now?
  6. What features and benefits will convert a latent client into a pro-active advocate of our services?
  7. What can we do as a matter of routine to convert clients to advocates?
  8. If they will they pay a premium (that enables us to make more profit) if we add x or y?
  9. How to translate the value we provide into benefits that people understand easily?
  10. What our plan is to bring the business in; one that is shared with others who need to get involved to deliver?

New ways of working and of thinking about work

Now is the time to redefine your proposition to clients to make sure they can see the value in what you offer in the way they live now:

  1. Explore and get a common understanding of your key client groups, introducers and referrers in each area and what they want. What are their expectations now? What do they want from you?
  2. Paint a fresh picture of the groups you want to target for business. What matters to them that you can deliver on?
  3. Think about service delivery – not just reducing costs. But you can do both at the same time by focusing on business processes.
  4. Consider how can you add value to the service you provide, but keep it competitively priced. What can you add that clients will pay a premium for, enabling you to make more profit?
  5. Update your marketing and sales strategy in every area of your business. Getting closer to clients and introducers has never been more important – but there are new ways of doing this that should be in your locker – added to the old ways that still work, but generally need to be better coordinated now.
  6. That can mean significant changes in your approach to marketing and sales that won’t just happen. They need to be driven – getting more focused on the groups you want to work with?
  7. Find new ways – of working and of thinking about work. This is not about advertising and you don’t have to spend lots of money. The biggest cost is time – so a lot of thought has to go into how the practice views time spent on non fee earning activity
  8. Create a systematic approach to bringing in new business with focus and energy. Spend the time to get the right people on board.

Make It Happen!

It’s time to get on with it now before others steal a lead. To make this happen:

  1. Get your teams brainstorming for new ideas. Be open minded, be innovative.
  2. Involve clients and people from outside your business, prepared to challenge established thinking.
  3. Do some market research – use it as the basis to make potentially radical decisions and plans with confidence
  4. Be prepared to change the way you work and communicate with clients
  5. Get the benefits you can from technology in every way possible – processes, databases, management reporting, communication, marketing & HR.

Unified Communications (UC) and Hosted Solution Providers getting closer.

Take-up of unified communications – the merging of IP telephony, conferencing and collaboration, messaging and communications tools – is on a “steeply rising curve”, according to analysts.  Spending on UC among businesses worldwide is expected to rise from just $302m last year to $4.2bn in five years’ time, according to industry watchers ABI Research.

And it seems that suppliers of unified communications applications are now working closely with providers of hosted VoIP services, leading to several flavours of unified communications now emerging from the cloud.  Not a surprise as this combination can produce very significant benefits for your business.

Solutions now include versions featuring a “hybrid mix” of customer-owned equipment with managed or hosted services, which target medium-sized businesses; fully hosted offerings with smaller businesses in mind; and revamped broadband telephone services targeting small office/home office users. The shift to a more cloud-centric approach can be seen in the way vendors are now positioning UC as a service rather than a product.

UC implementations bring together a variety of digital communication tools to make it easier for users to collaborate and improve business processes. UC, for example, might mean bringing together instant messaging, presence information, videoconferencing, as well as email, SMS, fax and voicemail to improve productivity, and potentially trim the cost of an organisation’s IT infrastructure.

The move towards higher mobile data allowances will also see the extension of unified communications to smartphones and other wireless data devices, according to the analyst.

There is also a rumour that email is turning into “grey mail” with older generations now more likely to use email than younger ones (98 per cent of people aged 65-plus, compared to 86 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds). According to TalkTalk, young people prefer technologies that allow them to contact whole groups of friends rather than individuals one at a time.

Lawyers should be keeping an eye on all of this as there are many opportunities to reduce costs and improve productivity to impact on bottom line profits.