Monthly Archives: January 2010

Great news for lawyers on regulation – read the short consultation paper

It’s not often I get excited by regulations, but I’ve just read the consultation paper from the SRA on their plans for a radical new approach to regulation, which has been prompted by the LSB.  What a great job they’ve done if this approach is carried through  in principle.  It should help to unshackle lawyers, giving a chance to use compliance to help focus on developing successful businesses that deliver good services, rather than waste hours and hours of management time making sure all the boxes are ticked to meet the detailed requirement of each rule … regardless of whether the end result is actually good for clients or for the firm. 

To comply, legal practices need to up their game to work to a rational business plan, have access to management information, manage client relationships, deliver client satisfaction,  manage risks effectively and always protect the interests of their clients.

There is work to be done to fine tune how this will work so consultation is essential, but this is good news.

To download the 16 page consultation paper which makes interesting reading and to take part, go here.

From the SRA:

Changes brought about by the Legal Services Act 2007 mean that the SRA is proposing a fundamental overhaul of the regulatory regime for solicitors, to take effect next year.

We are planning to move towards outcomes-focused regulation in 2011, meaning that our work will concentrate more on the quality of what a solicitor is delivering to the client, than prescribing how they reached that stage.

Key elements include:

Setting high-level professional standards expected of a solicitor—along the lines of those currently in rule 1 of the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct—and how they should be experienced in reality by clients and others.

Only retaining detailed rules where genuinely needed to protect consumers and deliver high standards of service.

Building a more constructive relationship between the SRA and firms, moving away from investigation of rule breaches as an end in itself, to a discussion of whether a firm can demonstrate that it is acting in a principled manner and achieving the desired outcomes for clients.

Building a more constructive relationship between the SRA and firms, moving away from investigation of rule breaches as an end in itself, to a discussion of whether a firm can demonstrate that it is acting in a principled manner and achieving the desired outcomes for clients.

Concentrating SRA resources on the issues and activities that pose the greatest risks to consumers and the public interest.

Outcomes-focused regulation will usher in a new era for both the SRA and the firms it regulates—traditional law firms and, in future, alternative business structures. This major piece of work will require substantial engagement with stakeholders over the coming year and the SRA has published a strategy paper and FAQs to help you understand what it is proposing.

Time to get SMART on business plans and focus on performance

With financial year ends of March and April rapidly approaching it is time to dig out the business strategy and see how we are doing so that we can generate a budget for next year. Time for a bit of joined up thinking and capitalising on our strategy views.

Too often there is a strategy but not based on qualified information and without achievable milestones. Even some of the more sophisticated have a “strategy” but fail to develop a SMART business plan and when the budget is done we revert to headcount x achievable fees less this years overhead + a bit.

There is still time for the partnership to pull together a basic strategic plan ahead of structuring the budget by department – growth objectives; leverage; profitability; client development, whether it be new business, retention or cross selling; risk management, compliance and quality. The support departments of marketing, HR, IT and Finance can then develop their own budgets to reflect this.

Perhaps above all the management style of the firm needs to be considered with the allocation of accountable objectives to departmental managers.

Equipping Managers to manage – Now they have these new tasks, how will you get the most out of your staff? 

As a starting point and to be fair, ensure they know what is expected of them, how this will be measured and how they will be rewarded for delivering what is asked of them. 

Sounds simple? It can be. It is called good performance management. A manager needs to start by setting robust business objectives for himself and his team from the firm’s strategy and plan. By showing there is direct line of sight between the organisation’s objectives and individual’s objectives it helps the practice achieve the targets it sets, be these revenue, gross profit, market share, customer service, or cost savings. In addition, staff understand how they contribute to these targets. 

Employee’s objectives need to be robust in the sense that they should be SMART; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound. Good performance management is a continuous process not a one off yearly event.  Performance against objectives should be assessed on a frequent basis, monthly on an informal basis and 6 monthly on a formal basis.  This lets them know how they are doing and where they might need to improve.  It keeps them on track and delivering the business plan. 

These reviews and continuous monitoring help the firm make a decision when necessary to change the direction or priority.

An essential skill required by managers is the ability to give good feedback that is positive re-enforcement of strong performance or change, identification or further development needs in the case of poor performance.  Feedback needs be ‘evidence based’ not anecdotal or subjective. Continuous objective review cuts down on surprises.

This needs thought but can be achieved more effectively with a bit of input from professionals with people management qualifications and experience.

Allan Carton

More legal practices should consider telemarketing

An extract from Allan Carton in a discussion in the PM Forum on LinkedIn

I see a difference between “telesales” and “telemarketing”.  Patience and calm persistence in developing a relationship with prospects tends to produce the best results for legal and accountancy practices. Fewer quality opportunities are better than lots of wasted meetings (for more see below). Getting people able to do this and keen to communicate internally to share feedback, explore options and listen to you about your business are all essential for telemarketing because it is not a one-off hit.

Cleaning and fine tuning the database should be an integral part of the initiaitive as the telemarketeers explore prospects to identify precisely the right people to develop a relationship with on each area of interest.

More firms should be doing more telemarketing. It works to generate new business, with quick wins achievable but best done long term as a continuous part of your promotion of the practice – provided you have found the right people to do it with you.

Other comments in response (all of which we would agree with) to the good question from Katerina Rabava: “What do you have to be aware of when briefing a telesales company?”

John Stoddart: Quality over quantity. How many calls do you want them to make, how many appointments, how are they going to ensure that the appointments are of suitable quality and how experienced a telemarketing firm are they to ensure they understand your brand and proposition. You also have to be aware that you will have to train them and be on-site for part of them during the campaign so location is also an issue.

Jeremy Damsell: You, as the client, MUST pledge to provide as much ongoing (and accurate), feedback as you will naturally be demanding from them. This relationship has to be a partnership, effectively, and will only flourish with regular communication.  Do not deviate from the agreed brief. Speaking from the perspective of a key account manager at an established professional services telephone marketing company, I have experience of clients attempting to switch the brief at the last minute, yet expect the same results.  If you are providing a database to this company, ensure it is as accurate as possible. Failure to do so will likely mean the failure of the campaign. Advance cleaning will pay dividends.

If you want to explore telemarketing options for your practice further, contact Allan Carton at acarton@inpractice.co.uk or on +44 (0)7779 653105

Outsourcing law firm IT – Good idea or bad idea?

Extract from a discussion on the UK Legal IT Group on LinkedIn – from Andrew Simmans at Inpractice UK

I have worked with several law firms where the IT has been “outsourced” in different ways.  Getting an external supplier to build the systems which are then run by an internal IT help desk has worked well with one of my law clients (300-400 staff) – they did this in 2000/2001 and then repeated this (using a different supplier) in 2006/2007.

Another law client (about 100 staff) I became involved with in 2007 was just in the final stages of completely outsourcing everything (using Citrix) so that they no longer have any IT staff – this had some issues in making the transition – lots of data needing to be transferred and some problems with WAN connectivity. However nearly 3 years later the Managing Partner is extremely happy with how it has worked and is just renewing the contract.

One of the big advantages with this arrangement is that when the recession hit they could save money quickly (all payments – including MS Licences are per user). Also when they have wanted to take on a new service (for example Sharepoint and more recently Microsoft CRM / CRM4Legal) it has been very easy to do – with the outsource company havign all the technical resources (both people and hardware) to be able to do this “at the drop of a hat”.

In my opinion the full outsourcing is going to become more and more of a “no brainer” for medium sized firms as it moves costs from capital to revenue, can provide DR and secuirty arrangements far beyond anything you can do in house and means you have highly skilled technical resources that know “your” infrastructure.

Clearly you have to pick your outsourcing partner carefully and some people woprry about the risk that the partner goes bust – however in my opinion the risk that your key IT staff leave / fall ill and you suddenly have no-one to run your systems is much higher!

There is a log of good information on options at MSC.

You can contact Andrew at asimmans@inpractice.co.uk

Embrace New Opportunities in a Changed World

It’s time for more legal practices to actively embrace, learn and plan how to benefit from the changes being led by the Legal Services Board (LSB) on Alternative Business Structures (ABS) – rather than fret about them.  Enthusiasm and a determination to be innovative about how to improve the “client, business partner and introducer experience” in every way possible should be at the top of every lawyer’s agenda; also, how to make your business more streamlined and agile to respond to whatever turns the legal market takes over the next few years.  Are you there yet?

Setting the New Agenda

Nobody really knows how things are going to change in the legal services market over the next few years, or what new competitors are really going to get involved – but all the conditions are there for radical change to happen in at least some areas.

The Legal Services Board (LSB) is up and running now with a small team, tasked to work with all the stakeholders needed to bring legal services into the 21st century. As David Edmonds CBE, Chairman of the LSB rightly commented recently “While the Legal Services Act 2007 provides the framework for regulatory change, the real impetus is coming from within the existing market.”

Real opportunities to make radical improvements in legal services began with introduction of Legal Disciplinary Practices (LDP’s), which are now due to be extended to ABS from June 2011.  Regrettably, the response so far on LDP’s has not been impressive; I don’t see many legal practices bringing professional managers into ownership. There are some, but not enough!  However, a number of entrepreneurial lawyers have already gone much further in creating organisations with potential to be molded into quite different organisations through new associations, collaborations, business partnerships and shared ventures; making them agile, attractive and capable of attracting external investment.  That’s what the ABS framework is all about. 

However, lawyers will not need to operate formally as an ABS to benefit from the changes in regulation of legal service providers as the new rules will apply to all.

Why Are We Here?

What people expect from lawyers has changed faster over the past 20 years than the attitude and approach of lawyers providing the service and the restrictions that lawyers have imposed on themselves over the years.

David Edmonds is right when he says that “Many lawyers are already delivering or planning to deliver their services in different ways. They are committed to serving the public. Many are frustrated, however, by the efforts they have to make to ‘work around’ current restrictions on practice to allow innovative service provision.”

Lawyers – like most other professions too – have also not felt the need, made the cash available, or understood the need to invest more back into the business to develop IT, personal skills, new services etc. Now there will be more opportunities to generate this investment, which could not have been created without government intervention, regardless of whose interests are being protected.

Like introducing the ban on smoking in public, the government has had to step in, even though some lawyers don’t like it.  Others do, both within and outside the legal profession.  In the early days of legal aid franchising, lawyers resented the introduction of documented procedures at the outset.  Now most lawyers tell me it was a good and essential move.  I expect and hope that lawyers will feel the same way about the Legal Services Act eventually, when many find better job satisfaction in a better working environment when this has all settled down.

The recession has changed things and has made an impact that will stick for a long time after it’s gone. The Internet has changed expectations and how people communicate forever, even if some would argue that the recession has not.  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.

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