Monthly Archives: June 2010

Collaborative Legal Practices

This Initiative has now been covered here in the Gazette.

Taking this a little further:   At its simplest on this project, we envisage a management company owned by its participating member firms (could be 10 – not sure what criteria for participation yet to get the right mix or number; may include legal practices and others), managed independently.  We don’t quite know yet  how to make it work in this environment – to give enough freedom for management and control to participants.  We are well aware of many of the challenges though.  We anticipate using a variety of outsourced services provided through the management company, but a range of options will be explored extensively with an open mind within this initiative which will involve wide ranging discussions and focus groups involving lawyers and others.

If you are a legal practice with less than 50 people operating within one of the 10 Local Authorities that cover Greater Manchester, are you interested in getting involved?

If you are any other type of business and can envisage how you can profit from making this type of enterprise more competitive, I would be interested to hear your ideas.

Allan Carton

Help your people make more of LinkedIn

If you think there is value in LinkedIn (and social networking more generally) here are some insights that might help enthuse other people in your practice and help you to do more yourself.  There are many features in LinkedIn, but I would consider “Groups” as one of the most important and most effective for lawyers, so it’s worth checking out this video (and the other information the page) as a lot of new features have just been added to make this even more user-friendly and effective.

Perhaps more importantly, do play this to your other colleagues who are struggling with the concept of social media, to help them picture how this can work for them.

  

Step 1 to becoming a Lean Practice – Understand Customer Value

In my last blog on Lean I described how the approach was first coined in the early 1990’s and associated with the publication of ‘The Machine that Changed the World’.  In this blog I will describe how the follow up book “‘Lean Thinking’ details a Lean Framework which any business can adopt, including legal practices.  It describes Lean in terms of five core principles, or five ways of thinking that businesses should follow; hence Lean Thinking.  Any legal services business wishing to adopt Lean must embrace all five of these principles, firstly by understanding them and what they mean; then by translating them into your business systems.  

The five core principles are:

  1. Client Value – understand what clients’ value.
  2. Value Chains – understand how value is created for the client; remove anything that does not add value.
  3. Flow – understand how efficiently value flows to the client; remove anything that blocks or hinders the flow.
  4. Pull – ensure that all value is delivered to meet the demands of your client; not your operation.
  5. Perfection – continually strive for perfection.

The first principle, Client Value, is in my opinion the cornerstone of a Lean approach.  To be successful in business we must understand what client’s actually want, i.e. what it is that they value and deliver it to them better than competitors.  This is where many companies often fail as they assume they know what clients value without actually asking them!  So the first step in becoming Lean is to ask clients what they actually want, and also what they don’t want.  Simple!

STEP 1 – Ask your clients what they value in your services.  NOTE: Also ask them what they don’t value.

A common mistake when running improvement programmes is to exclude client facing staff; REMEMBER these people are the eyes and ears of your business.  They know what your clients value because they talk to them!  Indeed it is often these people that are the real source of value to the client (along with the process they perform) rather than the actual product/service you sell.  They will also become the power of your lean business improvement capability.  So as well as engaging your clients you must also engage your employees, especially those that I call boundary spanners, those that understand the business, carry out the processes and interact with your clients.  As I hope you are now beginning to realise these employees are the key to your success.

STEP 2. Corroborate findings from Step 1 with employees.  NOTE: This also helps to develop buy-in.

Once we understand what clients value (and this should be an iterative process as value is not the same for every client and also changes with time) we need to assess how the business actually delivers value through people and processes to clients; these are called value streams.  I will talk more about Value Streams in my next post.

If anyone has any comments or examples where exercises in capturing the ‘Voice of the Client’ has proven useful please make a comment.  If you need any help in capturing client or employee feedback please contact us as we have completed this type of work for a number of legal service clients.

Lee Williams

Can smaller Legal Practices collaborate successfully?

A Major North West Initiative

The challenges that lawyers currently face have been created not just by the changes being introduced under the Legal Services Act, but also from the lasting impact of the recession and the continuously changing expectations of clients, who are seen to be increasingly demanding.  But then, we all probably expect more for less these days … because it is often possible.

Inpractice UK is just about to launch a research project (working in partnership with Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Manchester Law Society, the North West Regional office of the Law Society and the North West Development Agency), which aims to help small(er) legal practices with up to 50 people operating within the 10 Greater Manchester Local Authority Areas (for starters).  It will help lawyers who currently feel that the survival of their business is under threat, want to do something about it and see potential to collaborate with other legal practices as a possible way forwards. 

Getting to Grips with the Challenges

The conventional way in which many small firms currently operate, with limited resources and investment that limit innovation cannot be sustained as margins continue to get tighter. Continue reading

New website comparing providers of legal services

I heard a few months ago that a new web based means of legal marketing was about to be launched. It will be very interesting to see how quickly the momentum and acceptability is likely to grow.  The groundwork has been done and soon to hit the media is Wigster.com.

After Meercats and Go Compare in the process of being launched is Wigster a new comparison website for the legal market. The intention behind www.Wigster.com is to provide a strong client focused shop window to enable Solicitors to secure valuable new clients and matters in this changing legal landscape.

Wigster.com is a new legal services comparison website which will provide potential clients with a free online service which will enable them to compare a wide range of legal services from a wide range of Solicitors across the county.

The website is planned not to just allow a potential client comparisons on price, but also location, service features and client feedback.  For the law firm, www.Wigster.com  could be a means to secure volume client leads for a “very reasonable” referral cost.

Managing Director of Wigster – Nick Miller argues “There are many referral sites of sorts, from those which provide a directory, to those which purport to compare price, but do not. Wigtser.com is website designed by lawyers for lawyers in order to secure a good stream of new clients and matters in what is an increasingly competitive legal market.”

“The strong branding supported by TV, Radio and national press advertising will ensure a prime market position and substantial flow of traffic to wigster.com.”  

Nick points out that “Wigster.com has already recruited many pilot legal firms to the site” He also invites any firms interested in becoming part of the initial pilot to get in touch with enquiries@wigster.com  “The early birds participating in the pilot will benefit from free joining and registration and payment will only be made to wigster.com by the legal firm when a referral has been made

Bill Kirby

More legal practices are thinking "LEAN" processes to improve margins

Introduction to Thinking LEAN

As the legal services market faces more competition, legal service firms need to be able to deliver more with less.  The concept of delivering more with less, or Lean Thinking was first coined in the early 1990’s and is associated with the publication of  ‘The Machine that Changed the World’ by James Womack, Daniel Roos and Daniel Jones (1991).  In this, their first book in a series of bestsellers (Lean Thinking and Lean Solutions are more recent titles by the authors), they describe how post war Japanese businesses successfully grew and developed capabilities, products and cultures that enabled them to compete successfully against their western counterparts in gaining market share and production efficiencies. 

Lean has now been applied in many different business contexts and the approach is widely used in service businesses such as contact centres, public sectors organisations including the health service and also financial services (although the reader as a client of these services may question this).  With over 70% of the UK GDP attributed to service businesses, the ‘lean’ opportunity is clearly evident and should be a major consideration for law firms.  However, the utilisation of this improvement approach directly into service environments does require some translation. 

In its simplest form, Lean can be described as a set of “tools” that assist in the identification and steady elimination of waste (the Japanese call this muda).  However it is more than a simple set of tools, a Lean mindset (Lean Thinking) focuses on getting the right products/services, to the right place, at the right time, in the right quantity to achieve a perfect flow of value to the client.  Lean aims to make legal work simple enough to understand, to do and to manage.   The tools provide different ways to identify, understand and remove certain types of problems but they don’t solve them.  It is up to practice managers and legal professionals to highlight the underlying cause of many types of problems and then determine a context specific solution. 

The tools on their own do not define lean; ‘lean is both technical and emotional’.  There are many examples of Lean tool implementation without sustained benefit and these are often blamed on weak understanding of the Lean culture.  The cultural and managerial aspects of Lean are just as important as, if not more important than, the actual tools or principles themselves.  When implementing Lean, the key question is not, ‘what tools do we need to use?’, but ‘how do we understand our business as a system within a system and how can we engage our employees so that they can help us to improve it?’

Over the next month or so I will be addressing the key principles of Lean Thinking and outlining how law firms might adopt a Lean approach.  If you have used Lean within a legal practice or are considering becoming a Lean practice then I’d be interested in your thoughts? If you want to attend one of our sessions introducing legal practices to LEAN, go here.

Lee Willliams