Monthly Archives: May 2013

Fully funded programme to develop legal support staff into client service champions – any takers?

Listening to clientsIf you are a legal practice interested in helping your support staff – those in front line contact with clients – to build their skills in client service management, time is running out on a fully government funded initiative that probably gives you what you want.

As a legal practice, you can put 15 or more of your own support staff (provided they don’t already have higher level qualifications like a university degree) through this programme; or you could collaborate with other local legal practices to get at least 15 candidates together.  That would work too, with a minimum of 3 people from each practice so that co-workers can share their thinking, support each other and introduce new initiatives.

This is available to people of all ages now, but anyone aged 24 years or above will not be eligible for this funding after 31st July 2013; so if you want total flexibility in who should take part, you need to apply and be accepted by that date.  There is a pre-assessment, so we’ve set a final deadline for applications to be received by 12 July to allow enough time.

This is a 12-month Diploma in Legal Client Service Management  whereby your people will need to attend just 2 or 3 workshops out of the office during the year (so there is minimal disruption at work) to learn new techniques; then they are assigned a tutor to work with them on directed assignments based on service improvement themes.  Then they are helped to apply this to their job roles and working environment. I would think that ongoing engagement with a tutor focused on factors that impact on service would have substantial value in any legal practice today – enabling you to develop “Client Service Champions” who can focus on this and influence others.

As part of the training process, Personal Learning and Training Skills (PLTS) are explored and evaluated.  These are generic skills that are essential to life, learning and work. PLTS have a significant impact on ability to make a confident contribution, both within and outside of the delegates working environment. They comprise six groups of skills:

  • Independent enquiry
  • Effective participation
  • Team working
  • Self-management
  • Reflective learning
  • Creative thinking

Typically evidence to demonstrate these skills will occur naturally during the programme. This is mapped at outset and it will be the role of the tutor to plan, support and log evidence.

NVQs are assessed at work or in a simulated workplace. The tutor will plan for each unit or theme with the candidates, then observe and ask questions as they perform a task. In addition, they will create, under guidance, a portfolio of work which will provide evidence of learning and application in the workplace. This might include written statements, testimonials from line managers, emails or other organisational documentation, customer feedback – even video and voice recordings.  Once complete, this will confirm that the candidate has got the skills to do the job well.

  • An online assessment tool called Smart Assessor enables candidates to manage all aspects of their programmes. Smart Assessor is a web-based system used by Rocket to report and manage progress throughout the programme.
  • With Smart Assessor, everything is online. Rather than working with bulky paper portfolios, learners and assessors access a web-based e-portfolio that contains all their relevant course materials.
  • Individual users upload NVQ evidence and VRQ assignments to the system allowing those involved in the learning process to plan, give feedback, assess, verify and finally award the qualification.
  • Smart Assessor offers flexibility, customisation and total security for each programme and every learner on that programme.

Functional Skills are assessed through simple online tests. Initially candidates will complete a diagnostic assessment to identify if they have any development needs. If there is no further development needed, they can have a go at some sample tests before completing their final assessment. Where the diagnostic indicates particular development is required in either Maths or English, the course tutor will discuss how this can be provided most effectively by understanding personal learning preferences, before entering a candidate for final assessment.

If you want to explore this further, the first steps to take:

  1. Email solutions@inpractice.co.uk or call 0161 929 8355 to let us know that your practice is potentially interested, with an estimate of the number of support staff you want to involve. (minimum of 3)
  2. Complete an “expression of interest” form – which we will send to you on request.
  3. Potential candidates and their manager/s (or similar) would attend a 1 to 1½ hour “Discovery Workshop” to make sure they really want to do it.

Allan Carton

ABS – Take time to know your investors; they will certainly take time to get to know you

I attended the Modern Law Conference, which focused on the new world of ABS’s last week; a well attended and interesting event; particularly because there was a good number of unfamiliar faces there.  The most interesting session for me was the one involving a panel mostly of investors who have actually invested in law firms, which included:Allan Carton (Hi Res) SMS, Sept 12 - small v2

  • Iain Kennedy from Duke Street (Parabis)
  • John Llwelleyn-Lloyd from Espirito Santo
  • Jordan Mayo from Smedvig Capital (MyHomeMove)
  • Steve Arundale from NatWest
  • Trevor Howarth from Stobart Group

The two key messages from this for me?

  1. For whatever reason, and we discussed a few – it has taken a long time for each investor and law firm that has taken up external investment to establish enough trust and a relationship between investor and law firm to get all parties comfortable enough to do a deal that can work for all.  For both Parabis and MyHomeMove, there was a gestation period in the region of 6 years before any deal was done.  This may accelerate now. However, well considered business relationships take time in any business sector and it would be normal in any sector for a relationship between business and investor to take at least a year to develop.  Anyone acting hastily should be regarded warily.  A key conclusion was that law firms that want to secure investors within the next two years need to be initiating discussions now.  Lawyers need to recognise the role of investors in developing the business and their own role in what can become a quite different and faster moving business world once investment has been secured.
  2. Until now, the number of attractive investor deals has been very low.  Jordan Mayo of Smedvig commented that they had probably had discussions with up to 100 firms over the years … but have only done one deal!

A useful resume of other key points from the Law Gazette

Law firms will continue to be unattractive to private equity investors until they improve how they present their financial situation and partners invest their own cash, leading investors said recently.  John Llewellyn-Lloyd, head of professional services at investment bank Espirito Santo, said external investment was the best way to ensure the future of firms, but potential backers were often put off by uncertainty over financials.

Llewellyn-Lloyd told the Modern Law conference that up to 8,000 firms will seek mergers or disappear altogether over the next five to 10 years. ‘Bank debt will be far less plentiful in the future – the professional services industry is going to see less debt and if partners won’t put their hands in their pockets you will have to go to external investors,’ he said.

‘But they need to feel there is a culture of internal investment. It’s very important to have your existing revenue generators all keen on owning shares in the business – if they’re not it’s highly unlikely they’ll be first in the queue for investment.’

Jordan Mayo, managing director of equity investor Smedvig Capital, said a number of firms had approached his company about additional finance, but market uncertainty and the firms’ business plans had prevented any deals. ‘We’ve spoken to 50 to 100 firms in the last year but have not invested in one yet,’ he added.

Llewellyn-Lloyd said it was inevitable that medium-sized firms would reduce in number in the coming years as non-lawyers enter the market and big brands dominate. ‘The legal profession has 20 times more firms than accountancy, which itself is still consolidating,’ he said. ‘There is no way to go but efficiency and consolidation – there are likely to be a handful of firms left in the middle market.’

More interesting commentary on this article here

Allan Carton

Launch of Greater Manchester Chamber’s Legal Sector Employer (EOS) Initiative

GMCC Legal Sector EOS launchAround 100 people attended this launch at MMU Business School on 24 April, bringing together senior management from local law firms with Heads of local secondary schools and Sixth Form Colleges.

Go here to DOWNLOAD your free copy of the booklet that introduces what the Legal Sector Employer Skills Group (ESG) is hoping to achieve; aiming to help lawyers become more agile, competitive and sustainable, backed by significant Government funding under the Employer Ownership of Skills initiative which impacts widely on business development.

Working alongside Greater Manchester Chamber and the 9 legal practices leading the ESG, we are currently helping more local legal practices – of all sizes and focus – to get involved in this initiative.

Contact Allan Carton on 0161 929 8355 or acarton@inpractice.co.uk if you would like copy of the slides from the presentations or are otherwise interested in exploring this further.