Category Archives: solicitor

Who needs a Strategy?

“Strategy”, or the “S word”, is often overused and misunderstood, probably because many organisations refer to plans as strategies when they are just plans.

A proper approach to developing a strategy involves defining where you currently are, examining anticipated developments in your market and your practice, defining your destination and, while on the journey, assessing and aligning the policies, processes and resources necessary to achieve that new vision or position.

This approach is responsive to the future, aiming to take action ahead of time to protect and grow business success. It roots current action in that view of the future and brings with it a degree of change.

If your practice uses a strategic process to define business objectives, you will know. The practice will have told you how the future looks, what your part is and why operational changes are being made or are in the pipeline. In an uncertain world, a practice with a strategy is like an airplane with a pilot and co-pilot at the helm. They constantly assess new data and, within the mission of getting from A to B, make new decisions as required. This contrasts with the autopilot setting of a practice without a strategy.

Note: If the strategy was well-considered in the first place, the need for constant change is minimal, as there ought not to be many large surprises. Using the plane analogy, the pilots do their checking for every flight, but most flights go according to plan without the need for an emergency landing!

Without the forward-looking element of the strategy, a well-run organisation can make small incremental changes based on experience. In a slowly developing market this will appear effective.

But what happens when the legal market changes quickly?

If your practice involves strategic thinking, you will have been able to weather the credit crunch well. This was a sudden change, but was heralded months before the full effects were felt. With quick and decisive action based on an updated strategy, the full effects would have been minimised and opportunities spotted to ensure growth. If this is not a description of your practice, or the one you work for, we might conclude strategic thinking is not alive and well.

Another change on the horizon since 2006 has been the deregulation of the legal market proposed by the Clementi Review, the first reforms of which should be implemented in the summer of 2011, according to the Legal Services Board.

If you do not yet have a strategy for dealing with what would be a fundamental shift in the shape of the legal market, now is the moment!


Liam Wall
Founder
BigWig Legal Network
www.bigwignetwork.co.uk

What is BigWig Legal Network?
The deregulation of UK legal structures will have a huge impact on how Law is practised and new legal services are offered. BigWig Legal Network is the UK’s first membership development organisation for fee earners in legal practices, priced for membership affordability, which will offer what legal professionals desire most of all: Accurate, dependable new insights and techniques for developing the legal services of the future.

Find out more at our Last Wednesday meetings.

Partnerships and Strategic Thought

In a recent blog I urged you to consider your strategy for the future. I believe that, whatever your position in a practice, you can to a greater or lesser degree implement a strategy for the future. Of course, the scale of that opportunity would differ if you were the senior or managing partner rather than a new trainee…….or would it?

A well-rounded strategy deals with the world as it is and not as we would like it to be. To design and implement a strategy is to sign up to new challenges and to changing your way of working. If successful, the strategy will improve profit and enable growth.

In most markets, the products and services required will change over time. If your organisation, via a strategy, is aiming to track those changes, it is inevitable that your business will change over time. In a practice this will mean people must re-train or leave the firm.

In a partnership world where years of experience are usually rewarded with the security of long-term tenure on the basis that this accumulated experience has a future value, the idea that change is inevitable is not widely accepted. To embrace it would be to suggest that the longest-serving members of a firm are not necessarily the most valuable. And yet the longest-serving are usually the partners, otherwise known as the business owners.

Depending on the future direction of the strategy, some senior members of the firm might be surplus to requirements. In my first hand experience, some of the larger and more successful partnerships do attend to this. It is not easy and as a business model partnerships do not lend themselves to these decisions.

So, in answer to my own question, partners may not be willing to design or implement strategies as they may fear that any changes may be their personal undoing. However, if partners are encouraged to wear the “business owner” hat while thinking about the business, they can take good business decisions that benefit both themselves and their business. If it is not appropriate or desirable for some partners to retrain, they could change the nature of their participation in the company by stepping aside from the hourly billing and reshaping their roles, e.g. to act as directors or even as silent partners in exchange for capital.


Liam Wall
Founder
BigWig Legal Network
www.bigwignetwork.co.uk

What is BigWig Legal Network?
The deregulation of UK legal structures will have a huge impact on how Law is practised and new legal services are offered. BigWig Legal Network is the UK’s first membership development organisation for fee earners in legal practices, priced for membership affordability, which will offer what legal professionals desire most of all: Accurate, dependable new insights and techniques for developing the legal services of the future.

Find out more at our Last Wednesday meetings.

The DEA: good for lawyers, bad for everyone else?

Did you know that the Digital Economy Act 2010 was enacted last month? If so, do you know how it affects you? The title makes it sound like a very dry topic, but in fact anyone who lives in the UK should be interested because it affects any UK creator, distributor or consumer of content on the web. On Wednesday 1st June, John Stobart of Harvey Ingram LLP gave an overview of the Act in an excellent presentation, “Legal Aspects of Online Business and the Digital Economy Act 2010”. The talk was hosted by Amplified Leicester at the Phoenix Square Digital Media Centre, Leicester.

Following the noble aims of the Digital Britain report, which mapped our existing use of the Internet as well as ways of enabling more Britons to access online content, it has of course become necessary to legislate how we do this. Most people are aware of the struggle of the film, music and publishing industries to maintain profitability when so much content is available for free or at very low cost on the web. It seems that fewer people are also aware that much of what is available is offered without the permission or sanction of the copyright owners. The ease and speed with which one can download content leads people to think that it must always be okay to do so.

But the scary thing is that even those who scrupulously avoid piracy may fall foul of the new Act. It could affect you negatively, even if you personally have not done anything illegal. This is because of draconian provisions requiring ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to write threatening letters to the owners of connections being used for illegal downloading, to provide to copyright holders the contact details of those people, and ultimately to limit bandwidth or cut internet connection completely if the copyright infringement is proven to have occurred. Continue reading

Decision Speed Captain Kirk?

When it comes to evolution, I am no expert, but I am familiar with the simple summary of “Survival of the Fittest”. A key part of survival for an animal is making decisions in response to new opportunities or threats. These decisions must be made in real time and can be imperfect.

Within a commercial organisation, hundreds of major and minor decisions are made every day in just the same way. The outward-facing decisions are made by the Board. Sometimes these decisions are made quickly as events occur rapidly. In the past weeks, the Board at BP and at BA have been making outward-facing decisions. The ability of these organisations to react quickly is crucial to their success and survival. From the outside, they may seem to be the largest and sturdiest starships in their galaxies, but even they are vulnerable to poor or slow decision-making. Indeed, anyone who ever watched Star Trek will not remember Kirk taking long to make life-and-death decisions!

In the world after the Clementi Review and the Legal Services Board deregulation, the question is, how quick will law firm decision-making need to become? Partnerships are not noted for making rapid or radical decisions. This is an observation rather than a criticism. At the moment, law firms evolve at a rate determined by the comfort zone of partners who are all owners and solicitors.

Post the Alternative Business Structure, this rate of change may be determined by Directors appointed by shareholders. Given that Directors are unlikely to be solicitors and will do their job by determining policy rather than following it, they will have little vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

If the Partnership Model is to prosper in this new world, decision-making speed may need to move at the pace determined by non-solicitors!

Liam Wall
Founder
BigWig Legal Network

www.bigwignetwork.co.uk

What is BigWig Legal Network?
The deregulation of UK legal structures will have a huge impact on how Law is practised and new legal services are offered. BigWig Legal Network is the UK’s first membership development organisation for fee earners in legal practices, priced for membership affordability, which will offer what legal professionals desire most of all: Accurate, dependable new insights and techniques for developing the legal services of the future.

Find out more at our Last Wednesday meetings.

Frying Pan – Fire – or Hades?

It is no secret that over the last few years most firms have faced a reduced level of partner profit (or no profit at all), often resulting in decisions to reduce team sizes. Others have found themselves faced with short working hours or pay reductions.

As tax rates rise post-election, along with VAT rates, it is likely that this cycle is not yet at an end.

Given that many firms adopt a time-honoured policy of permanent staff on fixed hours, this decrease in staff is inevitable. The UK Economy may have just enjoyed one of the longest periods of sustained economic growth, but this has been the exception, not the rule. I hope that firms will start to see the benefit of a core permanent team cooperating with a circle of trained flexible staff who help with spikes in workflow. When times are good, using outsourced/contract/consultant staff enables the firm to take advantage of the increasing number of skilled people who prefer flexible working. This actually brings stability to the workplace as fewer permanent staff are put at risk when the market contracts. It also benefits the partners as their profits are protected.

But the result of this contraction is that many solicitors and partners find themselves looking at alternative posts at other firms. The question is, when an offer comes in from another firm, do you jump? Often the answer is an unequivocal “Yes”. Faced with even shorter working at your existing firm, or potentially no position at all, how could the answer be “No”? Continue reading

Solicitors can be quite likeable, actually

Since I started the BigWigNetwork Twitter account, I’ve been finding interesting legal people and firms to follow. I’m delighted that some of these are now following BigWig too. Whenever I can, I spend some time browsing their sites, looking for ideas and approaches that chime with my hopes for BigWig and for the UK legal profession.

Of course, the simple fact that they’re using social media already indicates awareness that online affordances can support, enhance and in some cases transform business for solicitors. Other initiatives, not specifically related to being online, also suggest that people are realising that even lawyers need to do business differently in the 21st century.

Most of us didn’t need the Clementi report to tell us that legal clients are becoming more sophisticated, more demanding and more able to compare costs for legal services from several different providers. However, it is very difficult to change the assumptions and customs of any established profession and particularly of one whose lifeblood is “precedent”. One thing that helps is to study the example of pathfinders who are already succeeding through doing things differently. Continue reading

Scotland the Brave……Not

It seems the Scottish Law Society has withdrawn the proposed move to Alternative Business Structures which would have permitted significant external ownership of Scottish firms. Ian Smart, President of Law Society of Scotland, commented that a revised compromise would be tabled later in May. This followed a significant back lash from Scottish solicitors who feared, among other things, grave abuse of the regulations by criminal gangs. You can read a description of some of the issues raised in Mike Wade’s TimesOnline article and from the horse’s mouth in this news release from The Law Society of Scotland.

The proposed changes, which are in the pipeline for the rest of the UK in 2011/2012, are designed to provide greater access to legal advice. There is no suggestion that getting hold of one of the 100,000 plus solicitors in the UK is difficult. However, with hourly fee rates at traditional firms that start at around six times the national average pay rate for even basic advice, it is the price that is the challenge. Many small businesses and individuals that need advice simply prefer to take the risk. Continue reading