Lord Bl**dy Sugar!

Like many of you I have enjoyed BBC’s The Apprentice complete with the attitude and the unremitting swearing of the main man. I would love to know what Lord Sugar does respect as it is clearly not most of the contestants most of the time. However, I must say that I am happy to let him have his quirks given his level of commercial success and I wish everyone I knew was as honest. Given this is a legal network why do I mention him?

One of the first and largest computer companies in the world was, as you will know, IBM. Given their position in the computer market today the phrase “no one ever got fired for buying IBM” will be irrelevant to most but the larger organisations now but once upon a time this was the case. Indeed when I started work in the mid-1980’s they had a dominant position in the hardware market include the personal computer market (PC).

At that time Alan Sugar Trading or Amstrad for short was making cheap radio’s, record player and other small electrical devices. However Amstrad was about to diversify and take on IBM with a PC. Think about it, a cheap radio manufacturer taking on a worldwide business. I had one of the first to compare to IBM PC and it must be said it had a poorer screen resolution and a less substantial keyboard. The other thing it lacked was about £1000 being half the price of the IBM.

The rest is history as the consumer and business market voted with their feet and bought the Amstrad.

The point of this history lesson is simple. Consumers and businesses want value for money which Law Sugar delivered which according to the critics of the day was very much a win for David over Goliath. Lord Sugar, as far as I know is not interested in the law but if he owned an Alternative Business Structure law firm, would he be preserving the traditions and current working practices?

Sir Alan may not be looking at the Legal Market but there are entrepreneurs out there waiting for the opportunity. Are you ready?


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.

“Don’t you want me, baby?”

Seeking a product used by most law firms, I had the pleasure of putting out to tender a significant contract worth around £150k per annum.

The existing supplier was a well-known company in the market and the point of contact was highly credible, trustworthy and pleasant. In fact, he was a thoroughly decent bloke. One of the challenging suppliers was recommended by a friend, but was otherwise completely unknown to me.

The existing supplier knew they were in a competitive situation and telephoned several times to take stock of the situation and to ensure they put the best tender forward that they could. Indeed, the resulting tender was more competitive than the year before: they provided additional features and this justified the tender process if nothing else did.

The challenging supplier came to see me and my colleagues three times. They were well-prepared with colourful charts and other sales tools, and also mentioned other products they provided. Their enhanced product offered slightly better value than that of the existing supplier. They were very attentive and could not do enough for us.

The existing supplier was obviously disappointed, but accepted the inevitable when the challenging supplier won the contract. Since that sale, the new supplier has maintained the initial contact through in-person visits and invitations to evening talks and other events, always providing valuable insights and clear, attractive supporting material.

Clients want to feel their professional advisers are part of the team. Team working is about clear regular communication. The original supplier above did a good job, but had been so busy doing the job that they lost ground to a personal visit from a rival.

It is a tight legal market at the moment with insufficient work for most, but how many have made a point of visiting existing clients in between matters just to keep the relationship and communication going?

The last thing you need right now is your existing clients wondering if you want them!

* The title of this post refers to The Human League’s single from their third album Dare (1981)

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.

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

Corporate Clients want more for less. Or do they?

A few years ago, I observed the procurement process a major law firm went through in the hope of being appointed to a bank’s legal panel. Apart from the online fee process, the bank also wanted to know what other services were on offer. They wanted access to partners and fee earners for free to make internal seminar presentations, as well as access to the firm’s library and research capabilities. Also, online billing and a line-by-line review of what they had been charged.

At the time the feeling was simply that the bank wanted to have their cake and eat it too. Banking was highly profitable at the time and it may have been just that. But many other corporates use the online process carefully to set legal fees and to extract the most benefit.

Times are changing for the legal profession.  Rather than fight your clients who seem to want more for less, why not consider what is happening and embrace the opportunity to work with them to increase the productivity on their files and share the additional profit?

Why? Continue reading