April 11th, 2012
For those involved in the legal services marketplace, a wide variety of delivery options have become available. Expanding the range or reach of your services will provide you with additional skills and resources as well as a potentially wider client pool. However, expansion requires enhanced leadership and management skills to make the new, larger entity more successful than the sum of its individual parts.
Before you move into new ways of operating, you need to be sure of a number of issues. Implementing changes will put considerable demand on your resources, time and energy. It is important therefore to check that you are using this strategy for positive reasons and that you have a sound base to expand from. Too many people think that expansion will provide the panacea to all of their current problems. As a result, they spend a lot of time and money chasing rainbows rather than making sure their existing business is solid and secure. Expansion can be risky, as it will require a stronger and deeper resource base as well as a different set of skills. You need to minimise the risk by being clear about what you want to achieve and how you plan to go about it.
These changes may involve new services and new ways of operating. It will certainly involve relationships with people who you will be trusting with your image and reputation. Any new enterprise will require you to develop and sustain trust quickly, so it is important to choose partners who share your core values.
To make the most of new opportunities, you need to: -
1. be positive about yourself, know what you excel at and what you enjoy doing,
2. be able to articulate your core values and what is important to you,
3. be clear about what you want to achieve,
4. have a secure resource base,
5. listen to your clients to find out what they will want from you in the future,
6. be passionate about what you do and want to do so that people will feel inspired to work with you,
7. be constantly on the look out for opportunities,
8. look for obvious synergies between services and/or clients,
9. talk to as many people as possible to find out what they have tried, what worked well and why, what did not work well and why, and
10. always be willing to listen and learn.
January 3rd, 2012
A Happy New Year to everyone. Usually people start a new year with a sense of looking forward and expectation. This year however forecasts are that personal bankruptcies will continue to rise and commercial property is still trying to re-align demand and supply, especially in the high streets. There continues to be too many law firms in the UK so it is inevitable that the reduction in property related work in particular is causing internal tensions. Merger activity continues to be seen as a way of providing a wider reach or clients and/or allow exits of partners wanting to retire. For more detail on recent merger research see http://www.lawconsultancynetwork.co.uk/index.html and click on the link on that page.
New entrants into the legal services market are focussing on IT and potential economies of scale using a less top heavy model of solicitor input. With so many law graduates unable to find training places, their job pool for ‘call centre’ staff who are familiar with legal concepts such as contract and liability is high.
It seems likely that people will buy their legal services in a variety of ways. Just as most of us now book our routine holiday breaks and flights ourselves on-line, and only use travel agents where we are trying to do something expensive or complicated, so will our clients source more routine legal help through Tesco or the Co-op in so far as they are easy to access, cheap and are user-friendly.
So what is there to look forward to for 2012? Comfort can be had from that fact that all of recent research into how new clients find a solicitor confirm that people prefer to use personal connections. For example, the Legal Services Board 2009 research with 2000 individuals found that 83% of respondents had not shopped around and that 25% had sourced by personal recommendation, 20% from previous experience and 15% by referral arrangement. Similarly the Ministry of Justice 2010 research with 1000 individuals reported that 75% found a solicitor through word-of-mouth or personal recommendation.
Life for everyone is more complicated and difficult than it has been in the past decade. As a result, people need practical help and legal advice that deals with their own particular situation or combination of situations. It seems unlikely that the new entrants will want to deal with difficult, complex work with its associated higher risks. It will also be interesting to see how ‘satisfied’ some of their clients become with on-line and call centre advice once the initial ease of purchase moves on to individual questions and demands.
Good lawyers enjoy dealing with interesting and complication work where they can use their skills and abilities to provide clever solutions. It makes sense to concentrate on this rather than try to defend areas of work that are no longer profitable and rewarding.
September 25th, 2011
With so much continued uncertainty about the next few years of economic activity, every business should concentrate on what it is good at and do it well. For a professional firm, this means that it needs to ask its clients why they chose the firm to provide a service for them over its competitors and more importantly, why they continue to use it.
Such questions will produce a lot of important information about:
- what went well and why the client thought that
- what could be improved and why
- areas where the client felt that too much information was provided
- areas where there was too little information
- tone and preferred type of communication
- time delays that could have been avoided
- information the client would have liked in advance
- what other support could have been provided.
Having asked clients these questions, it is important to respond to them in a tangible way so that they can see that they have been listened to. It is possible to do this in such a way as to reduce operational costs at the same time as improving client satisfaction. To manage change positively it is important to concentrate only on changing those aspects of your service that clients have told you that they do not consider essential to their choice of using your firm. For example, it is important to routinise those parts of handling a piece of work that the client does not actually see, such as generating pro-forma documents. Firms need to be building client loyalty with the result that direct contact with clients should never become ‘impersonal’. With every change you make, it is important to find ways to improve clients’ service experience, rather than reduce it.
August 23rd, 2011
There are signs that merger activity is on the increase. Mergers are a great way of achieving solutions to problems such as how to increase fee income, widen the pool of technical expertise and/or achieve more geographical reach but to be successful they need a great deal of effort and skill on the part of the senior management team. A merger can easily distract people for up to two years with the result that instead of accelerating business growth, it can actually stifle it.
Statistically most mergers fail as combining two ‘bad’ firms doesn’t make one ‘good’ one. In my experience, successful mergers are based on shared values and aspirations rather than whether the figures work. To succeed both firms and all of their people must want to work together and feel that the new business will succeed in the long-term.
Talking about values may seem too ‘soft’ a subject at the outset of merger meetings and it is much easier prepare agendas to look at lists of clients and business accounts. However, the earlier that values are aired and agreed the better. Not only does this exercise allow people to see that both firms have a lot in common, they can provide a frame of reference for later negotiations, particularly when misunderstandings and surprises occur.
They also provide re-assurance to all of both sets of partners that the combined firm will continue to represent what is important to everyone and as a result, will make the changes that will inevitably be required easier to deal with.
July 20th, 2011
Given that people are in the middle of their summer break, it may seem odd to be writing about the importance of having open discussions about work/life balance.
However, I think it is important to emphasise that however bad the current market appears in relation to profit margins and fee generation that if work/life balance is not identified as a critical success factor for your business it should be.
Up until about twenty years ago, it was accepted that young professionals would work hard motivated by the ‘carrot’ of partnership that would bring an assured life-style and income stream. The last recession broke that premise with the result that people became more careful about accepting an offer to become a partner.
The current financial worries are now coupled with 24 hour access and demands. Partners who are now in their mid to late 50s can see an end to these pressures in sight but new partners in their 30s need to be over about putting work/life balance issues on the table at Partners’ meetings and in their business plans. It is not being ‘wimpy’ to do this as failing to talk about this openly and sensibly will result in burnt-out, stress and mistakes and as a result, have a damaging effect on the firm’s profit and viability.
July 4th, 2011
Given that good professionals prefer to self manage as much as possible, their leaders are left with one very important and vital role to perform.
They MUST deal with bad behaviour. The strengths of professionalism lie in people’s ability to act independently, caring about what they do and the quality of the services they provide. However, under stress the negatives of these attributes can appear leading to high handedness, aggressiveness and arrogance.
If unacceptable behaviour is allowed to happen without challenge, it will have both a direct and indirect effect on the organisation. It directly damages the recipient, resulting in people leaving, employment tribunals and bad publicity. It also causes health and stress-related problems for everyone involved – the recipient, the people causing the problem and their managers. It also creates a spiral of demotivation. Good people who are striving to mitigate the effects of bad behaviour will become disaffected. Others will become cynical of the organisation and its leadership with dealing with bad behaviour providing a litmus test of management. When they see senior people unable or unwilling to tackle this very tangible challenge to leadership, it provides them with demonstrable illustrations of the weakness of management. It allows them to say ‘nothing will ever change here, so what is the point in supporting the firm?’ and undermine any attempt to introduce change on whatever topic.
Leaders must take all of this head on. Regardless of how senior the person is, there is no excuse for bullying and belittling other people. In many cases, these people have limited if any self-awareness. In some cases, there will be an underlying health or family problem that has triggered this stress reaction. In others, the person has become inured to the effect that his or her behaviour has on other people and in a small number of examples, the individual in question thinks that it is ‘clever’ to behave like this.
June 2nd, 2011
Can I put the case for professionals to use podcasts to bring their websites to life and help clients get to ‘know’ them, what they care about and what they do?
Research continues to confirm that clients choose us because they relate to us as people. Yet, when our business is about providing services, it is difficult to demonstrate to clients what we can do to help them. Clients need to trust us to do the best we can for them and that trust is based on building strong personal relationships. Some professional firms’ websites seek to address this by putting up photos and short bios but others seem to hide their people and provide only a general enquiry email address.
I thought that making a podcast about my most recent book would help readers hear what why it is important to me and get a feel for me and how I work. I wanted to capture some important messages that my clients could identify with. I liked the way it could bring my book to life and I found it easy to do and enjoyable.
The feedback that I have had is that people like it. They find it pleasant to listen to and light relief from the usual e-bulletins and mailshots. They have commented that linking it to my website means that my marketing message is more cohesive – people can read about the services I provide and then listen to me. They feel that they ‘know me’ already and this helps build relationships.
If anyone is interested in developing a podcast for themselves, I would recommend Ian Skillicorn at www.mybusinesspodcast.com.
May 3rd, 2011
Now that market conditions are becoming more positive, it is vital to remember that the good people in your organisation always have the opportunity to leave. It is soul destroying being asked to do difficult work without any recognition or even, thanks. The willing horses can get very tired of seeing the people who behave badly getting all of the attention!
Please spend some time with your good people now to find out how they are and what they want to achieve. Then do something about supporting them by sourcing some learning and development to help them move forward. Please do not take their loyalty and commitment for granted.
January 10th, 2011
Happy New Year!
People tend to start the New Year with the best intentions to do something about their weight, fitness, work-life balance and then the pressures of returning to work distract them. There continues to be a good deal of negativity around the UK economy with some professional firms dependent on public sector work anticipating that this will soon dry up. There continues to be a limited supply of quality work with too many good professionals chasing it.
When we focus on what we are good at and enjoy, we develop our skills and confidence. If we spend our days working with people who undermine and criticise us, we will struggle to remember why we chose this profession.
So it is important to think about what is important to us and what we want to achieve in the long term. January is the time to develop a Personal Action Plan. This will allow you to:-
- play to your strengths in your current role,
- cope better with the areas of your job that do not focus on what you enjoy doing,
- develop the areas that you feel you need more help with,
- tackle clients or colleagues you seem to clash with, and/or
- identify where you want to go with your long-term career.
October 20th, 2010
I am pleased to report that sales of the new book are going well, with people telling me that they are enjoying reading it.
Just to summarise a few points that are important to remember:
• This book is aimed at helping the ‘good guys’ succeed in what can at times be the maelstrom of professional life
• It is important to be kind to ourselves as we will all make mistakes at some point in our careers
• Taking a couple of hours out every 6 months or so to reflect on what we have achieved and what we enjoy doing will help us keep ‘errors of judgement’ in proportion