Friday, 9 August 2013

Get a Professional

The days of the enthusiastic amateur - so far as running a legal business is concerned - are over.

In the past a law firm - even a large law firm - was entirely run by a management board headed up by a Senior Partner and/or a Managing Partner. In some cases the Managing Partner might have a discount from his or her billing target in recognition of the work they did to run the firm - but I've seen law firms with a turnover of nearly £50million where no-one got a discount. This means that the management of the firm - the discussion and setting of strategy, the planning to implement the strategy, the measurement of performance, fee-earner motivation and management, staff management, etc etc - is all done part-time, often at the end of the day, at night and at the weekend.

In a set of chambers, there are no billing targets to discount and so, if the member of the management committee, Head of Chambers or Chair of the management committee (assuming there is one) do not want to see a reduction in their own incomes, the situation is the same.

This has meant that for far too long, legal organisations were often run by enthusiastic amateurs. Some of these people have an extraordinary talent for management and so some firms have been able to perform very well. It is, however, too much to expect that someone will be an expert in their field, attracting high quality clients and high paying cases and that they will be an expert in business management.

Most law firms start to notice this problem as they get bigger and the management problems increase. They are often forced to 'outsource' some of the management of the firm to a professional manager - although that can lead to communication and expectation difficulties.

In this current and very difficult market for the law, the need for professionals has never been greater. More direct and public access means that members of chambers and clerks are suddenly dealing with a type of client with whom they are unfamiliar and who has a completely different set of requirements. Professional clients in law firms now have marketing teams who expect to be able to talk with their peers. Professional marketing from one part of the profession needs to be answered with professional marketing. Homely and home-made will no longer work.

It's not just marketing. With the importance of IT, more and more firms - and more and more chambers - have noticed how little they can get done if their systems aren't working. It's all very well to go for a fully hosted solution, but you still need to have someone on-site who is knowledgeable and who can translate what the 'techie' has said the problem is - and who can switch the router back on when someone accidentally switches it off, thereby saving the cost of an engineer's visit and (more importantly) about 2 hours.

The timescales have reduced. Clients expect emails answered immediately; twitter messages need to be dealt with in minutes sometimes; IT problems have to be resolved as soon as possible. I remember the days of the five day turnaround to answer a letter - but they have long gone. Staff problems will not wait for the next meeting of the management committee.

Professional management is also required. Unless you are trained and experienced in staff management, the chance of making a huge and eventually expensive error are high. Chambers and law firms need to have someone who can spend all their time getting the business to run better, making sure that the staff are motivated and know what they should be doing to support the strategy. The other professionals need to be managed by someone who knows what they are doing and makes the time to do it - and the legal professionals need to be released to do what they do well.

Clients don't want to have part-time and amateur legal advice - why should solicitors and barristers have to put up with poor support. The days of the amateur are over - long live the professional.

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