The Scary World of Cyber Crime – Cyber Security in the Legal Profession
Cyber Security is a term that, in my experience, only experts know much about. It comes with connotations of espionage, complex cryptography and enough jargon to choke a donkey. But the one thing we all know is that it’s vitally important. So, a horrible combination.
Well, recently my eyes were opened to the world of Cyber Security, and its real world effects. We had a solicitor client who’s clients email account was hacked. The criminal then monitored the account until the solicitor asked for their client’s bank details. That email was intercepted and a “fake” reply sent with bank account details, diverting the funds to the criminal.
Now this happened, via a breach of a solicitors client’s security, not the solicitor’s …. but imagine if your email accounts were hacked. Imagine the havoc a sophisticated criminal could reap? If, like me, it makes you break out in a cold sweat, you really need to do something about it.
Which is why the Cashroom has invested time and money in engaging with a specialist firm of “ethical hackers” to help improve all aspects of our data security. I had an image of a skinny teenager in a baseball hat sitting hunched over a computer in a darkened room a can of red bull by his side. I’m happy to say that Xyone (https://www.xyonecybersecurity.co.uk/), were nothing like that! They took us through their Cyber Essentials course, and carried out various “penetration tests” on our systems and our (soon to be released) client Portal. While a lot of what they did was beyond me, much of it was simply educating (or reminding) staff about simple things –password security, email discipline etc.
I’m happy to say that, with a few tweaks, we came through the course, and passed the penetration tests. We’re as secure as we can be, and I’ll lose a little less sleep worrying about cybercrime.
And we have a certificate!
It’s often the simplest things in life that are most effective. The most basic combinations are often the most powerful. As usual I am seeking to shoehorn a metaphor into place…but bear with me. This week members of the Business Development Team attended an networking event in central Leeds alongside some leading firms operating within the legal sector. Barclays, Partner s from Scottish Law firm Digby Brown and Xyone Cyber Security to name a few of the carefully selected attendees.
The networking event was held at the Friends of Ham restaurant in the heart of Leeds city centre with its no-frills quirky vibe it proved to be the ideal location for an event. It gave us great ‘finger food’ (chunks of nice cheeses, ham and bread), copious amounts of high quality wine and a setting which was highly conducive to mingling. We’ve previously used Evuna in Manchester which has a similar vibe, and great tapas. We will call this the base for my metaphor….or the BREAD
Networking is something that everyone agrees is important for business development, but there are so many different ways to approach it. I thought it’d be worth explaining a method that works for us, as it’s not rocket science and is easily replicated.
A select and manageable attendee list- It’s crucial to keep the numbers to a level whereby everyone will get chance to speak to everyone. Also, it works better if you hand pick your attendees with a view to having credible people who you know will have an interest in the others at the event, and who you also know will be friendly and will engage with the others. Our events tend to have a minimum of 12 people and a maximum of 20. This part is the meat of the event- The HAM
The approach- we’ve all been to events which purport to be networking based, but in fact end up with people preaching and pontificating to the group if given half the chance. So remove that opportunity by making it clear from the outset that each person will be given a maximum time slot of two minutes to explain who they are, what they do, and the kind of intros they are hoping to receive. We have a comedy buzzer and a strict adherence to that limit. This serves to keep things light-hearted and informative, prompting people to seek each other out when mingling for more detailed chats. This is the topping- the CHEESE.
So there we have it….the makings for a great networking event which I promise will create interest and understanding back and forth between the attendees. Bread Ham and Cheese….you may think what I’m talking is a total croque (monsieur), but try it….you might like it!
[The Cashroom apologises unreservedly for this appalling attempt at a pun]
The event was a success with everyone saying what a great evening it had been for all involved. Hopefully the event enabled everyone to make some great new contacts. Thank you to everyone who was involved and hopefully our future events will be as successful as this one (but maybe not so cheesy!).
Alex Holt Director of Business Development The Cashroom Limited
When I am out meeting solicitors, explaining what it is that we do, and how we do it, they are often surprised at just how simple it really is. They often have misconceptions about what is involved in outsourcing, so I thought it would be worthwhile jotting down my standard responses!
1. Myth 1 – That they will need new ‘IT’, or to learn how to use a new ‘system’
We do not have any ‘system’ or software, we simply access the accounts part of your existing Practice Management System remotely. So, all you need is a legal practice management system of some sort, and a means of us accessing it remotely. You send us instructions by email, to a dedicated email address we will set up, specific to your firm.
2. Myth 2 – That they will get a different person each time they phone/email
We allocate each client to a cashiering team, headed up by a very experienced senior cashier, essentially your ‘Head Cashier’. They will have a small team of people who will work on your firm, in order that holidays, sickness cover etc, are not a problem for you. You will get to know the two or three people working on your firms’ work very quickly, and build a relationship with them. You can pick up the phone or email these people at any point.
3. Myth 3 – That it would be impossible to bring the service back in-house in the future
In fact, quite the opposite is true. As per the response to ‘Myth 1’, we do not require you to use any new software/system, we are accessing your existing system remotely. If at any point you wanted to bring the service back in-house, it would be as simple as recruiting a cashier, changing the username/password for our Login to your system and online banking, and our access would be terminated. All data stays on your system, nothing is held by us.
4. Myth 4 – Loss of Control
Some feel that by having ‘their cashiers’ offsite, they will somehow lose some of the control over what is going on. In our experience, again, quite the opposite is usually the case. Clients tell us time and again that they have a better understanding of what is going on by dealing with our cashiers. Before outsourcing, the cashier at their firm often controlled things, choosing what they wanted to disclose to the Partners. By outsourcing, it puts control back in the hands of the Partners of the firm, rather than the cashier!
5. Myth 5 – That it doesn’t really save money
As a rule of thumb, we can offer a saving of around 20-30% on the salary costs of inhouse cashiering staff. This will vary from firm to firm, depending to a large extent on how well they pay their staff, but in some cases the saving can be as much as 50%. This is simply due to economies of scale, and efficiencies we are able to introduce with the experience of best practice from working with so many different firms. There are additional savings, although more difficult to quantify in monetary terms, such as the additional office space which can be used by fee earning staff, the savings on recruitment / training of new staff, the management time of a Partner in dealing with appraisals, performance issues etc, as well as the cover for holidays/sickness.
If you are thinking about outsourcing your cashiering / accounts department, but have concerns about it which are not covered above, please feel free to get in touch with me by email (Gregor.Angus@thecashroom.co.uk) or telephone (01506 401 284 / 07875 598 593).
I am lucky enough in my job to spend a bit of time with lots of people in different types of businesses. As in life in general, there are people in business with a million different skills sets, outlooks, attitudes to change, to risk etc . A common theme though, is that those people and businesses with an openness to change become the most successful in the long term. The only constant is change, as they say.
Change, however, is not something that many law firms embrace! Whether it is down to difficulty in getting Partners to agree on things, being too busy with client work, or the dangerous old attitude that ‘we have always done it that way’, the vast majority of law firms do not try new things, or change course with any great speed.
I recently read an article by Roger Harrop, author of “Win! How to Succeed in the New Game of Business” (https://www.rogerharrop.com/books/ ). Roger uses a model called ‘The Change House’…
Roger states, I think correctly, that the only safe room to be in is the ‘The Renewal Room’. More importantly, he says, is that you need to stay there, and not be lured next door to ‘Contentment’. There are so many examples of businesses that have been caught out in ‘The Contentment Room’, or below, in ‘The Denial Room’. Off the top of my head, I am thinking about Kodak, Blockbuster Video… but the list is just about endless. Both Kodak and Blockbuster had numerous opportunities to renew their offering, and innovate along with new technology, but they chose not to, or were unable to, ultimately leading to their downfall.
So how does this relate back to law firms. Well, I think it is very straightforward really: you need to keep trying new things and look at ways to constantly improve and evolve. This might be new service offerings, new ways of offering the service, or even ceasing to provide a service. It might be investing in new technology, revisiting your branding, or moving office to a better location. These are merely a handful of ways in which you could look at renewing your firm. Some things will work, others won’t, but you must try. You will spend some time in the ‘The Confusion Room’, but that is the only way to get to the ‘The Renewal Room’, and it will be worth the trip!
The legal industry is still going through huge changes, and with new entrants, technology and innovative business models, it is more important than ever to keep your firm in renewal mode, in order to seize opportunities, and just as importantly, retain the business you currently enjoy.
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When you think of a good charismatic leader, who do you think of? The common response is to think of those leaders that have a high profile, particularly in the media, such as Richard Branson or maybe even Alex Ferguson. They are very different but both seem to share one thing; charisma.
However, what do you want from your leader? It might be the same qualities demonstrated by the two individuals mentioned. Or it may be something that feels altogether different. Because when we consider a leader that is much closer to home, it might not be just about what they can do but also how they make us feel.
The charismatic leader has many qualities that can never be underestimated. Their ability to engage an audience, to inspire an individual to want to follow them, not just because they have to. The charismatic leader can not only do this with their peers, colleagues and employees throughout an organisation, but also with clients and valued stakeholders. They seem to have an energy that attracts people to them, with enthusiastic ears, always willing to listen to what they have to say.
It is important that people trust what their leader says. This can also be the case with the charismatic leader, but not always. And whilst the charismatic leader ignites passion and purpose in the short term, what about long term strategy and results? How important is it to know that the leaders can not only open their little black book of contacts to generate significant revenue now, but also to set their organisation up for success once they have left to move on to pastures new or to retire. It is common practice for a new Chief Executive to already have their ‘exit strategy’ in place, on the day that they arrive, very often with their anticipated ‘end date’ being within three to five years. Does this promote a vested interest in the long term or just the short term? How will they be rewarded on departure, on achieving certain targets during their period of tenure, or securing them long after they have left?
Jim Collins, author of ‘Good to Great’, considers this in his Harvard Business Review article from 2001. He studied organisations that had gone through significant transformation and analysed their performance not just after a brief period of time, but after fifteen years, to see which ones had successfully embraced the changes to secure long term results. He then analysed the leaders of those organisations to see what qualities they had to ensure such a significant achievement. Collins looked at 1,435 ‘Fortune 500’ companies to study which companies passed the test of ‘cumulative returns at least three times the market over the next fifteen years’. Only 11 did and as he mentioned these were not a sample but rather the ‘total number that jumped all the hurdles and passed into the study’. Interestingly, the study did not begin with the sole purpose of analysing the senior executives, rather looking at which companies had the ability to jump from ‘good to great’. However, as the study progressed it was noted, ‘we can’t ignore the top executives even if we want to’. Collins identified two key components that were common to all these ‘long term leaders’ regardless of sector, size of organisation or time of transition The two key qualities were humility and determination.
The results of the article ‘Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve’ may sound counterintuitive today but when the article was published it was ‘downright heretical, the corporate scandals hadn’t broken out and almost everyone believed that CEO’s should be charismatic larger than life figures’.
This falls very much in line with the idea of ‘Servant Leadership’ identified in 1970 by Robert K. Greenleaf, the idea that the leader ’holds’ that position in order to make sure the organisation is secure, flourishing and set for success so the next leader can take over the mantle to continue the good work, always with the philosophy of doing what is best for the company. With one eye on the present, the servant leader also has one eye very firmly on the future, way beyond the date of their own exit. It has to be said the charismatic leader is most certainly capable of determination and also humility. Just because they might be an extrovert, a visionary, a great speaker, and a good relationship-builder does not mean they are not humble, but it has to be that way. The charismatic leader must ensure, and demonstrate, that their primary role is for the benefit of the organisation, not themselves.
So what does this mean in practice to have one eye on the present and one eye on the future? It actually means making the most of the skills they inherently have. Whilst they do have the energy and personality to attract the attention of all involved, to be a visionary and to paint a picture that people aspire to, it cannot just stop there. The great leader will not only paint such an inspirational picture of the potential that is available, but will also articulate this with complete clarity. As a result, as an employee, not only do I see the vision of the future but I know exactly the role I play in order to allow the organisation to reach its full potential, because I will be reaching mine. I will understand the very purpose, the core, of what the organisation represents, be given clarity regarding the long term strategy, and understand our short term objectives. I will understand what I am doing, when and why. Not only that but the successful leaders of today will understand that the directive ‘tell and do’ leadership style is now outdated, that the true transformational leader will be empowering, an ideas generator rather than an ideas giver, a coach and motivator, as clearly identified by Bernard M. Bass 1985 in the work on ‘Transformational Leadership’ (later developed with Bruce J. Avolio). They will be collaborative, allow people to take part in the decision-making process where possible. They will give people a voice.
The leader here understands the significance of the next generation, ensures a clear and robust succession plan is in place, so when they depart, there will be a confidence that the legacy left is one that will see the organisation into the next decade, or even century. Also, that the younger generation actually want to step into the shoes of their elder leaders, that such a position is attractive, empowering and worth waiting around for. Already the younger generation not only understand that the ‘job for life’ is unrealistic, but they don’t even want it.
The great leader also paves the way for the next leader. What if the next leader is by nature, quiet and more reflective? They may think they have big shoes to fill, and they will, but to be given the seal of approval by the outgoing, and possibly more popular leader, genuinely and wholeheartedly, is important. And the next leader can rest assured, that although maybe quieter and more introspective, maybe not as natural at public speaking or radiating energy, they might just have a couple of qualities that do come more naturally, the qualities that Collins recommends so highly, humility and determination.
Jim Collins, ‘Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap and others don’t’, 2001.
Jim Collins, Harvard Business Review ‘‘Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve’, 2001
Bernard M Bass, ‘Transformational Leadership’, 1985 (developing the original work of James MacGregor Burns, 1978 and laBruce J. Avolio)
Robert K. Greenleaf, ‘The Servant as Leader’, Essay, 1970.
I recently came across an article from January 2014 which reports that only 68% of junior lawyers aspire to become a Partner. Perhaps more interestingly, of the 1800 lawyers surveyed worldwide, just 37% of those aged 26-30, and 43% of those 30-40, viewed law as a job for life. I suspect that a similar survey a generation ago, or even 10 years ago, would show a vastly different result.
The key concern identified was flexible working, and a desire for a better work/life balance. It made me wonder whether the legal profession has fallen behind others in terms of technology, or alternative, more flexible, ways of working. Perhaps it is just the nature of a lawyers’ work, or the fact that a reduction in available work has meant lawyers having to do more work, and resultant longer hours, to make the same fee income as they did 6 or 7 years ago.
The other article I came across was again on the The Lawyer website . It reports that Mishcon de Reya, the international firm with offices in London and New York, have told their lawyers they can work as many or as few days as they want. In other words…unlimited holidays! They can also work anywhere they want. Sounds good doesn’t it?
For those who have felt awkward about working from home for a morning / day, for fear of it being deemed as ‘skiving’, a culture where this is the norm sounds great. In my personal experience, working from home is in fact often far more productive. With nearly every firm operating a time recording system of some sort, or means of tracking fee income per fee earner/Partner, those sitting at home watching Jeremy Kyle would soon be caught out anyway.
So, the point is – will we see more of this in the future, as a way of firms retaining staff in the profession, and in their firm? It could also mean that large firms need less office space, thereby saving on rent, heating and lighting etc etc.
The flipside is that some will say the arrangement at Mishcon de Reya will actually result in people taking less holidays. Without the ‘structure’ that comes with an annual holiday entitlement, will people compete with each other to take the least holidays? One key phrase that Mishcon de Reya state is that the flexible working is unlimited, ‘as long as it doesn’t affect their clients’. Will it mean that lawyers can never fully switch off, or leave work behind?
I am interested in your thoughts on this, and whether such measures at your firm would actually make a difference to your views on whether law is a career for life?
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You may have worked hard for years, progressing through the ranks from Trainee, to Assistant, to Associate, before finally getting invited to become a Partner. On the other hand, you may be an Assistant who is frustrated at the management of your firm, or simply decided you like the idea of ‘going it alone’. Either way, you are to become a Partner in a law firm. So, what do you need to do from the point of view of your regulatory body? The answer is…very little!
In Scotland, provided you have 3 years unrestricted practice, you require to attend a 1 day mandatory practice management course within a year of becoming a Partner. That’s it! No assessment to pass and no further training, even if you are to set up alone, be responsible for accounts rules compliance, setting up anti-money laundering procedures, or dealing with client complaints etc. In England and Wales, you do not even require to attend such a course, and there is no requirement of being in practice for a certain length of time before becoming a Partner.
Should the regulators require more of a Solicitor who intends to become a Partner? If the regulator is seeking to ensure the protection of clients, should those becoming a Partner require to demonstrate that they understand the responsibilities of their role? Does it depend on whether they are going to be in practice alone? Does it depend on the type of work they are going to do? Does it depend on whether they are going to be responsible for cashroom compliance, or anti-money laundering?
The Law Society of Scotland recently instructed an independent review of the mandatory practice management course and associated practice rules. The report makes for an interesting read. I think that it reaches a sensible conclusion that if there is to be a mandatory course, there should be some sort of assessment to ensure that those who are required to attend, understand what they are being told. Otherwise, it is simply a tick box exercise to say you were there, and whether you engaged in the content or not, is irrelevant. The report also recommends an additional module for those likely to immediately become cashroom partners, or solely responsible for running the business, and refresher modules for all partners in certain areas as part of their CPD cycle (every 3/5 years).
I would welcome any comments / ideas you have, and would encourage Scottish solicitors to respond to the Consultation which is now underway. I think that more guidance on the various responsibilities required of a Partner can only be a good thing, and that some form of assessment ensures that. We do however require to be careful not to make this too onerous, so as to put practitioners off becoming a Partner or setting up their own firm. What do you think?
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Many of you will have read my colleagues’ article last week on what 2014 may hold for the legal profession (https://www.thecashroom.co.uk/legal_article/profession-2014/ ). One thing we are likely to see as a result of all the points mentioned in that article, is more by way of innovative legal business models.
We have already seen the emergence of businesses taking a new approach to a very old profession, such as LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and Riverview Law. While each of these may have slightly different models, the point is that they have taken a fresh look at (a) what clients want, and (b) how legal firms provide that to them.
While the precise need of each client will be different, on the whole, what clients want is a quick and cost effective solution to their particular issue. Your average individual or small business client does not care if you are the most intelligent lawyer in the country, what they want is you to buy/sell their house, sort out their divorce, resolve their personal injury claim, draft a basic employment contract, or set up their company as quickly as possible. For most, a lawyer is somebody they have to use in order to achieve a particular outcome, and the quicker and cheaper it is to reach that outcome, the better. For clients who require bespoke or detailed advice on a complicated area of law, there are always going to be firms that provide that, at a corresponding pricing point!
What the innovative firms have focussed on is providing services at a time, and in a way, that is most convenient for the client. They allow clients access to services in the evening and at weekend, rather than being bound to the usual appointment between 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. Some have a portal or other way for clients to log in at any time of the day or night, to access free forms and documents, or to check on the progress of their case. They are also providing these services at a fixed cost – something which is becoming more and more attractive to clients.
These businesses have clearly taken a step back, looked at what they think is most important to clients, and done something about it. Out are hourly rates, postal correspondence, and waiting for an appointment to meet a lawyer face to face (unless necessary), and in are transparency over fees, fixed costs, and access for the client to his case/documents online, at a time convenient to the client. It would seem that now, even for lawyers, ‘consumer is king’.
I think that we are going to see more legal firms adopt these types of business model and feeing structures, and the expansion of the current market leaders (Legal Zoom have, after all, recently raised £122m of private equity funding – https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/legalzoom-eyes-acquisitions-taking-major-private-equity-investment ). There may of course be plenty of work for those who remain more ‘traditional’ firms, where they have a long established and loyal client base. The point is that those firms need to consider how they keep that work in the future. Are the next generation going to be willing to pay more for ‘traditional’ legal advice too, because they know and trust the firm, or are they going to ‘google’ what they need, and use a firm that provide their services online, at a time more convenient, and at a cheaper price?
The important thing is to take time and think about all of this, how it might affect your firm, and make strategic decisions on how you approach the future. The legal market has changed, and clients’ behaviour has changed. As a result, I think that firms need to respond – either to change as well, or by taking steps to retain their loyal client base. Either way, doing nothing is not an option!
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We have all been there…you listen to your client give you chapter and verse on a legal problem they need advice on. You give them a general overview of the work involved, and then comes the ‘killer’ question: “how much is this going to cost me?”
You set out the usual disclaimer that it depends on this and that, and give them a range of figures, the lower end of which is probably very unrealistic. Sometimes the client is happy, and goes away in the hope that your fee note is going to come in at the bottom end of the range you have quoted. Others will tell you that the figures are more than they were expecting, or more than they have a budget for, and ask for a discount. The question is, what do you do in that situation?
The answer is…firstly, ask the client why? Often they are not actually looking for a discount, but simply certainty as to the cost. That is a completely different request, although the client doesn’t realise it. You may be able to agree a fixed fee, at a level you reasonably expect your WIP to be at by the end of the matter (meaning it is not, in fact, a discount). This will often result in a happy client, simply because they know exactly what their spend is going to be. An awkward conversation has then turned into a ‘win, win’ situation, leaving both you and your client happy.
In the situation where a client is genuinely looking for a discount because they have a budget they cannot exceed, or because they have a cheaper quote from another firm, you need to think about a number of things, such as:
- Is this a loss leader that will definitely lead to further, better paid work for you, or others within your firm?
- Can you get the client to do some of the ground work themselves, thereby taking up less of your time?
- Can you delegate the work, or parts of it, to more junior fee earners?
- Can you offer to carry out the work in stages, with a fee cap for each, and the decision on whether to proceed further lying with your client?
- Should you say ‘no’ and refer the work to another firm?
In order to answer these questions, and others which will likely arise, you need to know the ‘value’ of your time, and whether you can do work profitably at a certain rate. You also need to understand your firms’ strategy (which will often be far from clear!). For example, are you a high street firm that wants to retain all business, regardless of whether some of it is not profitable, or do you want to be the market leader, or niche firm for a certain type of work, where people will be willing to pay slightly more for an expert service.
What is important to remember is that saying ‘no’ is sometimes a very powerful, and in the long term profitable, tool. By saying to a client that you cannot do this particular piece of work for the price they are looking for, you emphasise the value of what you do. On one hand, you may make the client think that your service is worth paying for, and get the work at a profitable rate. On the other, by referring them to somebody else who can do it cheaper, there may also be a number of benefits. Firstly, it will free up your time to do profitable work. Secondly, your client will respect your honesty and appreciate you finding a cheaper way for them to get the work done. Having built that trust with them, you will probably find that when they have a different legal issue that they consider justifies your price, they will come back to you. In addition, by referring work to another firm, the chances are that firm will refer other work to you when they have a conflict of interest, do not have the particular expertise, or perhaps even in another area of law where they cannot do a piece of work for as cheap as your firm can!
So, remember the next time a client asks for a discount, to think carefully about your response. It could be an opportunity to agree a fixed fee, or emphasise the value of your service. Also, hard as it can be for many lawyers to comprehend, sometimes saying ‘no’ is the best and most profitable way forward.
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