The legal profession has had so many challenges in the last few years that many firms haven’t survived, and many have only survived because they have made effective changes.

We are seeing a trend of firms wanting to review the types of legal work that the firm undertakes. If you are looking to take on new work types, there are some key areas where good planning, due diligence and robust risk assessment will pay dividends and avoid catastrophe.

The work type
What are the factors that are driving the decision to expand your range of legal services? The usual driving force is to look at which areas are currently busy and lucrative A trend is emerging where personal injury firms are looking to start up or acquire a conveyancing department.
Whilst PI and conveyancing are both process driven work types the challenges and the risks involved are very different

Dealing with client money
A conveyancing department will usually mean that your accounts department becomes very busy and you need to ensure that you have the right support in place to cope with the number of transactions taking place. Complying with the SRA Accounts Rules and ensuring that you handle client money correctly is imperative.

Once a matter has completed residual client balances must be dealt with. Fee earners must take responsibility to keep on top of this to ensure that you do not hold client money longer than is necessary.

The Team
When recruiting prepare role profiles that you can use when advertising the job and carrying out interviews. You will need to set out your expectations to new people, and if you are recruiting a Head of Department they will need to be able to support you by supervising the legal work and be an effective manager.

Support staff – do you need more secretarial support or will your fee earners be able to be self-sufficient?

Alternative options – consider being able to outsource the cashiering or typing or buying in interim practice management.

Templates, documents and workflow

Prepare & develop a compliant suite of templates that are approved and ready to use for your new and unfamiliar work type.
Incorporate them into your case management system
Provide training for the team so that they are familiar with them and can process them efficiently.
Ensure your accounts package, document/case management system is appropriate for your new work type. There are additional modules or packages for specific work types.
Buy enough licences in time for your team to function properly.
Ensure that the broadband will cope with your planned systems.
Quality Standards, Lender Panels & Portals
Applying for a quality standard such as CQS membership, apply to be on lender panels, or set up the firm on a portal for a specific work type – allow at least 6 months.
Your cash flow may be affected if there is a gap in being able to take on new work.

Denise Butler is Director at Peacock Risk Management

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