Asking a lawyer whether they know what they are doing might seem a little odd. Not an approach likely to endear me to lawyers in general! However, having been a lawyer some years ago, and a partner at a couple of large law firms, I do know that it’s a valid question.
One of my old firms was a leading light in the personal injury sector. I therefore had a ringside seat as the Chief Executive had numerous ding dongs with the claimant department over his ideas for new ways of running claims. This was the early 2000s and his ideas were, at that time, somewhat radical. The firm was one of the first to create an approach based very much around technology, case management and PROCESS.
The mantra which irked many of the solicitors in the claimant department was “What you do is a process. It’s not complicated.”
Many of the lawyers were horrified. The very thought!
But in the end, it was true. The firm took the time to understand the elements of their process, supported it with the right technology, and ended up with a model which is now familiar for volume businesses especially – teams of more junior people operating cases on sophisticated case management systems, with a senior person overseeing each team. Twenty years ago, this was revolutionary thinking.
Fast forward to the present day and many firms (but not all) adopt a variation of that approach. They completely get the concept of ‘right person right task’. Often that is driven by more detailed billing information which means that a client would see if a partner’s hourly rate was being charged for something which could have been done by a junior.
However, a far smaller proportion of firms consider other operational areas of their business in the same terms of process and efficiency. The finance function of a firm in particular is the most often neglected in this respect.
It lies at the core of the firm. It carries the highest risk elements in terms of internal and external fraud. In terms of potential negligence, efficiency and therefore client service. Also, in terms of the data accuracy and interpretation required in order to effectively run the legal business.
It is frequently an area of the firm which the lawyers do not understand. Cashiering is a dark art which requires significant expertise, and even more so as it now interacts with the technology utilised by the firm. The practice management system, so often seen by the lawyers as simply a case management tool, carries the accounts element which, both for compliance and risk avoidance, must be operated efficiently and accurately.
This is more relevant than ever in the present Covid driven circumstances. Is the firm’s remote or disrupted operational model now handling client money optimally? Safely? Efficiently?
We have seen a trend developing. It used to be the case most often that forward thinking firms approached us when their incumbent cashier was leaving or retiring, seeking a different way to resource that function. What we are now seeing is an increasing number of firms, some of them very large, approaching us to carry out a review and redesign of their finance function. It forms part of a general move towards reimagining the delivery of legal services generally. It isn’t just traditional law firms either. Some very big ABSs are looking at it from a ‘blank sheet of paper’ perspective. They want to get everything right from the start.
In all cases, these forward thinking people are looking for an assessment of what they do and how they do it, and whether they could be doing it better. And so, back to my opening gambit…I think it’s actually a fair question. Because many lawyers and legal businesses are now in fact asking themselves that very question…”Do we know what we are doing?”
Alex Holt, Director of Business Development