More than one law firm has experienced the loss of clients for reasons other than superior business acumen. Potential clients’ calls weren’t returned; clients’ expectations weren’t managed; what was guaranteed didn’t happened. And the lack of quality doesn’t end there.
Most firms never establish a process for business review – whether strategic or tactical and financial. Partners don’t know how much is spent for what, when and why. Until, of course, it matters. Consider the number of firms that split due to disagreement over the future direction. Not one firm partner really looks forward to the November/December Partnership meeting.
The discussion herein attempts to give the reader a high level sense of how to think about organizational excellence in the business of legal practice. And, while there will be naysayers who argue that these are overly complex, inapplicable or impractical concepts for implementation in the average law firm, I will argue that it is precisely the average law firm which can benefit most. For it tends to be smaller, less complex and more agile. Nonetheless, the principles outlined will benefit even the largest firms. The following six keys are the factors which, if present and successfully executed, will assure a high quality and high performance legal organization.
The first of these is Leadership.
Leadership involves establishing positions, people, expectations and accountabilities for running your legal practice. Leadership is about understanding (strategically) not only the legal, but also the business environment, planning effectively, establishing operational plans and deploying those plans within the organization – horizontally and vertically. It requires the establishment and maintenance of efficient and effective processes for such execution.
The second is strategic planning.
Leadership should understand and anticipate the external environment. It must have a handle on the firms’ strategic advantages and challenges. The present and future economic, regulatory and/or technological challenges should be assessed. And all of these concerns must be incorporated into the strategic plan.
- Does your law firm have an existing strategic plan?
- How is it performed?
- What is included?
- Who participates in its development?
- How often is it revisited?
The third is the client.
- Does the firm have a process for determining the needs of its clients?
- How does it meet and exceed those needs and expectations?
- Does it do this better than “the competition?”
- How are client relationships established and nurtured?
- How does the firm position and brand itself?
- Is it managed or left to manage itself?
- How does the firm plan to gain more exposure?
- How do referred medical providers, attorneys, consultants, employees, experts and others affect the client satisfaction levels?
The fourth factor is the people.
Direct and Indirect, people are the highest expense incurred within a firm. It isn’t unusual for Human Resources to consume the bulk of expense for most companies. What is interesting is how this is often the least managed expense of all.
- How is work designed?
- What are the systems for performance excellence and accountability?
- How do reward and recognition systems support and reinforce the meeting of firm goals?
- How do employees, partners, associates or other stakeholders know and measure their progress toward meeting goals?
- How does the firm perform succession planning?
- What are the systems, including training/education, that ensure the capability of the workforce to meet the organizations’ goals?
- How does the firm approach matching the capacity of the workforce to meet the needs of the work?
Number Five: Process.
Work is accomplished through executing a sequence or series of steps. One after the other. This is a process. It has a beginning point and an end point.
Two questions should always be asked of a process:
- How can it be accomplished more efficiently?
- How can it be accomplished more effectively?
Consider answering the phone as an example: Your firm has a receptionist. The phone rings. It is answered. Once conversation is over, the phone is hung up. Three steps, right? Well, it’s really not that simple. What is the process if she/he doesn’t hear the ring? How does she/he determine when not to answer? It is answered within how many rings? How is it supposed to be answered? What is the script once answered?
While this example may sound trivial, it is anything but. My partner tells a story of a company which spent six figures on an advertising campaign. It wasn’t working. The partners were angry. My buddy gave them the numbers to show the significant increase in phone calls to the business. The receptionist was “dropping” the calls. They had no idea. There was no process in place to measure and/or monitor that particular process. A pretty vital process it turns out – and thousands of dollars were lost in compensation, lost business and in marketing dollars.
Answering the phone is a small thing. But if a firm can’t get the small things right, how is it going to get the big things right? Now apply this thinking to everything that is core and important to your organization. What is the process for…? How do we accomplish…? How do we communicate…? How do we deploy…? This is hands-down the hardest thing for companies to do. We think about results. We think about getting things done. We don’t get bogged down in the details of “how” it is done. And while many a company will make the very good argument that accomplishment is enough, I will make an argument that a company that believes what it is currently doing is enough is an organization which is now losing (or will eventually lose) existing and/or potential business. And it will be lost to the firm that knows enough is not enough. The time for improvement is when you don’t have to do it.
- Have the core organizational processes been identified? How? Who participates?
- What are they?
- How are they measured and monitored for effectiveness?
- How are they improved?
- How does customer/stakeholder feedback impact the design of processes?
Number Six. Measurement/Analysis/Knowledge Management.
The key to growing and learning is through measurement, analysis and knowledge management. All too often decisions are based upon a few metrics which most often include billed/billable hours, productivity and sometimes “new” business. Rarely are decisions based upon satisfaction, quality of outcome, experience or outcomes. An expanded base of metrics should be considered and additional facts established as the basis for decision making.
Additionally, systems for collecting data, analyzing and distilling it into viable, reliable and usable information must be established. This will enable the reduction of duplication, the sharing of readily available information and, ultimately, saving of production and coordination time. This allows for enhanced alignment, both vertically and horizontally. It increase effectiveness of execution through clear “line of sight.”
The implementation of the methodology, alignment and processes above will pay dividends in your law firm for years to come.
The investment in time learning how to apply these factors creates in the leadership team a thought process which refuses to accept mediocre or average. The payoff is through improved financials, client satisfaction, quality, employee/stakeholder relationships and market share.
Red Crow Marketing can assist your firm. We diagnose organizational problems and recommend solutions. We can train and/or help you hire management. We know your time is valuable and you want to spend your time practicing law, not diagnosing and managing the operations. Contact us for a free consultation.