Knowsley Management Services
Legal Practice Management Consultants
The strongest thread from our consulting in the past few months has been related to determining what is a reasonable plan for investing of each employed lawyer’s time, as the need to re-cast every team member’s WorkPlan for 2018-2019 is upon us.
Setting a WorkPlan addresses the fundamentals of what time is to be available and what should it be spent on, in pursuance of the firm’s business plan?
This immediately raises the issue of ClientTime™ and FirmTime™. I gave up using the terms “billable time” and “non-billable time” over thirty years ago.
To this day I still encounter the majority of new clients with an unsurprising focus on ClientTime™, but this focus does not usually mean that the targets get set unreasonably high…far from it…they are usually too low!
Note that how a team member invests their time is not tied to whether or not a firm bills wholly, or even mainly, by the hour.
I prefer to examine carefully where each team member should be investing in FirmTime™, utilising their particular skills, and as far as possible, aligned with their interests.
More experienced lawyers may have skill sets that are well-suited to relationship marketing, or supervision and mentoring, for example, while younger lawyers usually have higher needs for investment of time in training.
On the other hand, there are plenty of things young lawyers will in the main not need to be doing right now, and my experience is that out of a standard day, the younger lawyer will typically have more hours available for client file work than their more senior team members, very often, of course, under supervision.
Most firms plan in the complete reverse, with young lawyers often having very low ClientTime targets.
There is a real danger that if firms do plan FirmTime at all, they then tend to have to allocate exorbitant hours each day to tasks for young lawyers that will simply not get done. If I owned a law firm I would not be allocating lots of hours to young lawyers for developing precedents, and “General Administration”. Even with Marketing I would be circumspect in time allocation.
One of the ones that causes considerable mirth (and angst) at my end of the process is seeing very young lawyers with large time allocations for “File review”. Given that they will have very few files, if any, the available resource allocation seems a major mismatch with the need! Similarly, for Accounts/Credit Control/Engagement Management/Billing etc.
Profit margins in small-medium law firms are generally not very good. It behoves firm managers (very often the Principals) to plan investment of all time well, and not to go through the planning process in a casual, half-hearted, or misguided way.
My tip this month relates to website fundamentals…content, and Search Engine optimisation to assist people searching the web to find your content (SEO).
When small firms set up a website there is very often a huge of amount of effort put into the basic design and “hard-wired” content in various fields of law the firm prioritises.
What is often not fully appreciated is that all that now exists is a vehicle for future relevant content. It will date and decline in impact rapidly without attention, without feeding and nurturing!
Further, it is very important that the site is set up by someone with genuine experience in setting up the site pages and content so they are likely to be found and indexed by the search engines in a manner that best suits your aims.
That will get visitors to your site hoping to find what they are interested in.
When people do arrive at your site they need to quickly find interesting up-to-date content relevant to their needs, easy to read, or they will move on very quickly indeed.
If you are not adding appropriate content regularly, not only will you not really help the majority of visitors, but the volume of visitors will not be great anyway.
The likes of Google will not rate your site well and place it prominently on the lists of sites it provides for searchers, lists created by reference to how well Google rates your content as matching each search.
Use some FirmTime™ allocated for marketing by team members across the firm to write short punchy pieces on highly practical aspects of law relevant to your target audiences.
Have the content loaded by someone who can demonstrate that they truly understand how the likes of Google work. This will ensure that the articles contain the right level of key words and phrases in the right presentation to impact how Google etc. rate you.
Retain a consultant who can demonstrate a real knowledge of SEO, so you can institute a program of improvement to lift the volume of organic searches to your site, where the visitors will find the relevant, helpful, easily-digestible, content you have uploaded.
Only then should you consider testing a program of pay-per-click advertising, using a service such as Google Ads (formerly ‘Adwords’).
Last issue I discussed the myth of “Penetration pricing”.
“Prestige Pricing” is a technique at the absolute opposite end of the spectrum.
A prestige pricing strategy aims to use your pricing to influence your clients’ perception of your product.
If you get it right, your price conveys value in itself. Other communication you engage in can under-pin the value perception.
Prestige pricing can have the effect of making certain clients feel that they are getting superior services simply because of what they are paying.
It’s not hard to see how that works with appropriately branded consumer products, particularly clothing, cars, watches, expensive alcohol etc.
It is different from value-based pricing because the price is set even higher than the willingness of the majority to pay for the service.
Prestige pricing is not something the majority of lawyers are familiar with as service providers, and it is not by any means a simple strategy.
At the very least it should be considered only after a very clear marketing strategy is implemented to attract the right type of prospective clients.
In each issue I look to introduce comment about a management issue that revolves around “the numbers”.
Interestingly, it was Mark Twain who credited Benjamin Disraeli with the quote, “There are three types of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics”.
No reference to this quote can be found in Disraeli’s writings however, and it may well be that Twain got the source wrong.
Nevertheless, the item this issue is on the importance of really understanding the numbers you are looking at when assessing performance and providing praise, encouragement and guidance.
Busy managers face the danger of not having immediate access to enough really useful information, and can very easily slide into assumptions.
Information presented to you in a quality “picture” raises the likelihood of quality understanding, and potentially quality feedback.
A simple example will suffice to illustrate this.
The data in front of you says that Freda averaged ClientTime of 3.43 hours a day last month, and FirmTime of 2.53, a total of 5.96 hours a day.
The numbers can at first blush look like cause for concern, unless it is readily apparent that Freda is just one of many team members with flexible working conditions, with a WorkPlan across 5 days of 5.20 hours a day average in total…2.82 ClientTime and 2.38 FirmTime.
The actual figures for last month are in fact 122% of her ClientTime target and 106% of her FirmTime target.
Moreover, a decent picture put in front of you will quickly illuminate that she is averaging 147% ClientTime and 155% FirmTime YTD!
Flexible working by its very nature comes in many shapes and sizes. It is very difficult (and quite unnecessary) to have a photographic memory of each person’s WorkPlan™!
Moral of the story…plan carefully, communicate well, keep people happily busy, report exceptionally well, and consider report data carefully before offering feedback!
Moving about the Profession over the past month I’ve encountered a number of Principals in firms expressing a gut-feel that their firms are not as profitable as they should be for all their effort and investment.
Of course, this has been a fairly common refrain since I started consulting to small-medium law firms in 1988, but over the last two or three years it seemed to be a little drowned out by a greater concern about the rapidity of change, new types of competition, and the overwhelming focus on the need for innovation.
The issues of agility in adapting to changes, and the real need to innovate, are of course important for your future, but they should never obscure the imperative to operate wisely and effectively in the short term…profitably.
Firms that allow poor business practices to develop while management is focussed on the big picture will inevitably run headlong into a cash flow problem that will depress energy and innovation, and rob the firm of necessary funds for investment in long term strategic gains.
The entry-level service that we offer to help firms quickly identify actual or potential problem areas is the KMSProfitGapAnalysis™.
The info on KMSProfitGap Analysis is on our website at this link…and standard fee $2,885 plus GST is set out there.
There is no further obligation or pressure to use us to assist beyond the provision of that advice.
To get the ball rolling please just email me and let me have your name and phone contact details, and preferred contact times, and I’ll get back to you promptly.
Since last issue we’ve helped firms with all team members’ monthly KMSFeedBack™ Reports, reviewing each one relative to WorkPlan™ and providing embedded comments for the individual team member and management to review and discuss.
We’ve unscrambled the data from a range of Practice Management Systems for firms (including Infinity, PCLaw, LEAPCloud, and Open Practice), ensuring that the information being presented to, and analysed by, management is in fact what people understand it to be. Very often it isn’t!
We’ve written articles for national and state law societies, and been invited to write a number of practice management articles a year by another national body for its on-line publication.
I’ve recorded for BenchTelevision a new CPD interview in two parts on agile working and a number of other practice management issues. Check out video. BenchTV is a major producer of high quality on-line lawyer education, with 400-plus productions featuring leading lawyers and commentators. Exceptionally good value for a very modest annual subscription.
Finally, I received very nice recommendations from a long term client, and a very recent client.
If some of this content has been of interest and value for you in your practice, you will find other related content here…
My LinkedIn articles…I’m delighted that my articles are now going to over 6,750 LI followers.
KMSWebsite includes an archive of all earlier newsletters…including all issues of “Robservations” and “KMSProfitPower Tips” back to 1996.
My LinkedIn Discussion Group… Excellent Management In The Small Law Firm