Legal Practice Management Conference 2015 – Reviewed

Simon Slater opens proceedings at the Legal Practice Management Conference 2015
Simon Slater opens proceedings at the Legal Practice Management Conference 2015

On 19 May 2015 I travelled down to London for the Legal Practice Management Conference organised by the Legal Support Network. Billed as “the only event for practice managers in small to medium law firms” it is aimed exclusively at professional managers from on average 2-25 partner firms. This was the fourth year of this particular conference but my first visit to it. I had been attracted by an interesting  programme with many of the speakers being coal face practitioners with tried and tested knowledge to impart. I prefer conferences like that compared to the ones with the big keynote speakers who struggle to know what lawyers really are or do. I was not to be disappointed. It was an enjoyable day with some interesting insights.

Due to a hole in the runway at London City Airport and planes being re-directed to Gatwick Airport my flight to Gatwick landed late. Thus I didn’t arrive in time to hear Simon Slater’s opening address. I also missed the very beginning of Jeremy Hopkins‘ presentation but was lucky enough to catch the most of it.

Jeremy was talking about the outlook for SME law firms – maintaining your position while responding to increased competition.

Innovation, Jeremy says, is simple and incremental. So true: Don’t think you have to reinvent the practice of law just try improving.

Service needs to be at the forefront of your strategy. See my last post for a very simple example of that.

Agility is a strong point for smaller firms. Again, very true: A partner in one of Scotland’s largest law firms once described to me making a decision there as being like maneuvering an oil tanker. He envied the fact that at Inksters I could make an immediate decision and it happened.

Jeremy finished by comforting us with his view that whilst the robots are coming, control will still be in our hands. See my take on robot lawyers in my review of ‘Tomorrow’s Naked Lawyer’.

Next up was a panel discussion on measuring and managing the cost of risk and compliance and the benefits to your firm. Reference to the 2 minute rule, write the e-mail and sit back and consider it for 2 minutes before sending it, caused some discussion on Twitter:-

Reference was made of a recent case where fraudsters hacked emails to a solicitor and stole £340,000 from a clients property sale.

We were told that law firms should update their browsers or they could be liable for losses caused by poor online security.

Cyber crime losses is a real issue. Insurers are “miffed” by it to say the least. Don’t click on suspect links including (maybe in particular) pictures of cats!

Cyber risk is going off the scale. You have to behave. Slow down with what you’re doing online both with e-mail and on social media.

We were left with one final security warning: Don’t use Dropbox.

Following a networking break we had the choice of two streams. I would have liked to have gone to both but as I don’t have partners as such at Inksters I selected the stream that wasn’t about herding cats and making penguins fly. Instead I listened to Kane Lewis of Cushman & Wakefield present on managing your office space to meet the demands of the future. Something that interests me following Inksters recent move into the Inksterplex.

Kane told us that the focus had to be on brand, client experience, flexibility, IT, generational differences, health/wellbeing, staff recruitment and retention. Quite a lot of bases to cover. Surprisingly bespoke toilet signage didn’t get a specific mention: something we take very seriously at the Inksterplex.

BigLaw are opening operating centres outwith London to reduce costs. Indeed just after the conference I saw a report by John Hyde in The Law Society Gazette suggesting that London should beware.

There is a changing office dynamic happening with less dedicated desk space and more informal and collaborative meeting spaces. Certainly something we at Inksters introduced as part of the design of the Inksterplex.

A change in the ratio of secretaries to fee earners (now more like 1 to 7) has affected workspace usage.

Alternative and flexible areas for work and rest are required and you have to think of the next generation and their needs.

Next up was an interesting workshop on creating efficiencies to drive pricing strategy and greater profitability. This was facilitated by Drew Winlaw of Taylor Vinters and Tim Aspinall of DMH Stallard.

You have to either sell legal services at the right price or drive down the cost of delivery. Price or efficiency are the only two options for lawyers to make money.

Lawyers can charge more for a lot of the work they do. Better pricing strategies can increase revenues by 5% to 15%.

A survey of General Counsel showed that they want first and foremost transparent pricing followed by guaranteed pricing and then value pricing with lowest pricing coming last.

New entrants to the legal market never over engineer anything. Most old law firms when surveyed thought their own efficiency was only 3/10. At Inksters we are seeking to legal process engineer everything with great gains in efficiency.

It was suggested that you could scope your work like a builder and introduce extras like they do. They make money on the extras but lawyers lose on them.

A question about value pricing was answered by Tim Aspinall taking a cheap biro pen from a delegate and comparing it to the Mont Blanc in his own pocket. Value is in the eye of the buyer.

It was pointed out that most clients want a Ford Fiesta not a Rolls Royce service. Although as highlighted on Twitter:-

Legal Practice Management Conference 2015 (Lunch)
Time for lunch and a chat

A very nice lunch was followed by an excellent presentation by Ed Fletcher and Sara Duxbury on defining resourcing strategies to attract, recruit and retain the best talent to SME firms. Ed and Sara simply told us what they do at Fletchers Solicitors. As I said at the beginning of this post the best legal conference presentations come from those at the coal face of actually running a law firm.

Ed revealed that in selecting Sara as ‘Head of People’ at Fletchers he ensured she was not tainted by the law. She had no legal background. Fletchers was the first law firm she had worked for. A sensible approach compared to the norm of a law firm partner getting the short straw of being in charge of HR!

Ed told us how important it was to get the right law firm culture: values, beliefs, personality and essence.

Sara highlighted the fact that Universities are turning out law graduates who can’t spell or construct sentences. You now need to test potential recruits in such skills that were once taken as a given.

I was somewhat surprised to hear that Fletchers had paid £5,000 to have a recruitment tweet sent to all followers of The Law Society Gazette Twitter account. That is 53,700 followers so a cost of about 10 pence per follower. However, they filled the post as a result and Sara saw it as good value for money as a recruitment agency would have charged them £7,000 for the same task. So a saving to Fletchers of £2,000. Done differently they could have saved themselves £7,000. They could have tweeted it themselves and asked their followers to retweet. It could potentially have gone on to hit more than 53,700 tweeps depending on retweets made and number of followers those retweeting had. However, I recruit via Twitter in a different way. I identify potential recruits by their Twitter activity and head hunt them at no cost (other than my time) to Inksters. I mention this strategy in my post on Lawyers and Social Media + Personal Branding for Law Students.

Ed and Sara showed us some videos. Here is one of them:-

Ed indicated that although they allow flexible working at Fletchers, which includes working from home, there is, in his view, no better way to impart knowledge than face to face in the office.

After another networking break there was a panel discussion about aligning your business with your clients.

We were told that partners often consider marketing a waste of time. It should, of course, be a core part of any business.

Chris Allen, managing partner of Blacks Solicitors, is a great advocate of social media (his firm does it well). He told us social media is not going to go away and you have to get with it. I find it amazing (maybe not) that in 2015 this message still has to be conveyed at a legal conference. But not many of the delegates had heard of Periscope. Chris thinks it is a “game changer” and “the biggest thing since YouTube”. I am still getting used to Vine never mind Periscope. Telescope for Periscope is not a good enough Windows Phone App to appreciate what clearly is the finer side of Periscope. They really will have to produce a proper Windows App for me to get with it. Until then I will let Chris lead the way. Apparently (for those of you with an iPhone) he has a weekly Periscope Broadcast.

It appears though that such broadcasts vanish after 24 hours. Click on the link in the above tweet from Chris and you will disappointedly see that it has expired. You have to be in the moment. Not sure that this makes it a “game changer” in a world of catch up TV, iPlayer and anytime and forever on YouTube. But I may be missing something *borrows wife’s iPhone to check*.

Moving away from social media (Chris would have kept the panel on that topic all afternoon if he could have) we were told that not all clients are the same. You should treat different clients differently. Be as close to your clients as you can.

Clients don’t care how good your law degree is they want good communicators.

Being top heavy can manage client expectations. The clients speak to a ‘partner’. Keystone Law have 180 at partner level and only 3 Paralegals. Although that raised a query on Twitter:-

We heard that Skype and SMS are both playing a part in client communication. We need to accommodate our clients’ preferred communication methods. I have certainly seen this with SMS but not really seen the demand as yet for Skype.

The silo mentality of lawyers was discussed and the difficulty of getting them to cross sell. There was a suggestion that there should be no option. They are part of a business and should be making that business work.

The last panel session of the day was perhaps the most disappointing one of the day. It was entitled 2015 is the year of data: cloud computing, disaster recovery, cyber security – is your firm at risk? Unfortunately the panel seemed to have little idea about what cloud computing entails with a suggestion that it may be best to have a mix of cloud and non cloud in your law firm. Absolute mince. Unfortunately it seemed we hadn’t advanced much from Lex2012 and ‘camel’ computing. One of the sponsors who provide cloud services for lawyers should perhaps have been asked to participate in this session to provide an accurate picture of cloud computing.

fog machine in a data centre
Views on the ‘cloud’ were certainly foggy!

It was suggested that there could be issues with cloud providers not providing maintenance on site if required. Well in a true cloud environment you shouldn’t need maintenance on site as your servers are not on site – they will be in a data centre! I assume what the panellist was getting at, but this was not made clear, was hardware as opposed to software maintenance. You would need either a separate maintenance agreement with a company that can service that locally or a cloud provider who can and does do both. At Inksters we have the latter arrangement and have never had a problem.

It was suggested that most lawyers would not have visited the data centres that hold their data. I was beginning to wonder if the panellists knew what a data centre was! However, I am sure that it is true that most lawyers who have moved to the cloud would find it difficult to tell you where their data was held let alone have actually visited it. Not me. I have been there, done that and blogged about a visit to my law firm’s cloud.

I have only ever attended one conference, which was dedicated to cloud computing, where the actual facts were made clear and the myths surrounding the ‘cloud’ were busted. On the whole anytime the ‘cloud’ is mentioned at legal conferences the myths are hyped and delegates are more likely to leave with more worries and concerns than was ever necessary. Read my post on ‘Law Firm in the Cloud‘ to alleviate any concerns you may have.

Turning to security issues we were alerted to the all too common occurrence of lawyers breaching confidentiality on trains. This reminded me of the Kilroy Scale as blogged about by Legal Bizzle back in 2011.

There then ensued a rambling discussion about ISO accreditation. I was left not knowing what ISO number they were speaking about or the real relevance, if any, of it. I don’t believe the panellists knew themselves. Definitely the time had come to bring proceedings to an end and move on swiftly to the drinks reception.

The final word was left to Simon Slater who gave us the Charles Darwin quote or misquote: “It is the species that is most adaptable to change that will survive”.  It would be unusual to go to a legal conference these days and not hear either that one or the one about Wayne Gretzky skating to where the puck is going to be. Some conferences even do both! But perhaps, like the fact that social media is here to stay and is not going away, these are all messages that need hammering home to ice age lawyers. Although I reckon they are not the ones who actually attend such conferences.

The day ended with a drinks reception and a chance to catch up with faces old and new.

All in all a very good conference that provided some useful insights. I was glad I had made the journey south for it. I look forward to seeing the programme for the Legal Practice Management 2016 Conference and hope one of the topics is “busting the myths surrounding cloud computing” with a panel of speakers who can do just that.

Image credits: All photos are © Legal Support Network ; “Welcome to the Cloud!” meme by Irreverent Monk

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  1. Hard to disagree with any of this. The painful slowness of getting decisions through my partnership is one of the reasons I quit in my early 40s and went into business…where we now find that the typical ‘enquiry to purchase’ period for our legalrss product is 10 months (law firms) and 6 weeks for the Myinfonet version we sell to companies (and which, incidentally is nowhere near the absolute setal LRSS is).

    Until law firms get themselves organised to make decisions fast, get rid of the blame culture, take risks and (crucially) do their product research properly*, they’ll continue to be much less profitable businesses than they should be.

    * This is my new bugbear: why firms are so effective in refusing to look at things that would really benefit them is beyond me.

  2. What Brian….no photographs of orange shirts? No mindmaps? But never mind, this is a fab write up of the event based on what my team told me about it.


  3. Thanks Brian. This is a great bit of coverage. Now you mention it, I’d be very interested to know which cloud computing myths practice leaders are most susceptible to believing (did that come out at the conference you spoke at?). I think firms are coming around to it, though, particularly as they come to understand the security around it. There’s actually a piece on this coming up in our next issue.

    David: as for photos, we’ve got some here: http://www.legalsupportnetwork.co.uk/community/photo-gallery/legal-practice-management-conference-2015 (there’s a bit of orange – but nothing as bright as yours, I’m afraid!)

    Oh, and our write-up’s here (plug alert!): http://bit.ly/lpmjun15

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