In this post I am looking at why essential management tasks get neglected, and what we can do to make sure they don’t.
Why do management tasks get forgotten?
Do management tasks often get neglected for lawyers who are also managers, such as Partners and Sole Practitioners?
One reason for this could be because the consequences of letting down clients, getting sued, or getting behind on a heavy legal workload are prioritised by us over (for example) doing something about software that isn’t meeting needs, or ensuring that the management of other lawyer’s work is as thorough as it should be.
Lawyers who are juggling management and fee earning responsibilities may not have paused to consider and plan what management responsibilities they need to meet and why, and how time consuming these responsibilities are.
The pressures of our work as lawyers could mean that a specific issue that needs a lot of time planning and expertise, for example an IT data management solution, could be addressed too quickly by adopting an easy but perhaps less fit for purpose package, such as an “off the peg” cloud based all-in-one email and data management package.
So what is the solution? The answer will almost certainly be different for each individual law firm or Sole Practitioner (comments and suggestions welcome please), but what follows are some suggestions on how to tackle our management/lawyer workload prioritisation problem.
Employing a professional manager
The business case for employing a professional manager is strong. Most management tasks are transferable from experience in other areas – all professional service businesses deal with compliance, regulation, marketing, staff management, finance, IT, and with the planning and implementation of projects.
A smaller business may not be able to afford a full time manager, but could consider employing someone on a part time basis, or a consultant (such as Paul Wood) for a one off management task.
Could you use a Consultant?
There are an increasing amount of self employed management consultants who do not work specifically for one business, but will charge by the hour.
So for example, searching people on LinkedIn for “freelance manager” will bring up people with managerial experience, many in law firms, who offer either general managerial services, or specific services in managing legal accounts, marketing or IT.
Obviously any freelance management consultant would need to be carefully vetted and checked, but such a person could offer valued professional services at a fraction of the cost of an employee.
How about family/friends?
How many times have we learnt that the solution we are looking for is closer at hand than we think? Engaging a family member, friend or contact on a part time basis who has experience in either business management, business administration or book-keeping could work well. Even five to ten hours a week could make a massive difference, and would lift the psychological burden of managing alone.
If a user can access your financial and business management software and files remotely or you have the potential to do this, you could engage someone anywhere in the UK (or abroad?) to help manage and/or administrate your business.
It costs nothing to place a advertisement on a recruitment site such as indeed, which has separate search categories for people looking for part time home based opportunities.
There are many IT consultants who will advise businesses on IT solutions that will be suitable for a specific issue, for example data protection, legal compliance and security. IT is surely outside of the comfort zone for most managers and solicitors and needs external professional input.
Relying on Yourself
If you cannot afford the costs of additional external labour of any kind, your solutions are business planning, self training/development, time management, technology and support from colleagues. What follows are my suggestions on these based on my personal experience. Additional contributions are welcome.
Support from other lawyer/managers
If you have one, joining and attending your local Sole Practitioner Group meetings or any other group for lawyer managers is essential.
Aside from the knowledge and support gained from others, the psychological effect of convening with others who are also struggling day to day with the same issues cannot be underestimated. If you don’t have a local group, how about forming one?
If you do not have touch typing skills, consider using voice recognition software such as Dragon Speech, which could speed up the time you take to produce emails, letters and documents.
Make sure you take the time to choose financial and case management software that is fit for purpose and is functionally easy to use. The best way forward on this is to ask other SP’s and small law firms what they use and recommend, then try, test and test again before deciding.
Adopting the wrong software can be extremely costly, time consuming and can expose you to the risk of non-compliance or mismanagement.
Taking time to create great precedent/template documents
Taking time to build up and manage your legal precedent letters and documents is really worthwhile and can help you knock out high quality key documents and letters quickly and easily.
If you don’t have time to attend training sessions, utilise webinars and online advice for managers of law firms. The Law Society’s Law Management Section offer this for a membership fee (currently £199 annually for individuals).
Take time to develop a business plan as a means of helping you to understand where you are with your business, where your work is coming from, what your overheads are and why, and what could be managed better in future to improve your financial and time management position going forward.
As part of the process of developing a business plan, consider the need for every overhead – for example do you need business premises? If it’s mainly a place to meet clients, consider doing this at business meeting venue instead, and working from home. Or could you save costs by moving from paper to electronic files?
If any of these changes are just too overwhelming to manage with the time you have, you are once again back to looking at (potentially temporary) external labour to help you to effect changes that may have a huge long term cost saving impact on your business.
What about doing Nothing?
Alternatively, lawyers who are managers could do nothing to effect change because they are convinced that being overworked is an issue that cannot be managed or improved due to external factors they can do nothing about, such as over-regulation, competition and inevitable high overheads.
Battling on regardless with multiple responsibilities could include the consequences of making a mistake in your legal work that compromises a client (and being sued), being investigated by the SRA, appearing before the SDT and ultimately the potential of loosing a means of earning a living. Surely these are are incentive enough to at least try to effect changes that reduce the burden on solitary shoulders?