The “Rogue” Practice Manager’s Path to Salvation: PART 1

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I don’t think I’ve read anything more depressing recently than “Solicitors struggling to run businesses go rogue” (Law Society Gazette, 9 June) – essentially the message for solicitors running Sole Practitioner and small law firm businesses was; if the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal don’t get you, rising business overheads and competition for High Street legal work will.

Eoin_Brosnan._Kerry_Footballer_and_Solicitor.
Multiple responsibilities? Consider the daily lot of professional Gaelic footballer and solicitor Eoin Brosnan

The article in the Gazette was based on the comments of Timothy Smith, a Solicitor member of the SDT, who noted a “category” of solicitors before the Tribunal who do not have the skills to run a business. Insightful (but not untypical) comments from Sole Practitioners and solicitors running small law firms followed regarding the difficulty of combining the onerous and multiple burdens of being a solicitor and running a compliant business. Regarding the neglect of essential accounting administration tasks, we have a reminder of the consequence in; ‘Naive’ law firm directors fined £15,000 at SDT (Gazette, 13 June).

In this two-part post, with the assistance of LPM author and freelance Practice Managing consultant Paul Wood, we will develop some suggested “remedies” that will help keep us (or our Managing Partner/Director if you are a Practice Manager) well away from the dreaded doors of the (unfortunately needed) SDT. This might also be helpful to all managers at law firms who are struggling to balance the demands of multiple responsibilities.

Practicing solicitors know that the regular duties of being a solicitor, i.e. advising and representing clients, is a very demanding job, irrespective of the size of practice.  So when we add in the need for solicitors at small law firms or SP’s to complete practice management and admin tasks and responsibilities, the job becomes overburdened.

Is fitting everything in a tight squeeze?
Fitting everything in a tight space?

In a very small firm (1 to 5 fee earners); which is the most onerous and time consuming job, being a solicitor or being a practice manager? In my view it is the former, provided you know what you are doing with the management and administration tasks. But the management side of things isn’t easy to cope with as an “add on” if you are also providing quality legal representation for your clients.

So the simple solution is to employ someone to deal with administration, compliance and regulatory matters. The elephant sized BUT is the difficulty in finding and cost of employing a professional manager and/or administrator, which is why solicitors go it alone by both practicing, managing and administrating their own businesses.

Direction_signs_-_Plovdiv's_sister_cities,_Bulgaria
Could mapping out your responsibilities help you understand how to address them?

Solicitors (and Practice Managers) who are juggling responsibilities may not have paused long enough to fully consider and plan what management and administration responsibilities they need to meet and why, how time consuming these responsibilities are, what knowledge they need  to complete them, and how to go about them efficiently and effectively.

So to conclude part one of this “getting on track guide”,  we have a suggested first step in our path to salvation. Practice Manager Paul Wood has devised a helpful table (copied at the end of this post) to assist us with mapping out our specific tasks and responsibilities, how we regard them, and what development needs are required.

Development or support needs (in the first and last columns in the table) could be about identifying:

– Training or reading that will give you more confidence as a business manager (for example re-visiting the SRA Accounts Rules)

-Tasks you want to delegate to a specialist, such as a book-keeper

– Support from professional organisations such as the Sole Practitioners Group or the Law Society’s Law Management section.

There will also be a category of tasks that however much we know they are essential, we are reluctant to do them because they are outside of our comfort zone, or because we struggle to find time to give them our full attention. Those tasks if you are a solicitor could very likely fall under the categories of marketing, financial administration,  IT and compliance. We need to identify these and make sure they are addressed and not neglected – hence the last two columns of Paul’s table.

You might find the table gets crowded very quickly, so you could use a separate table for each category of work, e.g. marketing, compliance, financial administration, etc.

In part two, I will look at some practical steps that could help with the business and administration tasks, and some options to address development needs. Suggestions and input from other solicitors and non-lawyer managers are also welcome.

 

 

Management Tasks Delegation Self-Assessment Sheet

 

 

 

I Want To Do

 

 

I Have To Do These Tasks

 

I Do Not Want To Do

 

Identify Development Needed

 

Can / Like Doing

 

 

Task Detail

 

< < < < < Decide Which Way You Want To Go  > > > > >

 

Cannot / Do Not Like Doing

 

Identify Support Needed

 

© Paul Wood

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Ben

I set up Law Practice Manager because I enjoy sharing fresh and original opinions and posts on law management issues. Facebook and Twitter: @LawManager1 LinkedIn group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8538343

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