Behind the business curve

RICE_URSULA

Andrew Newbury and Ursula Rice ran the business development workshop at Resolution's conference. Here they share their thoughts on how you can increase your practice's top line by 5 per cent

Lots of things contribute to our inability to develop our businesses in a sustained way. Lack of time, lack of motivation, lack of encouragement, lack of budget. But I really think that any firm, or department or sole fee earner can improve their practice top-line (and that should feed into the bottom line) by say, 5 per cent, in a 12-month period by trying out these ideas.

1) You need to plan

Solution: pick no more than two helpers. Start with " hare brained get rich quick" and arrive at "I love it when a plan comes together". Be creative.

Look at the competition: can you see what they do well? What they don't do well? Websites are a vast source of free information. Define who your new clients will be. Pick some characteristics. It will always be more authentic and resonant with potential clients if you are able to relate to these characteristics on a personal level. Once you've done that, get near them - reach out.

2) Develop a brand

We all have a personal brand and every firm out there should have a work brand. You have one whether you like it or not.

Solution: find out more about brand and learn to love it. If brand definition for the firm is impossible, consider your personal brand.

3) The big challenge is always implementation

Remember, in seven months with no instructions, you may feel like giving up.

But this stuff takes time and persistence.

Solution: Why not have a chart where you agree with yourself that you will attend event X once a month, tweet four times a week, blog once a month, do a follow up coffee once a month, write for a relevant publication once every six months and host a drinks do (stick 200 behind a bar, everyone will want to know you) once every six months.

4) Tailor your social media to where those clients are

You need to be on LinkedIn. Someone needs to be on Twitter, and really, Facebook should be considered.

Solution: blog, 'follow' and 'like' in line with your brand and what you want to achieve. Measure your successes. Remember, mentions on Twitter are a success and likely to come before a new client walks through the door. Abolish 'other' as a client source on your client management system.

5) Tighten up your time recordingLast time I looked, lawyers only had time and expertise to sell.

Solution: if your time does not go into the raw product pot i.e. as work in progress, then you cannot ever bill it. If it is matter related it should be work in progress. It is better to thrill your client by giving them some discounted work in progress than never bagging up your time in the first place. This stuff is not quantum physics, but it does take dedication and hard work.

Ursula Rice is a solicitor and solicitor-advocate. She is launching family law practice Family First this year

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Like many people, I like to revel in nostalgia. There is, however, a fine line between the good old days and the dark ages. The following spring to mind.

A letter sent to the Law Society Gazette in the 1950s from a practitioner exhorting others not to telephone each other between 9:00am and 10:00am or between 4:00pm and 5:00pm so that everyone could read their incoming post in the morning and sign their outgoing post in the afternoon.

Old letterhead from my previous firm dating back to the 1960s, which only had the following contact details: address, telephone number and "nearest convenient station".

In reading some memoirs recently, the author recounted an exchange between an American banker and an English banker in the early 1960s. The English banker explained how he arrived at work at 10:00am, did a couple of hours work, enjoyed a long lunch, signed his post and went to his club for the rest of the afternoon. The English banker was appalled to hear the American banker describe how he was at his desk at 8:00am and stayed there into the evening.How will family lawyers in 2013 be viewed with the benefit of hindsight? During one of my firm's management meetings a couple of years ago, I realised that family law was the last bastion of the chargeable hour. Property work and most commercial work is conducted on a fixed fee these days, dispute resolution work is often on the basis of contingency fees, whereas we are steadfastly tied to the chargeable hour.

"But we're different," exclaim family lawyers. "We are dealing with people's emotions." "We have no control over how a dispute can pan out." "Litigants can be unreasonable and unpredictable."

All of those statements are true, but with a falling divorce rate and in a crowded and competitive market, we must change our way of thinking when it comes to fees.

Have we perhaps dined on the fatted calf for too long? I remember when the House of Lords handed down the decision in White v White in October 2000. My initial reaction was that if we were to consider equality in all cases and 50:50 were to be the usual outcome, that would mean lower fees and greater certainty in family proceedings.

By contrast, the opposite has happened. The implications of White have been debated for nearly 13 years and some elements of family law have perhaps been over-intellectualised leading to significantly increased fees and unhappy litigants. As I have often said, everyone has a friend-of-a-friend who has been through a bitter and expensive divorce. Everyone knows someone who may have had an awful experience of the system.

Having attended at and lectured at the recent Resolution National Conference, I left encouraged and refreshed by the positive attitude of other family lawyers in attendance. Many accept and realise that we need to change our fee structures, but none of us really know the answer. Perhaps the answer will evolve over time. My own view is that unless we try to find some possible solutions, we may neither succeed nor survive in a post-Legal Services Act and post-LASPO world.

Personally, I try to think of many potential clients as 'the John Lewis customer'. What do they want? Perhaps they still wish to instruct a solicitor, but they want clarity and certainty in respect of fees. They also want a quality service from a specialist. We can offer that quality service; we just need to price it right.

 
Andrew Newbury is head of family at Pannone Solicitors (www.pannone.com)
Issue: 
Vol 157 no 16 23-04-13
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