We have come to the end of our series on how a critical friend can help professionals and organisations maintain a continuous cycle of improvement. In this final post, Martin offers readers advice on how to set up the relationship with your chosen critical friend in just the right way.
Previous posts covered:
What is a critical friend?
Who might use a critical friend?
Can critical friends support teams as well as individuals?
How might I find a critical friend?
How do I get a critical friend arrangement in place?
âIf you'd like to read these posts in order, start here. But if you are ready to get started, read on MacDuff...
We have taken some care in our previous 3 posts to explain what a critical friend is, what their role is, who could benefit and the right time to involve a critical friend in your business. (If you want to read these posts in order start here.)
âWhen my article on this subject was published in April, we know of at least one coach who received a call from a client saying "This. This is how I want us to work together". And no wonder: the benefits of working with a critical friend for a business leader are measurable in terms of the improvement and focus they will bring. Unlike a pure coaching relationship, the critical friend is an independent expert, a source of suggestions, ideas and examples and a means of leveraging external networks.
So where might you find a critical friend?
The term Critical Friend is not well known in law firm circles. It's something we have been advocating for nearly a year now, as one possible answer to the question: what help is available for teams and leaders in firms who want to make change happen?
So, what is a critical friend? Typically, a critical friend is a person who understands, and is sympathetic to, the aims and objectives of the business they are working with, but who is outside the business. A critical friend is committed to helping their client to improve and succeed, whether that client is an individual or a group, by providing challenge, encouragement and candid feedback.
Yesterday evening I attended The Great Legal Reformation, an event organised by Shaun Jardine of Brethertons. The very fact that the event was organised by a law firm rather than say, Legal Futures or a bank is unusual. Add to this Mitch Kowalski as the main attraction and a venue change due to sheer weight of numbers and you will start to see that this was a special event.
Mitch himself is a great speaker. Relaxed, assured, knowledgeable. He can see into the crystal ball and what he sees there is exciting: a vision of teams of people working together to solve clients' legal problems efficiently and effectively, supported by cool technology. Mitch and the panel of experts (including Stephen Mayson, Amir Ali and David Gilroy) were equally clear on the direction of travel and what was going to be required to get there. During the polling part of the evening and the Q and A, everyone agreed: the Great Legal Reformation is coming, it will be driven by technology, will invite non lawyers into the inner sanctum and will result in prices being driven down to a point where the pent up demand for legal services will be released. The business model is dead! Long live the law firm of the future!
I don't know about you but I spend the first week back hungry. By the second week, mince pies are a distant memory and reality sets in. By week three, New Year's Resolutions start to feel like hard work.
Now is the perfect time to review business plans with a cold eye, consider where you are against target and deliberately refocus.
Here's a link to the process we use to do just that. Feel free to download it and share it with your team. As always, I'd like to know how you get on with it and how useful you find it. (We haven't uploaded the notes as we think it's pretty clear, but let us know if you'd like us to talk you through it).
Before you start though, here are two pretty obvious points:
To do a Business Plan Review you need a Business Plan
Preferably one that has numbers in it about how much money you want to make this year. Anything else is at best a vision document, at worst a work of fiction. Feel free to use words like "passion", "solution" and "client facing" but the Business Plan is a tool to help you focus on how many and how much.
Give me a call if you need a pro forma business plan designed especially for professional service firms. The process document I'm giving you here can be used with any Business Plan (not just ours).
Doing a Business Plan Review is only the start
Just as with any New Year’s resolution, setting goals down in writing makes success more likely (I've got proof if you need it). But more than that – it takes real commitment and determination and being clear about what you are not going to do. Give yourself a break and make sure that you have the time and resources necessary to things differently.
Happy New Year! No, I’m not going to talk about new year resolutions or diets or cutting out alcohol. You’ll get enough of that elsewhere during January. Instead I’m going to talk about what it means to be a human being.
Woah! That’s a bit heavy, isn’t it? Bear with me. We’ll soon get back onto the subject of how to better manage a law firm in 2017.
So – being a human. What’s that all about?
“More for less” is the mantra from clients, challenging law firms not just to cut their costs but to deliver more and better services. This productivity challenge, on top of everything else, could leave managing partners wondering where to start.
Set your prices at the right point
This week we talk about pricing and I am going to give you a number of ideas about how to arrive at the best price and avoid leaving money on the table.
Nine times out of ten a dissatisfied client will cite “price” as being the reason for their dissatisfaction but this rarely turns out to be the case. Lack of communication is the number one reason for dissatisfied clients and frequently lack of communication on costs. So the first tip is to keep the client informed about progress and about costs – clients don’t like surprises any more than we do.
So, how do you go about setting a price for a piece of work? Easy, you estimate the hours to do the work the client needs and then apply the charge rate (the one you set at the start of the year) and bingo you have a price. OK but no one ever pays full charge rate so you knock a bit off. Sound familiar?
There are a number of drawbacks to this approach:
Make the changes necessary to deliver what clients want efficiently and profitably
Of course, half the battle is understanding what your clients really really want and Sally covered that last week in Part 2 of the programme. I'm going to take that idea further this week - it's critical to understand that from the client's perspective there are some mission critical parts of your service that absolutely have to be delivered in the same way on time every time. If you mess up on the mission critical parts, there's a real problem. If you like, there's a sort of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs that can be applied to what your client wants from you - we've made it easy for you and added a free download to our site for you so you can see what we mean. You can also use this download to map out the mission critical parts of what your clients want from you.
But this programme is called the Profitable Growth Programme: we advocate growing business that is profitable. So you will see that we have marked on the download a reminder to map your own critical business requirements.
Why dropping tools is easier said than done: innovation and why it doesn’t happen
Everybody is looking for the “Dyson moment” – the moment when legal services are changed fundamentally by someone who looks at the problem from a new perspective, applies a different solution and hey presto! Toilets around the globe have been changed by the introduction of the Dyson hand dryer. Legal services, so the argument goes, just need a fresh approach.
Well, yes, I agree. The market is ripe for a ground-breaking change, one that radically and fundamentally changes the way that legal services are delivered. A disruptive innovation.
Process improvements, BLP and TLT’s adoption of business transformation skills, improved project management, vertical integration and multidisciplinary approaches, many of the latter driven by the new accountancy led ABS. There have been many improvements, but not anything that makes us go “wow!”
In truth, these are all refinements: as Henry Ford would have said (with apologies to his memory) these are all ways to build the proverbial faster horse. So..Where is the disruptive innovation?
The answer is: probably not in a law firm. Innovation often comes from outside.
How to stop looking at the horse manure: innovation and how to make it happen
In Part 1, I looked at why disruptive innovation often comes outside and suggested that those who resist change do so even at their own peril – literally, sometimes, in life and death situations. So it is hardly a surprise that even whilst espousing business transformation, lawyers resist the very changes they aspire to.
Of course, the legal services industry is not life and death. And no, I’m not going to make the Bill Shanklin jest about it being far more serious than that. Except, sometimes it is. Sometimes human liberty, even life, can be at stake. Sometimes it does not even need to be so dramatic for a matter to have a life changing impact: being removed from accommodation unlawfully or having a judgment entered against you. With the withdrawal of legal aid there is a pressing social need for legal services to be made cheaper and more readily available to the poorest and least able in society.
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At the Legal Futures 2020 conference a couple of weeks ago, I sat muttering like an old lady at a bus stop. Speaker after speaker talked about how ABSs and online solutions would fill the as yet untapped (and unproven) demand for legal services.
I work with SME firms, the so called high street firms who provide the sort of day to day advice and help that makes the world tick in provincial towns: wills and probate, divorces, conveyancing. Business advice for local firms. That sort of thing. The everyday bread and butter stuff that the big brands hope to win.
I hear the stories of a young woman who arrives on the doorstep sobbing, having reached the final straw in her marriage. The bereaved son who has just lost his mother and is completely confused by complicated forms. The solicitor who is at court for one client but sees someone else struggling with court forms and helps. None of these people would find a website helpful – because a website does not offer kindness, help or understanding.
People who would use our services are often scared, stressed, sad or just plain worried about being stupid. They might use the internet to research their problem, they might even do some price checking or see if your firm is recommended. They might even fill in a fact filling form online. But they will want the reassurance of a friendly face, a kind word and someone who can guide them through the process.
The answer is not the big brands – I understand that none of them are making money, at least yet. The network organisations are talking a good story but it is said that Dynamo Law has fewer than 50 members and Quality Solicitors only just over 100. The success stories in this market are the businesses that are not looking to online and ABS structures not to provide the complete answer but to provide part of it: iSolicitor who has unbundled family law services to provide better client service in an area of need, Schillings who have also vertically integrated to provide a one stop shop for people with reputations worth protecting.
The true disruption will come not from the “suck it and see” private equity backed businesses that are yet to really find a foothold, but from those law firms who take a long hard look at their client base and design services around their needs. And then use every tool at their disposal, whether that’s technological, structural or experiential to achieve that.
Now that’s would be something worth cheering.
As 2013 got underway, headlines announced the death of the high street. HMV, Jessops, and Blockbusters followed Woolworths and Comet to an unglamorous end. Threats from out of town shopping centres, online shopping and the predominance of the supermarket big brands have all added to an extremely challenging trading environment. Retail vacancy rates stand at 10% and the government commissioned Mary Portas, Queen of Shops to produce a report on how to revitalise our city centres.
Why should lawyers care? Don’t you have enough of your own problems to worry about?
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