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Turning great lawyers into great operational leaders

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A law firm is a business that delivers the law to its customers. It’s therefore imperative that lawyers carefully look at the processes they follow to deliver in order to better understand the business value of that work. It’s straightforward and logical, right?

Therein lays the problem however. Lawyers are seriously intellectual people who have spent years training to understand the law – which they absolutely love. It is their passion to practice the law, not to understand the business of law. Great lawyers do not necessarily make great leaders.

Commonly, gaining visibility of work in progress within a department is a ‘coffee break’ conversation. This (hypothetical) scenario may ring a bell – two lawyers standing by the coffee machine discussing their work load. One may explain that he’s working on six Wills, three of which are drafted, two are with the customers for review and one he’s yet to work on. Post similar ad hoc conversations with other lawyers in the department, the practice leader gets a ‘sense’ of the potential billing at the end of the month. But because there isn’t a process being followed to accurately estimate the value of business being generated – based on the various stages of the current matters – it’s not atypical for the actual department billing at the end of the month to come as a bit of a surprise to the practice head.

At Wright Hassall, we have created a management information framework within Visualfiles, our case management system, to track the progress of matters. It works like this – every business process has a number of stages and each matter phase is a ‘node’, which represents a milestone. Through the management reporting functionality within Visualfiles, the system is able to offer clear visibility of the exact stage of every matter and therefore, the billing commensurate for every single piece of work at that point in time. This in turn provides us with ‘work in progress’ visibility across the entire business process. Monthly billing estimates then become a ‘matter of fact’ rather than a series of coffee machine conversations, and the practice leader has a better understanding of the pinch points in the departmental throughput.

It’s also a great aid to ensuring bills get paid on time, as the last milestone in our process is when the file is closed and the bill paid, not when we issue the invoice to the customer! Control and visibility of business throughput and finances in one solution - simple!

From our own experience, the benefit of a management information platform based on Visualfiles is significant:

  1. Team leaders have real time visibility of the work in progress and back log if any. Consequently, it’s easy to balance the work load across the team as well as ensure adequate resourcing.
  2. Practice heads have a good understanding of their financial pipeline and billing surprises are greatly minimised, if not eliminated.
  3. Forecasting future months’ billing is easier knowing the state of play of work in the “WIP pipeline”.
  4. Managing lock up is much easier as cash flow is well administered, which in turn reduces business risk.
  5. There are built in alerts within the system that notify leaders on the key business parameters.
  6. And all this cumulatively means that customers are better served.

With the aid of technology, great lawyers can also be great operational leaders. Today, it’s a business requisite.

About the Author:

Martyn is IT Director at Wright Hassall. He has managed multiple business-transformation programmes.  Prior to Wright Hassall, Martyn launched an industry-wide mortgage valuation platform for a major surveying group, implemented major software programmes for a number of global financial services providers; and held C-level positions in sectors as diverse as Foreign Exchange, Debt Collection and Professional Services.

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