It has been claimed in a recent Lexis Nexis report that lawyers at smaller law firms are not equipped with the necessary business skills to stay ahead. I disagree that all smaller law firms are so lacking in business skills and hope to convince you as to why. I speak from my own perspective as a family lawyer who has set up two successful legal practices.
In my view the small niche practice can actually be ahead of the game. There are huge advantages for being small because the firm is nimble. Having spent a number of years in a large regional firm I know the time it takes for ideas to be converted into change. There are so many partners/directors that want to have a say and with that want the focus to be on their own departments. There are then the lengthy debates before any action actually happens.
Niche practices are able to focus on the area of law in which they specialise in, making it easier for these firms to keep up-to-date with changes. Also in their vision will be the technology that will assist them to keep ahead of the game. This doesn’t necessarily mean the firm will be developing their own artificial intelligence (AI), but rather they will be keeping a close eye on new developments. They can then investigate how each new development will or will not assist their firm to become more streamlined and so provide a better service to the clients (without the long-winded process that comes from being in a larger firm).
I would like to now respond to each individual criticism of smaller law firms that was raised in the report:
1. Lack entrepreneurial skills
I decided to start a small firm because I wanted to return my focus to the needs of my clients, and avoid the numerous meetings between directors and the supervision that comes with it. I wanted to create a business which would meet the needs of the modern day client and also provide a flexible working style for me which could then be replicated should any consultants wish to join me.
By not having the traditional office I have created meeting venues where the clients feel special and feel the meeting is discreet. This is because they don’t have to worry about being seen going into the obvious office of a law firm.
I have decided to invest in technology which assists me to have a paperless office - being able to access all files wherever I am. This has allowed me to work away from my main base and provide exactly the same service to clients. For example I have recently introduced an AI programme in the practice that assists my clients to provide information throughout the progress of their matter in a way that is convenient for them, geared to their particular circumstances.
2. Do not understand commerce
I have to understand commerce otherwise I would not have a business. This includes making sure that I get paid for the work I do. So many firms sink due to the work in progress that is never billed. I have no work in progress because all work is billed at the end of each month and paid by the clients either immediately or within seven days. Working really hard does not make a viable business unless you also get paid for the work.
3. Do not know how to generate business
My area of law relies on reputation. People do not seek the services of a family lawyer by choice. Family law is a stress purchase for people that are having to face one of the most painful issues in their life and want someone they can trust to support them all the way through. Clients seek a referral from friends and family that have used a family lawyer or they may look for particular expertise with professional bodies such as Resolution or legal rankings such as Chambers & Partners.
4. Do not have the mentality of others in the service industry
A number of years ago when we started my previous firm we sought support to ensure we were providing good customer service. We had the assistance of someone who had a background in the service industries rather than law firms. This was quite an unusual approach but really helpful, because she reinforced our approach that we should consider our clients and staff as customers that deserved to be treated well. I have continued to work in this way.
I hope that I have managed to show that not all small firms are lacking in business acumen and in fact are ahead of the game in many ways.
Linda Lamb is a solicitor and director of LSL Family Law