Ask yourself how much you invest in Practice Management. To answer this, you first have to define just what Practice Management means to you?
Often when a small firm starts out, Practice Management is a bit of a lofty topic! Just surviving month-to-month cash flow is the priority. Once the business starts to settle down though, it starts to become important to define what you can do to enhance the performance of your firm. In essence this is what Practice Management (as a concept) is all about.
The BIG Three
What are the 3 elements that define any business? In our view, these are the three vital elements that, when working correctly and together, define any successful business:
Getting these three elements working together is what differentiates your firm from any others. The better you are at creating synergy and harmony between these three "elements" the more successful your practice will be.
Let us now examine more specifically at what elements you could/should invest in to help build the synergy you need to achieve this "ultimate" state:
When you hire staff, they will have been trained either at a University; have had previous experience in other legal firms; done their articles etc. The missing component is often the business training necessary to make them effective in dealing with clients; attending to the large amount of administration inherent in servicing those clients and managing their own time and workloads so that they become profitable members of your firm.
Something you should never cease to invest in is training staff on aspects that will enable them to do a better job and to do it faster. You should strive to mould your own "training culture so that your staff know that in your firm, they are enabled to do things a particular way which produces the results you are looking for.
Rather than sending staff on general business courses, it is far better to look internally at your own business. Consult with an expert to identify what needs to be changed; altered or indeed, what innovations you can call upon in order to streamline how you and your staff service clients. With the right amount of guidance you will surprise yourself how easy it is to get on the right track and design internal processes that reduce duplication; time-wasting and improve controls.
As we provide technology to our clients on a daily basis, this is clearly our area of expertise. It is fair to say that by and large we have reached a point in the legal market, where attorneys now accept that systems are vital to running an efficient business. The problem is that the wrong system can "sour" you on the whole experience and cause you to revert to more manual processes. A good system on the other hand, will change your perspective completely and you will wonder how you ever operated without a complete Practice Management system before? Suffice to say that good systems will go hand in hand with better processes and will form part of staff training.
What should I be investing in…to enhance my Practice Management?
It is widely accepted that the components of a modern Practice Management System are:
- Legal Accounting System - This forms the base and is vital to running the business safely (in terms of SARS and Law Society Rules).
- Time and Fee Billing System - Getting your staff to record what they do when they do it is the only way to effectively manage fees. Without this you will lose at least 30% of your potential fees.
- Document and Email Management - the sheer volume of documents and emails that cross your desks everyday will dictate that you need no convincing of the value of an effective management tool for this essential task.
- Document Automation Systems - Your firm's professionalism and expertise is often communicated via complex documents; agreements; precedents. You should be able to organise; distribute and automate these via your systems.
- Specialist Systems - to automate and manage complex tasks like Debt Collection and Conveyancing.
- Management Reporting - it is no good capturing everything into systems diligently, if you cannot evaluate and analyse the information for management purposes. You cannot make decisions without management information and this is something that is highly under-utilised by most firms.
The tricky part is deciding how to invest in all of the above. Experience shows that it is crazy to buy either different systems or systems that are modular in their approach. The Practice Management components listed above will be so much more effective and easier to run and manage, if you are able to acquire them in one integrated system!
Problem is… if you analyse all the systems available on the market today…they can all appear to be extremely similar and claim to be able to do the same things. As with any complex topic, the devil is in the detail. You also have to consider the subtleties. These subtleties will reveal themselves when you analyse HOW a particular software programme does something rather than WHAT the programme does.
You will not find out HOW the programme does something by looking at a web site or reading marketing information. The only effective way to evaluate this is via a personal demonstration. When you have this demonstration you should answer the following questions for yourself, to establish the quality of the HOW!?
- Is the product user friendly? Could you see yourself and your staff using the system everyday, for everything that you do!
- Do all the components integrate in real time? If downloads/uploads are necessary then you are not dealing with a truly integrated system!
- Does the product integrate effectively with the tools my staff use already? Examples are Microsoft Word and Microsoft Outlook.
- Will it be practical for my staff to use the product in everything they do? If the product is not integral to the way your staff work, then they will never use it effectively!
- Is the management reporting real time? In other words, do the reports reflect everything that has been processed on the system up to that minute!
- How is the system implemented and what training/hand-holding is offered? It is no good to just have a couple of training sessions for staff and then be left to "sink or swim". The software provider should have an extensive implementation project plan which should include at least a month of on site hand-holding or consulting after you start using the product! This is crunch time and you will need the vendor to be around if you are to successfully adopt the product in the long term.
These are just some of the questions you need to ask and have answered to ensure that your investment in Practice Management will be a worthwhile Investment and most importantly, an investment that will give you a healthy return.
For myriad reasons, investing money in Practice Management is an unknown concept to many practitioners. When you analyse everything discussed in this document, however, you have to ask the question….why would you not invest in these vital components? The reality is that if you invest wisely and correctly, you will make more money for your business in addition to building a more robust and efficient firm. All you need to do is ensure that:
- Whatever you invest in is practical to use and will easily be adopted by your staff.
- You are able to increase your fees - thereby covering the cost of the system.
- You are able to produce more work with the same staff complement - thereby eliminating the substantial cost of additional/unnecessary salaries (with proper systems; processes and people all working together, any growth will be organic. You won't add overheads because of operational inefficiencies).
- Your investment should reduce administration by removing duplication and automating previously manual processes. This translates into more productive time for you and your staff which translates into more time for clients/better service and in the long term much more revenue!
If you would like to evaluate the GhostPractice approach to better Practice Management, the best way to do so is to evaluate GhostPractice itself via a demonstration. There are no obligations and we are happy to come and see you at your offices. Please feel free to contact the writer at [email protected] or on 082 568 4738.
Yours in Law