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Is PM a fad?

10 November 2005

"Is Practice Management Just The Latest Fad?" asks Susan Lambreth in a comprehensive article on Law Practice Today. Well yes, if it is not implemented properly, but no if it is. Practice management is nothing less than a process of organisational management which by other names has been implemented in the corporate world for decades.

The business case for practice management centres on the benefits of such programs to clients, the law firms and individual professionals. As described in the article, effective practice management can result in:
(1) better, more efficient and more cost-effective service delivery for clients;
(2) better use of a firm's resources resulting in improved financial performance; and
(3) a more satisfying and rewarding practice for individual professionals.

Broadly speaking, benefits to the client can result in better service by encouraging the professionals who serve the client to think and work together as a team, resulting in more efficient, cost-effective, "value added" services for the client.

A number of benefits to the firm are also mentioned and three are expanded upon. They are:

  • An effective practice management structure can help a firm focus its key practices on those specialties and subspecialties and on those clients or industries where the firm can have a sustained competitive advantage.
  • Practice management can help partners have a true sense of "ownership" of their firm.
  • A firm-wide practice management structure provides a ready platform for integrating people and practices and for maximizing the potential of any particular acquisition or merger.
Benefits to the individual include reduced personal risk and more risk sharing for the success of the firm's practice. An ancillary benefit of practice management is that it can give partners an opportunity to take on new challenges.

The article continues with a look at how one could go about in achieving the benefits mentioned above. Here, six key elements are discussed. They are:

(1) Firm strategy
The firm must have a clear vision or a strategy that sets forth the goals and objectives which it is trying to accomplish.

(2) Compensation system
If you hope to implement strong practice management, then your compensation system must be aligned to support strong practice management. Otherwise your compensation system will end up being your firm's strategic plan.

(3) Partner buy-in
Partners must accept the importance of management, both at the firm level and at the practice level. Unless the individual partners are willing to relinquish some of their autonomy and accept individual and group accountability, effective practice group management will be impractical.

(4) Support from firm management
Practice management is rarely effective without real support from firm management, rather than mere lip service.

(5) Leaders with clear authority and responsibilities
The role or job description of your practice group leaders needs to be defined and clearly and widely communicated.

(6) Firm-wide practice groups and primary assignments
Have firm-wide, not office-by-office, practice groups and primary assignments. Office-oriented practice groups (such as the real estate group in the New York office) typically result in internal competition, balkanization and a lower external market profile.

Article on Law Practice Today

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