Ghosts of christmas yet To come?
You’ve prepared for days and slaved for hours to get the Christmas Dinner to a point where you feel happy about calling the assembled company to the table. You relax into a dining chair surveying the results. Yet seemingly only minutes later the scene resembles what one can only imagine to be Computer Generated Imagery of the aftermath of World War III.
All the carefully laid plans for a smooth running event have, with a little well-meant human intervention and involvement, fallen victim to the chaos theory. You know the feeling – I certainly know the feeling!
So how is it with our practices?
Preparation and care in development can lead us to expect that things painstakingly nurtured will function well (if not necessarily perfectly) when they are needed. This is great in theory – but in practice is an X-factor needed to ensure that the H(uman)-factor won’t leave our practice like an after dinner mess?
I have long since lost count of how many times I have heard from partners in firms that "our jobs would be SO much easier without the clients and the staff." It’s said with tongue firmly in cheek, of course, but there is often a wistful look detected in the eye of the speaker...
So all we need is something a little on the miraculous side to act as a catalyst and ensure that the H-factor doesn’t do for our businesses what gets done to the Christmas feast.
Oh come on! With all the gourmet food and fine wines you really must be dreaming. But which Ghosts will have passed through our post-prandial Christmas reveries this year? And what will such dreams in twelve months time be featuring?
The coming twelve months are going to involve some hugely significant changes to the way we work and run our businesses....
- What has, until now, been perceived as a remote and almost virtual threat is going to become reality in the shape of ABS competition (though it doesn’t have to mean the end of practice as we know it).
- There will also be fierce competition from those firms which have heeded the dire predictions and have whipped their practices into shape in readiness. There’s still a good deal of life in what might be called the “traditional” solicitors practice sector.
- The new regulatory changes that will now be focussing on outcomes are probably the greatest challenge to be facing the "traditional" sector. Unless we really get to grips with these then just how are we going to deal with the other challenges? The inspection/audit statistics make quite chilling reading and being fined, reprimanded, struck off or placed in the ARP is no place from which to conduct a fight-back.
One riposte to this could easily be "We’ve got the systems in place – what more can the SRA ask for?"
Well plenty, actually. With the new focus being on outcomes in a given situation, you are going to have to be able to demonstrate not just that you’ve got the systems in place, but that they are capable of delivering under test conditions. The realities of this are that client-related systems such as Rule 2 letters and Complaints Handling will be scrutinised in greater depth, as well as more general issues such as the viability of the firm’s Disaster Recovery Plan, and the Management Systems and Supervisor Training required by Rules 5 & 6.
And before we cry "Bah! Humbug!" or grumble too much about the irrelevancies of this sort of thing to the delivery of legal services to our client-base, should we not, like Ebenezer S, have to think a little bit more about how seemingly disconnected factors actually affect our lives and the lives of those closely associated with us?
So much of the content of the new Rules is rooted in straightforward good business sense that it is folly to ignore it….
- The H-factor needs to be managed, both from the internal point of view of staff colleagues and, externally, of our clients. If well managed, then it is an established wisdom that happy staff are more productive.
- Customers happy with our product delivery will pester us less, pay more willingly, and tell more people about the excellence of the service they have received.
- Files that comply with the checks and balances that the Rules on file reviews entail are going to be better run overall (in terms of delivery and legal advice) and it follows that (a) they are likely to be billed by reference to an agreed framework in a more timely way and (b) fee earners will feel less guilty about charging the value of the work they have carried out.
The combination of the points above is a more efficiently run practice delivering a higher quality service more profitably.
Isn’t it time that we become a bit more welcoming to the whole concept of compliance and ask what it can do for our businesses? Because it really isn’t too late to get hold of it and actually DO something about it.
And in twelve months time, will the dreadful forebodings of the Ghosts Of Christmas Yet To Come be haunting us and our Practices, or will we, like Ebenezer S, be flinging open our windows and with real positive tones shouting "Merry Christmas" – especially to the new competition!