In the current economic climate, it is important for all businesses to be as effective and cost efficient as possible, as most law firms are well aware. But there is always scope to make further improvements, both to withstand the pressures of the downturn and prepare for the long-awaited upturn. And the process of improvement need not be as costly and time-consuming as many imagine.
Jenny Taylor, the Law Society of Scotland’s process improvement manager, is responsible for reviewing the organisation’s processes and developing solutions to any weaknesses. She explains how firms can find efficiencies and new income streams, delivering more with the same or less resource. “Solicitors and their staff should examine – to coin a well-known phrase – how to work smarter, not harder. And the first step towards achieving that is to ask lots of questions – who, what, where, why, when and how.
“Some questions are easier to answer than others. Where does the work take place – is it the best working environment? Are some tasks particularly time-consuming and, if so, could they be carried out more quickly? Who does the work and are those the right members, and number, of staff to do so? Why do we do this? Why do we do it this way?”
Often, asking why work is carried out in a particular way leads to the response: “Because we’ve always done it that way”, automatically identifying a potential area of improvement, Taylor states. “If you can’t come up with a satisfactory answer as to why something is being done, then there is a good chance it is unnecessary. Equally, considering exactly what work is carried out can quickly identify, for instance, reports that are completed but no longer used, or forms that are filled in and never looked at again. The reasons for introducing such tasks in the first place are often lost in the mists of time.”
Perhaps the single most effective way of improving efficiency, she says, is to look for duplication, such as re-entering personal details on several different databases and files, or failing to use templates for common documents and emails. Better use of technology often provides an effective response to such issues. Making the effort to introduce new software, for example, could save considerable time in the longer term. And it often involves making better use of what already exists, rather than buying expensive solutions.
A number of other changes to processes and procedures have improved the way the Society works, Taylor explains, such as streamlining the complaints system, introducing a new database to manage and record members’ data, providing online services for continuing professional development and practising certificate renewal, and moving from paper files to case management software for Guarantee Fund claims.
What lessons has the Society learned in making those changes? “It is crucial to involve staff in any review,” says Taylor. “More often than not, the best people to ask about how things should be done are those who currently perform those duties. Change is much easier if everyone understands why it’s happening. Clients can also provide valuable feedback. Solicitors should ask themselves what they would want if they were sitting on the other side of the desk. For example, are there services your clients ask for that you don’t have time to do? Maybe there is time and resource if you stop doing some of the non-value-adding tasks. Lastly, some great tips can be picked up from other firms, perhaps by reviewing their websites or discussing options with fellow solicitors.”
She concludes: “Client requirements, technologies, business needs and resources are constantly changing. As such, the process of improving must be continuous and not just a one-off exercise. The impact of any change should be measured – and the successes celebrated to motivate further development.”
In this issue
- Remember, remember?
- Equal justice for all?
- Compatibility: devolution issues reborn
- Profiting from the past
- RTI for PAYE - are you ready?
- Reading for pleasure
- A modest proposal – civil marriage ceremonies for all
- Opinion column: Alistair Dean
- Book reviews
- President's column
- Fee review: as you were
- Time to draw a line?
- The pay gap: seeking a cure
- Wealth management: Personal injury trusts - how to best invest
- Wealth management: Discretion - the model of choice
- Wealth management: Inheritance tax - discounts up front
- Wealth management: Pensions - time to look ahead
- Whose privilege is it, anyway?
- FLAGS unfurled
- Percentage game
- Rent, rent and rent again
- Sport, rights, and the internet
- An innocent mistake?
- Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal
- The trouble with in-house lawyers
- Lease of life for the High Street?
- PSG update
- Vacant and ready
- ABS in waiting
- Better ways: where to start?
- Keeping errors in check
- Ask Ash
- How not to win business: a guide for professionals
- What does a speculative fee allow?
- Law reform roundup