Our CPD & Training Research Manager Harriet Derrick and Ed Murray, co-founder of Confscribe, round up the key insights from the business readiness panel at the first virtual Sole Practitioner and High Street Firm conference. 

Since March, we have curated a wide range of accessible free webinars on a mix of legal practice and business operational matters to bring members together from their own homes in this extraordinary time. Our first fully online sole practitioner and high street firm conference took place on Wednesday 29 July. We were delighted to be joined by over 200 members and over 40 speaker experts from both the profession and other professional services firms. Both for us and attendees this was an entirely new way to participate in a conference.

It’s always useful to learn from a variety of professionals from across Scotland, many of whom have faced similar challenges and pivoted their businesses at this time. For our Business Readiness panel session we bought together Corporate Finance Partner and Managing Partner Lyn Calder of Chartered Accountants Anderson Anderson & Brown LLP, Austin Lafferty, Austin Lafferty Solicitors & Estate Agents and Geraldine O'Reilly, EMEA Marketing Specialist, Clio to share transferable tips.

Takeaways from the business readiness panel

Changing demand for your core services

Crises have different stages. While the immediate disruption caused by Covid-19 may be behind us, the challenging market conditions triggered by the pandemic continue. After enacting your immediate crisis management response and steadying the firm, you need to make the transition to improving the operational efficiency and effectiveness of the new model. Identify and act: What could be offered to clients now with a decent prospect of a fee returned for that activity?

A blended approach of digital and physical ways of working is here to stay – make sure you get the best out of it for clients and colleagues alike. Firms are thinking beyond traditional limitations or geography. That does not mean being the earliest adopter in the market, but it does mean staying in touch with the peloton.

They just want it done properly and professionally

Many clients do not mind where and when you do their work, they trust you to deliver and be agile. Many have reported they had never felt so in touch with their solicitor as during lockdown. We heard this repeated frequently across the day. Everyone has faced significant changes in practice and we celebrated the many creative ways members have managed to carry out and implement client instructions at the heart of their local communities. Not only via video-conference calls, we also heard stories of colleagues standing in client gardens whilst on the phone looking in through the window, holding documents to glass doors, or via car windows, and it has to be a pleasant benefit that many clients have now gained Zoom expertise from their family interactions over the course of the pandemic. Don’t forget that humorous creative touch points can cement client loyalty in way we have not seen before.

Our panel agreed that the fundamental premise of business readiness is, as it always has been, to do what is best for the client. Our panel recommended using newly strengthened relationships to share your full range of services and continue to offer support.

Icebergs and islands

Perhaps not everything was always rosy in the early days, however, when you were back on the shop floor, all hands to the pump, what did you learn in the frenzy? It was noted that a law firm is a holistic, subtle structure and our panel agreed that it was very powerful for the bosses to see it from all levels again. With the knowledge that you have now, is your property utilisation right for your business and your staff productivity? Would a mixture of being in the office and working from home suit your business environment now? Would it make you more resilient?

It's important to consider your business needs and do a risk assessment. We have produced a short guide offering some general points and considerations.

Create a clear and up-to-date position of your cashflow. Is simple chargeable time still your key metric? How much are you billing, what clients are you billing, can they pay? Prioritise what you do and who you do it for to generate the highest and fastest receivable income.

Act quickly to mitigate the damage from accounts in arrears. What will you do when the government support schemes and tax deferral periods come to an end? Consider if your firm would benefit from accessing the coronavirus business loan scheme which is supporting SMEs with access to loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5 million. Our financial partners Braemar Finance can assist with more information and access to finance options.

Confidence and communication

Generally, the panel found that necessity led to invention. When we have to change, then often we embrace it and quickly forget what working life was like before. It’s different to the office environment when you might just learn across the desk, but the substitute is the open vibe of group support via platforms like whatsapp or via Teams. It’s worth noticing and valuing that now teams almost compete with each other to be good team members and quickly volunteer to communally share the solutions.

Good internal and external communication builds confidence among clients and staff. By explaining what is happening, how you are responding and what you want to achieve, you can show you have control of the situation and have a plan in place to cope with its challenges. Do not underestimate the power of communication and honesty with your teams.

Management has to lead with temperament and our panel agreed it can be very hard to find that balance between false hope and quiet confidence. However, effective business management is essential and you need to continue to monitor and improve everyday practices and processes. Make it a priority.

Conference Resources and Feedback

You can access on-demand content from the day, including various session recordings, useful links and all resources mentioned across the conference.

We got some very positive feedback about the event including this comment, which the team really appreciated:

“Conceivably one of the most eye-opening professional experiences I've had. This was an immersive and engaged online event where I can see a community of professionals that are willing to help one another throughout this pandemic and beyond, thank you!”

Content summation services was provided by Confscribe. Thanks also to our event sponsors Clio and Braemar Finance.

Clio practice management software

Clio provides the tools modern law firms need to run a successful service

Braemar Finance

We provide tailor-made loans specifically for solicitors