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Law Management Section annual conference 2015: the chair's overview

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Law Management Committee chair Robert Banner provides an overview of the Law Management Section annual conference 2015

I am delighted to report that 21 May 2015 saw yet another successful Law Management Section Annual Conference. Committee member Jonathan Beck will be providing a full account in the August edition of Managing for Success, but in the meantime, I wanted to provide an interim overview, and share some of the extremely encouraging feedback we received. Jonathan Beck also provides a précis of the keynote address by Alan Hogart.

This year, as many firms are at last feeling the benefits of growth as the economy strengthens, the annual conference focused on providing the practical tools to make the changes to management and business development strategies in order to bring real results in a changed legal market place.

One of the best conferences I have been to in 30 years

Highly specialised speakers provided advice on a variety of crucial areas. Alan Hodgart, the keynote speaker, discussed strategic options for UK based law firms. The first plenary was delivered by the Law Society chief executive, Catherine Dixon, who provided an overview of the direction she is taking the organisation. Concentrating on strategy, methods, targets (and a game of bingo!), marketing was the theme of the second plenary. The third plenary focused on a variety of firm management issues – a theme that was continued in the afternoon breakout sessions. The fourth plenary tackled the ever-relevant subject of pricing, and the fifth, the topical theme of partner succession. A few drinks rounded off a very successful and informative event.

My thanks on behalf of the Law Management Section Committee to all those who contributed to ensure that this year’s annual conference matched the calibre of past events.

Feedback:

“Very thought-provoking and one of the best conferences I have been to in 30 years.”

”A thoroughly enjoyable event!”

”Good honest dialogue.”

”Thought-provoking but also practical to kick start and re-ignite enthusiasm for getting your business model right.”

”An excellent conference for anyone managing a law firm, with great networking and discussion opportunities thrown in.”

”Excellent conference – I will be coming back.”

 

The keynote address: strategic options for UK-focused law firms

Committee member Jonathan Beck provides a précis of the keynote address

The keynote address, Strategic options for UK-focused law firms delivered by Alan Hogart of Hogart Associates, was a thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking session. Alan’s view was that, despite being in a period of recovery with current economic growth of around two per cent, we have not yet got back to where we were before the crash and it could take ten years before we do.

More importantly, his view is that the current growth we are experiencing in the legal profession is not organic; it is at the expense of others. If your competitor is doing well, it could literally be taking business from you, rather than from an increase in the work available. Hogart urged participants not to wait to see what happens before making changes or it will be too late. It is much safer to start the process of change and adapt as you go along.

The legal middle market is fast disappearing, and we are in danger of becoming a ‘Zara or Prada’ profession, Hogart said. Pricing is a key issue, with a move from hourly rates to fixed fee; however, cautioned Hogart, there is too much knee-jerk reaction. A firm cannot reduce its fees to match others, without reducing costs.

Unfortunately, due to the very technical and narrow nature of legal training, lawyers are not always as business-savvy as we need to be. Hogart urged us to be bold: reduce the number of clients, and be selective.

He also highlighted the trap of doing the work, incurring the cost, and then negotiating a fee. Talking money should not be difficult – talk cost at the start and move towards a fixed price. You and the client must understand the cost and value of the work first, and you must understand the client’s price point. Law is the last industry in which the partners don’t know the cost of what they are providing.

What’s more, we need to spend a great deal more time ‘off the clock’ building relationships, and be more proactive in spotting potential issues and resolving them before they become problems.

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