Reuben Glynn reviews a book full of lessons for law firms and lawyers about how to build and run the perfect firm – even in tough times

I have had the pleasure of reading The Perfect Legal Business by Simon McCrum over the weekend. On the last page of the book, the author announces that there will shortly be four more books published, which will cover the perfect lawyer, partner, and team leader, and growing your firm the right way.

The author, Simon, has been involved in legal practice management for over 20 years. First, he grew and oversaw the sale of Pannone, and then went on to grow and dispose of Darbys Solicitors to Knights. Since 2016, Simon has been running a very successful consultancy business.

I am managing director of an SME legal services business, so I was really looking forward to reading the book to see what lessons I could learn from Simon. The book didn’t disappoint, and I would wholeheartedly recommend you read it.

Two large, vivid lemons adorn the front cover, but don’t let that put you off! I really wanted to give Simon a call to ask him the reason behind the illustration. Does he think lemons are the perfect citrus fruit? Or does running a law firm remind him of sucking lemons?! (Read on to find out.)

This isn’t a long book, only running to 120 pages, probably amounting to 30,000 words. It was a very easy read, and I could have finished it in one afternoon. As it was, it was an enjoyable read for the weekend. I also re-read many of the chapters as I went along. It’s a book I will keep on the bookcase and dip back into at a later date.

The author explains that the book is the result of thousands of lessons he has learned from trials, successes, failures, bad times and good times. He has also had the experience of managing a legal business through the 2007 credit crunch, as well as having to grapple with guiding the UK fastest growing law firm.

In 16 chapters, Simon takes the reader through the ‘shallow end’ basics of law firm management, through to the ‘deep end’ of successful law firm strategy. He finishes off with a final chapter pulling everything together.

My highlights

It would be wrong of me to spoil your read of the book by going into too much detail. I believe each reader will take something different out of each chapter. As the leader of a legal services business, I learnt something from every chapter and have drawn up a mini action plan of things I intend to use in my business. Below are the key things I got from the book.

1. “The need for growth”

Any business has to grow to stay strong. But what growth is the right growth? Not everyone understands that turnover, profit, and cash are very different.

2. “Let’s talk about cash”

A human needs oxygen and a business needs cash. Unfortunately, a law firm needs an awful lot of cash, every month. A firm needs to work out what its monthly break-even cash figure is. Do you know yours?

3. “The first step for growth”

Instead of looking outwards, start by looking inwards. Look at yourself. That will help you to get the foundations in place that will serve the firm very well in due course when you do start to look outwards.

4. “Ladies & gentlemen, where are your lemons?”

Halfway through the book, I finally get my answer to the front cover question. You should read the book to find out!

The “perfect legal business” designs substantive, meaningful differentiators. A great service, every lawyer, every time. Why boast you are in the top-100 firms? You are just saying there are 99 other firms like you. Worst still, we are in the legal 500! All you are saying is there are 499 firms like us?

5. “Did you hear the phones ring?”

One lawyer decided to focus on what he was good at: residential conveyancing. He referred all other work to other law firms. He did all his work at high hourly rates and did no fixed fees. He asked me if I had heard his phone ring while I was in his office. I hadn’t. He explained that was because he always rang his clients first: they never had to ring him.

6. “What’s the portfolio?”

Truly advise a client on what they need. Your firm contains a wealth of awareness, knowledge and experience that could be life-changing and business-changing for your clients. Share it.

7. “Record all the time you spend on a file”

As a legal cost expert, this section of the book was music to my ears. It never ceases to amaze me why lawyers don’t do this simple thing. Simon asks the reader: is it because you have too many files?

8. “The ultimate team speedometer!”

There is a universally recognised number that is used the world over to measure the profit-making efficiency of a business or party of a business. It is called gross margin.

These were just a few of very simple ideas, observations, even strategies that I picked up reading Simon’s book. When I read the book again, I am sure I will take something entirely different out of it.

I will watch out on social media for dates when the follow-up books get published and will buy them without a second thought. The true skill of Simon has been to demonstrate really complex business strategies by making them seem very simple to understand. In my opinion, this is a must-read for all lawyers and anyone working in a legal services business. Trainees, newly qualified lawyers, all the way through to senior and managing partners – anyone can learn from this book.

And now I’m off to work out where my lemons are.

The Perfect Legal Business (first edition, 2020)

Author: Simon McCrum

Publisher: Simon McCrum

Price: £18