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Change management for family law firms

by Sabrina Bailey
2 May 2017

Change is a constant in law firms and the traditional family law department needs to be agile and open to adaptation if it wants to succeed and thrive in today’s competitive market.

Managing change in today’s marketplace

Clients’ expectations are changing fast; at a time when 71 per cent of adults in the UK own a smart phone, enabling instant communication between clients and solicitors for quicker resolution of issues is fundamental. 

A change in communication

In family law, clients are individuals rather than corporates and have other commitments, such as jobs and children. Their issues can need instant attention and being adaptable to using apps to communicate quickly instead of just relying on making calls back and forth is valuable.

In my practice, it is entirely commonplace for me to receive communication from clients not just by email, but by text or WhatsApp and even instant audio recordings rather than voicemails. Gone are the days of writing letters and waiting days or weeks for a response. Communication between solicitors can be done quickly by email and matters discussed and resolved within hours rather than weeks. This correspondence is then easily captured, recorded, and filed.

Convenience is key and being able to provide an instant service outside of 9-5 is an advantage, but what tools are required for that to happen?  How can we ensure that employees are on board with these type of changes?  

Social media and the internet 

The big game changer has been the internet and social media. For potential clients seeking advice about divorce, Google will usually be their first stop instead of wandering down the high street to find a family lawyer. It is vital that firms embrace the internet, otherwise they could find themselves left behind. A static webpage only displaying one-way information isn’t going to be enough either. Potential clients need to be able to discover your website amongst all the different family law firm websites available to them. Clients will then demand interaction via your website and social media platforms. 

The cloud

Your firm’s management system is another area where change can be implemented. Cloud-based case management systems enable solicitors to work more efficiently, expedite and automate processes and reduce rates of error. Gone are the days of paper diaries and handwriting which steps need to be taken next. Being a solicitor in 2017 is very different to be being a solicitor in 1997 or even 2007 for that matter.

The evolution of financial systems and accounting practices

Financial systems and accounting practices have undergone drastic change in recent years. Family lawyers deal with money every day, but how many law firms still have outdated practices for doing so? You should look at the latest systems and practices available for law firms, compare it to how things are at your firm, and look at where changes can be made in the most efficient way.

For example, smaller firms can use systems such as Xero or Sage. In my firm we use Xero, which is fully integrated with our case management system. I have the Xero app on my smart phone, so I can monitor my office account transactions in an instant wherever I am in the world. If I purchase something? No problem at all. I can take a photograph of the receipt on my phone and upload it straight away to Xero. I don’t need to remember to take receipts into the office and manually file them, saving me time and enabling me to be paper free.

Change in the firm needs to be led by the partners/directors. It can be difficult to implement a new mind-set in a traditional law firm where employees have been working in a very specific way for several years. In terms of accountancy departments, training on specific software would need to be given, so staff can see the advantages and learn how to use new systems.

How to make the changes

The firm needs to know exactly what their vision and objectives are. It needs to identify how it wants to work and interact with the clients and itself, by adding agility into the business model. How do you want people to view the firm?

The requirements can then be looked at - eg is your case management fit for purpose? Should the solicitors be provided with work mobiles and laptops for confidentiality, flexibility and mobile working?

In my practice, we have looked at new ways of delivering advice to our clients to ensure it is in a way convenient to them. It is not always possible for clients to come into the office for face to face advice, so we use other methods such as Skype to take their instructions. We have clients in the Middle East and this has been particularly effective as we can arrange meetings at mutually convenient times. When time differences dictate meetings out of office hours, we can work flexibly even if this means a Skype meeting from home during the evening or early morning! This approach has enabled us to move into serving a wider range of clients.

Getting ready for change

The next step is to set up your project and communicate the proposed changes to your employees; explaining what the changes are and why they are necessary. This needs to be a subtle process to begin with to give employees the time to think about the changes and feel personally motivated about them.

Changes can be implemented, but the key is to ensure that everybody understands them and they use and stick with them. 

Make change happen and make it stick

Start small

  • Consider implementing a pilot scheme to test the waters.
  • Actively involve people and ask for their input and ideas and discuss how to make them happen. 

Collaborate

  • Bring in speakers and hold seminars and workshops on the topics for change, so that people can get a feel for the outcome you’re trying to achieve.
  • Keep communication open, promote discussion and listen to points of resistance. 

Feedback

  • Invite feedback, such as internal firm surveys to gauge the reaction to the change.
  • Appoint employees who have a positive outlook to change to champion it to other colleagues.

If you do not keep everybody up-to-date, consulted and engaged, the whole plan for the direction of the firm could fail. Avoid a dictatorial approach!

Monitoring change

Finally, it’s important to look at whether the implemented change has delivered your objectives. 

  • Have the changes made the firm more efficient? 
  • Are clients finding it easier to communicate? 
  • Have the changes increased overall profit?

If the answer is 'no' to any of these questions, revisit the change process and identify at what stage the problems occurred, causing the objectives to be unsuccessful. Could it be that more specialised training for staff is required for example? Perhaps an assumption was made that they fully understood the change when in fact they did not. Identify, focus and apply appropriate strategies to solve this problem.

Change can be difficult as there is a natural tendency to resist it, but a forward thinking firm will support employees and work together to embrace change and achieve progression.

About the author - Sabrina Bailey

Sabrina Bailey is a solicitor and Director of Allard Bailey Family Law, a niche family law firm based in central London. Sabrina describes the firm as being innovative and focused on new working practice to deliver a flexible service to clients.

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