Improving Efficiency Without Diluting Quality in a Private Client department
What the client wants
If you ask a client what they would like from you then they will probably smile and say “ a better job, delivered on time and at a lower price”. The experience of clients has often been the opposite and they have received a poor service, late delivery and a shockingly large bill at the end. It is quite clear that if the service is right then a client will pay but if the service is sub-standard then the client will expect to see this reflected in the price paid.
Driving efficiency in everything that we do
So what can be done to meet the expectations of clients? The answer is that firms have to get significantly better at the way in which they plan and manage matters of all types. It starts with the need to ensure that the matter is going to be run as efficiently as possible. This involves a string of things to consider including pushing the work to the lowest possible level, encouraging the client to do more of the upfront information gathering and administrative tasks, controlling the timetable so that the matter can be completed in a reasonable timetable and taking control of third parties who might otherwise lead to more time being incurred on the file than should actually be necessary.
Once this upfront thinking and planning has been done there is a need for a matter budget which shows how the matter is to be run efficiently. A screenshot of part of a matter plan is shown below.
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The matter can be broken down into a number of phases and within each phase there can be a number of tasks. Each task will require time from a fee earner at the appropriate level. Once the plan is complete, a cost and charging rate can be introduced for each fee earner to show what the cost and price of the job would be. In the example given the cost would be £23,620 and the price to the client using headline rates would be £64,695 which would generate a healthy profit . The matter planning tool can now allow various alternative fee arrangements to be considered and show what the fee would be for the client and what the profit would be for the firm in each case.
Firms that have started to use such matter planning tools can quickly identify the work which is profitable and that which is not which should help to drive their business development activities.
It is one thing to plan to do the work efficiently but something else to actually run the plan to the budget. One of the recurring issues that firms face is that often junior fee earners will exceed the budgets they are given to do the work. While this might reflect inefficiency of the junior fee earner, this might have been caused by the firm not properly briefing the trainee on what needs to be done and ensuring that the junior fee earner has access to all available knowhow. The three yellow columns in the matter plan are the links to available knowhow and the firm should try to provide for each activity a practice note, a standard document and a checklist. Once fee earners have access to all available knowledge and know how there is more chance of work being done efficiently and client expectations being met.
There are clear signs emerging that the economy is now growing again. The danger now is that firms will think that they can relax and that the pressure is off with regard to the need to become more efficient. In my view, the pressure will continue to intensify.
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