Law firms are passing through times of change, possibly without precedent. Arguably, it’s a good time to redouble efforts on points of business planning that should be more predictable than the macroeconomic picture.
Graham Martin at Barclays, who has worked with law firms for a number of years, says: “Against that uncertain backdrop, almost every business is challenged to plan, to predict and to forecast revenue accurately,” he continues. “So, I think smart law firms are focusing on areas such as cost control and preserving margins, rather than ‘absolute profitability’. They should assess and take action on those aspects of business that are potentially more manageable.” For example, he points to a positive push to improve lockup – while the move to a world of more agile working is another trend clearly tied to the efficiency agenda.
“Open-plan working is an increasingly popular way of optimising space and the working environment, especially when you also consider the cultural benefits, such as driving collaboration,” says Graham. “The workplace of today is very different from that of even 10 years ago. It’s likely to retain some fluidity as the cost and people pieces of strategy continue to converge in future.”
Another point of basic business hygiene in such a time of change is information security – a particular priority for Barclays when it comes to clients, says Graham. “Any business can proactively manage this critical aspect of their business by ensuring that all its people – not just those in finance – are aware of the risk factors involved in cyber fraud. There is a clear potential impact on profitability from something like a piece of malware bringing business disruption – and the bank is very keen to help clients to equip themselves with the knowledge they need.
“Technology helps to advance our industries, but also brings elements of heightened risk as we rely on it more.”
He says that Barclays holds a programme of seminars on industry developments with cybersecurity experts, and also publishes thought leadership pieces that collate key learning points to help firms spot common problems.
“Security is also a key agenda item whenever one of our relationship directors sits down with clients for a tailored relationship review.
Technology & Skills
He recommends that firms analyse their investments in any new technology with care. “The specific requirements and scale should determine whether it’s a case of buying a new solution or developing something in-house, for example – a system should always be fit for purpose.
“Once that decision has been reached, it’s important that senior leaders both embrace the project and drive its implementation.”
However, tech-savviness is only one of the “broader enterprise skills” needed by today’s legal leader, he says. “After all, technical legal advice is now almost taken as read.”
Workforce planning and management is another area that could do with some attention. “The ‘right people’ must be doing the ‘right work’ for true productivity to flourish. For example, fee-earning partners need to utilise finance and other support teams to the fullest extent possible, freeing themselves for the highest-value activity, such as new business development and innovation.
“Firms should also establish and cultivate client relationships across multiple touchpoints, from innovation activity to workforce diversity. Instead of one-to-one contact in individual practice or product areas, they must manage to create deeper business relationships and relationship development plans on both sides.”
In times of great uncertainty, it makes even less sense to face your problems or challenges in isolation. From sharing best-practice insight gained from other sectors on high-risk subjects like cybersecurity, to physically bringing parties together in new neutral spaces for discussing ideas, Barclays is helping firms to collaborate their way to both efficiency and prosperity.