Is my law firm fighting fit for 2017?

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22 December 2016

Posted by Nigel Wallis, partner at Legal Futures Associate O’Connors LLP

Wallis: 12 steps to happiness

As the Queen starts to relax after her Christmas broadcast and I rise with a flush in my cheeks to carve our Cambridge Bronze, I will spare a thought for our cherished legal profession. Like the bird beneath my knife, it has had a good stuffing this year.

An ecologist once said that if you want to save a species, simply decide to eat it. The turkey is living proof of this but I’m not sure the appetite for law firms is quite as strong.

So is it only law firms with plenty of meat on their bones that will survive in 2017? In my view, not necessarily.

We have been given a back-stage pass to many UK law firms this year and, like Royals visiting a new car plant, we’ve asked lots of earnest questions about the state of their world and the challenges they face.

What has become clear is that no two firms are the same and most seem to have done rather well this year. Perhaps more surprisingly, most feel reasonably positive about 2017 too. This suggests that there are many different ways to be successful in this profession – as long as you are fit for the fight.

So, it being the festive season, we’ve devised a game of solitaire that you can play whilst the teenagers are fiddling with their hand-held devices and the elders are fathoming out the Channel 4 subtitles.

The game is called: Is my law firm fighting fit for 2017? Needless to say, this has nothing to do with diet and exercise and is more akin to a Bank of England stress-test.

All you’ll need is paper and a pencil because artificial intelligence and touchscreen technology have no place in this game. It’s Christmas, and you deserve a few hours off.

First, kick off your slippers. There will be some maths involved and you may need access to extra digits. Next, slip in some ear plugs. This is so you can’t hear your beloved moaning that the smart watch you spent your December earnings on won’t sync with the telly.

Now, with as much honesty as you can muster, answer the following 12 questions, scoring yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being 100% NO and 10 being 100% YES). If it’s less black and white and more shades of grey, have a stab somewhere on the scale – nobody’s going to stop you having a second mince pie if it’s not exact.

Question 1 Will all the services we offer still be needed or wanted by paying customers in 2017?

Question 2 Are all the members of our team adequately trained and competent to provide the services they will be providing in 2017?

Question 3 Do we have a contingency plan in place that we genuinely believe will enable us to cut our losses in a particular area of practice in the event that government action in 2017 renders it unprofitable?

Question 4 Do we have a contingency plan in place that we genuinely believe will enable us to survive a prolonged IT system crash in 2017?

Question 5 Do we have a contingency plan in place that we genuinely believe will enable us to survive a material bank fraud or data loss in 2017?

Question 6 Do we have a contingency plan in place that we genuinely believe will enable us to survive the departure of our most profitable working group in 2017?

Question 7 Do we have a professional indemnity insurance policy in place with a rated insurer that genuinely understands our business and who we confidently expect will support our 2017 renewal on affordable terms?

Question 8 Are we supported by a bank that genuinely understands our business and sector and who we confidently expect will renew and/or extend our banking facilities in 2017 on affordable terms?

Question 9 Are we supported by a firm of accountants that genuinely understands our business and sector and who we can rely on in 2017 to help us benchmark our financial performance against our peer group?

Question 10 Does our firm have a governance agreement (i.e. partners or shareholders agreement) in place that will enable us to reach and implement the critical business decisions we may need to make in 2017?

Question 11 Do we have a contingency plan in place that we genuinely believe will enable us to survive if our biggest introducer of work decided to divert all introductions in 2017 from us to one of our competitors?

Question 12 Do we have a clear vision for our firm for 2017 that has been properly articulated to the members of our team and to our customers and work introducers?

If by this point you’re onto your third hanky, stick with me. This is the good bit. Tot up your scores. If your total is 12, you may want to consider re-training as a poultry farmer. If you’ve scored 120, there’s a good chance you could make it as US President.

If you’ve scored somewhere in between, congratulate yourself on being in the vast majority with lots of exciting challenges for you to get your teeth into in the New Year. Just remember, there’s not always safety in numbers. Have you seen a field of turkeys in November?

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