Strategic priorities for SME law firms: How to remain competitive

Posted by Legal Futures Associate Osprey Approach

Build Better Habits: Firms need to know their worth

For episode seven of our Build Better Habits webinar series, we were joined by Sarah Charlton, CEO of Eaton-Evans & Morris Solicitors, Sophie Holdsworth, operations manager for Farnworth Rose Solicitors, and Rupert Collins-White, co-chief executive of LPM.

Following the recent publication of LPM’s 2023 Frontiers Report, which highlighted the strategic priorities of SME law firms, our expert panel took a critical look at how firms can achieve their objectives, including how to enhance client service, become more data-driven, and improve profitability.

How can modern law firms enhance their client experience?

The Frontiers Report found that SME law firms’ key focus is to improve the client experience. With this in mind, we asked the panel to share their advice on how this can be achieved.

Sarah began by stating that, culturally, there are often obstacles around capturing, evaluating, and actioning client feedback, often because, “smaller firms have a real emotional attachment to the service they provide. And so, even if you can get a good sample size of feedback, solicitors can become defensive over the work they’ve done”.

Sarah recommended: “Whoever is reviewing the client experience, [it] ideally needs to be someone who isn’t delivering the service so they can look at it impartially and make positive suggestions.

“Solicitors traditionally like to deliver law how they want, which isn’t necessarily how the client would like to receive it.”

Sophie added that, this year, her firm has undertaken an internal review of its own client experience: “We’ve set up internal focus groups, which have everybody involved from all levels in the firm, to review the objectives we’ve set for ourselves. We started by identifying our client’s pain points and understanding what value we can provide at each touchpoint.”

From speaking to the LPM audience, Rupert highlighted the importance of benchmarking your service levels against what your clients really expect: “Firms typically benchmark their service against other law services, but their clients often never experience another legal service so that’s not how they benchmark quality customer service.

“You need to benchmark your service against what else your client is experiencing. You could ask your clients to name a really good customer experience they’ve had and use that to shape the experience you deliver.”

The impact of becoming data-driven and digital-first

Our panellists agreed that the strategy of the firm needs to be driven by the needs of the client.

Sarah explained: “Our business model is one where we want to be able to invest time and money into the client experience, so we use technology behind the scenes to create efficiencies that the client wouldn’t necessarily see. Technology helps us to offer a face-to-face service and ensure our prices don’t need to increase because we’re so efficient behind the scenes.”

Sophie agreed, explaining: “We’ve adopted various tech over the years – some client facing, others for internal use – to help us always be available for our clients.”

Having access to real-time accurate data enable firms to make more effective strategic decisions. Sophie shared how “capturing the right data is important for our long-term success because it helps us to be more scientific with our strategy and budget planning. Osprey helps us with that because we’ve set up various daily and weekly reports that are shared with all staff to help us keep on track and see our proactively see our progress against KPIs and targets.”

Rupert advised that firms should focus on whether they’re consistently collecting and monitoring data for long enough periods of time. “For me, being data-driven is about understanding the data you have and to do this you need to have collected enough historical data to provide the right insights and to enable continuous improvement.

“If you’re not feeding the tech with the right data, it’s just nonsense. A starting point for firms is to focus on what data you have and how you’re storing it.”

Eight habits law firms should adopt to improve profitability

94% of firms in the Frontiers report predicted their revenue will increase over the next 12 months but 82% said overhead costs would also increase. It’s important for long-term success that firms consider the impact this could have on profitability, so we asked our firm leaders to share the habits firms should adopt to boost profitability:

  1. Improve efficiencies
    Streamlining internal operations helps to increase the value charged for every hour worked. Sophie advised that firms should, “create robust, repeatable processes that are easy for staff to follow. Utilise Osprey – or your case management system – to create workflows and standardise processes.”
  2. Adopt a digital-first mindset
    Sophie suggested “adopting more digital solutions and capturing the right data”. Digital tools help firms to improve efficiency internally, which will positively impact the client and, in turn, increase recommendations to new clients. Collecting the right data with the tech then provides firms with the stats needed to make improvements.
  3. Improve internal collaboration
    Rupert recommended that firms improve the internal integration of processes. “Focus on the integrational changes you can make to improve productivity. Ask yourself ‘how can we internally be a more joined-up business?’ and that’ll accelerate profitability.”
  4. Be all over the numbers
    Making decisions based on data rather than gut feelings ensures you’re not making assumptions but are led by fact. Sarah advised: “Don’t let the numbers stop you from taking risks, but you need data to back you up, so you can make data-driven predictions.”
  5. Know your worth
    To ensure you’re maximising the value from your hours worked, Sophie recommended that firms know their worth. “Charge clients based on your knowledge, length of experience, and the service you provide. It’s important fee-earners know the value they provide clients.”
  6. Build the right culture
    The effectiveness of your team is what will impact your client service, profitability and long-term success. Sarah advised: “You have to have the right [firm] culture that aligns with your business goals. For example, we’ve built a continuous improvement culture so the team are used to change and can easily adapt. But to have an effective culture you need the right people.”
  7. Hire effectively
    Not only do you need to hire the right people to fit your culture, but firms should consider whether hiring more people is going to improve productivity or harm profitability. Rupert explained that “salaries have increased so much recently that firms should consider whether hiring more people is effective. Analyse whether you can be more productive with the resource you have first.”
  8. Prioritise an operational role
    If reviewing operational processes isn’t someone’s tasked priority with in the firm, then it won’t happen. Rupert advised: “You need to hire someone whose job it is to process map and review if the operations are effective. Someone who is responsible for asking, ‘Is this efficient?’. This doesn’t have to be a full-time person; it can be a consultant.”

Build better digital and client-focused habits to stay competitive long-term

Our webinar highlighted how SME law firms can improve long-term success, but it’s important practices have a clear business goal in mind, hire the right people that align with that goal, and utilise digital tools to help create efficient internal operations.

For more insights and top tips from our expert panellists, you can watch the episode on-demand now.

We’ve outlined four fundamental habits that a modern law firm should adopt for long-term success, which are covered habits in our Build Better Habits webinar series that is available to watch on-demand now.


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