Systems rule the business of law

“Life consists of rare, isolated moments of the greatest significance, and of innumerably many intervals, during which at best the silhouettes of those moments hover about us. Love, springtime, every beautiful memory, mountains, the moon, the sea – all these speak completely to the heart but once, if in fact they ever do get a chance to speak completely. For many men do not have those moments at all, and are themselves intervals and intermissions in the symphony of real life.”

Freidrich Nietzsche, Man Alone with Himself

I have been reading and listening to The E-Myth Revisited and have just bought The E-Myth Attorney. I am convinced in Legal 2.0 (I don’t think I can yet talk about 3.0) the business franchise model that Michael Gerber talks about is how firms of the future will operate. In fact, we are already beginning to see that with Quality Solicitors: a systematised operation where, in theory, you could have 10,000+ operations which all look and feel the same. Mr Gerber uses McDonalds as the atypical example but if you look up and down the high street you will see an abundance of the business franchise model: Starbucks, Costa, Pizza Express, and Specsavers.

Love them or loathe them, you know what you are getting each and every time. They offer an experience that is uniform and predictable. And from the point of view of the franchisee it enables them to work on the business and not in the business.

Some of you are bound to take issue with this approach and will insist law is a profession and you are offering a personalised service. Unfortunately that might be what you think you are providing but it is rarely what clients think about. They want Amazon certainty and reliability, particularly at the commoditised end of the market. If you want to carry on working stupid hours and carrying a ridiculous caseload then carry on with your system. But let me tell you as someone who worked in the business (doing ridiculously long hours), you will never be able to stop acting like a technician and driven to work harder and harder just to stay afloat or keep your practice going.

Now, from my current vantage point, I recognise that it will be very difficult for the junior lawyers to go to their bosses and say:

“This system that you have invented for us juniors sucks. You are asking me to do all these things, including billing like mad, and there is simply not enough hours in the day.”

But if they could offer an alternative, and one that provided the same or better level of profitability, then I would be very surprised if their bosses didn’t listen.

In many ways in readjusting the system and looking for opportunities to come up with a system that works every time, you will understand that your role as lawyer needs to fundamentally change. You don’t need to be involved in every aspect of the transaction, or have intimate involvement with each and every client. This is not counter-intuitive to Excellence in client service – far from it. No it means that you are looking at ways to systemise your area of work to bring about a predictable result that meets and ideally exceeds the client’s expectations each and every time they instruct the firm. There are very few law firms that can lay claim to that. The reasons: it is based on the individual delivering rather than the system.

I will be doing more work with the E-Myth methodology – indeed I see it forming a bigger part of my practice – and it is my intention to show how the methodology can be applied to legal practice in the UK.

For now ask yourself, how much of the work that I do has to be done by me and how much could be done by others? You need to keep asking that question every week. Sooner or later you will come to the realisation that to get your life back you need to do more than delegate the bits that you don’t like. You need to start mapping the process of your work and working out who within the firm is the best person to do that piece of work, and ideally the lowest rank of qualification. You need to start thinking about the engagement process and working out what clients like and what they don’t like. This is more than just asking them if they like emails. This is the type of letters you write, how they would like to contact you and be contacted, what they are interested in paying a premium for and the bits of the job they consider routine. In the future the billable hour will not only look antiquated alongside value based systems but the client will simply refuse to pay the same amount for each part of the assignment. No one letter or email is the same but you know which ones add value and those that are administrative. If you opened up to your system to your client, how much of what you currently do could be eliminated?

If you think that this only applies to those operations like Quality Solicitors then think again. Even if your firm does’t have the same ambition to grow its practice, nevertheless by going down this route you will give yourself the best possible opportuntity to exploit the market.