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Social Media Management for Professional Firms – Q&A Part 1

Social Media Management for Professional Firms – Q&A

social-media-marketing-for-professional-services

The following series of questions and answers were sourced from meetings recently attended, in particular a panel appearance organised by Infinite Global in London.

Q. Who within the firm should own the social media function?

A. I don’t like the use of the word “owned” because it suggests acquiring a right which can either cause friction with others who have an equal interest in the medium or offer up a “get out of jail free card” for those who feel they don’t own it so don’t need to contribute.

Whomever you appoint to take overall responsibility must do so in the knowledge that they are reliant upon others to support and participate. By way of example, a digital marketing manager may, quite logically, be given the task but if they lack the gravitas and personal authority to generate a response they’ll struggle to deliver. Equal to and perhaps of greater importance than the digital know how are the skills to engender collaboration and communication across the firm? “Soft skills” and application of emotional intelligence (EQ) are absolutely essential in harnessing the collective knowledge and skills to communicate the capabilities of individuals and the firm as a whole. Consider this before appointing the person to take ultimate control of your social media activity.

Q. Should PR professionals be the broadcasters of your social media Channels or just managers?

A. The PR function has moved into the centre ground in thoughts of strategic delivery with the increase in digital marketing opportunities and insatiable demand for quality, engaging content. PR is in essence communication but it isn’t all about the external facing message.  Before you consider their role with regard to delivery you need to consider THE most important piece of PR in a firm, the internal campaign to win hearts and minds of key decision makers on the direction of the firm’s communication strategy. Social can, and in my view should, hold a strong part of that strategy but without “buy in” you’re on the outside looking in to those who have the eyes and ears of the senior management team.

Most PR/marketing professionals will have their own twitter accounts and it is expected that they will have a LinkedIn profile. Only by using the medium can you fully understand it but don’t assume PR’s and marketers are all highly proficient with everything social. It is a medium that moves very quickly and deserves to be treated with respect. Outsourcing has its risks as does the handing over of the keys to the firm’s twitter account to the “socially savvy” new recruit. My advice would be to set clear objectives for what you want from your social activity. Here are but a few examples;

  • Increase in brand awareness by (%)
  • Monitoring client feedback
  • Gaining (x) new clients and (y) referrals
  • Creation, management and communication to a social network that reflects the core target areas of the firm (set realistic size target by viewing peer group leaders)
  • Achieve greater news media coverage on key service areas (this should feed back to brand awarness and new clients)
  • Increased traffic to targeted sections of the website (ensure google analytics track social feeds and report regularly)

Once you have your agreed objectives you can decide on who takes the reigns managing or broadcasting or both. That decision is very much down to the make up of your firm and the resources available for such activity.

Q. How do you bridge the gap between those who produce the content (lawyers) and those who are actively promoting the content?

A. There are a few excellent examples of where producer and promoter are actually one and the same. In these situations all the marketing team need do is ensure the practitioner is up to date with the mechanics and protocols of the platforms used.  These “thought leaders” can be extremely powerful advocates for the firm showcasing depth of knowledge and experience alongside their connection to social media management.

Typically the above tends to work for smaller practices with entrepreneurial, driven leaders who have identified the potential of social media marketing. Having a solo performance can be effective however it does place a great deal of pressure on the individual and at times of holiday or illness the firm can be left adrift with only the testcard available for broadcast. (anyone under the age of 40 may need to Google “testcard”)

Of course not many law firms possess the individuals who can both create the content and find the time to promote it. Typically the marketing team are charged with making the very most of the “carefully crafted” content.  This content, let’s say it’s an article on inheritance, will quite often be first posted and hosted on the firm’s website. It might seem obvious but the authors profile should top and tail the article. A brief introduction to the expert at the beginning followed by a more detailed “cut out” section at the end. Browsing behaviour is such that readers may only take in a few lines so there is no harm in repeating the name and contact details of the author. When posting on LinkedIn the publisher can also share the content on Twitter.  If sent on the firm’s main or department twitter account I would recommend a strong headline to draw in the reader and again a very brief bio before the link to the website.

Social media users prefer to deal with real people rather than logos and brands however including a bio of the author and if space allows, a link to either their own twitter or LinkedIn profile will help increase engagement.

Q. What role should lawyers, accountants or barristers play in social media activities?

A. If you have willing volunteers chomping at the bit to tweet don’t dampen their enthusiasm but do ensure they know the ground rules. Be clear and try at all costs to avoid “the tail wagging the dog” as enthusiastic broadcasters monopolise the firms social channels leaving little space for the areas you really need to promote. The firms strategy should point to the key areas requiring promotion, say a specific service area that is topical and requires a greater profile. The marketing team then identify those who have the knowledge and capability to demonstrate expertise, (not necessarily the most senior practitioner or head of department).

On an ongoing basis to better manage the process each service area/ department should have at least one “social advocate” ideally someone who knows the difference between trolls and twitterati. They should be kept up to date with general social trends and specific industry activity to ensure they make the most of their time online and don’t fall foul of any pitfalls i.e. tweeting specific client info or inappropriate comments when “relaxed” after a glass or two.

They should be tasked with helping to generate content in the form of regular articles, news items that can be commented on and any changes in legislation that clients and contacts should be made aware of. In effect they are your radar for their specific area of interest.

Typically you’ll encounter;

a) enthusiastic disappointers, talk a good game but don’t deliver

b) surprising stars, those who’ve kept their social skills secret thinking they were either too junior or simply not capable enough

c) Just can’t be bothered, too busy, too important

d) Steady Eddie and Edwinas who can deliver but prefer to stay in the background

Whichever you identify be very clear as to what is expected and set realistic goals for output. If they fail to deliver don’t be afraid to remove the responsibility and seek out someone who can.

If you don’t appear to have many in the firm with the core skills to contribute and support your social activity relay this to HR and consider building in social media related questions when recruiting to help identify those strengths.

Part 2 of this Q & A feature will arrive next week. If you have any specific questions relating to the above please feel free to comment or simply connect and drop me a line.

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The Power of Influence – Knowing Your Social Media Score

Prior to all things going digital and smartphones embedding themselves in our lives, we had a simpler more straightforward life.  In the past your number of friends could be counted in birthday or Christmas cards or the entries in the address book you kept in the draw of the table in the hall, the one your phone sat on, plugged in to the wall.

The number of business relationships were similarly measured in cards that you bothered to retain, small enough to fit in a wallet or a specially designed holder that you could flick through.

 

The Power of Influence - David Laud i2i

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we all know the number of true friends or meaningful commercial contacts you have does not equate to how effective you are in business.  Similarly with social media our effectiveness in this medium is not due to how friendly we are but how much value we offer those we’re connected to.

Due to terms such as “friends” on Facebook many are still confused as to the type of relationships they are developing online but there is a very clear distinction.  To prove the point there’s a physical limit to how many people we, as humans, can maintain valuable inter-personal relationships with. At the risk of getting all anthropological with you, there’s real sound research supporting this view.

The science behind this is a calculation known as Dunbar’s number. It’s the limit to the number of people who we can keep regular social relationships with and the range has been static for thousands of years.  Professor Robin Dunbar has determined that the number of inter-personal relationships we can maintain falls between 100 and 230.  It’s therefore a fallacy to think you can realistically build a network of close contacts that count much more than 200 in total.

For those of us looking to social media for a return on business investment we need to look beyond simply acquiring followers.  The true power of the medium is not how many individuals are following, connecting or friending us but the influence of those in our network relative to our own interests.  It is the members reach and collective power applied across multiple networks that offer the greatest opportunity.

Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” makes frequent references to how ideas and products catch on by this use of social group dynamics and the manner in which information transmits throughout a group driven by those who have influence such as connectors and mavens.

As a simple example look at the way in which profile pictures quickly adapt to respond to a topical cause, or event. 26 million Facebook profiles used a rainbow filter in honour of Pride and support of the LGBT community.  But be careful when you see a bandwagon approaching, such profile changes can backfire as David Cameron can testify with his recent photo-shopped poppy.

The challenge is to create receptive networks built on mutual understanding and respect in which you can establish a position as a thought leader, originator, sharer and supporter of fellow members.

Great! You may say, but how do I know if I’m moving in the right direction if I can’t count the number of contacts as a measure?

Social influence measurement tools

The answer is to use a measurement tool.  One of the leaders in this influence measurement field is Klout, launched in 2008 it delivers its services via a website and app that use social media analytics to rank users according to online social influence.  They analyse activity across multiple sites that include Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Google+. The “Klout Score”, is represented by a numerical value between 1 and 100.

In preparing this article I spoke to Eddie McGraw Director of Communications at Lithium Technologies, owners of Klout, this is what he had to say on the topic of influence.

Influence can be a somewhat hazy term, but how we define it is the ability to drive action. That’s something we can actually quantify – how much your social activity is able to drive subsequent activity. It’s very important for both people and brands to have some gauge of who is and is not influential, so they can determine who the right people are that they should be engaging with.

 

Also, just as important as overarching influence would be subject matter influence – or what we call Topic Expertise. Kim Kardashian has 31 million followers, but that doesn’t mean people should look to her for advice on whether to invest in Apple or Google. One of the things we’ve just introduced is a way of looking not just at someone’s overall Klout Score, but at their level of expertise on a specific topic. This way you can find subject matter experts on the topics you most care about.

 

As Eddie states it’s not all about the numbers of followers or connections, the key is in establishing your clear area of expertise and thereby your range of influence.  Understanding where you are with regard to influence can help you better understand the effectiveness of your time posting content, improving the return for your efforts.  To put a number on it, the average Klout score is around 40.  To establish where you or your firm sits versus competitors you can search twitter accounts via the Klout website.

 

Increasingly brands and industry experts are becoming aware of the importance of social influence.  Leaving social media content creation to inexperienced, untrained or poorly managed individuals is now seen as far too risky for firms wishing to establish a consistent and respected brand.  In professional services, networks will look for and respond more favourably to a tone of voice combining intellect, empathy and personality with a dash of appropriate humour.  The trend is for owners of the business to start engaging more directly as they have the knowledge and gravitas to attract greater numbers of key target followers for their network.  By way of contrast, posting grammatically poor tweets about minutiae or blatant and repeated promotions, will have your network unfollowing in numbers.

Outsourcing the responsibility of social media posting to an agency, no matter how attractive, is also not advisable, as the risks far outweigh the benefits.  In professional service marketing above many other sectors, your credibility can be very quickly undermined if the voice of your chosen channels lacks authenticity.  Better to invest in qualified support and training for your own team and remain in control.

As a marketer one of my regular requests is to help clients build strong networks and then assist them to deliver fresh, interesting content in a manner that helps improve engagement.  By taking structured consistent steps and increasing the profile and social influence of partners, managing partners and specialists, the firm is better placed to demonstrate their capabilities and attract greater levels of interest.

Whilst I would stress that these tools are not 100% perfect, they do offer an essential insight to establish where your profile stands by way of influence and by regular monitoring keep track of your progress.

Suggested social influence measuring tools –   Klout, Kred/ Sprout Social, Peerindex (Brandwatch)

David Laud

Partner i2i Marketing Management

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Bad Connections – Social Media Rules of Engagement

Recently we witnessed the media storm related to an exchange between two “professional” individuals on LinkedIn.  By professional I’m talking about a barrister and a senior solicitor.  No lightweights in the legal world.  An associate tenant barrister working toward a doctorate in Law & Sociology at Cambridge University, supporting her research in the fight against FGM and a strong background of working with vulnerable women in a variety of matters.  The solicitor is the joint chair of International IP Litigation & Head of European Intellectual Property at a global law firm.

Bad Connections

So how could two so well connected individuals find themselves at the centre of a media storm relating to the appropriateness of social media communication?

It’s actually quite simple.

The context is key here.  The male solicitor requested to connect with the female barrister on LinkedIn, a common enough action and no issue as the request was accepted.  What happened next is where their online relationship rapidly unravelled.

The solicitor immediately took the opportunity to message the barrister via the platform thanking her for accepting the connection request but then continuing to comment on the quality of her profile picture.  Prophetically he went as far as to say “probably horrendously politically correct” and used the word “stunning” and that it would “win the prize for the best LinkedIn picture I have ever seen”.

In receipt of such a message you could respond in any number of ways including:

  1. Ignore
  2. Reply privately and thank him for the compliment
  3. Reply privately and suggest he needs to think before sending such a message and disconnect from the sender via LinkedIn.
  4. Reply and also post the message and reply publically via twitter

As you will no doubt be aware or have worked out the barrister took option 4.  It’s actually not terribly surprising given her work and the undoubted shock at receiving this message on a platform such as LinkedIn.

Once posted on twitter the media quickly stepped in, spotting an opportunity to create a heated debate centred on a middle aged lawyer and an inappropriate post on social media.  The act of taking direct action via twitter added fuel to the ire of those defending the solicitor and accusing the barrister of an unnecessary overreaction.  The story appeared over the next few days in print and online in The Guardian, Independent, Daily Mail, Daily Express and reported on BBC radio 4, newsbeat on radio 1 and radio 5 along with many other sources.  In addition there were continual re-tweets and favourites of those for and against the actions of the barrister.

I have no issue with the initial response and in fact I was included in the Independent report with a screen shot of my response on twitter.  The difficulty I have is that the media involvement,  rather than raising a very pertinent issue of how we perceive and value roles  in the workplace and the need to communicate appropriately, simply polarised the argument by using terms such as “Feminazi” and digging up unnecessary archive posts on Facebook.

What happened?  In essence a lawyer made a couple of inappropriate comments in a brief message to a recent contact on LinkedIn.  LinkedIn is not a dating site nor is it a platform for lightweight banter.  It is NOT Facebook or for that matter Twitter.  It is akin to a professional networking environment where those you know and work with connect and exchange information with similar minded individuals.

The context in this conversation was entirely wrong as the lawyer did not have the relationship with the barrister that could in any way explain the comments.  By contrast “Friends” on Facebook can frequently participate in lively highly personal exchanges and yes at times they too can be offensive and require intervention.  Users of Facebook understand that there is a level of familiarity with the social interactions on the site. Whilst companies do have their own Facebook pages most users on the platform use it to keep up to date with friends and family and only work colleagues they are particularly familiar with and trust.

With all social media sites there are unwritten rules of engagement, understood by frequent users of the platforms and on occasion those rules are breached either deliberately to cause offence or unwittingly through naivety or lack of experience. This is why it is so important to be aware of the social media rules of engagement.

Apologies have been submitted by the solicitor and his firm.  I would now hope we can move on having learnt something from the incident and not lower the debate into a fight between so called “men haters” and “misogynists”.

How We Use the Main Social Media Sites

LinkedIn – Professional business to business social networking platform, exchanges akin to formal or informal meetings but all within a workplace context.

Facebook – Personal platform for keeping friends and family up to date with your life.  Socially led with focus on activities outside of work, leisure time not concentrating on work.

Twitter – Can be both work focussed and socially focussed but users tend to have either one type of accounts or another.  Great care should be taken in posting both work related content and activities of a more personal nature as it may cause to undermine the professional efforts.  With careful management it is possible to balance both.  In general terms Twitter is less formal than LinkedIn.

 

 

 

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The Power of Personal Branding

Later this year our first born turns 20.  Her generation has been the first to grow up in the “social” World we all now inhabit.  Migrating from MSN messenger a brief flirtation with MySpace before Facebook appeared on the scene.  Now she can count twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine and Tumblr to the portfolio of sites that enable her to connect and share with friends.

The Power of Personal Branding by David Laud

The Power of Personal Branding by David Laud

In the early days it wasn’t quite as all-consuming as it is now.  Accessibility was limited to time on Dad’s laptop or PC but as we all know now smartphone and tablet proliferation provides instant easy access.

 

As a parent we will naturally be protective over the sites visited and posts read and made by our children but it’s not always easy to build and maintain trust whilst coming across as an Orwellian control freak.

 

Parenting is one thing but what of ourselves?  Are we immune from the attractions of social media and the desire to connect and build our own virtual networks?  For some the thought of sharing aspects of their lives on any potentially public platform is just too scary or ridiculous to consider.  For others it opens a whole new world of opportunity.

 

Successful social media entrepreneurs have created impressive personal brands that can equal that of a large business.  Commentators and influencers are now being actively sought out by the traditional brands to aid them in their quest to understand and grow their own sphere of influence online.

 

What about you?  Do you see yourself as falling into the “personal brand” category?  From my perspective anyone who is prepared to put themselves out there with a unique and homespun message that

shares even a small part of their lives has created a brand.  The difficulty with such a notion is that people see a brand as belonging to something far greater than an individual, its Nike, Coke, Apple, Dyson, Virgin…. But just consider the celebrity brand.  Stephen Fry, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, One Direction, Jeremy Clarkson; there are hundreds of examples.  One of the most stunning examples of an individual harnessing the power of social media is that of Barack Obama and yes he had a team behind him but the principle of Obama the brand, his message and reach through social media is a lesson we can all draw upon.

 

If using social media for personal or business purposes or in my case a schizophrenic combination of both you really should take time to think about how your persona is presented.  I often see accounts on twitter where individuals are obliged by their employers to state that the tweets produced are their own and not associated with the business they’re fronting.  I understand why these statements are made but I do fear they undermine any efforts to positively promote that business, it gives an impression that they are free to talk behind the businesses back rather than be trusted to offer opinion and general comment on the world around them.  If you’re worried about what someone might say in the name of your business or by any loose association, don’t give them the keys to the account!

 

Back to the personal brand idea – what should you be doing to make the most of your social media presence?

10 Tips for Personal Branding with Social Media

  1. Think about why you’re investing time in social media sites
  2. Be careful not to imitate others, be original and find your own voice.
  3. Draw up a short list of simple objectives, what do you want from all this time you’re investing?
  4. Consider setting yourself some basic “house rules” for social media use such as:
    • No swearing
    • Respect others
    • Block negative contributions from your network
    • Protect and enhance your reputation
    • Add value to your network
  5. Ask for feedback from others who you trust to give an honest appraisal of your online persona, does it match your own thoughts?
  6. Don’t get hung up on social ranking scores
  7. Focus on the level of genuine interactions
  8. Regularly review where you are against your objectives and don’t be afraid of changing them
  9. Update the profile pic to keep things fresh
  10. Try not to take yourself too seriously

The last on the list could easily be top.  One of the biggest “turn offs” is the overly earnest, terribly persistent and infuriatingly opinionated narcissist.  It’s really not a good look; but given the personality type they’re often so self-obsessed they don’t see what we can.

Being aware of your personal brand is not taking yourself too seriously it’s actually taking responsibility for your current and future reputation.  Most employers and clients now “Google” the names of individuals who they might be working with.  It’s clear that those who have strong, well established and consistent content will put themselves in the frame for future work.

As far as branding goes…it really is getting personal.

David Laud – i2i Business Solutions LLP

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Law Firm Management – Survival of the Fittest

Charles Darwin knew a thing or two about evolution.  If I can cast my mind back to my human biology lessons, the term coined by the great naturalist was “Natural Selection”.  It took a little while for this radical theory to be accepted by the mainstream scientific community but now it is universally seen as the reason we, as humans, exist in the form we do today.  Of course not just humans, we can trace the origins of all living creatures through this process.

Crisis? Perhaps you need to adapt to survive...

Crisis? Perhaps you need to adapt to survive…

If Darwin were alive today he would no doubt be fascinated by our individual and organisational development.  He might also see how his theory can as easily be applied to businesses as it can to individuals.

A sector currently experiencing a significant series of evolutionary events, shaping their structure, relationships and existence is the legal profession.

Just last week we heard of yet one more familiar north east name going into administration.  The loss of 50 jobs and a history of 250 years, gone.  They are not the first in this recent wave of firm closures and they most certainly won’t be the last.

Why are we hearing of so many failures?  The answer, as in any scientific evaluation, is not straightforward.  The truth is that the myriad of challenges that have conspired to arrive at the door of law firms in the UK are individually manageable with care but when they arrive in rapid succession, they create a chain of events that leave only the very fittest and dynamic of practices standing.

The Law Society reported toward the end of 2013 that over 400 law firms had closed in the preceding 12 month period.  Last week the same organisation revealed that more than 4,500 solicitors had simply not arranged to renew their practicing certificates.  Without it they are unable to carry their work.

The events that have brought about the closure of so many firms include;

  • The recession resulting in SME’s looking to save cost by avoiding lawyers’ fees – (Law Society Gazette May 2013), larger corporations driving down fees and personal clients unable to get divorced as they can’t afford to put their affairs in order. The property market is also only just waking from its lengthy hibernation.
  • Personal Injury and Medical Negligence solicitors impacted by the Jackson Reforms seeing an immediate drop in fee income, volume of instructions and the departure of claims management companies from the market.
  • The Government removing legal aid for divorce and failure of mediation to replace the lost fee income.
  • Introduction of the Legal Services Act and “Alternative Business Structures” enabling non solicitors to offer legal services and large corporations such as Co-op, Direct Line, DAS, BT entering the market.
  • Professional Indemnity insurance cover proving increasingly difficult to obtain, suppliers in the market cherry picking only the very best risks and others facing excessively high premiums.
  • Solicitors Regulatory Authority introducing burdensome and expensive measures such as Compliance Officers for legal practice and finance.

These facts and more point to a series of tremors in the legal world that have built to form a seismic event.  The consequence of these factors is when the dust settles the clients, both personal and business will have far less choice.  On the upside, of those firms remaining we can be assured that they are resilient and very likely to be focussed on the needs and value they can bring to the client.

The conclusion we can draw using Darwin’s theory is that having survived the natural selection process those still standing will be fitter and more prepared for the future.  The advantage existing firms have at this time is their opportunity to still act, adapt and ensure their survival and avoiding a Dodo dilemma.

David Laud – Partner i2i Business Solutions LLP

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Marriage of Convenience or True Love – Law Firm Mergers

What lies behind the sudden increase in solicitors firms merging?  Is it a need for personal partner security, succession or future proofing, fear of failing or a strategic move to build a successful business?

Marriage Merger

2013 has revealed a weekly supply of dramatic news impacting the legal profession.  Jackson reforms, loss of legal aid, liquidations, economic position and client migration, inability for partners to plan ahead, ABS’s and the increasing impact of the Legal Services Act, succession issues for traditional partnerships, professional indemnity renewal……they have all combined to place the profession in new uncomfortable territory.

One consequence of these issues is the fact that there are now far fewer firms in England & Wales than at any time recorded by the Law Society.

As at September 2013 there were some 10,726 firms to be precise. It still sounds like a big number but as reported in the LSG it’s 400 less than the same month in 2012.  This dramatic fall is due to all of the above factors which have resulted in:

  • Firms closing their doors voluntarily
  • Firms placed into administration
  • Increased merger activity

The rather worrying state of affairs has created a rather tense atmosphere within many firms as they find themselves glancing around to find security against the pressures, the security of a merger partner.

It’s the merger activity that is of particular interest because if well thought through and executed it can deliver a very positive outcome to counter the weight of negativity surrounding the profession.  Unfortunately the press releases with smiling partners shaking hands in front of newly branded and dressed offices are unlikely to convince many onlookers of the true drivers of such arrangements.

When partners start to feel the cold and their accountant or bank has that “little word in the ear” they see the one route to securing their future as that long discussed but never acted upon merger opportunity.

The firm nearby that presents less of a threat to personal control than others with domineering partners.  The firm that has the client you’d always courted but failed to land.  The firm who’ve just announced an investment in IT which must mean they’re “switched on” and looking to the future.  The firm that hasn’t joined a national brand in a vain attempt to protect its future flow of work.

It’s not surprising that the above traits are seen as attractive to the partners of a firm keen to link arms with another.  Regardless of whether it’s an arranged marriage or one that all partners consent to willingly, the success of the union will not be founded in any of those considerations but could certainly result in its failure.

As with any successful marriage having things in common helps but is not essential.  Yes you need an attraction, a spark and a personality match that uses the “chemistry” to good rather than toxic effect.  When joined the “personality” of the newly formed business must be a commonly shared persona.  If not the deal can be blown wide open leaving space for detractors, conflicting agendas and negative views of those who were just waiting for the “I told you so” moment.

Leadership is critical and it doesn’t necessarily need to be a single person more often a team who share a vision driven by clearly stated and understood objectives.

The original cupid arrow that created the merged business is typically founded in solid logic and should have all the ingredients for a successful outcome. Unfortunately the complexity and challenge of putting organisations together can dilute and lose the benefit of economies of scale and combined resources.

Critical to the success is a clearly articulated strategy delivered consistently by an effective leadership team. The focus at all times MUST be on the customers, lose sight of that key fact and matters can start to unravel fast.

Rather than being daunted by the scale of the challenge it’s helpful to view the merger plan as a series of projects that each need to be worked on to achieve the overall desired outcome.

Not many employees relish change and mergers present plenty of new challenges and potential threats to personal job security.  Keeping the talent engaged is important as is the need to motivate the business to achieve the new goals.

There are many positives to be borne from mergers but before being charmed by a suitable partner it’s worth looking at theirs and other track records. We can and should certainly learn from the mistakes of others and the legal market is peppered with them.

On the upside mergers can and do deliver, but best look at an equation that gives 1+1 = 3+ not 0.  This is a marriage that needs to deliver offspring that can grow and evolve and take the newly formed business forward.

Here below are a list of projects, an example of the areas a typical merger would need to cover to deliver a positive and co-ordinated outcome.  The list below is but a guide and is not comprehensive.  The projects would of course be determined by the specific features of the merger.

Merger Projects Example

  • Client database co-ordination
  • Staff induction & integration
  • Accounting period, procedures & systems
  • Cashflow projections and monitoring
  • Client care, complaints and reports
  • Business Plan evaluation of strategy
  • Marketing – website, materials, budget
  • Brand evaluation, name, positioning
  • Compliance matters – money laundering/ SRA
  • Insurances
  • Overall IT infrastructure assessment
  • Quality mark retention

If any of the above issues resonate with you and your business and you would wish to explore your options please feel free to drop me a line in confidence – david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

David Laud

Managing Partner

i2i Business Solutions, Management Consultancy

david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk  twitter @davidlaud

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A Question of Quality, Quantity, Quill-pushers, Quarrels and Quakes

Managing a Law Firm in Uncertain Times

My year has so far been a flurry of activity – clients seeking new initiatives to stave off the competition and the search for a bright torch to show the path through the darkness. The darkness cast over the legal profession impacting on a managing partner’s vision has been caused by a multitude of concerns;

• The regular announcements of new, SRA approved, dynamic alternative business structures (ABS’s).
• The spread of ineffectual but tempting branded “legal networks” seeing an opportunity to build a business on the fear of failure and their belief of strength in numbers.
• Government changes to Legal Aid removing such client support for key practice areas including Family.
• Further legislative changes to reduce Personal Injury fees via the Jackson Reforms.
• Changes to employment legislation and general job loss fears reducing the number of employment law matters.
• The property and construction markets flatlining.
• The Ministry of Justice removing claims referral companies as a source of new Personal Injury work.
• The regulatory body for firms in England & Wales – the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and their insistence on adding layers of bureaucracy through two new compliance officer roles.

And of course the ever present need to find enough fee income to pay for Practising Certificates and Professional Indemnity Insurance.

Add to this the pressure to invest in technology, talent and training and you have a series of seismic events that for many are leading to nasty rumbles if not catastrophic quakes within partnerships throughout the UK.

On the upside there are significant opportunities for law firms across most areas of the practice spectrum. Those opportunities are not in the same shape, colour and size as before. Clients are far more comfortable and capable accessing information online before deciding on contacting a lawyer. Clients now come pre-packed with knowledge and a revised expectation of what value your service is to them.

They also select their law firm or lawyer on criteria that has evolved to include recommendations but often accepting them from comments posted on web forums and increasingly social media. Twitter is now far more likely to be used to find an answer that will be acted upon than Google as responses are provided by a trusted network.

Firms that believe clients will still flood in because of their “long standing reputation”, “location”, “profile of senior partners” will find themselves falling further behind as competition increases. This will be ever more apparent in firms who have failed to implement Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions to enable a meaningful ongoing interaction with existing clients.

Well that’s a bright and cheery view. I make no apology; it is the reality of managing a modern law firm in 2013. To be successful, a legal practice like any other business needs to grow through innovation; understanding of customer needs, a clearly articulated vision and quality execution of service.

After 5+ years of recession we can be excused for feeling tired, battered and lacking that vital spark to revitalise the business but now is the time to do it.

If any of the points above are a current concern to your business and you would like to discuss please email in confidence to david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk or call 08456 446624 to arrange an initial meeting.

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Evolutionary Law

Charles Darwin

In his day Charles Darwin would have been aware of the existence of solicitors but probably not considered that his theory on evolution and natural selection could be applied to that most staid of professions. 

Darwins’ theory explained evolution as a process that took millions of years. The difference for your typicalUKlawyer is that right now they have a life changing event akin to the impact experienced by the dinosaurs to contend with. 

One would hope that the introduction of the Legal Services Act would not so much wipe out solicitors as we know it but accelerate a long overdue evolution and metamorphosis.  Not to say there won’t be casualties, for some the impact has already been felt.  A number of practices across the country have struggled; failing to manage succession, obtain professional indemnity cover or simply folded because running costs were too high and they didn’t attract enough clients.

Add to the mix the prospect of high profile competition from nationally recognised brands such as the Co-op and BT, the governments drive to strip costs from publically funded areas and eliminate referrals for personal injury and life for your average managing partner just became more than a little interesting.

Quality Solicitors

Those with an eye for an opportunity have quickly seized the initiative with the creation of apparent “safe harbours” for law firms to lay anchor and leave the tricky task of trying to compete to someone else.  Examples include Quality Solicitors.  The recent impressive TV ad launch from Quality Solicitors will have created a significant stir and feeling of warmth amongst its early adopting panel.  Will they feel quite so content in 12 – 18 months when they’re joined by even larger already established brands?  Claims Directs £16m TV budget didn’t deliver for them 10 years ago but it did create a noise.   

“The survival of the fittest” a term first used by polymath Herbert Spencer following his study ofDarwin’s theory is an appropriate phrase to describe the pressure on our legal sector.

Being fit means of course being in shape, physically with the talent within the business including leadership and essentially the strategic direction including the message communicated to customers. 

If you’re running a law firm right now you need to decide if you’re prepared for the future and indeed have the energy and ambition to succeed in an increasingly competitive market.

The future of many firms lies with the next generation of lawyers and managers who need to see that the business has a clear sense of its position and confidence in its approach.

The time is not to make like the dodo or dinosaur but to see the increase in activity by larger brands as an opportunity.  Millions spent on TV advertising is not such a threat as many may think, it’s putting the subject of a range of legal services into the mainstream media.

Of course some may be attracted by the glossy, polished national ad campaigns but in my experience it only serves to increase overall awareness. Well placed, local firms will benefit as long as they’ve evolved and adapted to capitalise in this brave new world.  Be brave, don’t fear the new world, be bright and stand out. 

David Laud

Partner i2i Business Solutions LLP