A New Year, a new start for your legal practice?

Often, we hear phrases like “a fresh start” or “a new start” at the beginning of a year. This makes sense because as a community we feel like the start of a year gives us a natural opportunity to reset, especially after a short Christmas break. Therefore, why shouldn’t the same be applied to legal practices?

There is no doubt that 2020 was a difficult year and as a sector we have learned a lot. Generally, adaptations in legal practices happen slowly over time as opposed to rapid radical restructuring. I take the view that being forced to adapt to new ways of working quickly is a positive thing and therefore we should use what we have learned in 2020 and apply it to 2021 making significant positive changes to flourish.

The key is to break down certain elements of your business operations and see how they can be altered to suit. Some of these areas are covered below:

Remote Working: This is the biggest challenge and there are several areas which will require attention.

Software & Accessibility:

  • Does the firm currently use the software that best suits remote working? Check if Is it tailored to your area of law, whether it is familiar to some of your staff from previous practices, and whether it is true cloud software which can be accessed anywhere from a webpage rather than requiring dialling into a server
  • Take a broad brush to begin with and view a variety of different software packages to see which one best suits your firm, making sure that you look at extra features like apps and functionality for mobile devices such as tablets and phones.
  • Make sure it works for your staff and the accounts department and ensure that you get as much training as possible on it to ensure you are making the most of it from the start!


  • How does the firm communicate when working remotely? There are of course the obvious phone calls and emails, but would it be more efficient to start using things like MS Teams, Zoom or Slack to communicate? A quick message to a staff member on an instant messaging service could be quicker that picking up the phone or writing out an email.
  • Have regular meetings online. We have seen many pictures of firms having Zoom meetings together. They are beneficial and having them diarised at a regular point each week is a very positive move. It gives everyone a voice to air any concerns they have and it allows the firm’s management to determine where things are and if there are any elements that need altering for a particular department. It gives staff the opportunity to say what is or is not working and work together to improve.

Information delivery:

  • This is the perfect time to look at how documentation is passed between departments at the firm. If the firm has always been paper based, there is an opportunity to switch to digital filing through the case management system. This would mean no more time spent printing and delivering documents and files as they can be accessed instantly through the digital files. If the information delivery processes are upgraded with the communication processes, efficiency can be increased significantly.
  • This is especially helpful when clients call asking for updates because the file is updated in real time and is instantly accessible. Documents can then be either emailed to the client or made accessible through a secure link/portal so that the client can get what they need, when they need it.

Office reopening

Of course, whilst it is certainly important to think about remote working, it is also crucial to determine the processes for when the office re-opens. It is inevitable that many firms will adopt a “hybrid” approach to business. Some staff will primarily work from home and others will want to be in the office. Some may split the location 50/50. It is important that the company puts protocols in place to accommodate different staff members’ wishes. Utilising laptop computers rather than desktops, making the office more flexible so that desks can be alternated and making sure that people feel comfortable and safe. Extensive training and guidance on Covid protocols must be undertaken before allowing anyone to work from the office. It is also vital to avoid home workers feeling isolated.

I recommend that the same policies should apply whether staff work in the office or remotely. Reducing the amount of paperwork and making the most of case management software will increase efficiency regardless of where the work is being undertaken. Try and standardise so that the firm has the flexibility for the staff to be comfortable and feel as though they are doing the best work possible for their clients.

Supplier review and monthly budget 

One of the most important things to do in a new year when looking at a fresh start is for your cashiers to review suppliers and look at budgets. See if there is a possibility of getting the same service cheaper from another supplier. Review other subscriptions and monthly costs and see if the firm needs the service being provided, and if it does, is it making the most of that service? Are suppliers willing to lower their fees if you are not making the most of the service? Have a look into the equipment agreements which are currently in place. Are there leases which are being paid that no longer need to be? Is there a copier or machine that is not being used that the firm is still paying for? Is it possible to consolidate equipment in the light of more remote working and being paper-lite? Once the review has been undertaken and costs have been agreed/lowered it is then a good time to prepare a budget with your cashier. Add a monthly forecast that is reviewed at least quarterly and ensure that upon review you can see the budget variances and have explanations for any significant ones. Next speak to your cashier about cashflows to keep on-top-of ongoing cash within the business to aid in future business decisions.

Review matter account balances 

Check the client balances and list any which have not moved to avoid residual client balances. Reporting accountants will breach practices on residual client balances after a time so it is important to reduce as many of these as possible. Determine whether the firm needs a policy for handling them if they arise or how to avoid them arising in the first instance. Review debtor balances and determine if the balance on the office side is recoverable. Keep an accurate live list as opposed to a list of old balances that are never going to be paid. Chase fee-earners to recover the unpaid ones that are realistic and write off those which are effectively bad debts and close the files down. This means that the firm has an accurate live list and an accurate list of debtors that it can chase and recover. Having a policy surrounding how debtors are handled is also a good idea. Make sure to get your cashier involved as the processes will directly affect them.

These are just some of the ways where a business can make a fresh start.

Make the most of what we have learned in 2020 and flourish in 2021 with positive changes!

Alex Simons MAAT ILFM
New Business Manager
The Law Factory LLP

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