Legal Software â Decision Time
The UK is facing its worst recession in living memory. Across the country, companies in all sectors are shedding staff and taking a hard look at the way they do business. In the legal profession, the statistics make uncomfortable reading. According to The Law Society, 1,240 law firms are in 'financial intensive care'; more than 1,000 legal jobs have been cut in Top 100 firms, customer attrition is on the rise across the board and it's likely that large corporates will take back a substantial proportion of their outsourced legal work over the coming year. Coupled with clients that are becoming more discerning, more willing to shop around and more likely to choose a firm on the basis of price, regardless of quality, the outlook does seem bleak.
Alongside the economic realities of the downturn, law firms and sole practitioners also face another threat. Legal software company mergers and buy-outs mean that thousands of practices are using software that is about to become unsupported or even obsolete. The choice for these firms is stark: Upgrade now for a solution you did not choose in the first place with all the associated disruption and potential loss of income, unbillable hours, retraining, uncertainty, unhappy employees and lost information or cross your fingers and run your current system until it becomes unsupported or until it's too late.
David Taylor, Partnership Secretary at Cozens-Hardy LLP in Norwich says: "In that situation, my main concern would be losing the continuity of support and continuity of product development. It takes time to build up a relationship with a supplier - for them to understand your culture and business. If you've used their software for many years, to be faced with that uncertainty, the potential lack of upgrades or the slow deterioration of service, that would make me start losing confidence in the whole system. And after that there's no real option but to change."
Your Most Valuable Asset
Legal software has a profound effect on the way you do business. It's the backbone of your business. Employees are used to using a certain software package and that package affects the way they work; streamlining processes; controlling workloads and helping to deliver targets. Your software is in many ways your most important member of staff.
"Legal software is totally integral to the success - or otherwise - of any practice," says David Taylor. "It's very hard to imagine how you could function at all without it. Handling thousands of new cases a year - and dealing with a wide variety of transaction types - would be totally impossible without our system. I estimate we can handle several times the volume of work with the same number of staff. Plus it allows us to keep a tight rein on management information; where as at one time you would look at the books at the end of the year and find out if you made a profit, now you can measure key financial indicators every day or even hour."
But what if you want to change software? What are the problems? Most employees do not want to change, nor do they want to be retrained. But if you're having new software forced onto you â without choice â that only makes this problem even worse. People without a choice or a voice tend to begrudge any new system, no matter how effective it is. Unhappy people are inefficient; they handle change badly and become de-motivated. Couple that with the inevitable disruption and you could see profits fall when you can least afford it.
Practice Management Opportunity
But is it all gloom and doom? Is changing software always such a bad idea? Can change actually help you work your way through the recession and take back control? It can if you choose a software package that's superior to your current system, one that will help you emerge stronger and fitter. We all know that recession can be a distinct opportunity. One that forces you to make the long-term efficiencies you need to not only survive but to be in the perfect position to grow, expand and capitalise once we hit the bottom. And the right legal software, with the right customer service can help you beat the downturn. But only if you act now.
John Britten is Chief Executive of Actons in Nottingham. John says: "During a downturn, at a time when it's likely a firm will be less busy, it's important to use your time effectively to look carefully and in detail at all your systems and processes. A quality legal software system helps you make the best use of time and manpower. It can help you establish where you can make savings, which in the longer-term will allow you to become more efficient and better able to compete."
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