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All fee earners now

16 October 17

The final of three articles on the digital office discusses the staff requirements and changing roles that follow a programme of change

by Archie Millar

Over the last two months (Journal, August 2017, 42; September 2017, 41) we have revamped our computer system and moved on to a paperless office. We are basking in the glory of the financial savings and increased efficiencies which we so justly deserve. There is nothing left to do other than to monitor our increased productivity and client satisfaction, and dream of spending our growing profits.

Wrong.

Having dynamically adapted your systems, you can now begin to make real savings and real progress towards a 21st century legal office.

The point here is that if you have moved on as suggested in my previous two articles you will inevitably note that there are more people in your employment than are necessary.

You will not need a filing person if you have no files. The reduction in finding and fetching papers and files, and increased use of email, mean you will not require an office junior. The reduction in mail will mean far less time spent “doing the mail”. Fee earners are now capable of preparing their own documents so there is, quite literally, NO need for typists or secretaries.

I have estimated (conservatively, I am assured by accountants) that the cost of an employee, no matter how little you pay, starts at £20,000 per year.

Think it through. Start with their salary, then add 10% for national insurance, then their computer and licences, the space they use, the management time an employee takes up, the holiday cover and then multiply the total by the head count.

Type it yourself

This is an area where you must be very careful. You are dealing with people’s lives, and there are the small matters of how you are going to process your work, and the public face of the firm.

But, you are not in business to employ people.

In my firm we have no admin staff. I am a sole practitioner but have worked in larger firms and have applied the same principles with considerable success.

We can all think of high-profile examples of firms coming to grief because no one noticed the first 10 employees too many. There will be more.

I am blessed with 10 fingers, and so can type and prepare my own work. We have a very good bank of styles and templates, and between using them and sensible use of typing I have no need whatever for a secretary.

Look at your legal staff. I question if anyone under 40 years of age is not capable of producing their own typewritten work. What did they do at university?

There are no typists in my business, nor will there ever be. Everyone in my organisation is a fee earner.

Incentive to innovate

How to achieve this is best approached over time. Start by not replacing leavers. Whenever a staff member leaves, reallocate their duties.

What you will find is that your better staff will up their game. They will see that there is only room for fee earners and will set out to prove their worth.

Your organisation will change dramatically and for the better. Your receptionist will realise that she is a fee earner and set out to fill the other fee earners’ diaries with appropriate appointments. Your cashier may well take a serious interest in the administration of estates.

Involve your staff in the process. Intelligent staff who are interested will come up with ideas and suggestions. Look after these people with great care, foster them and their ideas; the others will drop out, move on. But always manage the situation actively, otherwise the old adage “You never lose bad staff” will kick in.

For years I have run monthly, now weekly, staff meetings. Some of the best business ideas I have used, came from staff. It was my filing clerk who came up with the then system of paperless files when she became so sick of her job that she could take no more. She went on to become a very good executry paralegal.

The point I am making is that once fee earners are producing their own work, profitability and client service will improve dramatically.

How often have you heard a solicitor tell a client that a job is done, meaning that it is dictated, when you know, and so does the solicitor, that the job will be lying on the typing room floor for the next three days, before that letter leaves the office to spend two days with the Royal Mail before it reaches the client?

It is not something to be frightened of, but something to grasp with enthusiasm.

As always, if you would like to discuss, please feel free to mail me at archie@macraestephen.co.uk
Archie Millar is principal of MacRae, Stephen & Co, Fraserburgh

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