Good management equals survival

The Law Society's new law management section aims to offer firms access to the know-how to help them boost their performance, says Gerald Newman. Gerald Newman is the Law Society's deputy director of communications.

Law practice management can be a lonely business. Most solicitors benefit from a constant exchange of information, both with colleagues and with opponents. Practice managers rarely have such opportunities. They often encounter resistance or scepticism from others in the practice, who believe that fee earning is the only activity of value and that no one else can advise on how best to do it.

So it is not surprising that hundreds of practice management specialists have pre-registered for membership of the new law management section.

The pace of change and scale of challenge facing all types of practice is leading to increasing uncertainty about the future. Better management is one of the best ways to make a legal practice more successful and to give it more control over its destiny.

But in a recent survey in which practitioners were asked about plans to set up a law management section, solicitors made remarks such as: "Why should I want help running my business? I am not in business!", "I find management a complete waste of time" and "Cash flow seems an alien concept for the partners."

But lawyering is a service business. Profitability and survival depend on satisfying the needs of clients. The new section will help its members to dispel the attitudes illustrated by the above remarks, and will foster improved management effectiveness, through better access to know-how and support.

Lack of time is a major headache. As one practitioner put it: "We're conscious of the need to manage, but we don't have the time."

The law management section will offer time-saving ways to improve skills. One of the most exciting is the planned online knowledge bank, combining authoritative reference material, model documents and member discussion areas. Members will no longer have to waste time re-inventing the wheel every time they are faced with a new problem.

Benchmarking your practice against others, or against relevant aspects of businesses outside legal practice, will also be made possible by the section. As one practice manager from a larger firm put it to us: "It's perfectly possible to share comments without giving away state secrets. There's a lot of scope for cross-fertilisation."

The Law Society, the profession tells us, should concentrate on targeting services that deliver tangible benefits. Surveys of more than 1,000 solicitors in 1997 found that three in five supported the development of Law Society sections as a way of achieving this. A law management section was one of the most popular options with one in five respondents said they would join such a section if it was set up.

Although it is a Law Society initiative, you do not have to be a solicitor to join. Professional managers, administrative staff, partners with management responsibility and lawyers who want to develop their personal management skills are all welcome.

The section aims to cover the full range of management disciplines: finance, marketing, personnel/human resources, training, IT, client care and quality standards. Run by its members, the section will be responsive to your needs and dedicated to your special interests.

The law management section is being launched on 14 July by Angus Andrew, a member of the Law Society Council. To join the law management section, look out for your enrolment pack in the post this week, or call 0171 320 5675