Softly, softly approach

I read with interest your leader in The Lawyer, 17 December, headed "A firm emphasis on good management".

As a consultant to professional firms, I have observed on many occasions that while lawyers are excellent at advising clients they are generally poor at looking after their own practices. Too often department heads are promoted because of their technical skills but lack the necessary management skills.

Poor administration and reporting systems within the firm then evolve which can go undetected until a problem arises and litigation threatened. This is confirmed by a recent report which showed that an increasing percentage of personal injury claims against professional firms came from administration errors. What can be done about this worrying trend?

Training is one answer. Firms must now insist that partners and senior fee earners are put on 'soft' skill courses.

This will give the basic understanding of management, motivation of staff and the importance of monitoring key financial indicators both globally and divisionally.

Outside consultants are another route and they can be very effective in highlighting key areas of weakness as long as they have had practical experience in working in a professional partnership which has its own unique operating and management style.

Another trend is to have an executive "partner" who has a strong financial background and whose responsibilities include overseeing partnership decisions and ensuring that departments are working effectively.

The conflict that all law firms have to resolve today is to comply with increased regulation and standards while coping with the increasing pressures to get matters completed faster and cheaper. This is the art of good management.

Stephen Raznick,

SRA Associates.