Weightmans’ tech spend tops £1m amid double-digit debt rise

Weightmans spent £1.3m last year on new technology including the overhaul of its practice management system (PMS) while in recent years the firm’s total spend on new tech has totalled around £6m, The Lawyer can reveal.

Weightmans managing partner John Schorah said that among other investments the firm introduced Thomson Reuters’ 3E practice management system (PMS) last year. He admitted that the firm had found the introduction of the new system disruptive but that in the longer term it was likely to be of benefit.

“We had a few teething issues, which caused a lag in billing and a bit of a spike in lockup,” admitted Schorah. “Quite a few other firms refreshing their PMS will find similar issues. It involves a massive migration of data from one system to another, resourcing issues as people get used to the new system, and a general catching up. You wouldn’t do it out of choice. But we hadn’t put in a new PMS for nearly 20 years. We got too big for it. I’d say any teething troubles are out of the system now.”

Weightmans’ investment in technology comes as its 2016/17 financial management data reveals an increase in both borrowings and lock-up at the firm. Total borrowings at Weightmans at year-end 2016/17 stood at £12.7m, a rise of 29 per cent from £9.8m, or 13 per cent of total turnover, while year-end lock-up rose by 27 per cent from 100-days to 127 days in 2016/17.

Last year Weightmans recorded a 21 per cent rise in profit as turnover remained static at £95m for the second year in a row. These were the first results since the firm began a major strategic review which saw management roles reduced by more than a third and practice area heads drop from 20 to 13.

Weightmans’ debt levels have increased partly as a result of its technology-related investments while other spend relating to its office portfolio, with its move in London to Fenchurch Street and the consolidation of two Manchester offices into its new home in Spinningfields, have also come with a significant price tag.

Schorah confirmed that the firm’s longer lock-up was also a significant part of the increase in borrowings and was partly the result of clients generally taking longer to pay bills.

“It’s just a fact of life, it’s just taking longer to get paid,” said Schorah. “Do I anticipate our total borrowings coming down? Not dramatically down but not dramatically up. Probably the level next year will be flat but we’ll also see top line growth, so it’ll shrink as a proportion probably to about 5 per cent of turnover.”

The findings are included in this year’s UK 200: Financial Management report and highlight the trend for a growing number of firms to invest in new technology to help them become more efficient.

This is an extract from the UK 200: Financial Management Report 2017. For more information about the content of the report please contact Matt Byrne on 0207 970 4558 or at matt.byrne@centaurmedia.com. To purchase the report please contact either Gilberto Esgaio on +44 207 970 4191 or gilberto.esgaio@centaurmedia.com or Letitia Austin on +44 207 970 4662 or letitia.austin@centaurmedia.com.