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The Secret Life of a Practice Manager

Have you ever wonder what your firm's Practice Manager actually does on a day to day basis? Find out here

Pamela Austen, the COO of JustBeagle shares a week in her life when she was Parctice Director at Quality Solicitors Howlett Clarke.

So, here I am at the end of another busy week in my role as Practice Manager for a general high street practice, looking at the To Do List I had at the beginning of the week and reviewing what I have achieved. Luckily, and with good planning of course, there are things to cross off as done, invariably many items will have to go on my list for next week and as always happens, there are a large number of items that were not even on the list to begin with but nonetheless still had to be dealt with. 

There is always the feeling of spinning plates and it’s essential for me to remain solution-focused, as my day is often filled with conflicting priorities. My role in a nutshell is to manage the business on behalf of the partners and to allow them to do what they are trained to do - practice law in their relevant specialism. Yes, as partners of the business, they have an important role in setting the strategic direction of the firm and agreeing the objectives that underpin it, however as the PM it’s down to me and my team, to operationally make that happen. 

So, this week has seen me oversee a quarterly review with our in-house IT support analyst and outsourced IT provide. Not such a good meeting as we had a computer outage for 3 hours one day, which caused us no end of problems. We are all so reliant on IT these days even for the simple tasks, although I did encourage a lot of filing to be done by secretaries and fee-earners – one of those jobs that always gets put on the back-burner. We are also preparing for both a Lexcel and Investors in People audit – great we get them done together, but I still need to make sure that everything is in order for the assessment days. Then of course this week was the scheduled monthly meetings with fee-earners to go through their costs reports and chase down billings before the end of the month. In amongst all these tasks are the inevitable people coming in to see me “just for five minutes – I need to go through this with you”, sometimes it feels a bit like a doctor’s surgery but it’s an important part of the job. To ensure that the staff feel they are part of the firm, it is important they can come and talk about any concerns and issues they have and where possible get things resolved, before they become “major” problems, or even just to let me know a case has gone well. Oh yes, I am also the COFA and I had a complex banking issue to deal with, alongside the Accounts Manager. All in all, a snapshot of a busy week. 

Alongside all of the above, I have had to set some time aside to run a workshop with our marketing team to consider one of the firm’s prime focuses, which is client acquisition and how do we reach out to a generation of prospective clients, who spend more time on-line searching for products and services, than flicking through the Yellow Pages, or just asking friends and family. At the end of the day having to instruct a solicitor is not always one of those purchases that someone relishes, in many instances it is because of an unhappy “life event”. So, in a world where purchasing habits are changing, where should my law firm be spending its marketing budget to reach the audience of potential future clients?  

This is a question that occupied a lot of discussion time amongst the team. We know from research that had been undertaken, that only a third of people who actually need a lawyer for a legal matter will instruct one. So, we know there is an untapped market that we need to reach out to and engage with, in a manner that encourages them, at a critical time to seek legal advice. We also know that by hiring a lawyer someone can very often improve the outcomes of their legal issues in a positive way, for themselves. 

Some traditional ways of marketing by law firms can still be successful, depending on what you are trying to achieve. We do a lot of advertising in local area magazines that are delivered to households and advertising on the back of buses, which has success. It’s about awareness for us, being seen as the “go to” local solicitor. However, we also know that about a third of people now research for legal services on-line which has increased from 25% over the last few years. As a team, we felt that in this age of ever increasing digital engagement we needed to work on a strategy that directly reaches this populous. 

So, we all agreed that we need to enhance our presence on-line. Yes, we are on social media but we do not use it as a point of interaction with potential clients and we also felt that we needed to make improvements to our website as it was not very engaging – law can be quite dry! However, we knew that someone Googling us on-line would not see our website at the top of the search results page, we just do not have the SEO power, even in a localised search we are competing with the other local firms in our town.  

A further factor that we felt was worth consideration is that not all legal services need to be delivered locally, there are matters such as conveyancing, preparing a Will, or personal injury cases for example, where in fact we may not need to meet our clients. By the very nature of someone searching on-line for legal services they can be based anywhere in England or Wales. These combined factors meant that as a general high street practice we can in fact widen our pool of potential clients and it was this that really excited the team. What we need to do is find the solution that would help us achieve this.  

It will be an entirely new way of marketing our services and we need to consider carefully what we can do to “advertise” our products and services. We have recently started an initial half hour appointment for free and we are starting to develop some fixed fees services around preparing a simple Will. We know this is a “loss leader” but our Private Client team have undergone some training and now have the skills to identify an opportunity to up-sell, not in an aggressive way, but how often is a Will actually “simple”! People think it is such an easy document to produce but the consequence of getting it wrong are potentially enormous.  

I know that as the holder of the marketing budget I will need to divert some marketing spend. Luckily, I am the decision holder for this. However, I will need to discuss with the partners what we are doing and keep them updated as to how successful this approach is. So, the team agreed that if we can find the right platform that is competitive, in terms of how much of our marketing budget it takes up, then it would be a good way for us to easily broaden the way in which we can engage with this on-line community, looking for legal services. In fact, we can achieve a double whammy – the ability to reach more local people who want to instruct a lawyer and maybe also acquire clients from further afield who don’t need to come into our offices.  

So yet again it was a busy week and I know that it will be the same next week, but that is what I love about the job – no day is ever the same. I am looking forward to seeing the follow-up of a successful workshop and to see what the team comes back with, having started the search for a platform we can join, that fulfils our new marketing objectives. 

Former Practice Director at Quality Solicitors Howlett Clarke, Pamela Austen is the COO of JustBeagle, the UK’s first market search and comparison site to give law firms a simple and cost-effective way to use digital marketing and be more helpful to consumers who want to find a lawyer online. 

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