A LEAP Forward

I thought It’s about time that we wrote a case study on the work that we do installing and training on the LEAP Case Management System.

We are not involved in the sales process in the work that we do with LEAP. They bring us in to manage and deliver the project for installation and training. Basically, we take the client company/firm from the point after they have bought the LEAP Case Management System (CMS) to having it installed and the staff proficiently using it. (We can also help with extra training and document work.)

So, what happens in a typical LEAP project?

  1. We will be requested to assist with the project and will then hold an introductory conversation with the project lead at the client firm, explaining our role, mapping out the project, checking the client firm’s understanding, discussing hardware and software requirements and planning and scheduling the on-site days for installation & training. If there is data to be converted from a legacy system, then we will co-ordinate this as well. This will be followed up with a detailed Project Planning email.
  2. The next period will run from this conversation until the days scheduled for us on-site. During this time, we should receive from the client firm the documents requested of them in preparation for our on-site attendance. We will chase, answer questions and advise in order to assist our clients through the preparation stage and to make sure it all happens as planned.
  3. When we arrive on site there are two stages. Firstly, we will do whatever installation is necessary on workstations, resolving whatever issues arise (hopefully none if the preparation by the client firm has been good). If we cannot resolve them we can call upon the LEAP Support team to assist remotely. Secondly, we will train the staff on how to use the system. This will involve interactive training on how to use all aspects of the system to allow the staff to run their matters. Also, we train on the bookkeeping aspects and how to manage the background data file for their firm’s profile (such things as managing the staff profiles, activity codes, Legal Aid settings where relevant etc).
  4. A few weeks later, after the firm has had a chance to get on with using their new CMS, we hold a Q&A Follow Up Training session remotely with the client firm to answer issues and provide additional or reminder training to ensure they can get the most out of their investment.

We hope that we can retain an ongoing relationship with firms we have helped through this project and are often contracted to come back into client firms to help further either with training and optimising use of the LEAP Case Management System or indeed to assist with other practice matters.

Any questions please ring Ingemar on 07887 524 507 or email on [email protected]

Are you ready for the electronic Bill of Costs?

After many many years in preparation, there will now be an electronic Bill of Costs. On 6th April the Bill will be compulsory to all firms when submitting costs claims. The new electronic Bill of Costs has the same phases as a Costs Budget but also incorporates the J Codes (Lite) which are already in the CPR.

If you want more info or help in preparing message me. I can put you in touch with someone who can help.

I am flying a bit of a kite here. What I write comes from my own experience in life, both in practice and in family and my own social life. It’s something I have raised in professional circles. Usually I’m met by blank faces! (Another one of Hunnings’ mad cap ideas I hear you groan!)

When I practiced as a solicitor, and indeed now when working as a consultant, possibly the biggest blockage to turning a potential job into a finished job with cash in the bank is communication – or rather the lack of it. When I ran my own department, I told my staff to ask their clients for their ‘preferred means of communication’, recognising that we could not assume that the most convenient method for us would be the one that the client would want to use and thus be the most effective. We were then talking about letters, emails or the phone (in some occasions, if we were radical, text – although my experience is that it is really only conveyancing that has adopted this as a practice area).

In my non-working life I cannot be so restricted. I had to join Instagram to be able to communicate remotely with my eldest son. I use Whats App to communicate with my wife’s family, although my wife and I tend to use Facebook Messenger most of the time. Some of my friends prefer text. I also use LinkedIn messenging for professional contacts and direct messaging through Twitter. I know what method my social contacts prefer to use and so I use that, as I want to get in touch/an answer ASAP. Of course there are other methods to direct message as well. So, this is what happens in my personal life. Why should we assume that our clients should prefer to use our selected methods (letter/phone/email or text), merely because it suits us. If the business imperative is to turn the prospect into cash ASAP and communication is one of the biggest constraints to achieving this, then shouldn’t we explore facilitating communication through our client’s optimal method ?

However, here we seem to come up against a number of problems. People say

  • well there are so many options, we don’t want to invest in facilitating one when it then becomes obsolete
  • how can we keep a record of communications to protect ourselves and ensure regulatory compliance
  • how do we ensure our firm’s security is not breached & we don’t want staff to be doing this through personal accounts
  • we don’t have the expertise or budget to make this happen

From what I have seen of the Case, Practice and Document Management Systems in the market currently, it does not seem that this issue is being addressed. Most integrate with Microsoft Outlook and text, some offer deal rooms or apps for clients to upload data – but what I am suggesting would be somewhat different : facilitating what clients feel comfortable with rather than making them do what we think would be best (best suited to us). We all know that what works best is when people meet up where we are, rather than requiring us to do things that are not so convenient to us – that push us (the consumer/customer/paying client) out of our comfort zone. The closest I have seen is Peppermint – which is building it’s Practice Management System around CRM, but even this seems to be scratching the surface only.

Here are some thoughts on what to consider when looking to choose a Case or Practice Management System, beyond price.

  •         Don’t try to “rebuild” your existing system in your new system
  •         Do look at how the new solutions can benefit your business processes
  •         Don't just go for what others are choosing
  •         Do look at what is not working now and why
  •         Don’t just listen to the loudest voice in the firm
  •         Do check where the data is held
  •         Don’t be driven by short term goals – on average firms change their PMS every 13 years
  •         Do think how your staff will need to work in the future – how mobile should they be
  •         Don’t imagine that everyone will see things as you do
  •         Do plan to train and train again – to get the most out of your investment
  •         Don’t assume that change will be painless
  •         Do look for some early wins to gain buy-in
  •         Don’t allow the leadership team to shirk its responsibility to enthusiastically back the project
  •         Do get your hands dirty – this is a tool : you learn by using it

Ingemar has been involved in many projects implementing case and practice management systems, both whilst in practice as a solicitor and afterwards when working for HCL.

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It’s a fact of life – normally people don’t like change. They might grumble about what they’ve got but that’s nothing to the complaints you get when change starts to happen. I’m directing these comments to a change in Case, Practice or Document Management System, but the same goes for almost any area of business, or indeed life outside of work!

If you are the person charged with making the change happen, then the task can be daunting, wear you down and can leave you scarred. So here are a few tips from my own experience.

  • Buy-in – If you are to lead this project or have a leadership role, then buy-in is essential. Start with yourself! You are the person you have the most control over and if you don’t believe in what you are doing then you will struggle. At the very least be at peace with the project. Otherwise you will be divided within yourself, that will cause you more heartache and be picked up by your staff. Ideally get buy-in and support from your line manager/senior staff above you. You’ll want to be able to focus on the team below you, without having to look over your shoulder. So ensure lines of responsibility and accountability are well defined. Where does the real decision making power sit? Are they onboard or does more work need to be done before you launch on the project?
  • Vision – This needs to be clear – why is this being done, what is the business case, what has the decision-making process been, what is the aim, what is the route all are travelling to reach the goal. All of this should be thought through, documented and then revisited regularly, measuring what is happening against this. It will take a lot of the stress out of the situation, mean you have a defined program against which to make adjustments.
  • Communication – This is just SO IMPORTANT and so often underdone. You may think that you have told people to the nth degree but they may well only have heard you once and then been in denial so it did not register. Communication of the vision, the process and the steps along the way will help you bring your staff with you and help them feel more secure during the change, so they are using up less energy worrying, which they can apply to their work and in making the changes required. Don’t forget that the communication needs to be 360°. So that means communicating with senior management. However, do not forget to create space for staff to communicate back with you – ensuring this is remains positive and progressing.
  • Validation – Do not be defensive. It is very easy to be so, especially when you feel exposed. The feelings expressed to you will normally be genuinely felt. Validate the person speaking to you and then work though the concerns bearing in mind the vision and plans agreed and being implemented and what you aim to achieve. Presumably you want to get to the end with this person onboard, contributing positively to the success of the enterprise.
  • Measure – Otherwise you are giving subjective opinions. Hopefully empirical data was gathered to guide the decision-making process before the project goals were set. Also, people tend to pay more attention to those things, processes, tasks they know are being measured. You can use this to embed key behaviours - but think through what you choose to measure. You do not want to be caught by the law of ‘unintended consequences’!
  • Be Brave – The change may throw up evidence to show that procedures with which people are comfortable are now obsolete, less efficient or less fit for purpose than other ones now presenting themselves. This may challenge you as well as your staff. Keep in mind the vision and goal. Do not let them be derailed by one or two people. Do not fall into the trap of designing a project, process or business around a person who you do not have the courage to tackle. It will hopefully not be the case, but may happen that some hard discussions need to be taken if someone is not adapting or is running the risk of sabotaging the change. In the end, you are working to achieve a better performing business. You may be surprised, but your staff will respect you for taking the tough decisions.
  • Be Positive – You have to be the projects greatest fan. But try to identify champions who can act as your lieutenants. You have to be resilient to carry the other people through with you. It would be wise if, before the project starts, you have identified where you can get moral support and have an impartial sounding post to use during the project.
  • Change Curve – I find it useful to have a copy of this to mind if not to hand. Developed by people counselling the bereaved as documenting the path people travelled accommodating the loss of a loved one, the same stages are now widely accepted as being helpful in mapping the emotional journey travelled by people negotiating change. People may go through all the stages in a matter of seconds as a change is being explained to them, or it may take them months or years. Having an understanding of this can help greatly in bring your staff and your organisation through a change.

A lot of these comments will apply to many IT projects, especially in the legal/professional services sector.

So the partners tell you that they want to buy a Case Management System or Practice Management System (let’s call it CMS for short). Perhaps they have decided what will be bought, or they leave it to you to decide what would be most appropriate.

Changing your CMS is a massive job, especially if the full benefits of the investment are to be harvested. That would inevitably require a review of

  1. your own practice,
  2. what the 'out of the box' system brings and
  3. picking what is most helpful and appropriate for your business.

A CMS is a hugely powerful tool, but only a tool. The thinking needs to be done before hand and ‘buy-in’ from senior management essential.

A few things to consider when scoping such a project : 

  • What does the firm want to achieve ? 
  • Is there ‘buy-in’ at top level ? 
  • How do you keep track of all the change requests ?
  • Do you need to adapt the structure that comes with the CMS to match your business? 
  • How do you embed what needs to be done for regulatory compliance ? 
  • Who tests the technical aspects ? 
  • Data Mapping, Documents, Screens and Workflows 
  • Do you have adequate resource/expertise for the project ? 
  • Go Live’ 
  • Training of staff 
  • Future developments

Here are a few comments on each of the above.

What does the firm want to achieve ?

Doing this preparatory thinking is essential. It will guide how you approach things and give you something to fall back on if later questioned on the project. You need a clear brief. On one project where I assisted the reason was that the existing CMS was unsupported, obsolete and was holding up other essential changes. The brief was to only carry out modifications sufficient to ensure that the firm could continue to function on ‘Go Live’. Bells and whistles could come later. That clarity enabled the team to be able to say ‘No’ with confidence to some change requests. 

Is there ‘Buy-In’ at top level ?

Quite frankly, if this is not forthcoming then the investment has to be questioned. It is likely to be an expensive white elephant. Such a significant change to the systems of an organisation will affect how everyone works. Ultimately, although you can facilitate ‘buy-in’, it’s got to be led by the management - or someone needs to find a way to make blockers 'want to help' ...

How do you keep track of all the Change Requests ?

Inevitably you will want to make some changes, if nothing else because of changes in your commercial, organisational, legal and regulatory environment. Those changes should go through the following stages : conceptual, design, development, testing and release. It is so easy to lose track of them. Setting in place a robust, efficient system to track and manage them will save time and ensure better delivery.

Adapting the 'out-of-the-box' structure of the CMS

Think about the structure of your organisation. How will that work with what you get from your CMS provider ? Do you adapt the structure of the business or the CMS. If the latter, then I would suggest you consider making those changes before other changes to the software. If your business, then consider how that will affect the delivery and implementation of the project.

Embedding Regulatory Compliance within the system.

Regulatory Compliance Manager is one of the many hats I have worn in business. My aim was always to try to discern the purpose of the regulations and seek to benefit the business if I could as well as to ensure compliance. One needs to walk a balance between compliance and still being able to do the job and deliver to the organisational goals. So often I have seen this out of balance, with the resultant friction and sub-optimal relationships. The Holy Grail is for the process would be that staff have no option but to comply, without any extra effort for them. One can do this through the processes being embedded in the CMS. In one system I designed a new file opening process that embedded an initial risk assessment, with notifications to supervisors where the risk was high. That helped manage risk and also demonstrate an audit trail for the regulators with virtually no extra effort by staff – it took only seconds for the staff to complete the process. 

Who tests the technical aspects ?

No matter how good you are, you will not be an expert in all areas of your business. If your business is divided up into specialist areas, you will need people within those areas to test the technical aspects – to ensure that the content and process is correct for achieving smooth operation and quality of service in that area. Try to ensure that the people chosen have adequate knowledge, skill, aptitude and the right attitude. Important also is to ensure that their line managers fully support them, give them clear instruction on policy decisions (see the section on ‘buy-in’ above) and provide them with the resources (including time and a relaxation of other targets) to allow then to do the job properly. You will need to manage this team and ensure that you have a good process for handling their change requests/suggestions (see the section on ‘Tracking Change Request’s above). 

Data Mapping, Documents, Screens and Workflows

We are now into the guts of the project. How important each will be will depend upon each product and project, but each aspect needs to be carefully considered. Data mapping is particularly if you are migrating across data from an existing system. It is slow, laborious work where one has to be meticulous in getting things correct. Sadly there are no real short cuts; you just have to get it right. Typically this is dealt with centrally. Documents – it really depends upon the nature of your organisation and the project. The Legal Industry tends to use loads, others use very few. However, attention to this should not be overlooked, as usually this is your interface with your customers. A lot of this work can be dealt with by the team of testers you might have in specific departments/practice areas. Screens – the principal way in which data is input to the system to then be manipulated and used to run processes, populate documents and to be reported upon. They are like the windows into the database. Watch out for inconsistency in naming, positioning and structure, which may make it more difficult to work across areas. Work on these is likely to be a mixture to the testing team and central IT. Workflows – these can offer the greatest efficiency, risk management and profitability gains, but also be the most complex, as they embed processes into the system in the purest form. Watch against over-complicating them by trying to make them cover every eventuality. Two examples from work I have done are :

  1. Embedding warnings and actions in relation to insurance contracts so as to minimise the risk of breach of the policy terms (with the possible result that indemnity might be compromised) and
  2. Mapping, improving and embedding a file closure and credit control process – with obvious financial benefits to the cash flow and profits of the business 

Do you have adequate resource/expertise for the project ?

It may sound a stupid question, but be under no illusion how big a change this is. Most business don’t do this more often than once a decade, if that. IT departments are normally resourced for the day to day issues and for planned infrastructure upgrades etc. They may well not have expertise of having done this before. The people with the longest tenure in the business will normally be the partners, senior management or in non-IT areas. They will seldom have the skills or inclination to assist you in the guts of the project. You may need to call in external expert assistance for the duration of the contract, during which you can build resource within the organisation upon which you can call (see ‘Training of Staff’ and ‘Future Developments’ below). 

‘Go Live’

How well have you thought this through ? Have you asked such questions as :

  • What down time will your organisation have as data is migrated for ‘Go Live’ ?
  • Will it be ‘Big Bang’ or gradual ?
  • What memory will your servers need to run the CMS ?
  • What is the best time of the year to ‘Go Live ?
  • Have you spoken to other companies to mine their experience for tips ?
  • Do you tell your customers/clients ?
  • What happens if it goes wrong ?

It is worth while thinking this through at the start of the project and then backwards plan. I would suggest that you do not take what the software supplier tells you as gospel. Test it, challenge it. You are the customer. You will have more bargaining power at the beginning of the project, before you have signed, than when you are totally committed and need them as much as they need you. 

Training of staff

This is part of the ‘Go-Live plan, I would suggest, but not exclusively. In one project I the IT Manager sent out little bits of advice on various areas during the course of the preparation so that staff would be aware of momentum, but could also absorb this information in small, bite-sized chunks. I have a series of Road Shows to introduce staff to the look, feel, structure and geography of the system and major screens so that when the more intense training took place just before ‘Go-Live’ they were already familiar with these aspects and could take in more of this training. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that training will stop on ‘Go-Live’. Indeed it would be good advice to plan follow-up/refresher training for a little time after ‘Go-Live’, once the initial excitement has settled down. This can help to embed good working practices, check bad practices that might have crept in and be a forum for picking up issues that have come to light once the system is being used for real. One final point : I would strongly advise that you try to develop ‘champions’ for the system in each practice area. They can act as your troops on the ground, to filter and deal with the low level issues and pass up to you the more major ones. The team of testers (referred to above in the section entitled ‘Who tests the technical aspects’) could well form the basis of this team of people. All the points made above about senior management ‘Buy-In’, authorisation and facilitation apply again. 

Future developments

I know the whole project of bringing in the new CMS will have been exhausting and the last thing you will be contemplating is to have to change things again, but any organisation that wants to flourish will have to keep adapting and reinventing itself. Hopefully your organisation will recognise this. So plan for it. If you have chosen the right CMS, it should assist your organisation in doing this. Having a robust system for documenting change requests (see the section above ‘How do you keep track of all the change requests?) will enable you to refer back to what was done when changes need to be made. It will also help your software suppliers if they need to do something, or when you need to implement their upgrades. You want to make the most out of the blood, sweat and tears you have invested in getting this system in and working.

I hope you have found this article helpful. Feel free to contact me. I am happy to answer questions. Good luck! 


Which are most effective : Ethical or Ruthless managers ?

One will see examples of both about us – sometimes within the same organisation. The behaviours can be driven by character/personality or emotion (fear, greed, insecurity). If they do not match the culture of the organisation tension or conflict is likely to arise.

Research published by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) concluded that ruthless leaders are bad for business, whereas those with strong ethics tended to make a more positive contribution to the long term performance of the organisation.

The key findings of the research are as follows :

  • Stronger management ethics are linked to better organisational performance
  • Almost a third of managers rate their organisation as mediocre or worse on ethical behaviour
  • The public sector and large organisations face the biggest challenges
  • Managers in growing organisations score higher on ethical behaviour than their colleagues in declining ones
  • Junior managers don’t share senior managers’ outlook on ethics
  • Coaching, visionary and democratic leadership delivers results
  • Ethics helps to engage employees
  • Better ethics means happier customers
  • Being ethical pays off when it comes to managing risk

The research concluded that these 7 steps should be followed to improve ethics and support better performance :

  1. Focus on Purpose, Values, Leadership & Culture
  2. Develop leaders
  3. Make decisions that are values-based and show you really care
  4. Harness diversity to challenge ‘group think’ with constructive dissent
  5. Win hearts as well as minds – engage customers and empower colleagues
  6. Measure what really matters : escape the unintended consequences of short term targets
  7. Reward and recognise values-based behaviours

The report also contains tips for individual managers.

Here is a link to the report https://www.managers.org.uk/insights/research/current-research/2014/october/the-moraldna-of-performance

OK, so you’re running a business. There are so many things to focus on : marketing, sales, making the product or service, getting in your resources to make/deliver it, billing, for some service firms such as lawyers and accountants building up the WIP (Work in Progress) which you can then bill. I am sure you can add to the list.

Yet people say ‘CASH is KING’. It is lack of cash that normally kills a business.

So, having lots of orders, having lots of WIP, even having sent out lots of bills, good as they are in themselves and essential for the healthy business, mean nothing if you cannot get the cash in. You want to shorten the time from order to cash in the bank. Many firms will focus on either billable hours or bills delivered. They will set targets and rewards according to those. With respect, the focus is wrong. Those aspects are essential, but it’s the cash you need. If you focus on and reward ‘cash in the bank’ then attention to the other aspects will follow. If you don’t focus on the cash you end up with problems : bad debt, inflated WIP recording, inefficient working practices etc.

What is your process for gathering in cash? Do you have too much cash locked up in the business ? How do you turn your WIP more swiftly into cash ?

A common problem in law firms is that management are too heavily involved in production – in actually doing the work. That’s natural, when you consider that they trained as technical legal experts and that is where they are comfortable, where value is seen. However, is it the best thing for a business if the managers are also the principal production workers. It is not common in most businesses.

Do you have the time and focus to concentrate on making the processes for gathering cash as smooth, efficient and effective as possible ? Perhaps getting someone in from outside to review, advise and implement might be the most effective way to bring about improvement?

As I've gone through my life this has become clearer to me. Whilst you should be completely committed to serving your employer and their interests when employed by them you do need to look out for yourself. Every business should be focused on maximising its profit and developing the business. Part of that should be in developing its employees skills and abilities (I can, have and will write more on that subject). However, you cannot assume that you will always be employed by them. For a variety of reasons your paths may part. Then you will be in the market place again hoping that what you offer will be what another business wants. 

So my advice would be to actively and consciously :

  • Identify the skills you are picking up in you current role;
  • Seize opportunities to develop new knowledge and skills, training offered, stepping in to cover etc
  • Make new contacts (social networks such as LinkedIn really help with this now), you never know when they might prove useful
  • Collect recommendations when the work you have done is current - its hard to get them when the moment has passed
  • Keep asking yourself "Am I OK with how I am personally developing at the moment?" If you are easy, have the courage to start asking yourself hard questions. Talk it over with good friends/family to get a perspective. What are your life goals? Is where you are going aligned with these. Try to remember that your career isn't everything. It is a large part of our lives but for most it is still a means to an end.
"We at Spires Legal wholeheartedly recommend Ingemar and his team at Hunnings Consultancy Ltd. Ingemar has supported us throughout our journey from new start up to established firm. It is refreshing to have a consultant that takes the time to understand your business and its priorities, stands by your side as it develops and is flexible in approach as your needs change.
The feedback we have from our team, and which we regularly hear from others is that Ingemar is an insightful and knowledgeable trainer who is comprehensive yet engaging in his approach. Still unsure? Five minutes on the phone with Ingemar and you will be sold on how much value he can add to your business!"

Arj Arul - Director at Spires Legal

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