How implementing a continuous improvement mindset gives modern law firms a competitive edge

By Amy Bruce of Osprey Approach

For the third episode in Osprey Approach’s Build Better Habits webinar series, we were joined by Sarah Keegan, co-owner at The CS Partnership, Laurence Sutton, practice manager at Brevitts Solicitors, and Rich Dibbins, owner at Staxton Digital. In what proved to be an insightful and thought provoking event, it was great to hear our expert panel share their practical tips and advice on how law firms can remain competitive and improve long-term success in a crowded legal market.

What does a ‘continuous improvement’ mindset mean?

Our panellists were in agreement on this: it’s about law firms optimising for the future.

Laurence said that “continuous improvement isn’t just about being up to date but being ahead of the game. [A firm must] be engaged in the practical process of change and the impact it’ll have on what you do.”

Sarah highlighted that it’s the small, incremental changes that have the biggest impact and that firms would do well to “concentrate on eliminating [being] busy for busy sake. It’s about the little changes; the one percent change that’s continually repeated will bring change.” Laurence added that effective changes “can be simple and straightforward.”

Why should law firms adopt a continuous improvement mindset, and what problems could occur if they don’t?

A continuous improvement mindset helps law firms to overcome the challenges facing the legal sector, including hiring and retaining top talent, risk management, personal indemnity insurance (PII) rising costs, and increasing client expectations.

Sarah said that as the world changes, “law firms need to pay attention because their staff and clients are part of that environment, and they expect change.” Rich agreed and added that, “the modern purchaser of legal services lives in a digital era. Clients and new hirers want a modern way of working.”

Laurence highlighted the benefits of technology as a means of reducing risk, since “when you automate, prescribe, and pre-supervise processes to enable standardised operations you reduce mistakes. Digitalisation, and Osprey, have improved the quality of our standards.”

How can law firms successfully implement a continuous improvement mindset?

The resounding response from our panellists was to ensure clear communication with the team and to keep the strategy people focused.

Rich said that “you can’t force people…[you need to] demonstrate why they need to do this, how they can do it, and the long-term benefits. It has to be an organic, gradual process.”

Laurence explained how his firm worked with Osprey to suggest new ways of working. “When the team saw the changes come to life, it’s magic. Seeing the positive impact makes them hungry to suggest more. Employee empowerment is an important part of continuous improvement. The mindset should be people centered.”

Eight habits law firms should adopt

The panel agreed that modern law firms should focus on the following key habits when implementing a continuous improvement mindset:

  1. Make it a priority

Sarah suggested, “making it somebody’s job to lead the mindset. You can’t expect a head of department, for example, who is also carrying an entire workload, to take on the role of continuous improvement – it never works because the client comes first every time.”

Ensure innovation is part of someone’s job title to ensure it is a priority in the day to day running of the practice.

To increase the adoption of any new mindset or process it’s important to have clear communication on the goals and objectives. Sarah commented that “you’ll be amazed how many firms will make a change in only one area of the firm. For example, the billing takes three days in one department, but you talk to [another] team, and it takes them just hours. And you ask, ‘did you not tell the rest of your partners how you improved this process?’ Always share what is and isn’t working across the firm.”

Laurence suggested that firms’ continuous improvement goals should prioritise reducing risk and that they should “look at ways to mitigate risk and secure quality so that compliance and case management work efficiently. That should be a habit across the firm.”

It’s important to connect your people, processes, and technology for an effective operation. Laurence believes that it’s about empowering employees with knowledge and freedom that will help promote a culture of innovation, and recommended that firms “engage, empower, and entrust your employees; don’t restrict them. Delegate effectively, give them authority, and hold them to account.”

Build a reliable partnership with your software supplier to reap the benefits of your investment. Rich recommended that firms take advice from external providers and consultants rather than going it alone because they have the expertise and years of knowledge to suggest best practices.

Rich advised that, “instead of focusing on all the new shiny stuff, focus on the things that work for your firm and double down on it.”

It can be easy to get distracted and spend time and money on the latest technology, but it’s important to identify a clear strategy first, before deciding what tools and processes will help you reach those goals.

It can be hard to know where to start with continuous improvement because it affects every part of your firm. Rich pointed out that “the biggest weakness for law firms is their reviews… please don’t ignore them; it can be detrimental to your brand.” Take the feedback from your reviews, good and bad, and look to improve your processes from your customers’ perspective.

Rich emphasised the connection between a firm’s reputation and brand and the importance of recognising that any client touchpoint can affect client perception: “[Some] lawyers say they don’t sell, but if you speak to a client, you sell – you’re representing your firm.”

Look at ways to optimise your client touchpoints and that will help to elevate your brand against the competition.

Implement a culture of continuous improvement for long-term success

Continuous improvement is an ongoing strategy, not a one-off project, so it’s important to make it a priority so that your employees adopt the right mindset and practices. To help implement the mindset, empower your employees with clear goals, promote communication and share ideas across departments, and hold individuals accountable for contributing. Having a client-focused culture is one of four habits that we’ve outlined, which modern law firms should adopt for long-term success. We’ve covered all four habits in our Build Better Habits webinar series, which is now available to watch on-demand.