How to create high performing legal teams

You can have the best service offering in the world, but if your team and organisation isn't up to scratch, you’re never going to deliver on your promise.

If you struggle to attract good people, have high attrition rates, or are constantly dealing with under performance, you need to make some changes.

In this blog, we’re looking at what people-based operational management best practice looks like for conveyancing firms, that want to develop high performing legal teams.

Understand the work and use a skills matrix to allocate it

It’s amazing how many conveyancing companies don’t understand the work content of their conveyancers, or the skills and competencies needed to process the work to ensure high quality and efficiency. 

It's really a simple equation that needs balancing: for any given demand of a certain work type, you need the right amount of people with the correct level of skill to process the work.  So why is demand not understood properly, and why do companies not use a skills matrix to allocate the work? 

Let's start with the skills matrix. Many conveyancing companies tell us that they have a skills matrix, but in truth they are either out of date or hidden in the HR system. 

A skills matrix is a fantastic tool for identifying individual and overall team skills. The approach enables staff to pinpoint exactly where their strengths are, where they sit compared to their team members, and where they need to develop. 

For managers, the skills matrix allows work to be allocated to people best placed to complete the work, at the expected standards and volumes. Where gaps in skills are clear, decisions can be made on whether to develop existing team members, or recruit for the missing skills and capabilities.

When it comes to understanding the work, conveyancers need to know what needs to be done on a case-by-case basis. Measuring how long tasks take, defining the skills required to process each step, and allocating the work to the right person at the right time, is crucial to optimise efficiency.

Working with our clients has revealed that conveyancing solicitors spend between 40% and 60% of their paid time on communication with customers, internal staff and third parties. Content analysis of communication work also revealed that 90% of tasks can either be completed systematically, digitised and automated, or performed by lower cost support staff. On average, only 10%-20% of a typical conveyancing solicitor's time is spent on value adding activities. 

Do you understand the day-to-day, hour-by-hour work being done in your conveyancing company? Are you using an up-to-date skills matrix?

If your answer to those questions is no, capacity is waiting to be unlocked in your business.

Engage teams in developing ‘best ways of working’

Having set processes means everyone works the same way, to the same standard, and with the same objectives. Or at least it should.

Would your overall conveyancing  performance improve if staff followed 'one best way of working'?  Think about the potential benefits, if you were able to increase the number of solicitors and support staff that followed one best way of working. Emails, prioritising cases, case status updates, proof of funds, lender/broker updates and contract approvals could all be streamlined into one set way of being done.

Unfortunately, what we see all too often are individuals deciding how and when work is performed. While staff may have received legal and case management system training, in reality, conveyancers are largely left to their own devices.

If you are looking to create a high-performing team culture in your conveyancing firm, you need systems and processes that make it easier for everyone to do their job with high efficiency and effectiveness. 

Getting your teams involved in developing the best ways of working means they are more likely to follow the processes. The people who are ‘at the coalface’ have invaluable insight into what works and what doesn’t work, which tasks are causing bottlenecks, and where improvements can be made.

How do you do it? Select a cross-functional team containing subject matter legal and compliance experts, high-medium-low performers and team leaders, and devote time to developing 'one best way' ways of working standards. Prioritise those tasks that absorb the most amount of time, where getting them wrong creates customer issues or huge amounts of wasted effort.

Finally, use process confirmation runs to measure the adoption of standards, and create a library of standards that are easy to access. Avoid writing pages and pages of text to explain how work is performed. Instead, use flow charts or record video clips that are easy to follow and interpret. 

Conduct 1:1 coaching

One-to-one coaching might seem like a big investment of time, but the return is huge.  Spending 30 minutes a week with each of your direct reports helps you understand the real motivational factors impacting how employees think and feel. Over time, you build trust and a strong respectful relationship, develop teamwork and keep employees motivated and engaged.  

If employees don’t have regular opportunities to discuss their goals, problems or challenges, no matter how small, those small issues start to build up and eventually become big issues. 

There are numerous coaching models out there, but selecting the most appropriate for your business depends on the outcomes you are looking for.  Therefore, selection requires deep evaluation to ensure the model will work in your specific context.    

Daily direction setting meetings

Conducting 'start of working day' morning meetings with your team allows individuals to talk about issues and opportunities affecting what they are expected and planning to achieve that day.

End of day meetings give the manager and individuals the chance to reflect on what happened that day and plan for the following day.

Meetings, conducted either face to face or online, shouldn’t be long - five to seven minutes max. They should be structured with an agenda, and value-adding to the attendees. 

Many issues can be planned for, but as with many high volume transactional customer facing environments, in a conveyancing business there are spikes in demand. For example,  urgent contract issues or large sums of money to transfer, can be quite common. Daily meetings are specifically designed to overcome these issues by providing a controlled, regular and structured environment for people to talk.  

Conveyancing teams that use these meetings have seen first hand how a superior level of control can be achieved, even in the most reactive and busy conveyancing office. 

Are you already set up like this? If so, great - I'd welcome feedback on what's working well for you. If not, why not give it a try? You'll be surprised by the response of your teams. 

Have a dedicated Continuous Improvement team

There is always room for improvement in a conveyancing company, and every employee should be encouraged to share their suggestions and ideas. However, having a dedicated Continuous Improvement (CI) team means you have people who are actually accountable and incentivised to find solutions to improve business performance. 

You might think that your company is not big enough to appoint a capable person, or people, to manage your CI projects. However, if that person can deliver just 5% improvement in financial metrics, what benefits will this 5% deliver for your company? 

There are quite a few ways to create a CI team, but all come with pros and cons. You can choose to outsource the CI function to a specialist service provider, but this means the knowledge will remain outside your business. Alternatively, hiring experts to work in-house will result in utilising known solutions to move performance quickly. 

Secondly, you can appoint high performers with good analytics and relationship building skills, and train and coach them to lead CI project work. On the plus side, you start to build in-house CI capability from day one. On the negative side, it will take over 12 months for staff to be capable and deemed suitable or not for the role.

Lastly, you can hire full time specialists from the market, such as Lean Leaders, Lean & Six Sigma Master Black Belts and CI Managers. Pros include building in-house capability, along with new knowledge from other companies or sectors. Cons include the time it takes to find the right person, along with the risk that the person does not meet initial expectations. 

CI team responsibilities are vast, but mainly include:

  • Meeting a capacity creation objective of 5% YOY
  • Training staff to spot opportunities
  • Reducing customer complaints and compliance issues
  • Improving efficiency
  • Building a framework to govern CI project work
  • Researching new ways of working that will benefit the company

 

Do you have a dedicated team focused on improving operational performance in your conveyancing company? If so, I'd welcome the chance to hear more. If not, consider what a dedicated team could focus on in your business, and the potential gains they will bring.

Review individual performance regularly

Performance reviews shouldn’t be viewed as once a year tick-box exercises. They should be viewed as an opportunity for both you and your staff to grasp performance improvement and career development opportunities. 

It’s a chance for you to address any concerns with conduct and discuss personal and professional development opportunities. 

When conducting a performance review, ask yourself:

  • What actions were agreed upon in the last review?
  • Have these actions been completed?
  • Are there any issues with ongoing actions or achieving objectives?
  • Are there any performance issues or challenges that need to be addressed?
  • Are they attending training courses to improve how they work and interact with others?
  • Have they responded to your coaching advice? 

 

Based on the answers to these questions, you can make a plan for the weeks and months ahead.

Use the skills matrix to identify opportunities for training or upskilling. Set achievable objectives and decide how these will be measured. Look at how you can support your team member with their goals through coaching. 

How does your company manage performance? If your answer is somewhat poorly, or not at all, then take action quickly. Business performance is likely to be moving in the wrong direction.

Develop robust recruitment, onboarding and training processes

Recruitment is time consuming. Advertising the role, screening CVs and interviewing candidates is only the first step. You might have to negotiate contract terms, wait for a notice period to be served, and then you need to train your new recruits.

That’s why it’s important to develop a long term recruitment strategy. If you are planning business growth, you need to ensure you can manage that growth. There’s no point doubling your clients if you don’t have the case managers to process their transactions – you need to recruit proactively. A previous MD of mine once said, "Good talent is hard to find, so always be recruiting."

When you have the right people in place, you need a robust onboarding, training and coaching programme. There's good reason why companies like McDonalds have been so successful over decades - they have high standards, and consistently train their staff.

In conveyancing companies, we often see new solicitors and support staff quickly trained on the case management systems, only to be placed into teams where they are expected to learn from their peers. Learning from peers can be a good thing, but what if the people your staff are learning from are cutting corners? What if they promote bad habits with low efficiency outcomes?

In our experience, we know this is an area every conveyancing business can improve upon.

How does your recruitment, onboarding and training process compare to best practice?

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If you need help creating a high performing conveyancing team or would like to know more about how we help conveyancers improve their top and bottom lines, get in touch

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