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  • Writer's pictureColin McArdle

How to create high performing legal teams

Updated: Feb 9

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 Many conveyancing companies tell us that they have a skills matrix, but in truth they are either out of date or hidden in the HR system.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