Law Firm Credit Managers – can you help?   Leave a comment

Any credit or revenue managers who have tried to obtain legal sector specific data will be able to tell you that it’s not easy to find.  There are annual surveys that include comment on credit management, such as the one conducted by PWC http://www.pwc.co.uk/eng/publications/pwc_annual_law_firms_survey.html but as our area is just a small part of general financial and profitability management, details are hard to find.

This has proved to be a challenge for a new contact of mine, a student of the ICM working in a top 20 law firm, needing comparable data on provisioning policy and practices to form part of her submission for her MICM(Grad) Diploma.  With a submission date of mid January 2012, the pressure is mounting!

How about doing your good deed for the day?  You can help by completing an 0n-line, anonymous survey covering your organisations policy and practices regarding the management of old debts.  Your identity, contact details and firms name are not required. Paste this link https://t.co/XKK5HrCq into your browser or click on the interactive twitter link shown below left.

Just a few minutes of your time will leave you with that satisfying feeling that you made a difference today !

Legal sector – focus on recruitment   Leave a comment

The UK legal services market, with an estimated value of in excess of £23bn is bracing itself for fundamental changes in 2012.  Having already revised operating structures and reduced costs where possible, how can small and mid-sized law firms and barristers’ chambers make further improvements?

According to a report produced by IRN Research, these practices will face the greatest threats.  Many are already experiencing reduced margins and are struggling to grow revenues 

‘Unfortunately whilst they have taken cost out of their business what they haven’t done is actually change the way they do business, so they haven’t changed their processes.’ David Snell author of PWC’s Law Firm Survey said. 

So will this be the year that smaller legal practices embrace the value of credit management as the need for cash-flow continues to be felt?   

 Currently many law firms insist on legal sector credit management experience.  This can be misleading as training in this specialism is not common in the smaller firms, leading to poorly trained personnel being employed.  Some believe that now is the time for legal practices to consider credit management techniques used in commerce in order to compete with the new ABS firms. 

Mark Morgan MICM(grad) told CM about how he struggled initially even to get an interview with a law firm, despite his qualifications and a proven track record of excellent performance in blue chip companies.

 Mark’s story

 ‘I‘d already got some experience in accounts work and had been studying credit management at evening classes at Watford College to improve my confidence as much as my skills,’  he said, ‘ when I saw an advert for a credit controller role at Sony.  They were particularly looking for candidates studying with the ICM.  I applied and that’s when I believe my career really started to take off.’

 Three years later, he obtained his MICM(grad) qualification, closely followed by a promotion to his first management position in credit as Senior Credit Analyst in the consumer product division. 

 A few years later, Mark’s career plans were given a jolt when, out of the blue, he received a call from a head-hunter, acting on behalf of Gillette.  His performance had been recognised and what followed was a very happy period of overhauling the risk policies and procedures and improving the debt position dramatically, of the £600m turnover company.  At its largest, his team of reports numbered 20. 

Almost nine years later, the recession was starting to bite and in 2009 Mark was made redundant along with many colleagues.  He used this opportunity to return to study and embarked on a foundation degree programme in Credit Management at Thames Valley University.  The course included litigation and insolvency procedures and little did he know at the time, that it would be this, which delivered his next opportunity.     

 ‘ I‘d looked at Credit Management roles in Law Firms before, but I kept getting rejected as I’d no previous experience in that environment,’ he said.  ‘Then I finally got an interview with a small, full service law firm in London, where they were looking for someone with ICM qualifications.  I reached the final stage and it was the fact that I could demonstrate knowledge in the legal process and had the confidence to attend court that got me the job!’    

For the last two years, Mark has built strong relationships with his internal clients; the fee earners and partners of the firm, as well as the firm’s client base.  ‘At first,’ he said, ‘I had to spend at least 30% of my time convincing people that I wouldn’t drive clients away whilst recovering overdue debts.  Now that they have seen that the DSO has reduced from 60 to 43 days and the cost of credit has diminished, the fee earners are only too happy for me to do it!  Profits have been improved, as a result of the firm enjoying access to 7.5% of their turnover in the form of cash-flow.  Money previously out of reach and reported as overdue debts.  It’s been a challenge at times,’ says Mark, ‘but worth it!’ 

 ‘I’m most proud of introducing the collection of bank details, as part of our Know Your Client process.  This has enabled the firm to collect successfully through Garnishee or Third Party Order proceedings when enforcing judgments and so has helped us to recover some of more challenging old debts.  It took quite a bit of persuasion to incorporate this into our file inception procedures’     

CM asked Mark what advice he’d give to his young self.  ‘Try the credit management role in practice and see if it’s for you.  If it is, sign up for a course with the ICM so that you can offer verified skills as well as experience.  Then expect to work hard and be driven to achieve your ambitions!’ 

The ICM in association with Credit Management (Law) Ltd, specialist credit management consultants to the legal sector, delivers a 5 module programme of workshops, especially designed for personnel working within credit management in law firms and barristers chambers. 

For more information contact training@icm.org.uk

 

Change before you have to…..   Leave a comment

The legal sector is waking up to the realisation that 2012 will be a year of change. Both law firms and barristers’ chambers are bracing themselves for a fundamental shake-up in the way clients access their services.

Threats and opportunities

Recent government reforms are opening up new options for legal clients, while providing opportunities for new entrants to the legal market. High Street retailers, such as W H Smith and the Co-op, as well as some city libraries, are providing ground breaking access to legal services via newly created channels.
As a result, traditional solicitors and barristers practices are finding their traditional operating models restrictive and out-moded. They are being challenged on a number of fronts, especially price with high volume legal work streams including debt recovery, already feeling the pinch.
It is estimated that the UK legal services market is worth in excess of £26billion, and ‘Tesco Law’ as it has become known, is seeking to win a large market share by using tried and tested business techniques that traditional law practitioners cannot afford to match. One example is Quality Solicitors £15million television advertising campaign, designed to attract clients using methods that others can only dream of. The effects are already being felt.

Even large firms’ profits are being squeezed, with a top-ten law firm recently reporting a £16million increase in debt in its latest accounts. There has never been a better time for Legal practices to embrace the value of professional credit management techniques to help prevent cash-flow from drying up.

According to a report produced by IRN Research, small and mid-sized practices will face the greatest threat. Many are already experiencing reduced margins and are struggling to grow revenues

Legal sector response

The annual Law Firm Survey conducted by Price Waterhouse Cooper shows that the legal sector is already responding. “Unfortunately, whilst they have taken cost out of their business, what they haven’t done is actually change the way they do business,” said David Snell, author of PWC’s Law Firm Survey.

Quality standard

Clients are becoming more demanding and practices supplying services for volume debt recovery may have another reason to consider professionalising their approach.

It is becoming common for clients to demand badges of industry-standard performance by which they can judge and value the services supplied. Lexcel and BARMARK are examples of awards recognising organisations meeting the required standard in practice management, in law firms and barristers chambers respectively.

There is evidence of performance benchmarks becoming more common in the selection process used by clients when selecting legal practices for panel positions. HSBC’s Conveyancing Scheme Panel is a good example of this. All providers of services must have attained the Conveyancing Quality Scheme Award before being accepted as a service provider. This badge of quality enables HSBC to have confidence that their own values and performance standards will be delivered by other businesses working on their behalf.

As clients become more demanding, increased professionalism in their pool of providers is sure to follow. Legal practices which fail to meet the standards will risk losing credibility along with clients. So now’s the time to invest in skills development and work towards attaining the credit industry’s quality standard, Qicm, if you don’t want to be excluded when the next volume debt recovery panel tender comes in.

Invest in people

It is readily acknowledged that the most valuable asset a business possesses is its people. Continual professional development brings benefits that far out-weigh the costs. Investment in legal sector credit management skills has been made easier as a result of the introduction of a new industry specific solution, by ICM.

Legal sector specific training

Credit Management Law) Ltd, specialist consultants to the legal sector, in association with the ICM, have created a modular training programme to provide students with the technical skills, relationship management and communication techniques necessary to counter the current challenges and assist clients to benefit fully from the opportunities.

The five modules, devised specifically for law firms and barristers chambers, can either be studied as stand-alone workshops, or as a five part course. Learners can either elect to have their post-workshop assignment assessed, to obtain QCF credits, or they can simply improve their skills, without completing the assignment. The QCF credits resulting from a successful assessment, can lead to a certificate or when supplemented by the core Level 3 ICM subjects, a diploma in Credit Management.

The course has been carefully structured as a result of extensive research into the needs of this market, most particularly regarding barristers chambers. Chief executive officers, senior clerks and practice managers in a variety of chambers contributed to the research and the resulting course meets all the needs expressed. Some had previously tried to obtain relevant training for fees clerks and credit controllers, but without success.

“We spent as much time teaching the trainer about the specific practices which govern how we work,” said a CEO in a top 30 Chambers, “That we sometimes wondered if it was worth it. I wish there had been a specific course available two years ago, when we started our improvement programme.”

Quadrant Chambers took part in the final stages of pre-launch testing. Credit Manager, Clare Peters had already gained experience in a large law firm before joining Quadrant, so understood the specific nature of credit management in the legal sector. She was able to bring tried and tested skills in communication and relationship management to the role, essential when trying to persuade barristers to allow direct contact with their clients on the delicate subject of non-payment of fees.

Conclusion

Times of change bring out the full range of emotions in us; excitement about new opportunities, fear concerning how the threats might impact on the business and our own particular role. One thing is clear, that those organisations with well communicated credit management strategies, which engage their workforce in delivering to the best of their ability and empower all personnel with the right skills for their role, are most likely to be looking forward excitedly to how their organisation will emerge from 2012 stronger and more successful than ever.

Are you mentor material ?   Leave a comment

Do you remember how you felt as a newly appointed credit manager?  The elation on hearing that you’ve got the job and then, if you were anything like me, weeks of doubts about whether you could live up to both your expections and those of your new employer!

In times when the budget for training and personal development is often spent on compulsory or regulatory matters, career development support can be hard to find, especially in smaller organisations.  That’s why I’ve made contact recently with many of my friends and colleagues on LinkedIn to ask for more volunteers to come forward to join a panel of experts who are willing to give a helping hand to the latest generation of newly appointed managers, working in small firms where a natural peer group is lacking.  The panel members can be called upon by any young manager seeking guidance on a specific issue, or looking for some longer term mentoring.

If you have more than two years experience in a Credit Managers role in a law firm or barristers chambers and would like to offer your services, please email julie.cave@cmlawltd.com with Panel of Expert Volunteer in the subject line.

If you are seeking a credit management mentor, or have a question for the panel, contact julie.cave@cmlawltd.com with Support Request for the Panel of Experts in the subject line.

For news updates on this initiative, watch this space…..

Engaging Fees Clerks in delivering Chambers improvements   Leave a comment

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 18 months preparing to launch a training course specifically written for Barristers Chambers.  During the research, one of the themes that came up often during discussions with Senior Clerks, Finance Managers, Practice Managers and Chambers Directors alike, was the desire for self sufficiency in problem solving.  Sometimes the driver for this was privacy, sometimes it was economy but often if was pure practicality – there’s very little sector specific support around in the field of cash-flow management.

Many of the people I came into contact with expressed a desire to make improvements to their business but they were concerned about alienating their own people.  Very few of us enjoy being told what to do, especially by someone who doesn’t appear to understand our work.  Many had sent staff on courses that bore little relevance to their workplace.  That got me thinking!

Work commenced on devising a programme that would deliver both the technical and soft skills required to enable the existing in-house team to improve the performance of Chambers themselves.  Transforming the real experts, those who do the job everyday and are only too aware of where things need to be improved, into the providers of practical and cost effective solutions was the aim.

First an electronic Toolkit was devised providing access to the technical ‘best practice’ methods of improving cash-flow, with interactive links to template letters, forms, spreadsheets, calculators and checklists that be downloaded for use in the workplace.  It directs learners to useful resources, saving valuable time and speeding up the learning process so that practical steps can be taken quickly.

Secondly, ways to obtain the support of those who could assist the successful delivery of change; the managers’, who’s involvement, would be crucial if changes were to be implemented.  They need to be involved in objective setting, and progress updates, creating a team atmosphere and increase engagement and buy-in.

Finally ways in which we could ensure that our learners felt equipped to, identify areas where results could be improved, propose solutions, influence change, set out action plans and provide reports on progress, were evaluated.  This required soft skills to be included in the course.

The result was our newly launched programme.  Following the first workshop, tools are provided to enable a ‘Gap analysis’ to be undertaken in Chambers.  This is where the practical task of driving improvement begins.

Our testers have been really enthusiastic about the training methods employed during the workshops, ensuring that the technical subject matter, which you could be forgiven for thinking is not the most exciting, is brought to life through activities and the use of case studies and discussion, rather than the lecture based learning most commonly provided in this sector.  This enables the training to be successfully adapted for evening sessions, when keeping the audience awake after a hard day at work is crucial.

The practical element of the programme has been very well received leading to it being described by some testers as an in-house alternative to consultancy.  “It can’t fail to drive change,” said one of our test pilots, “Once you know how to present proposals and you have the tools to calculate the financial benefit without having to bother anyone else, you can’t wait to get started.”  Another commented on how much more valued Fees Clerks will feel when they can see the changes implemented and how proud they will be about delivering improvements that will benefit all in Chambers.

 

Posted October 12, 2011 by Julie in Training

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The Cost of Credit   Leave a comment

Have you any idea how much it costs to both use credit to aid cash-flow and grant it in turn to your clients?

It struck me that whilst we measure lots of aspects of credit management, this is something that we accept is just a necessary evil and therefore it tends to go unchecked.  After all it is said that if there was no credit, there would be very little business done in today’s world.

In an attempt to demonstrate to a client that it can be in fact be quite a drain on resources, especially if you’ve got an inadequate cash-flow forecast and you suddenly find yourself with a short term, temporary cash shortage, I prepared the following graph.  Left click on the image to see a larger version of the graph.

The hidden cost of credit
The hidden cost of credit

It shows the cost of borrowing £50,000 on both an agreed overdraft extension costing 7.46% interest and at the unauthorised overdraft level of 24.6% interest.  Even if only required for 30 days, the cost was £307 at the lower interest rate and a shocking £1011 at the higher.

I think this helps us to understand why inadvertently becoming a lender to your client for a period beyond the agreed terms is something to be avoided.  Many businesses no longer have agreed overdraft limits to call on, so taking longer to pay their creditors is a way of managing their own cash flow.  If you allow it, late payments may become the norm, adding to your own costs and reducing your profits.

So what can be done?

1.Risk profile clients at account inception to enable you to set up trading terms that protect your interests

2. Relationship manage so that you are in regular communication with clients

3. Manage your fees recovery activity so that the Days Sales Outstanding figure stays low

4. Forecast your cash-flow accurately so that you save on costs by removing the need for emergency cash

5. Don’t leave it until the last minute to ask for help – it’s invariably the most expensive when it’s urgent

If you would like to calculate how much using credit is costing your business, request our free cost of credit calculator by emailing “Cost of Credit” in the subject line to info@cmlawltd.com

Posted August 29, 2011 by Julie in General information

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Banishing boring training   Leave a comment

Over the summer I’ve really enjoyed working with a friend of mine on bringing to life some training material that most people, might be forgiven for finding a bit boring!

It’s a fact, the things we need to know to make a success in business, are not always the most stimulating.  How many training sessions have you been to where you’ve been clock watching throughout, you try to force yourself to concentrate but your thoughts keep drifting back to the office, or that meal you need to cook when you get home.  You get through the material during the session, you take away a neat pack to store in the office as an ‘aide-mémoire’ but if two weeks later, someone asks you what you remember about the training, you may struggle to name more than a couple of things.

My training programme is aimed at busy professionals, working in the administrative function of Barristers Chambers.  They may have done a full days work before attending my workshops and therefore, I have quite a challenge to engage them, keep their interest throughout the programme and ensure that they have grasped enough of the subject to make a real difference with their new found knowledge when they get back to work.  I also want them to enjoy the sessions so much that they want to come back and take part in the rest of the programme.

Christine Bell of Bellthompson has done a great job of working with me to create a workshop in which the learners engage in active learning throughout.  All the facts and details are provided but the limited face to face time we have is spent working practically with case studies, engaging in debate and discussion and getting to grips with data in a fun and memorable way.

If you want to find out what Christine thinks, see http://bellthompson.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/banish-boring-training/

For more about the course see http://cmlawltd.com/training-barristers-chambers.php

Posted August 24, 2011 by Julie in Training

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Credit Management – the healthy living plan for business   Leave a comment

USA national credit rating down-graded – should we worry?  You bet!  The writing was on the wall in giant neon letters visible a mile off – but it seems no-one could read.  Companies too of all sizes ignore warning signs and try to work through periods of over-trading everyday, hoping that by disregarding the symptoms, their problems will disappear.  We’ve seen what the results of this behaviour can be.

Parallels can be drawn between the health of a business and personal health.  We all know how vital it is to stay fit, eat a balanced diet and watch our weight, but modern life makes it all too easy to be lazy, and the healthy option is often seen to be too boring or bothersome.  The same is true in business.

Cash is often described as the life-blood of business and is required for corporate fitness.  Restrict blood-flow and there’s a serious danger to health.  Poor cash-flow can be likened to the hardening of arteries – circulation is affected, symptoms start to appear, health dwindles and the risk of heart failure soars.

Credit management is the business fitness programme.  With the right attitude to risk, a strategy of constant review and reaction when warning signs appear, youthful vigour can be maintained along with the ability to withstand even serious financial ailments.

Anyone wondering how some companies seem to be riding out the current economic crisis with little sign of ill effect should examine their credit policy, and the attitude to cash-flow management.

It’s not rocket science, to coin a phrase; it’s a question of establishing a clear strategy, supporting it with a documented policy and procedures, equipping personnel with the required skills and sticking with it.

In life, we are tempted to over indulge, or miss a few exercise sessions, but as long as our basic day-to-day routine is sound, we are able to withstand ailments and bounce back quickly.

Why not apply the same approach in business?

Posted August 16, 2011 by Julie in General information

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