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Keeping law firms on track: the monthly meeting

Boosting profitability and efficiency is a key concern for law firms, but many initially resist committing to a process that could dramatically improve their financial situation, says Toronto legal management consultant Catherine Moffitt of Cosgrove Associates Inc.

“It’s often hard for us to get in the door to explain what we do, because nine times out of 10, we’ll speak to a decision-maker at a firm and they’ll say, ‘We’re fine, we’re profitable,’” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“But then all it takes is for us to run one of our confidential reviews on their financials, and most times we will find that there are areas where they’re missing out on profit potential. We will show them examples of what we can do to improve their bottom line, and they generally see the benefit in participating in a profit plan."

Cosgrove is retained by law firms to undertake profitability projects or act as interim office management, Moffitt says, noting that most of its work is done with small and mid-sized firms that often have fewer in-house resources than large practices.

“If we’re retained for a profitability project, we’re in the trenches. We’re there on a regular basis so we see what’s going on in the firm and then we present information about how to address the issues that are coming up.”

An important part of Cosgrove’s work involves holding monthly meetings with a law firm’s key decision-makers as a way to keep them apprised of their progress in a number of areas, particularly financial, and to point out other administrative challenges that might need to be addressed, Moffitt says.

"The monthly meeting often addresses things that the decision-makers don’t have time to deal with on a day-to-day basis because they’re focussed on the practice of law, so it’s a good tool for time management," she says.

“We always start the meeting with an agenda broken out into categories such as financial, technology, administration, staffing and sometimes marketing. The agenda is circulated to the attendees in advance so they come prepared to speak to what concerns them. The meeting is generally kept to 1.5 hours and held as close to the same time each month as possible for consistency."

Cosgrove Associates is also in charge of preparing the minutes, assigning “actions” to appropriate individuals for accountability and then setting the date for the next meeting, Moffitt says.  

Any items on the agenda that do not get addressed are kept on for the next meeting, or a separate one is scheduled to deal with any critical matters, she adds.

“Because we work with firms on their profitability, we tend to start the meeting off with the financials. We deliver the results of the work of the associates and the partners in the previous month and identify successes and challenges in the key areas, which would be the docket, bill and collection issues. We will speak to their timekeeping, their work in progress, the fees billed and the accounts receivable collections, just to see where they stand with everything,” Moffitt says.

If an associate’s financial performance isn’t reaching the targets that were agreed upon, a partner or a Cosgrove consultant could be called upon to speak to them about ways to improve, she says, adding that there’s a motivational aspect to the job as well.

“The problem could work its way down to something that’s a private, personal issue, or it’s stress. Perhaps they’re not working well with their staff. There’s usually some kind of a productivity blocker.

In addition to a firm’s finances, Cosgrove often pays attention to technology, marketing and administration, which includes everything from document management and office equipment to staff reviews and human resources issues, focussing on increasing efficiency and profitability, Moffitt says.

"We gather the key areas to address and raise them all — or most of them — at this meeting and everyone gets their directives. Sometimes things are just not on their radar until we raise it, and their input allows us to move ahead to remediate, if necessary, all to stay on track and reach goals toward profitability.”

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