Case management systems, digital dictation/time recording, sophisticated management reporting, online training, case tracking, increased risk management, budget analysis, automation, forecasting systems, outsourced overhead functions – just to mention a few concepts we have all embraced over the years to build our businesses and manage our risk. No longer new fads but integrated systems and procedures we all expect as business leaders.
We analyse everything from our cost per seat, turnaround times, average profit costs, case carrying capacity etc refining our models to ensure we achieve and exceed our budget and profit margins. We are processing faster, analysing and streamlining what we do e.g., a Terms of Engagement takes seconds to produce rather than minutes. We have secure onboarding systems enabling us to sign up clients and validate identification in a matter of minutes.
Given the vast amount of forecasting data we hold we know immediately if we are falling behind or excelling enabling the business to pivot where necessary such as employing more staff or increasing/decreasing caseloads. We know how our cases and pipelines perform and our expectations for the future.
We have the detail at our fingertips, after all it is our Regulator’s requirements to have sound and robust financial management procedures in place to protect the business and consumers. Data truly is king.
But one fundamental area that I really do not understand is given we have this data at our fingertips why are we still charging consumers by the hour?
I appreciate no two cases are the same – but the key building blocks and milestones are. We know from our data our baseline costs and margins per case type. Why are we unable to cost a probate case, a divorce, litigation or employment case? I understand some additional work may be required as a case progresses, but why wouldn’t we merely quote on the additional work should it arise. Why can’t we offer an element of certainty when we have the data by case type?
You may think I am naive but if we encouraged a fixed fee regime would this also speed up transactions? I understand the metrics required but if a business had a fixed fee ethos would it work faster and smarter knowing they could not charge per letter, phone call or for reviewing a file.
We also need to consider if our cost saving benefits are truly benefiting the consumer. If we are working faster and more efficiently, are we confident these cost savings are being transferred to the consumer? Or is the ethos strip out the cost, become more efficient, charge the consumer more and increase our profit margins? Is this sustainable, is it good commercial acumen, is it treating the customer fairly or is it opening the door to new digital entrants to disrupt the market.
Consumer behaviour has changed with demands accelerated due to Covid. We know the key metrics; more choice, availability, openness, transparency, value for money, speed. We have new entrants to contend with aligning services to consumer demand. If as an industry, we cannot change our historic and outdated ways of working will we lose our footing. Is the 9 to 5 and hourly charging rate model dead and buried.
We have heard about new entrants disrupting the market. Disruption can only occur if there is space, a reason and necessity to disrupt. I believe there is space in the legal industry to do things differently, provide transparency, reduce turnaround times and provide value for money. If we do not evolve other new entrants will. In my opinion this is no longer a choice.
The Independent IRN Research March 2021 paper concluded that that despite the achievements of the last decade, the basic legal needs of many citizens are not being met.
A recommendation from the paper was to “drive improvements in product standardisation and pricing”, develop a single digital register of providers, and encourage digital comparison websites to get more involved in the legal market.
This is where the ‘Sail Group’ are entering the market, to create an environment for the consumer to have a fixed transparent fee for the work involved in estate administration with a panel of providers providing that work, assessed on their levels of service.
The ‘Sail Group’ including Sail Homes, Sail Legal and Sail Probate will all look to utilise technology in conjunction with top of the class professionals to ensure a better journey for the consumer, at a transparent fairer price in a better time period.
Corin Holness is Head of Sales and Operations at Sail Homes