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Simple steps to a better practice

Nobody ever said running a successful small practice was easy.

But wouldn’t it be easier if you could chat face to face with knowledgeable experts who could answer your questions and provide practical suggestions for the specific areas of your practice that need work?

There is such a service; it’s practical and discrete and it’s free for full QLS members whose practices have up to 10 practising certificate holders.

The Queensland Law Society Practitioner Advice Service (PAS) was developed in 2016 by the QLS Ethics and Practice Centre and is now operating through QLS Solicitor Support Pty Ltd, an incorporated legal practice. It initially provided advice and support to those starting a new practice or becoming a principal practitioner in an existing sole/small practice.

The purpose of the program was to help practitioners to practise ethically and sustainably, and to assist legal practitioner directors meet their obligation to implement ‘appropriate management systems’.

PAS was extended when COVID hit in 2020 to all existing sole/small Queensland legal practices with up to five practising certificate holders. During this time in-person regional visits extended as far north as Port Douglas, despite the difficulties with travel arrangements.

For the 2020-2021 financial year, PAS was extended to all Queensland legal practices owned and operated by full members of QLS where there are up to 10 practising certificate holders.

The QLS Solicitor Support Pty Ltd has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from PAS visits.

“Most practitioners express appreciation for the practical ideas, cost agreement suggestions and general practice tips – particularly around converting to paperless practices,” QLS Special Counsel (and one of the Practice Management Consultants) Judy Hayward said.

Judy joins Stafford Shepherd, Director of QLS Solicitor Support Pty Ltd and Mark Illidge, Special Counsel and Practice Management Consultant travelling the state to meet practitioners. Each of them have operated their own legal practice and share their own experiences – positives and negatives – with practitioners.

“It seems principals have identified and embraced this as a service designed specifically with them in mind.

“They will often raise ideas or suggestions for resources with us. Some of our resources have been road-tested by practitioners we visit first, before being released more widely. A great example of the collaborative effort is the recently released client engagement template, which was developed from requests made during PAS visits.

“It seems connecting with the profession and connecting them to information, resources, other professionals and practitioners is exactly the service required, particularly during COVID, as our ability to move about, meet and connect with people has been restricted.”

But what happens at a typical PAS consultation?

“Our aim is to meet the practitioner and practice where they are at,” Judy said. “We don’t have a pre-planned presentation or agenda, which practitioners seem to find refreshing.

“PAS visits have been held in law offices, homes, home offices, cafés, Macca’s, bars and parks (a great option when practitioners have small children) and (oddly enough) poolside across the state.”

She said that, although there wasn’t a ‘typical’ consultation, the aim of each PAS visit was to ascertain in what areas the practitioner wanted some guidance, assistance or support. It is also a great opportunity to hear what issues are impacting practices and, with consent, refer those issues to the QLS Advocacy Team – during COVID the feedback from practitioners was vital to the work of QLS.

“It is important for us to understand the practitioner’s objectives – we all have different ideas of success,” Judy said. “It is also important that we connect the practitioner to the right resources. Some practitioners have some very novel and innovative ideas, and we provide guidance on how those ideas might play out in practice.

“In some respects we are equally the devil’s advocate, fierce encouragers, and confidential sounding boards!”

PAS can help to create actual improvements in a number of ways, including:

  • starting and structuring a law practice
  • identifying the client, scoping the retainer, managing the client intake process
  • guidance in any of the 10 core components of ‘appropriate management systems’, namely, communication, delay, liens and file transfers, cost disclosure/billing practices/termination of retainer, conflicts of interest, records management, undertakings/orders, supervision of staff and practice and risk management.

“We look at business development opportunities, process improvement, innovation ideas, tips for managing a practice, time management, realistic goal setting, identifying the ‘next step’ for the practice, assistance pivoting or closing a practice and, sometimes, just being a confidential sounding board.

“PAS also has access to a diverse range of skills with the Business Advisory Panel; this service enables QLS members to tap into experienced professionals for up to two hours of advice for free. It is a great service for troubleshooting discrete issues in a practice.”

For QLS Members the service remains free, thanks to the generous support of Law Foundation Queensland, which provides financial assistance for travel to rural and regional areas.

Contact the QLS Ethics and Practice Centre to arrange a visit (ethics@qls.com.au), otherwise the PAS practitioners will notify practitioners when they expect to be in the practitioner’s locality to arrange a meeting.

Participating in a PAS visit qualifies for 1 CPD point in the compulsory area of practice management and business skills.

“Practitioners are most welcome to re-use the service,” Judy said. “We anticipate it will take about 18 months to two years for us to catch up with all firms in the state that meet our criteria and we hope our visits become a fixture for legal practices.

“Our new start-up practices regularly take up the offer of three-month or six-month follow-up visits. This gives them a chance to implement some ideas, review the results and then set their next goal.

“QLS also operates a (free) Trust Account Consultancy service for members, which provides invaluable guidance and assistance to practitioners navigating their way around establishing and managing a solicitor’s trust account.”

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