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The Singapore Law Gazette

How to Succeed in the Business of Law

Competition in the legal field is intense and getting more cutthroat. In Singapore alone, there are 881 law firms,1 See Comparison of Size of Law Practices in the Last Five Years, Law Society Annual Report 2017 at page 33. nearly 82 per cent of them small firms with one to five lawyers. Long gone are days when a firm can focus just on practicing the law and be certain of organic growth. In today’s legal climate, good lawyers do not always equate to a profitable business. If you are not constantly on the lookout for ways to adapt to industry-wide changes and improve the way you do business, your firm, large or small, will be in danger of falling behind the times. Here are a few suggestions to help you succeed as a law firm in a brave new world.

Keep Your Clients Happy

Just as with any business, happy clients are the key to staying profitable as a firm. With the glut of firms and lawyers in Singapore, your clients have the pick of the crop in terms of which firm they want to work with. With this in mind, part of your business strategy should be to actively nurture a loyal roster of clients. For a firm like DLA Piper, that meant analysing years of accumulated data to generate client behaviour insights, then building a predictive model and retention programme.2 See “Inside DLA Piper’s Client Retention Data Analytics Program” as published by Law.Com on 17 August 2017 at <https://www.law.com/sites/almstaff/2017/08/17/inside-dla-pipers-client-retention-data-analytics-program/?slreturn=20180228043055> (accessed 29 March 2018). The project was a major success, resulting in an estimated increase in revenue of USD $37.6 million.

There are easier, less resource-intensive ways to create value for your clients. Firstly, be an expert in your practice area and have the right answers for your clients when they need it. Make sure you know your client’s business thoroughly so you can be proactive in anticipating their needs, offering useful advice, or providing periodic updates on legal happenings in their industry, that are helpful for their business. Online legal research platforms like Thomson Reuters Westlaw Asia are regularly maintained and updated, so that you are always well-equipped when finding answers for your clients.

From a service point of view, ensure that you are always present and available when your client needs you. And though it may seem elementary, being timely in your communications and always delivering what you have promised your clients are fundamental building blocks of trust.

Keep Your People Happy

At the same time, make sure you keep your people happy. A happy lawyer is a good lawyer. While there are more than 5,000 lawyers in Singapore,3 See Profile of Practitioners, Law Society Annual Report 2017 at page 33. it may be a Sisyphean task to pinpoint a happy one considering the high-stress, fast-paced environment and the long hours.

In our many conversations with managing partners in Singapore, a common challenge often heard is how to improve the well-being of their lawyers, especially since factors such as income, prestige or making partner were recently discovered to have little correlation with happiness. In fact, the groundbreaking empirical study of nearly 8,000 lawyers across four states in America found autonomy, relatedness, and competence to be the strongest predictors of happiness.4 See Lawrence S Krieger and Kennon M Sheldon, “What Makes Lawyers Happy? A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success” 83 Geo Wash L Rev 554 (2015) at <https://ir.law.fsu.edu/articles/94/> (accessed 29 March 2018).

What does this mean for your firm? Support your lawyers in their work, by giving them the space and freedom to make their preferred choices, rather than the traditional top-down approach. Invest in their personal and career development, support them in gaining new skills and mastering their fields. Create a respectful, trusting environment where your employees can work together towards a single goal, rather than compete against each other. Feeling a sense of belonging at work is the key to keeping your lawyers happy, and turnover rates low.

Beef Up Your Brand

If you are a small or medium firm in Singapore, standing out from the crowd is crucial to ensure success and longevity. But with competition coming from both within and outside of the industry, how can you differentiate yourself from the 800 others that are probably just like you?

The good news is that it is easier than you think. No matter what the size of your firm or what legal areas you practice in, consider maximising your visibility so you can dominate the online space. After all, the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) or the point of deciding on a purchase during the online research phase, well before the actual purchase moment, is universally applicable no matter what you are buying, whether it is a new phone or a new enterprise resource planning system for your business.

This applies to prospective clients looking for legal service providers too. To leverage on the ZMOT, perform an audit of your digital assets like your website and social media presence to keep your firm top of mind for both new and existing clients. If your firm already has an established online footprint, go one step further and invest in social media advertising, email marketing, or even content marketing, to demonstrate your firm’s expertise in a particular practice area through easy-to-digest thought leadership content.

Executed well, your online presence may well be the best performing business development guru and salesperson of your firm, but do not stop there. Make sure to continue nurturing these relationships with proven relationship management tools like the 3E Business Development Premier, which gleans useable insights and opportunities from client data so you can turn them into future business growth.

Widen Your Scope

The needs of your clients have changed. In an increasingly globalised world where goods and services move freely between borders, bringing about the emergence of new practice areas especially in the capital markets and finance sector, firms are now expected to be knowledgeable not just in fields beyond your specialisation, but also in new and unfamiliar jurisdictions. In fact, a survey we conducted in 2016 saw a general consensus among law firms and corporate legal departments that the volume of cross-border legal transactions will continue to rise, regardless of economic cycles.5 See “Legal Trends, Challenges and Opportunities in Cross-Border Transactions” as published by Thomson Reuters on 12 September 2016 at <http://legalexecutiveinstitute.com/cross-border-transactions/> (accessed 29 March 2018).

This is especially so for firms in Singapore, given our country’s strategic location and role in Southeast Asia, which is one of the world’s fastest growing markets. Despite the optimistic outlook on volume of work, however, cross-border can be more complicated and riskier than domestic deals, due to linguistic and cultural differences. Case in point, there are ten distinct languages used across ASEAN alone.

Local lawyers and firms with cross-country aspirations will need to have precise knowledge and in-depth understanding of the law and its complexities not just of their own jurisdiction, but the surrounding nations too. Consider investing in content solutions that can act as a trusted source of information for your firm.

Westlaw Asia, for example, offers legislation coverage for six ASEAN countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, plus English-translated business laws of Myanmar, Cambodia, and Indonesia. The 230 pieces of legislation from the latter three countries were chosen for their significance to lawyers practicing in this region and cover a range of practice areas including Arbitration, Banking and Finance, Employment, and Real Estate. All these plus updated commentary content are hosted on an easily searchable online platform to better help you advise companies doing business within the region.

Thomson Reuters

Thomson Reuters offers a portfolio of solutions from e-billing and performance analytics services, to document automation and matter management for law firms large and small. We will help you optimise your business so you can focus on practising law.

Contact us:
+65 6870 3645
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thomsonreuters.com.sg/en/products-services/legal-overview.html

Endnotes   [ + ]

1. See Comparison of Size of Law Practices in the Last Five Years, Law Society Annual Report 2017 at page 33.
2. See “Inside DLA Piper’s Client Retention Data Analytics Program” as published by Law.Com on 17 August 2017 at <https://www.law.com/sites/almstaff/2017/08/17/inside-dla-pipers-client-retention-data-analytics-program/?slreturn=20180228043055> (accessed 29 March 2018).
3. See Profile of Practitioners, Law Society Annual Report 2017 at page 33.
4. See Lawrence S Krieger and Kennon M Sheldon, “What Makes Lawyers Happy? A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success” 83 Geo Wash L Rev 554 (2015) at <https://ir.law.fsu.edu/articles/94/> (accessed 29 March 2018).
5. See “Legal Trends, Challenges and Opportunities in Cross-Border Transactions” as published by Thomson Reuters on 12 September 2016 at <http://legalexecutiveinstitute.com/cross-border-transactions/> (accessed 29 March 2018).

The Law Gazette is the official publication of the Law Society of Singapore.