Here Margaret Briffa tells the story of how one chance advertisement in the CITMA Review set Briffa on a path of growth.
A period of change in our daily schedule often leads to reflection. I know that when on holiday I don’t so much think about clients and cases but I do think about changes I could make to achieve my ideal work scenario. Of course this lockdown is not a holiday. The enforced disruption to our routine does however leave us with more time to plan ahead. It may be my age but for starters, I was not, before the lockdown a fan of working from home. I have always enjoyed the buzz of office life. Now I see both how it suits some employees and also how it could benefit our business. There is no doubt that the investment in technology which we have made has been vital in facilitating a seamless working from home situation. On top of that I now see its potential as part of our future growth plans. With employees rotating between home and office we are not constrained in size by the walls that make up our bricks and mortar office.
Last year we embarked on a merger and acquisition growth strategy after spotting an advertisement in the CITMA Review of a practice for sale. Set up in the early 1970’s the retiring sole partner had decided he wanted to sell up. The decision was partly down to fact that with advancing years it is difficult to run a business with the energy required to meet all client needs and address new challenges. The last triggers however were the effect Brexit may have on the practice’s ability to serve all client needs cost effectively and the fact that the business lease was coming to an end imminently.
Taking on someone else’s life work is a major undertaking but working together we were able to achieve it in three short months. Looking back I put the success down to the following.
1) The price has to be right. Every practice has a value and it takes years to build a loyal client base. You will want a return on this investment. We wanted a payment scheme that suited the way we worked and acknowledged the risks both sides. The price also needed to be reflective of what could be achieved with the outgoing partner’s client base if legal services other than trade mark services were going to be provided. We could be ambitious about what we could achieve and how the outgoing partner could benefit from our wider offering.
2) There needs to be trust that we as a firm can deliver the client service. This is about many things. Professional competence and a European office to negate the effect of loss of EU representation rights within the practice are two. The third and very vital aspect of trust is a sensitivity to the history, often very protracted between the outgoing partner and his clients and the new team. The outgoing partner has to demonstrate trust in the new team to his client and we have to be willing to do a lot of ground work to understand the business of clients that may have been used to a different way of working.
3) It’s personal. We all bring our own style to practice. The important thing is that there is some style. If you have provided a very personal service to a client for many years you want a new representative to offer a very personal service as well. You don’t want to throw your clients into some faceless or robotic organisation.
4) It’s not that complicated. Legal agreements between the parties have to be robust but kept short and to the point. Long winded, overly detailed documents can get in the way of the really important points and can be both time consuming and costly.
5) It’s about investment. Irrespective of price there are other costs of taking on someone else’s practice. We needed to be prepared to invest as part of the deal. Other than having a service offering in common no-one is going to operate in quite the same way as you. In our first venture the records were entirely paper based with excel spreadsheet recording renewals to 2029. It takes a lot of time from our very experienced formalities team to get the two practices on the same page admin wise. Our investment in upgrading our tech to a cloud based practice management system has also been invaluable to ensure that information is shared securely and reliably among those that need it.
The first phase of this growth strategy is going well. On the back of its success we are speaking to other practitioners who are making succession plans, some who are just starting their preparations for their new tomorrow. Many are using these days away from the tussle of daily practice to think about what they want the future to be like.
If you are thinking about your future and would like to discuss how we might be able to help do get in touch with email@example.com. All discussions will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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