Law Plus: Empowering small firms with big ideas

Chairman highlights importance of knowledge sharing, collegiality and access to resources for small firms

Law Plus: Empowering small firms with big ideas

In New Zealand’s ever-evolving legal landscape, it can be easy for many law firms to feel isolated in their challenges. Whether it’s accessing the right suppliers, workshops and resources or simply networking with fellow professionals, smaller firms often have a much tougher time than their larger counterparts.

To navigate these challenges, some firms will choose to join consortiums – but others prefer to operate completely autonomously. Mark Ford, counsel at Ford Sumner and chairman of Law Plus – a nationwide network of 25 law firms – says there are pros and cons to each strategy, and finding the right network for your business is key.

The power of networking

For all firms, and particularly regional ones, the opportunity to exchange ideas and strategies can be limited. However, Ford notes that having access to other lawyers with a range of knowledge and solutions is invaluable in today’s environment.

He highlights that knowledge-sharing is particularly important for junior lawyers and practice managers, who are often dealing with their unique challenges single-handedly.

“One of our Law Plus workshops is specifically directed at practice managers, which we’ve often regarded as the loneliest job in the profession!” Ford tells NZ Lawyer.

“Our practice managers can meet face to face once a year, but they also have monthly Teams catchups where they discuss ‘live’ issues. It’s very highly regarded by those participants for the knowledge and benefits that they get.”

Ford notes that smaller firms also tend to rely on publicly available workshops and resources, and lack access to ‘big firm’ knowledge. Law Plus’s annual conference and yearly schedule of workshops aims to provide this knowledge, and to tailor resources to what lawyers actually need.

“I’ve always had the view that even if you’re a small business, you should still be able to run with the big dogs,” he explains.

“Clients don’t say ‘I’m going to a small firm, so I’m happy to get a lesser service.’ As lawyers, we owe it to our clients to provide the best service we can – and to do that, you need access to a wide knowledge base.”

Navigating supplier relationships

Another major hurdle for smaller firms is getting through to the right people with suppliers, from banks and insurers to tech platforms and information providers. Ford emphasises the strength of collective bargaining in this scenario. With 25 firms in its ranks, Law Plus members represent a larger group of legal professionals than any single law firm in New Zealand.

When it comes to establishing connections and getting direct access, this collective buying power becomes incredibly powerful.

“A firm will generally deal with a broker for its PI insurance, but with Law Plus the members actually get to meet the underwriters at the conference,” Ford says. “That’s a small example of the level of connectivity that we can drive.”

Ford adds that a common mistake smaller firms will make is relying on historical relationships with suppliers. A firm that’s been dealing with the same supplier for many years can be reluctant to evaluate that relationship objectively – but as a result, it can leave a lot of potential benefits on the table.

 “It’s not just about price,” Ford says. “Has the supplier moved with the market, or has the market overtaken the supplier? We look at our suppliers objectively, and we have regular reviews of what our suppliers are offering.”

Resources, education and empowerment

LexisNexis, Australasian Law Practice Management Association (ALPMA), Diversity Works – these are just some of the organisations that Law Plus works with to provide access for all its firms.

Ford points out that the cost of subscriptions like these quickly mounts up for smaller firms, and so having this offering is a vital part of its value proposition. He says its collaboration with LexisNexis has been particularly impactful for Law Plus members, as it’s important for every business to access the best legal content and tools available in the market. Under its consortia umbrella, Law Plus’ members enjoy access to a heavily discounted comprehensive library collection by LexisNexis, and that includes a suite of key local and international titles and renowned online practitioner text books.

Similarly, Law Plus’ partnership with Diversity Works provides members with access to the full suite of its workshops and published materials at no cost. Ford says that by raising awareness and having these resources readily available, it makes it much easier for firms to enact meaningful change. “If you want to do business with people, you need to understand where they come from, what they’re about and what they need,” Ford says. “If you’re not able to accommodate that, you’re operating under a handicap.”

Law Plus is always open to new members, and Ford highlights the supportive, collegial environment that they can expect to be part of.

“You’ll have a great support network around you, a safe place for conversations, and a level of collegiality that you won’t be able to experience anywhere else,” he says. “You’ll also have reliable, connectible and contactable suppliers for the services and goods that your firm needs.”

To find out more about Law Plus and how it can benefit your firm, click here.

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