In this interview with Asia Law Portal, Stella Lau, a Practice Manager at MahWengKwai & Associates since 2018, shares her insights on the significance of practice management in a law firm. She explains the role of practice management in enhancing the quality of legal services, promoting operational efficiency, managing risk, reducing costs, and driving profitability. Lau also highlights the importance of practice management in driving innovation in law firms to ensure they stay ahead of the curve. She talks about the technology required for effective practice management, the role of practice managers in boutique law firms, and the future of practice management in Malaysia.
What is practice management in a law firm and why is it important?
Practice management is a crucial aspect of running a successful law firm, as it encompasses various strategies and processes aimed at ensuring the efficient and effective delivery of legal services. It involves the management of multiple areas, including financial management, information management, people management, risk management, client care, and file and case management. By implementing sound practice management policies, law firms can improve their service quality, reduce costs, and ultimately enhance profitability.
One key benefit of practice management is its ability to streamline operations and increase efficiency. This, in turn, enables law firms to provide their clients with timely and cost-effective legal solutions, thereby enhancing client satisfaction and loyalty. Additionally, effective practice management can mitigate the risk of legal malpractice and other compliance-related issues, thereby protecting the reputation of the law firm.
At MahWengKwai & Associates (MWKA), we take practice management a step further by adopting an innovative and agile approach to our work. This includes developing new legal services and products, optimizing our internal processes for maximum efficiency, and leveraging cutting-edge tools to improve the marketing, accessibility, and delivery of our legal services. By doing so, we stay at the forefront of the legal industry, providing our clients with innovative and tailored solutions that meet their unique needs.
What led you to pursue a career in legal practice management?
I started my career 15 years ago at MWKA as a legal clerk, where I was initially responsible for clerical duties. Over time, I was given more responsibilities, including helping lawyers resolve management and administrative issues such as ensuring compliance with standard operating procedures and facilitating communication and collaboration across departments to expedite legal matters.
I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work closely with lawyers and to have been involved in the management and administrative aspects of the law firm. One experience that particularly motivated and inspired me was when I accompanied our lawyers to court to act as the transcriber while they presented their case in court. Seeing the lawyers fight passionately for justice for their clients made me realize the impact I could make in supporting them in their work.
With this in mind, I decided to pursue a career in legal practice management and completed my LLB degree in 2016. I am grateful that MWKA is a firm that supports upskilling and encourages career growth and progression. My experience and education have prepared me well for my current role, and I am proud to be able to contribute to the success of the firm and our clients.
What type of technology is currently required to effectively manage a practice?
To effectively manage a law firm in today’s digital age, a range of technologies is required. Firstly, practice management software can help streamline many tasks, including timekeeping, billing, and case management, leading to increased efficiency and productivity. Similarly, document management systems can assist in storing, organising and managing documents and files electronically, reducing paper waste and improving accessibility.
Accounting software is also essential to manage financial records, invoicing, and payroll. With the right software, firms can streamline these financial processes and improve their overall financial management. Moreover, customer relationship management (CRM) systems play a crucial role in managing client relationships and tracking client information. By using a CRM system, firms can gain insights into their clients’ needs and preferences, and effectively target marketing and business development efforts.
It is also crucial for law firms to implement appropriate cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive information from cyber-attacks. This includes measures such as firewalls, encryption, and employee training on cybersecurity best practices. By prioritizing the use of these technologies, law firms can stay ahead of the curve and effectively manage their practice in today’s digital age.
Are practice managers commonly deployed in boutique law firms?
Practice managers are not yet commonly deployed in boutique law firms, as many still operate with traditional organizational structures. However, as the legal industry continues to evolve, the role of a practice manager is becoming more recognized and valued.
In today’s competitive legal landscape, boutique law firms can benefit significantly from a dedicated professional overseeing practice management functions. Practice managers can help streamline processes, manage financial and human resources, and optimize client services to drive profitability. They can also assist with cross-departmental collaboration and improve communication between legal teams and other departments, ensuring that all firm operations are aligned with the firm’s overall goals.
Therefore, while practice managers may not be commonly found in boutique law firms today, they are increasingly being recognized as an asset in helping firms improve efficiency and drive success in the future.
Do you utilize external consultants to help you in your role?
We don’t use external consultants for practice management. Our Leadership Team, comprising Mr Raymond Mah and Ms Ying Mei Lum, provide the necessary direction and support. Raymond guides us in developing and reviewing our policies and standard operating procedures for consistency and quality assurance. Ying Mei is responsible for technology needs, research, development, and training, including creating and reviewing IT policies and strategy planning. As a practice manager, I keep abreast of best practices through research and continuing education. I attend industry events and training sessions to stay updated with the latest trends in practice management. This ensures that our firm remains competitive, and we can provide the highest level of service to our clients.
What is the future of practice management in Malaysia?
Practice management in law firms is not new, but there are still many law firms in Malaysia that do not recognise its importance. A knowledgeable practice manager can help overcome administrative issues that hinder sustainable growth and profitability. By identifying critical issues and providing practical solutions to the managing partner, the practice manager can ensure the firm’s improvement in profit and growth.
As the legal industry in Malaysia continues to evolve, more law firms are recognising the benefits of practice management and implementing it in their operations. The future of practice management in Malaysia looks optimistic, and it is likely that more firms will invest in practice management to remain competitive and provide the highest level of service to their clients.
What advice do you have for anyone considering a career in practice management?
Practice management is an exciting and rewarding career path that requires a combination of skills and attributes, including strong leadership, excellent communication, and a focus on delivering results. To succeed in this field, I would recommend developing a deep understanding of the legal industry and staying up-to-date with the latest trends and developments.
I also recommend seeking out opportunities to gain hands-on experience in practice management, such as internships or entry-level positions in law firms. This will allow you to learn from experienced professionals and develop your skills and knowledge.
In addition, it is important to be proactive in building your network and establishing relationships with professionals in the legal industry. Attend industry events, conferences, and seminars, and connect with people on LinkedIn and other professional networks.
Finally, be open to learning and adapting to new challenges and opportunities. The legal industry is constantly evolving, and practice managers need to be able to anticipate and respond to changes in the market. With dedication, hard work, and a passion for excellence, a career in practice management can be both challenging and fulfilling.