The big questions for SME law firms

4 July 2020by Robert Camp

The managing partners and boards of SME law firms have so much to think about. Here are my thoughts on some of the big questions you should ask yourself and key issues that you should take action on.


Voice technology is an area law firms need to look at seriously. More people are going to want to communicate via voice. You have to look at what people use day to day, because it often leads into how they want to experience services from their professional advisors.

The market

Client onboarding is something that many law firms could improve on. When you look outside the legal sector, companies like Monzo allow you to open a bank account in a matter of minutes.
Some SME law firms who do this well are going to have a massive competitive advantage because not only will it take away an awful lot of frustration internally – it drives everyone nuts from lawyers to support staff, accounts and risk teams alike – but it will also enhance the quality of the service externally.


The big challenge is getting lawyers to understand the potential of data analytics. There’s a real gap between lawyers understanding what data analytics are and what it can do to help them. We’re not a numbers profession, we’re a words profession historically.

In just one example, leveraging marketing data is an opportunity for law firms. We can use data to build an advertising campaign to make sure it’s going out to the right people and not blanketing our market and perhaps sending irrelevant information to our clients.

Law firms have the data that most organisation would kill for but we’re not leveraging it. And it can be used in such simple areas.

Law firms are reluctant to spend a lot of money on something unless they can see a return on investment, whereas you go to any other commercial organisation and they’d be happy to pay for good data analytics.

Data is key to everything that we will be doing in the future, especially if we want to use more automation and machine learning. The data has to be right and we have to work that out to understand it and drill down into to produce valuable insights.

Client Portals

Client portals are a huge area for competitive advantage. It comes from a drive for greater clarity and communication with clients, who constantly want to have more of an Amazon or banking experience where they can track what’s going on. Why shouldn’t the client be able to see work progress and receive updates on their own time rather than having to email or phone someone up to find answers?
Stephens Scown is piloting a financial portal with clients who have multiple matters with the firm where they get exactly the same financial dashboard as the firm. It’s aimed at finance directors and managers at the moment, but they have full access to the firm’s financial boards and can produce their own reports in the format they want without having to ask for it.


Two or three years ago AI and machine learning was catered to big law firms. But, the time is now coming where robotics is cost-effective for the SME market. They’re beginning to scale out and are much more intuitive. And providers are understanding a bit more about the SME market, our needs and how to service us.
Stephens Scown is looking at subject to access requests and how it can introduce robotics to remove or highlight confidential information without having to do an intensive manual job. Using automation or robotics this way benefits the client because you can get reports out or action things quickly, and it’s better for staff not to be doing menial tasks.


Stephens Scown has also been progressive in this area having been in the cloud for eight years now. More of the big tech providers are starting to unbundle products, which allows for SME firms to pick and choose products and capabilities that are needed and discard the rest, without having to pay for the whole package.

As this happens more and more then cloud is the only way to go, because you’ll likely end up with a lot of applications, which will need updating or the ability to easily turn on and off. It also can reduce costs when you use licences, and it enables staff to work remotely. You just won’t have that level of flexibility using tech on-premise.


SME law firms’ perception of whether they’ve had a data breach or not is very worrying. A survey found that 44% of SME law firms said they had zero data breaches. Even a firm which is on top of security is likely to have some data breaches – the two are not mutually exclusive.

GDPR should be discussed at board level and you may find regular board reports to identify trends is a useful approach. Technology like Tessian to stop emails going to the wrong addresses is also a good idea.

Most security breaches are due to human error. Staff training is crucial and encryption also has a part to play. It is important to engrain awareness of these issues into your culture.

by Robert Camp

I am a qualified solicitor and was Managing Partner of Stephens Scown LLP, since 2011. The firm has been ranked for 6 consecutive years in the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For. We have over 300 staff with offices in Devon and Cornwall and revenue of £20m. During my tenure as managing partner I introduced our employee ownership model, Scownership, where all eligible employees receive an equal share of the profits, which has added to our unique culture.

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