Process Management: A change of approach (Topic of the Month – Process Management)
Many still regard conveyancing as an art form, the ability to identify a problem and best decide how to address it or indeed whether it needs to be addressed at all. Amongst the best of us are those who are able to balance the pressures of achieving the client’s wishes, avoiding negligence and demonstrating commercial awareness. This approach has led to us building fantastic client relationships, some that last generations. However as lenders become more demanding clients want things done faster and increased price competition between firms it is very easy to feel like a polar bear trapped on melting ice, clinging to a method of survival no longer supported by our environment.
My friends the solution is one that will make many of us run cold and some would argue goes against the essence of conveyancing. Process Management.
def. Process management is the ensemble of activities of planning and monitoring the performance of a process.
To many of us this suggests a conveyor belt process adopted by some well-known volume practices that breaks the transaction down into its component parts. Typically very few of these processes are retained by trained lawyers and are instead given to cheap, unqualified members of staff and this has led towards the rise of volume conveyancing at discount rates. However many of the firms that participate in this method feel that they have thrown the baby out with the bathwater and damaged their reputations. Notwithstanding the basic shortcomings with this approach I see that we as a profession have little choice but to adopt this way of working, to a point.
The CML and the SRA (or professional equivalent) will continue to push the profession towards greater regulation and the emphasis is on us to be able to demonstrate that we achieve their objectives case in and case out. This does not have to lead to subcontracting out of the component parts of the transaction to unqualified staff however we have to demonstrate that all fee earners are working in the same way. To this extent I would propose an alternative definition:
def. Process management is the application of knowledge, skills, techniques and systems to define, control, report and improve processes with the goal to meet customer requirements profitably.
The objective is to ensure that within any given firm, files are handled by fee earners in the same way. Whether this is achieved by an expansive case management system or disciplined use precedents and checklists it does matter. In words that many of us are now familiar with, it is the outcome that is important. Whilst no two transactions will ever be identical we need to demonstrate that we are compliant and process management is the best way of achieving this. The skill, care and attention to detail that make us popular with our clients will remain but we must learn to adopt a different approach that showcases these skills in a different way.
I propose that by embracing process management en masse within our firms this will help guide us through the heavily regulated road ahead.