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Brethertons' decision in 2013 to implement Peppermint as its strategic new practice management system raised a few eyebrows at the time. Why would one of the most prestigious and well-reputed law firms in the UK choose a new and relatively unproven practice management solution? Was Count William Ferdinand Wratislaw – who founded Brethertons in Rugby back in 1810 – possibly turning in his grave?
In fact Count William was a noted innovator, introducing gas street lighting to Rugby, as well as installing the first slate roof in Rugby on his townhouse, which later became the firm's head office.
The firm's history of innovation in support of both client service as well as community service is maybe a large part of why the firm has thrived for more than 200 years.
Brethertons has continued to buck many trends – including commencing a major growth phase which has more than doubled its size over the last decade while many established firms have downsized.
The decision to implement Peppermint back in 2013 was viewed as strategic to the firm's growth. The CEO of the time commented: "We spent a considerable amount of time and effort researching the legal technology market to ensure we made the right decision for the firm. Moving to a modern Microsoft platform gives us the latest technology foundation to support and accelerate the firm's growth. Peppermint's client-centric, single platform approach provides us with the intelligence to deliver a personal and efficient service to clients. It also ensures we have absolute clarity of the firm's position at any time."
In 2015 Brethertons continued to innovate by appointing a non-lawyer – Sally Jones, Brethertons deputy CEO and chief operating officer – as a full partner in the firm. In 2016 Sally was awarded ‘non-lawyer of the year' at the Symphony Legal Awards. This award marked Sally's work in driving a major transformation process at Brethertons, which included new operating processes and a new organisational structure code-named ONEON™ (Operating Network for Evolving Organisational Needs).
Her work to date has included the creation of a robust strategic three-year plan, an overhaul of the management board structure, the design of a new staff career road map and a re-focused second-phase implementation of the Peppermint software to embed it as a major strategic weapon for the firm.
When Sally took up the Brethertons deputy CEO and COO roles, her first task was to re-invigorate the Peppermint implementation, hand in hand with major ‘re-engineering' of the firm's structure, business processes and staff reporting and remuneration structure.
Brethertons has in effect re-implemented key elements of Peppermint in the context of a wider business transformation. As a result, it has now begun to reap additional benefits of Peppermint's single platform, client-centric architecture.
Sally picks up the story: "A big part of my remit from the Board was the brief they gave to me: ‘hold the mirror up to us and tell us what you see. Brethertons has a 200-year history. It's evolved in a certain way - not necessarily in terms of what we'd hoped. We know some things aren't working, including the way we're using Peppermint. We bought Peppermint to transform the way we work with clients. But we're not seeing that transformation. Tell us the good, the bad and the ugly'.
"So with that in mind," Sally says, "I set about finding the cans of worms, talking to people and finding out why it was not working. Peppermint is a fantastic bit of kit. It's the technology we need to take us places and support our transformation agenda going forwards. So why were we not seeing the benefits?"
"One of the things I came back to the board with is that the business was disconnected," Sally recalls. "The road from strategy to what happens in practice was not there. The business was not aligned. We needed wholesale change, not trying to pick the low hanging fruit. We needed to map out the route so all our arrows aligned instead of pointing in different directions. We were missing the target and some arrows were even shooting us in the foot. The Board understood that to get what we wanted from Peppermint, we first needed to fix the business processes, make the business work and then layer the technology on top. So, I put all Peppermint project work on temporary hold. Hearts and minds had to be won. And we had a lot of ground to make up."
Once the high level business planning and process work was well underway, Project Peppermint Restart launched. Sally Jones and her business development and business change teams began by analysing and mapping out a total of 650 issues, turning them into work and prioritising them. Priorities were not based on who shouts the loudest, but rather what was most critical to good process and business need. Once the action plan was agreed, a series of mini road shows were held throughout the firm. They explained the plan and what it would accomplish. Working in two-month sprints, with a continuous improvement process to manage requests, the Peppermint project landscape changed dramatically.
"Over the past 18 months we have made excellent progress," Sally says. "We map out the ROI for each project, do the business analytics and work with the teams to map out the desired state. We get the development team, the business change team and IT team working together to map out how the technology is going to drive the business forward. All projects need to be justified and prioritised based on how they contribute to the four key pillars of our business: People, Customers, Finance and Operations. With that context, project teams are more autonomous with the confidence to say no as well as yes. That's really raised their value to the business.
"The last piece of the jigsaw is what this is delivering to the customer. Now we have a clear pathway to delivering on the promise – particularly the unique CRM aspects of Peppermint. Now we're ready to go to the next level. We can leverage the knowledge within our business to give our lawyers and others the ability to use that knowledge effectively.""
– Sally Jones, Partner, Deputy CEO and COO, Brethertons Solicitors
The vision, she says, is all about the lawyer talking to the client, with all key client information available at a glance: a client dashboard. The goal is that lawyers don't have to spend time on anything except giving expert advice. Routine details such as matter opening and closing are automated via Peppermint, all centralised on a dashboard. The dashboard serves up a complete and up-to-date history of all matters. This includes people working on the account, market sector information and key sector changes, the client's latest annual report, the client's LinkedIn connections and their social environment. In effect, an instant view of their clients' lives.
"This is the work of many hands and minds all coming together," Sally says. "It builds knowledge behind the scenes so each relationship interaction is completely current – with all our people, services and products fully connected naturally as part of every client conversation."
Historically, law firms take the ‘stick' approach in that they are prone to giving people unrealistic targets then beating them up when they don't make it. Brethertons has used Peppermint to put in place a financial dashboard which tracks six important financial key performance indicators. In time, all fee earners will have their own dashboard and be able to take action, and their managers will be able to contribute constructively to the process. A key part of this is changing the bonus scheme. This is no longer based on cash. Instead, each individual's performance is measured by their overall contribution to the firm. In other words, not measuring and rewarding people just on what they earn, but what they contribute to the firm across multiple dimensions.
"It's important to understand that Peppermint was just one part of our transformation programme," Sally states. "We bought Peppermint for all the right reasons, but initially made the mistake of not mapping out all the connected layers of change.
"In the past 18 months, we've gone through a powerful and fundamental process of change. Now we're seeing the benefits, both in the bottom line and – more importantly – in the morale and productivity of our people.
"Peppermint is an important part of that positive change. With the benefit of hindsight, the lesson is clear. You need to really think about your business and your underlying processes and your operating rhythm before layering technology on top. If you are layering good technology on bad processes chaos will rule. Sort out how you want your business to run, and then integrate the technology.
"We've done that, and the benefits are flowing. Technology is not on the periphery. Peppermint is part of and core to everything. There's a kind of alchemy here. We invested in technology to transform the firm. But turning lead into gold required us to layer the technology into an integrated strategy. It took planning to successfully use technology to empower our people, give them choice, and help us really understand and get closer to our customers," Sally Jones said.
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Peppermint's CEO Arlene Adams and CTO Mike Walker talk about client centricity and 'becoming the law firm your clients want you to be.'
Mayo Wynne Baxter
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