Declan Branagan, CEO and founder of eXpd8, is a man with a mission. An Irish entrepreneur with links to South Africa going back fifteen years, he believes that South African lawyers have much to learn from the mistakes made by their Irish counterparts.
And he is eager to share those lessons with them.
With the dramatic collapse of the Irish property and construction sectors in recent years, the country’s legal profession, heavily exposed through over-reliance on conveyancing, hit a major downturn that is still playing out today. A decade of lucrative and consistent property driven business had seen legal firms ‘land in the butter’ like never before and, according to Branagan, they got too comfortable.
Branagan explains. ‘In a nutshell, we took our eye off the ball. We were living the dream – business was booming, firms were taking on new staff, inflating their fees without delivering real value to clients, and allowing inefficiencies to fester and grow as their revenues increased.’
Furthermore, as a profession with only ‘light’ self-regulation, it made little or no effort to change this situation – despite legal professions in neighbouring countries, such as the United Kingdom, clearly moving in the direction of increased regulation and transparency.
The result? When things went bust, lawyers were hit hard. Practices were forced to retrench significant numbers of staff, there was a marked increase in mergers, and legal fees were slashed almost overnight. As with all professional services, the legal profession came under massively increased public scrutiny, and rogue attorneys were exposed. Today, Irish lawyers are facing major regulatory reform of their profession, as demanded by the EU and the IMF.
And yet Branagan, and many of his law firm clients in Ireland, believe the downturn resulted in a badly-needed wake-up call, which is now bringing about positive change to the profession.
Branagan is passionate about communicating this message. ‘One of my Irish clients said to me the other day that if he’d been as rigorous about efficiency during the good times as he is now, he’d be a millionaire today. Which brought home to me – South African law firms have the opportunity to get more lean and efficient NOW, and proactively deliver transparency and demonstrate value to their clients while increasing their profitability. Without experiencing the pain of a major slump in business first!’
As another of Branagan’s clients points out, ’The best decision that we made over the past few years has been to install eXpd8 software. The worst decision was that we did not do it earlier’.
Engaging and dynamic in conversation, it’s clear that Branagan also knows when to let his product, eXpd8 Case Management Software, do the talking. He describes eXpd8’s dashboard as having ‘big shiny buttons’, and we can see why. The simple user interface is not designed for IT professionals – it’s for legal professionals and their staff, who want to quickly and efficiently access all activities around a particular client and case, in order to get on with what they do best – serving that client and earning revenue for their firm.
Used for workflow and document management, the solution captures all activities including phone calls, meetings, emails and faxes, and links them to the relevant client and case. Valuable information is no longer buried in archives on a different floor, or on a colleague’s computer – it’s available to all employees with one or two clicks of their mouse. Furthermore, billing for these activities can be better monitored and communicated to the client.
Not only is the solution simple to get to grips with, minimising training time and costs, it uses technology already existing in most South African law firms today. Minimal implementation time and investment, no major training costs – where is the catch? Surely the cost is prohibitive? Not so. Branagan says the cost per user comes as a pleasant surprise to South African lawyers, especially when compared to existing, ‘clunkier’ solutions.
Branagan has moved his family from Ireland to South Africa to devote the next six months to working alongside eXpd8 Country Manager, Tinus Lamprecht, to establish eXpd8 in this country. Having visited South Africa over a dozen times previously, for both business and pleasure, Branagan has been blown away by the positive changes he has observed in recent years.
‘South Africa today is a million miles from the country I first visited in 2005. There’s an optimism and buzz here that I really enjoy – especially compared to ‘doom and gloom’ Ireland! In practical terms, the use of technology in, for example, the banking sector far outstrips what I’ve experienced in Europe and is leading to better customer service. Increased bandwidth speeds and accessibility are also making a world of difference. And customers are becoming more discerning and demanding – they’re looking for transparency, professionalism and value. eXpd8 helps our clients deliver each of those things, while driving profitability.’