The ICAEW Solicitors Community held its second Virtual Solicitors Conference on 14 September 2021. The theme of the conference was “Paving the way – moving forward from the last 18 months”, and we were delighted to welcome a tremendous line up of expert speakers from across the legal sector.
Around 150 delegates “attended” the event and I thought I would let you know about some of the key topics and takeaway points from the day.
Our first speakers were Sean Hankin and Jonathan Chambers from the SRA. The SRA are always very popular speakers at our events, and this year they looked at how the pandemic has impacted on compliance within law firms.
Over the last 18 months or so, the SRA has seen an increase in the number of qualified Accountant’s Reports, many of which were due to breaches such as client account reconciliations not being prepared on time, usually due to lockdowns during the pandemic.
Sean explained that the SRA’s view is that things are very much business as usual for them now, and they expect firms to see it the same way. All Accountant’s Reports should now be submitted on time, and they cannot see any reason for reports to be filed late.
2. Knights plc.
Our second speaker was James Sheridan, Client Services Director at Knights plc. James shared his thoughts on recent M&A activity in the sector, value drivers, deals done, and price paid.
James also gave us an update on Knights’ expansion plans, and he explained that Knights’ approach to M&A deals tends to focus on two strategies:
- Deals around market entry (particular regions and/or cities)
- Scale up/bolt-ons
When it comes to paying to acquire firms, prices paid by Knights tend to be a combination of cash up front, a deferred element and shares. Knights have moved away from an EBITDA approach to valuing firms recently to focus on a revenue multiple, and James quoted a typical range of 0.7 – 1.2 x revenue.
In the next session, Darren Whelan from the Institute of Legal Finance and Management provided an extremely useful and enthusiastic reminder of how law firms really ought to be treating VAT and disbursements from a VAT perspective.
In the run up to lunch, we were joined by Rachel Wesley and Gareth Winters from the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association, as they explored themes and issues that we may all see as we continue the path out of the pandemic.
Rachel was keen to remind us that ICAEW members are lifelong members of CABA, and if you need them, they will always be there for you.
We have a dedicated CABA page within the Events and Training page on the ICAEW website and would encourage you to take a look.
Iceberg were one of the headline sponsors for the conference and their Managing Director, Mike Stevenson, spent a little time looking at financing and bank relationships for law firms post-COVID 19.
Mike noted that even though most firms have taken up CBILS or BBILS lending and, even if they have not spent the money, short term funding for things like partners tax, VAT and professional indemnity insurance is still available.
6. Chatham Group
Next up was Alex Hutchinson from Chatham Group, who gave his thoughts on ways to deliver a return from investment in IT and technology.
One of Alex’s main tips was to try to view everything connected with IT as a separate project, not just a purchase. The key is to understand what is required in advance, before looking at anything.
Our second headline sponsor for the conference was Quill, and their Managing Director, Julian Bryan, gave a fascinating presentation on his experiences over the last 18 months, both with his own staff and his clients. He also shared his tried and tested two-part plan to promoting employee wellbeing – something that is hugely important to all of us.
8. SRA Accounts Rules
Finally, the ever-popular Janet Taylor from PKF Francis Clark provided a very useful reminder of some of the key points for reporting accountants to think about when completing their SRA Accounts Rules work, including the importance of documenting their thought processes behind deciding whether or not to qualify an accountant’s report, and ensuring that partner sign-offs are carried out on a timely basis. Both of these areas are looked at closely during the hot or cold file review process.
Feedback and future conferences
Feedback from the conference has been extremely positive, with many delegates noting that there was a really strong mix of content for ICAEW members working in practice and in industry. So, if you haven’t attended previous conferences do consider for your 2022 diary.
For next year’s conference, we are currently considering a hybrid approach, with a combination of in-person and virtual delegates and speakers. We will provide details early next year.
Finally, I would like to express my thanks to all of our speakers throughout the day, to the ICAEW staff for helping to arrange the event, to our sponsors (Iceberg and Quill) and to everyone that attended. I hope to see you all in person next year.*The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW’s.
The virtual conference worked really well and was a better use of my time than a real one would have been. The quality of speakers was, as usual, very good.
An absolute must for anyone working in or advising law firms.
Excellent conference – covered a lot of ground – for any reporting accountant.