This month, the Legal COO Network gathered to discuss a key topic on the minds of every law firm leader in the current climate. How do law firms successfully drive productivity and profitability in a hybrid working environment?
Re-engineering processes and using technology are vital, and are not new concepts to the legal market. But as we move to a part-office, part-home working environment, it’s now a top agenda item and firms must quickly learn from the events of the last 18 months to put measures in place that meet client needs and serve the business at the same time.
The conversation centred mainly around three areas of how best to drive law firm productivity, process-improvement, and better use of data and technology to underpin change.
1. Productivity - Output over Input
In BigHand’s latest survey, which is due to be released in July, the findings show that Support Staff reductions were made in some way by the majority of firms, at the same time, lawyers reported an increase in working hours but billable hours in general have stayed the same or decreased. The reasonable assumption here is that lawyers are having to take on more admin while working from home.
Indeed, the legal operations professionals all agreed with this finding. One attendee confirmed that they have seen an increase in write-offs of for partner time, and are looking at how to increase task delegation to support staff and trainee lawyers to increase efficiencies as they implement hybrid working for the firm.
The consensus from attendees was that there needs to be a greater focus on lawyer output over input. For years law firms have focused on how many hours their lawyers are working, and in times of economic strain this is compounded by lawyer’s instinct to hold onto work to demonstrate how busy they are.
But the real focus must be on the output. How profitable is the work lawyers are working on at any one time? How much time is going to have to be written off at the end of the matter? What can be done to encourage the right work to be delegated to the right resource to optimise billable hours?
2. Process Improvement - Getting the Balance Right
When it comes to process improvement there is a balance to be struck. One attendee pointed out a common challenge of how to manage those departments where the hourly rate still rules. How can firms streamline processes and ensure cost savings for clients without reducing revenue?
BigHand’s survey findings also confirm that for the majority of firms, clients now expect work to be completed by the most cost-effective resource. Attendees agreed with this, with one COO confirming that they had seen an increase from client procurement teams, especially in outsourced tender situations, to prove where the firm is actively increasing efficiencies to ensure cost-savings for the client.
Having consistency between teams and offices and understanding who is doing the work to ensure matter profitability is key.
Attendees also discussed the rise of dedicated law firm Resource Managers, and how firms should follow in the steps of the Big 4 who have used this model for years. Of course, this will only work if tailored specifically to a law firms needs, and to each practice area within the firm.
3. Data and Technology
It was agreed that to successfully implement better workflow and resourcing practices, law firm management and lawyers themselves need better access to reliable data. Across the board, attendees had made it a priority this year to implement wider use of legal technology to help with the transition to hybrid working, from case management, legal workflow, matter budgeting, capacity planning and resource management tools.
The digitisation of the legal market has sped forward, and the benefits are two-fold. Our law firm COO’s agreed that the focus should be split between driving process improvement to ensure the right people are working on the right work at the right cost to the business, and to then surface the data from those systems, and visualise it in a way to improve transparency for better long-term decision-making.
The next Legal COO Network event will be on Thursday 22nd July at 2:00pm BST. Click here to join the Network and register: https://www2.bighand.com/coo_network