Finding operational efficiency through new support staff structures

There is currently a shift in the dynamics of the legal industry. Although financial and operational efficiency is still paramount firms, many firms are looking to optimize their support structures as the need for cost efficiency increases in response to growing decreases in client demand. But what does a more optimized support structure look like? How can firms be expected to do more with less?    

The legal industry is undergoing a profound transformation in response to new market conditions according to the research gathered in one of BigHand’s latest reports. Firms are looking to improve their efficiency and become more cost-effective as a means of combating a decline in client demand. This move towards efficiency has sparked a drive to redefine support models, with firms embracing changes ranging from altering secretary-to-lawyer ratios to having centralized teams or incorporating outsourced support. 

Firms need a clear strategy in place for how tasks are delegated between lawyers and support staff. In pursuit of this, many have been testing different support models ranging from re-thinking a traditional lawyer-to-secretary relationship, to a more centralized unit of staff supporting multiple lawyers and practice groups. The data gathered by BigHand in its most recent report shows that current market conditions, including raised staff attrition and hybrid working, seem to have accelerated firms’ plans to consider restructuring their back offices.  

The report shows that 53% of firms have witnessed an increase in support staff attrition in the past year. For those in the US, support staff attrition is 60% among firms surveyed. The departure of experienced support team members has resulted in skills gaps and a need to identify suitable replacements for those departing their firms, and in some cases the legal industry all together. Taking this into consideration, how can firms find a solution to this problem without visibility into what skills are lacking and who among their remaining support team members are in need of training and professional development. 

Striking the right balance between centralized and direct support, upskilling, and retraining staff, and minimizing attrition all contribute to the strategic overhaul of support services. Its evident firms have acknowledged this and have tried to introduce new roles as well as training to upskill staff. In addition, 40% of firms have also introduced junior administrative roles in the last two years, while 33% are upskilling/retraining staff. Although these initiatives will be beneficial, firms still need visibility into what skills the support team(s) are lacking and need replacing, as well as the interests and goals of their support staff, including what areas they are enthusiastic about so management can potentially begin to design career paths for individuals who may be considering long-term careers in the legal profession, but do not necessarily want to become attorneys. 

The shift to centralized teams  

What stands out to me in the research is although a third of firms confirm they have a 50/50 approach to support structures, where 50% is centralized and 50% use a direct support-to-lawyer model, many believe that in the next few years they will start leaning towards an even more centralized system. Almost a quarter of firms expect to have 75% of support staff working in centralized teams in the next 2 years. This shift in model will result in firms bringing in new roles to their operations according to the data in this report.  

65% of firms confirmed that they will be hiring specialized staff for a new structure, based on their specific strengths and interests. Legal workflow technology supports firms making these changes as it gives them more insight into what their staff can achieve, where their strengths lie, and where they can benefit from training opportunities. 65% of firms have said they rely on a collection of data to identify the roles and skills required to replace. Access to granular data can be used to make data-driven decisions on the expertise they need and what positions they need to fill, driving operational efficiency. This will be integral to an optimized support structure.  

A Strategy for Success 

Amid declining client demand, law firms must transform their support structures into value-driving assets. Approaching this restructuring with a strategic mindset, fueled by accurate insights and a clear understanding of long-term goals. The data contained in BigHand’s report clearly shows that the legal market is trending towards centralized support Currently, firms have a unique opportunity to enhance efficiency, control costs, and mitigate attrition through well-thought-out career development strategies for their support team members with Workflow Management Technology. 

Successful support structures coupled with adequate technological investments in Workflow Technology provide a competitive edge by meeting and exceeding client expectations. Firms that embrace change, align with evolving market demands, and invest in their support resources will be best positioned to not only weather the current economic storm but to thrive in an ever-changing legal landscape. 


About BigHand Workflow Management

To provide the best client service while supporting your bottom line, it’s vital to ensure your teams are working efficiently and smartly. Ineffective and outdated methods of delegating tasks makes it easy for things to be overlooked, means your workforce isn’t properly optimised, your tasks aren’t being delivered on time, and your bottom line is suffering as a result. BigHand Workflow Management is a task management solution that lets you turn your tasks into fully auditable, digital workflow entries. You can create tasks from voice, email, electronic or paper-based requests – from document production requests to reprographics and travel bookings.

BigHand Workflow Management