Recent years have heralded a catalyst for cultural change with law firms, driven by a number of factors external to the industry. The pandemic has had one of the biggest impacts on employment in recent times, causing workers across all industries to reconsider their career ventures and their career values. We have also seen a fundamental and arguably permanent shift to hybrid working, as well as a global need to improve the picture around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. In parallel, law firm clients have become a lot more interested in how work is being done for them, with the wellbeing of those staffing their matters, as well as diversity within teams, more in focus than ever before.
If these drivers were not enough, current economic circumstances are raising the bar higher still. Law firms need to optimise every available resource and every available skill, across geographies and between practice teams – to both attract and retain talent and maximise commercial deployment and profitability.
All these factors are converging to raise Resource Management (RM) up firms’ priority list. As multi-national, global Top Ten law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright bears witness, resource management today is a critical business services function that can add tremendous value to the way matters are commercially resourced and delivered for clients. However, more than that; when well executed, resource management also offers huge scope to enhance the overall employee experience and people development through equitable work opportunities - and Norton Rose Fulbright is leading the way through a co-developed initiative underpinned by BigHand’s Legal Resource Management platform.
Data-led Commercial Deployment
As trend-setters and early adopters of legal Resource Management back in 2017, Norton Rose Fulbright (NRF) recognised the significant business benefits that could be unlocked by having the capability to identify and deploy the right skilled individual for the right client matter at the right time.
By partnering with legal technology specialist BigHand on the implementation of its Resource Management platform of choice, NRF’s fee earners are able to input their client commitments and indicate both current and desired skills on specific matters. The technology helps NRF’s Resource Management team to quantify future capacity and predicted activity levels by team and location, search for capacity and capability and ensure the firm can both anticipate, and react quickly to, fluctuations in resourcing requirements on its clients’ matters.
Sam Larkins, Head of Resource Management (EMEA), Norton Rose Fulbright, explains: “There are a number of commercial benefits we’ve gained as a result of using BigHand. On the one hand, we can ensure clients that we will always have people that are skilled and trained and available to work on their matter, irrespective of geographical location. It presents a powerful message that we will be able to support them through what's going on in the wider market with the team and resources we already have in place, rather than increase local hiring or increasing costs.
“Similarly, for staff, we can offer the internal reassurance that there is going to be movement of work and opportunities across our EMEA offices.”
“And finally, we now also have the clear evidence to provide both clients and staff alike that all our matters are resourced fairly, equitably and with diversity and inclusion in mind.”
Providing exceptional People Development
Alongside its more traditional deployment of Resource Management, Norton Rose Fulbright also recognised an opportunity to enhance a specific feature within the platform that would further advance career development for lawyers and trainees: the Opportunities Board.
As Sam comments: “Investment in career development directly correlates with positive business outcomes, including: enhanced employee experience and engagement, increased retention, attracting top talent and driving high performance. Feedback gathered in June 2022, from internal and external sources, indicated that this was a specific area of interest, particularly around providing transparency of opportunities and providing purposeful work. We wanted to be at the forefront within the legal, and indeed the broader professional services industry, in offering this to our employees.”
The key goal of the Opportunities Board was to create a fair and transparent way to share opportunities that support NRF’s lawyers’ and trainees’ career development and aspirations across all of our EMEA offices. The two key areas of focus that directly correlated with feedback were:
1) Enrichment activities – including Pro Bono, D,E&I, Corporate Social Responsibility, Knowledge and Innovation work; and
2) Cycles of experience, such as secondment opportunities.
Through the co-creation of the Opportunities Board with BigHand, which went live in October 2022, NRF’s Resource Management team is able to track interest and requests from associates in areas of legal practice that would fall outside of their usual day-to-day matters. Advantageously, the enrichment activities contribute towards the Lawyers end of year hour’s target therefore the Opportunities Board is supporting Lawyer’s to maximise their hours. This subtle aspect benefits both the Lawyer and NRF from a commercial standpoint.
Stephanie Coffer, Resource Advisor (EMEA), Norton Rose Fulbright, who co-managed the initiative, adds:
“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and it is proving hugely valuable for staff morale and retention because our fee earners feel that their voices and their values are being heard.”
Self-Service and Self-Empowerment
An important element of the Opportunities Board was self-service, giving team leads the ability to advertise opportunities directly and monitor responses across all of their EMEA offices, with the ability to use email and push notifications to advise associates and trainees that there may be a matter relevant to their interests and availability.
As Sam explains, “We didn’t want everything to have to go through Resource Management. Part of the beauty of the concept behind the Opportunities Board was to empower team leads to take ownership of their own opportunity management. This was a key differentiator for us as it has allowed us to maintain oversight but enable self-service.”
As such, the team devised a training plan to upskill team leads who would be advertising opportunities directly, without the need for additional forms or clearances from other teams.
The Board’s ease of use increased buy-in from the business as it became the technology that individuals would go to in order to find opportunities to develop their career and maximise their hours. To date, there have been over 200 opportunities advertised with on average a 70+% application rate, highlighting the popularity of the board and the interest from associates.
The types of work range from Senior Associates in Paris working on Pro Bono matters - supporting disadvantaged people in accessing legal advice - to trainees in London working on Social Impact work – helping children whose reading skills have been adversely impacted by COVID. There have been great successes and benefits across EMEA; most advantageously to lawyers and trainees.
As Stephanie explains: “The benefits for lawyers and trainees include the ability to develop new skills, perspectives and an expanded network, better fulfillment at work and access to social purpose activities, and the autonomy to be able to reach personal hours targets and manage workload.
“Similarly, partners benefit from retained talent, enhanced lawyer and trainee engagement, and a greater depth and breadth of skills that can be applied back to client work.”
For many law firms, Resource Management may still be in its infancy, but for Norton Rose Fulbright, the framework and the technology have proven to be an investment that has delivered on its promise – and more.
As Sam concludes, “In addition to addressing what we would call Resource Management 101 – getting the right person, with the right skills, on the right matter and at the right time – we have proven that there is so much more to this function as a value-add to any law firm.
“Through this innovative project, which we are proud to have co-developed with BigHand to sit at the forefront of Resource Management within the legal services industry, lawyers and trainees now have the transparency and visibility of opportunities relating to enrichment and cycles of experience and can access these opportunities to develop their career at Norton Rose Fulbright.”