Stephenson Harwood – Embracing a ‘One Firm’ Approach to Collaboration with BigHand Resource Management

Market trends of recent years have been a catalyst for cultural change within law firms. Within the legal industry, there's been a renewed focus on employee wellbeing, and improving the picture around diversity, equity and inclusion.

As seen in BigHand’s Resource Management report, employee volatility is unprecedented and candidates no longer want to be in a role that is unfulfilling. They are resistant to firms that don’t offer a good value proposition as well as the best possible career opportunities. It is now more important than ever to make sure these elements are prioritised and that law firms are well-positioned to attract and retain the best – and right - talent.

International law firm Stephenson Harwood LLP is one organisation that has embraced all these market drivers and recognised the role that a dedicated Resource Management function could play in its day-to-day operations – from matter resourcing and skills management & development, to helping inform recruitment decisions and facilitating cross-firm collaboration, as Taryn Barker, Senior Human Resources Business Partner, Stephenson Harwood LLP, explains.

Introducing shared resourcing

Stephenson Harwood is a leading law firm with over 1100 people worldwide, including 190+ partners. Headquartered in London, with eight offices across the globe, it offers a range of services including commercial litigation; corporate; employment, pensions and private wealth; finance; marine and international trade; and real estate.

When Taryn joined the firm as HR Manager in 2018, she identified an opportunity to help increase collaboration within the Corporate department across the sub divisions and to address the distribution of workloads where there had been some disparity

Taryn took the case for a structured work allocation approach to aid in cross-team collaboration and integration to the firm’s partners, who embraced it in full – and, with her experience of having rolled out a similar initiative in a previous role – took her recommendation to implement structured work allocation by recruiting a resource allocation manager and the implementation of the BigHand Resource Management tool to support this, initially within the London-based corporate division.

Phased approach

Stephenson Harwood started the implementation with its associates, with their newly appointed resource allocation manager at the time. Initially, this involved working with individuals to undertake both a skills assessment and build a picture of the matters they were working on, and which partners they were working with.

This assessment led to the development of a skills matrix, whereby the new Resource Management team could easily view which associates had skills that would be transferrable across the division, and also presented an opportunity for associates to express an interest in skills they were keen to develop. This initiative promoted career development as associates had visibility on what skills they needed to advance to take on a more diverse range of tasks and matters.

The exercise also helped the team to visualise the dynamics between the associates and the corporate partners; which associates were potentially over-stretched; and who might have capacity. With the data easily presentable visually, it gave an opportunity to engage with partners to discuss alternative opportunities to resource their matters – to make the allocation of work more data-led, and equitable. With this in place, matters could be allocated to associates more effectively and strategically, regardless of where associates were based, and without the risk of any potential unconscious bias.

“We now had increased visibility on matter allocation and team capacity, established within the corporate team.  This, combined with anecdotal evidence that associates were happier with the way work was being allocated, led us to expand it into the finance, commercial litigation and MIT practice groups, where we were also able to extend the system to trainees and paralegals.” Taryn says.

“In fact, the trainees and paralegals have proven a real catalyst for the promotion of Resource Management across the business. Once they’re used to it, it’s not something they are keen to work without.”

Indeed, in terms of overall staff satisfaction, Stephenson Harwood undertook a survey of relevant staff just prior to implementing BigHand and one post-implementation. In the first survey, in line with much of the legal market, there was a common perception that work could be allocated more fairly. In the latter, over 90% felt it was now being done so.

Efficiency and Forecasting

The use of BigHand Resource Management has not only helped Stephenson Harwood ensure its matters are now being resourced in a more equitable, data-driven way; it’s also helping to improve efficiency and utilisation in the resourcing process as well as better forecasting through integration with other systems such as the firm’s finance and HR systems.

“Through BigHand, we can now track the number of resourcing requests that come through from partners; which associates they may have requested; and the potential size and scope of the different matters,” Taryn comments. “We can then marry this against the matters individual associates are working on; what they have in the pipeline; what annual leave they might have upcoming; and identified areas of personal development.”

“It means that we can forecast any potential pinch points well in advance and take action to mitigate those to ease the resourcing process in both the short and medium term, while ensuring that both partners’ and associates’ needs are taken into account, and people are being fully utilised at all times. It also means that we have better visibility of when and where we might need to recruit – and that this is only used as a last resort,” she adds. This has several financial benefits for the business, better utilisation has a direct impact on hitting billable hours targets and recruiting the right resources at the right time means effective cost control.

Looking ahead

In terms of next steps, Stephenson Harwood plans to continue the phased roll-out of Resource Management across the wider, international business. In parallel, Taryn also sees opportunities for integration with other business systems and focusing more on profitability, by empowering lawyers to resource matters more objectively.

“In addition, we are looking to explore how we might add ‘in the moment’ feedback around performance and / or satisfaction levels when a matter concludes, or at particular points during the progression of a matter.”

“Ultimately this is helping to drive and increase collaboration, equity, and inclusion and is fundamental to how we support and develop our staff optimally as a business,” she concludes.

Author image
Taryn Barker
Senior Human Resources Business Partner , Stephenson Harwood