Law firms continue to face pressure to provide clients with the best services at the lowest costs, which means clients are now asking attorneys for alternative billing methods, reduced fees, and additional transparency into how matters are managed – and by whom.
To compensate, the legal industry is embracing tech tools to improve efficiency and gain actionable insights through matter-related data analysis. But what happens on the support side is still a bit fuzzy. A recent report by BigHand of 836 legal professionals at mid- and large-size firms throughout North America and the United Kingdom finds that more than half of respondents report that they lack complete data or visibility around:
- How many tasks lawyers send to support staff
- The capacity or use of support staff
Law firms understand that this is a problem that needs solving. Improving workflow visibility, especially in the hybrid work environment, is a priority for 55% of the BigHand North American survey’s respondents, who plan to implement technology to manage legal support tasks in the next two years. Doing so should help the 81% of responding firms that report they still manually delegate tasks to support staff, regardless of their physical location.
Lack of data affects the bottom line
Poor visibility into support-side workflows is hurting law firms’ client service and can negatively impact the fee-earning side of the business, says Eric Wangler, BigHand‘s North American President and Global Managing Director of People Productivity.
That’s because inefficiencies around task delegation and completion put pressure on billable time and can ultimately hurt profitability. Yet internal bottlenecks and lack of access to information about staff capacity means lawyers often take care of administrative tasks themselves instead of delegating them.
“The client wants the work done by the most competent person at the lowest cost,” says Wangler. “They don’t want lawyers who are typically billing out very high fees to be completing work that somebody on the admin side could do much cheaper and much more efficiently.”
Clients especially don’t want lawyers who are not skilled in administrative work spending their time on such tasks. Not only is it inefficient, but work-product quality could suffer, causing damage to client relationships.
Working smarter by using data
Attrition and issues around support-staff job satisfaction and retention in the business climate are compounding the task workflow issue. Nearly two-thirds of BigHand survey respondents expect to lose more than 60 percent of their support staff within the next five years. More than half of those expect to lose more than 80 percent of support staff in that timeframe. And 55% of North American respondents who work in support services say they’d look for a new job if they were required to work more than three days a week in the office.
For those reasons and more, efficiency around how administrative tasks are completed will become more critical than ever – while law firms must think hard about how their support teams are structured, how work is delegated, and how much those teams cost.
“One of the biggest challenges firms have is that they just do not have data,” says Wangler. “They don’t understand what their back office is doing or what those folks are busy with all day.”
Firms can overcome these efficiency hurdles and enable data-based decision-making with workflow-management software, says Wangler. And that software should be put into place now – before support staff exit, taking their institutional knowledge with them.
The benefits of such tools are many, but most importantly, the software allows lawyers and support staff to focus on the work they’re best at. For lawyers, that is providing counsel and client service. For support staff, that is working effectively on impactful tasks that contribute to the firm’s bottom line.
“Workflow technology enables the ability to work effectively, whether you’re in the office or at home,” says Wangler. “If you’re up against a deadline, you’ve got a resource challenge, or one of your support teams is overwhelmed because they’re too busy, you can very easily see that issue develop – and you can take actions to change that.”
Workflow-management tools can bring about a data-based culture – giving law firms the futureproofing they need against a business climate that is always changing. The visibility that workflow management software provides can help firms identify skill gaps, understand productivity, and even help retain their best talent.
“Firms are going to have to change the way they’re delivering support if they’re going to make sure that they’re keeping clients satisfied and lawyers focused,” says Wangler. “An operational model that capitalizes on skill, creates efficiencies and recognizes that hybrid work is here to stay is mission-critical for law firms.”