For all the structural changes firms have made in recent years, the day-to-day reality for employees – both lawyers and support staff - is far from efficient: 81% of NA, 78% of UK firms are still manually delegating tasks to support staff working in the office and support staff working from home.
With an increased focus on efficiency and profit, it is vital for firms to ensure lawyers are not spending any extra time on administrative tasks. Ensuring the tasks that must be completed in the office can be easily assigned to resources working in the office that day is a small but critical shift.
As highlighted in the Resource Management report, firms are looking to maximize the utilization of lawyers (50% of NA, 43% of UK). Yet tech-savvy junior lawyers are opting to undertake administrative tasks themselves rather than trying to navigate how to get admin work to the right support resources – contradicting firms’ plans to delegate work to the most cost-effective resource (42% of NA, 43% of UK).
Lawyers don’t want to spend time figuring out how to get work to a competent, properly skilled support team member. Firms want lawyers to prioritize billable hours. This is an expensive stand-off that cannot continue indefinitely.
The implications on firm operations are obvious: lawyers’ time is being wasted; support staff expertise is not being correctly or efficiently utilized; and client expectations are not being met. Critically, profitability is being compromised at a time when demand is slowing and firms are experiencing double digit expense increases.
In an era of escalating legal costs, it is no surprise that client pressure for more transparency is also growing. 71% of NA, 63% of UK say they have received pressure from clients to make sure legal work is completed by the most cost-effective resource available. At the same time, support team costs have also risen over the past 12 months, according to 69% of NA, 61% of UK. Both trends are coming together to encourage firms to place a higher priority on delegating work to the most cost-effective resource (42% of NA, 43% of UK).
Cost effective delegation is great in theory but not easy to deliver quickly or efficiently if delegation is still manual. How much additional time is spent by lawyers manually searching for the most cost-effective resource? How are they assessing and managing task delegation – and capturing information to share with clients?
Furthermore, despite the transition to centralized support teams, 54% of UK and NA firms say working relationships between support staff and lawyers continue to influence the type of work that is delegated to support staff. The structure may be evolving, but the culture has yet to catch up. If the new service structures are to be maximized and utilized effectively, it is vital that lawyers have seamless, fast access to these resources. Support Managers also require visibility of performance across each outsourcer to ensure performance commitments are met.
With the rapid turnover in both lawyers and support staff, the historic reliance on relationship-based support is not sustainable – or justifiable. How can firms meet client demands for allocating work to the correct resource if historic support relationships still dominate the process? Or when manual processes compel lawyers to allocate work to the first person they can find, either in the office or working remotely?
If firms are to remove the risk of bias, ensure work is equitably allocated and achieve a productive, service delivery model, additional change is required. Firms need to introduce the right structures, processes and hybrid working policies that truly reflect the needs of a diverse working population and support an efficient, cost-effective operation.
Law firms are adapting: 39% of NA, 31% of UK say that a major benefit of hybrid working is having the ability to move work to low-cost resources, and 48% of NA, 49% of UK say that reviewing the resourcing / staffing of matters based on profitability is a priority in the next two years.
Law firms have enjoyed the additional profitability achieved over the past couple of years, as a result (in part) of imposing tighter cost controls. With the market dynamics of increasing costs and growing concerns regarding a global economic downturn, firms need to be proactive in driving additional efficiency gains if they are to safeguard the current level of profitability.
This was an excerpt from the report 'Future Proofing Legal Services Delivery with an Efficient Hybrid Support Structure'. Access the full report to dive deeper into the findings from over 800 legal management professionals:
A view into the impact of legal support service models on profitability & efficiency of firms in the hybrid working age: Findings from over 800 legal management professionals in the UK and North America.