Resource Management provides a means to improve law firm operations in a fundamental way, by establishing a firm-wide process for the management of human resources and the allocation of work assignments more efficiently and equitably.
While it’s relatively easy to implement and administer, this technology has been designed to deliver major benefits across the firm. It can improve productivity and profitability by efficiently identifying lawyers with the requisite skills, expertise and availability to handle new matters, while at the same time increasing lawyer engagement firm-wide by providing associates with equal access to new opportunities and enhanced control over their professional development.
As an ancillary benefit, it also provides independent support for a firm’s cultural commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). At a time when many law firms are still struggling to adapt to a WFH environment, it’s hard to imagine a product better suited to address such a broad array of law firm management’s pressing needs right now.
The background story of BigHand’s newest product illustrates just how valuable it can be to look outside the legal industry to drive innovation and find solutions to some of BigLaw’s most vexing problems.
Dave Cook, the entrepreneur responsible for bringing this new approach to resource management to the legal market, learned the ins and outs at PWC where he was on a team of 200 resource managers responsible for supporting and matching workflow to 19,000 fee earners. Then in 2012 Dave got his introduction to the world of BigLaw when Clifford Chance asked PWC to help them improve on the firm’s traditional way of managing new work assignments.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” as Cook told me, “I quickly realized that most businesses did not have the well-structured and defined resource management process that I was used to at PwC and that most organizations were very behind the curve -- no systems, no data, no visibility. Not only that, but I saw that the legal environment was set up where partners were simply used to grabbing their own associates and all of sudden someone was coming in to establish a formal process instead.”
In other words, the legal sector it was set up to have all the makings of a nightmare - given how resistant lawyers can be to even the slightest diminishment in their professional prerogatives. But what Cook learned from that very first law firm assignment was that law partners are actually keen to participate in process improvement, provided he invested sufficient time up front, explaining and demonstrating his ability to help bring order to the chaos. And that would prove to be key in developing a replicable process that could be rolled out to any large firm.
On completion of the Clifford Chance assignment, it turned out that PWC had other strategic priorities and this niche opportunity to assist other law firms fell outside that remit. So in 2013 Dave decided to take the entrepreneurial leap and set up his own consultancy dedicated to helping large law firms implement effective resource management processes. His company, Mason & Cook, quickly attracted a strong following among Magic Circle firms, who saw a compelling value proposition in establishing such a process suited to their needs.
At first, Dave’s work with his clients was purely consultative, and tech agnostic, which underscores another important point about innovation and process improvement. Some of the most successful innovation projects involve little or only basic technology - a fact that often helps when it comes to adoption and implementation. What matters most in driving meaningful organizational change is designing and engineering a new process or workflow that improves on a long-established and often dysfunctional way of doing things.
What Cook learned in the early days of his consultancy is that each large firm, and each practice group within each large firm, has its own unique set of resource requirements, which need to be understood and documented at the outset. Gradually, as his consultancy gained experience working with a wider range of law firms, he also saw the value in building a resource management tech tool specifically designed for the law firm environment, which could be easily adapted to suit the needs of each individual firm. After that, it didn’t take long before Dave and BigHand to uncover a clear and compelling alignment between their product offerings.
Dave Cook will be quick to tell you that he is no great technologist. In fact, with his background in HR and resource management, he thinks of himself primarily as a people person, which is how his resource management tech solution came to be in the first place, and why he’s excited to be working with so many US firms.
“There really is a demonstrable benefit that we can deliver to any large law firm partnership,” Cook comments, “but it’s essential to start out with a high-level engagement, like any consulting project, selling and explaining the new process to the key stakeholders and getting their buy-in.” Each assignment is bespoke, in that the process must be refined to suit the firm’s culture and requirements, and the needs of each practice group within the firm. Once the requirements have been identified and the process designed, the software tool simply needs to be adapted to support the design specifications.
The demonstrable benefit for partners results from the huge time savings and headache avoidance as a result of no longer having to run their own personal recruitment agency - a time savings that Cook estimates can run as high as 1,000 partner hours per year for a practice group of 40 partners.
But the benefits for a firm go far beyond enhanced efficiency. Adopting a defined process for allocating new work assignments transforms a firm’s culture much for the better. Instead of an ad hoc approach, subject to personal preference and prone to bias, BigHand’s Resource Management tool implements a data-driven process, which is far more objective, and promotes a sense of transparency and fairness across the firm. It also allows management to easily track firm performance against EDI guidelines, which clients increasingly expect.
“One of the other key things we track for our clients is lawyer engagement and how happy the lawyers at the firm are,” as Cook explains. Admittedly, the happiness of associates has not always been high on the priority list for BigLaw firm management. But as the war for talent has intensified, that too is changing, with law firm management increasingly focused on the importance of maintaining the health and sense of well-being for the entire professional staff.
“And what we always find is that by introducing this new resource management process, lawyers feel more engaged and the firm benefits overall,” according to Dave Cook. “This happens because associates feel work is being distributed more fairly, with everyone being given equal access to opportunity. Associates also really appreciate that their career development and interests are being considered in the way new work is allocated. These are all things you want in a job, and that’s why engagement increases with the introduction of a formal resource management process and technology.”
It almost seems too good to be true - a relatively simple process change that can improve productivity and profitability, boost morale and increase lawyer engagement, while providing a direct means to support a firm’s commitment to EDI. Conventional wisdom says law firms will always be slow to innovate. But given the across the board benefits that Resource Management can deliver, perhaps it’s no surprise that BigHand is already receiving an enthusiastic reception from top tier US law firms for its newest product offering.