BigHand’s 2024 Conference: Why Resource Management is Key to Unlocking Improvements and Efficiencies in Law Firms

BigHand’s 2024 Conference: Why Resource Management is Key to Unlocking Improvements and Efficiencies in Law Firms
The overarching theme from BigHand’s 2024 conference was “change” – and there is little doubt that one area of the business of law where we are seeing seismic change is in resource management.

As Kevin Hogarth, Principal Consultant, PSFI and one of our panellists at this year’s event, put it:  

“Resource Management has the capability to provide a better experience for associates, partners and clients. As its role is multi-functional, it can transcend HR, finance, DEI and operations, being able to connect all different aspects of the law firm.” 

So what factors are at play to drive this level of change? 

Our sessions sought to identify and address some of these issues head on. Our first panel discussion, entitled “Bridging the Gap: Lawyer retention, Utilisation, Salary Dynamics and Market Demand”, a panel including Kevin Hogarth; Camilla Jagger, Head of Operations, DLA Piper; and a Legal Operations Manager from a global technology business - representing the voice of the end client – captured the audience for the full 50 minutes as they debated the need for change and why it is so important to law firms and clients alike. This session was followed later in the day by two further client-specific panels, featuring Womble Bond Dickinson’s Jonathan Hobbs, Partner; Fran Perry, Resource Manager; and Casandra Dimala, Associate, and Katherine Rathbone, Head of HR; Lindsey Kelly, HR Manager; Bruce Kelly, Resource Manager; and Ann Grewar, Partner - all from Addleshaw Goddard, where we were able to look “though the lens” of resource management from the different perspectives of partner, associate, resource manager and HR. 

First on the agenda, therefore, was the issue of retention. As our law firm speakers pointed out, retention is not a new problem, but firms’ response to how they address it has had to adapt. For despite the significant – and unsustainable – salary hikes of recent years, there is now wide-spread recognition that remuneration alone is not the answer. Rather, the answer is increasingly personal and, particularly in the early years of a lawyer’s career, likely to be driven by whether an individual is getting the right type of experience that aligns both to their purpose and values, as well as to their overall personal development. 

These points were strongly echoed by our client representative. Not only is it important from a client’s perspective that firms retain talent, given they too invest in associates’ skills development and subject matter expertise, but clients also want to see a team working alongside them with a depth of engagement capability – from financial literacy to diversity of experience and diversity of thought.  

As was widely agreed, achieving this change requires gently challenging and nudging behaviour away from traditional ways of doing things. The good news is that the dynamics across entire law firms are shifting as partners too are increasingly expected to be able to practice the business of law, above and beyond providing legal services. Indeed, our partner representatives vocalised the importance of getting better at utilisation – at an associate level and within and between practice groups, to improve associates’ skills development and therefore retention; to ensure the right work is being done by the right resource and recover some of the recent salary hikes; and to be able to provide clients with that much needed diversity of resource and transparency of service. 

None of this can, however, be achieved without two things: data and the resource manager, or work allocator. As was pointed out, a lack of data visibility gives no foundation for being able to fix inconsistent utilisation, particularly when there may be transferrable skills between teams – instead perpetuating silo’ed behaviour. It provides no insight into additional areas of interest or exposure for associates and risks junior lawyers feeling their values and career progress are being ignored. A lack of data for expected new business mandates versus current workload risks associates being ringfenced – again perpetuating existing patterns of behaviour, including decision making based on subjective feelings rather than objective and unbiased fact. And, perhaps most significantly, a lack of data means greater difficulty in providing clients with the transparency into how and by whom their matters are being resourced, which they are increasingly demanding. 

Dedicated Resource Management technology plays a key role in unlocking this data visibility by having associates input their case load on a regular basis as well as areas of interest and development. With partners inputting upcoming matters and those that require resourcing, and HR adding upcoming leave and / or changes in working practice – such as maternity leave, return to work and part-time workers - resource managers then have access to all the data they need to fulfil their vital role in managing the balancing act of maximising utilisation, profitability, career progression and client expectations. 

However, the role of the resource manager, or work allocator is a crucial one in bridging the gap between the data in the technology and the vital internal communication role across all aspects of the law firm. 

As Kevin Hogarth summarised, “Law firms used to be essentially lawyers and clients. Now, it’s about lawyers, clients and technology – and the ability of specialists to turn data into action that will unlock improvement and efficiency in law firms.” 

Discover more about how BigHand Resource Management can help boost your firm’s operational efficiencies today.

About BigHand Resource Management

BigHand Resource Management is a legal work allocation tool that allows law firms to identify resources, forecast utilization, manage workloads and add structure to career development for lawyers. The solution delivers real-time visibility of team availability, improved profitability on matters and supports DEI goals and equitable allocation of work.

BigHand Resource Management