Sarah Day, Partner - Finance, Projects & Restructuring UK Group Head at DLA Piper discusses how BigHand Resource Management has given them actionable data to prioritize equitable allocation of work.
We have BigHand Resource Management as we realised that we were not making the best use of the talent at the firm. People were either getting pigeonholed and doing a lot of the same work, or they were not getting opportunities to do things that they wanted to do. We also had some people who were busy and some people who were seemingly always quiet; there had to be reasons behind that and there had to be a way of putting it right.
What benefits have you seen?
The advantages that we've seen have been instantaneous rarely, but the reason that I'm a big advocate is that the fee earners are so much happier. They are saying they're able to access the sort of work that they want. If they want to develop in a particular area, they can now have that and they're able to also say no. Previously, when you have a partner coming and saying, “Would you like to do a particular piece of work?” It's very difficult, even with a friendly partner, to say no. Not because it's not valid, but because they’ve done seven of those types of deals already, or because they’ve worked with that partner for the first 18 months almost exclusively. They may feel to broaden their abilities and experiences that they would like to work with someone else. Now they can have those conversations with a Resource Manager and can say that they feel that they need to understand a bit more about a particular aspect of financing so they'd like to do some asset-based lending or project finance. They can't have those conversations as easily with a partner. Even when they can, has the partner then got the time to make sure that that person is getting that work?
RM is driven by career progression and career development for fee-earners.
What advice would you give to other firms?
As with any piece of change management, if you’re starting along a Resource Management road, don't underestimate how much communication you need and how much time you have to allocate. It's not time wasted. It's invested time. You need the people who will be the resource managers talking to all of the fee earners and partners to understand where they're coming from and the different types of work. They need to understand what somebody who's two years qualified might be expected to do in a particular area compared to what somebody who's four years qualified might be expected to do.
Understanding all of that, talking to people about their aspirations and their skill sets, getting it all loaded onto the technology so that it's there and ready to update and ready to use. Beyond that, you're also building relationships. This will mean that the resource manager knows that if nobody seems to have the capacity for a particular piece of work, they can have a conversation with somebody about doing it, with the quid pro quo being that they'll get their juicy piece of work next week. It's that time invested in relationships, winning hearts and minds and enabling people to see the benefits. That's the important part for me.
What are your predicted industry challenges?
If I can expand to look not just at the next 12 months, but maybe at the next five years, I think one of the many challenges that is facing the legal industry is how we adapt to modern ways of working.
At the moment, we haven't seen the impact of hybrid working and working from home. We're still living off the relationships which were built when everybody was in the office full-time. Those relationships were built through people being together and the chats that happen at the coffee machine or going for a drink after work. That would build those relationships, understanding and the ability and the desire to work together and be collegiate. For DLA Piper, collegiality is one of our core values and something we find very important. We haven't yet seen what the impact of modern working patterns is on that. I think one of the things we're trying to do is to create this and it might feel quite artificial, but I think it's vital to create those bonding opportunities. By having team days, for instance, so that everybody in a particular team is invited to be in the office on a Tuesday so that they are building those relationships. Making sure when you have training sessions, conferences, and social events that people are attending. It’s trying to make up for the fact that there isn't that natural relationship building that normally happens almost through osmosis. We weren’t noticing this in new generations. In future generations, it will look very different and I think it's down to us whether it is still as successful as it will be or if we've missed an opportunity.