The legal market is having to rapidly adapt to the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. Law firms across the globe are in cost-saving mode, with some proactively restructuring or furloughing support staff. At the same time, their clients are also feeling the need to limit expenditure. This will almost certainly continue, and law firms are getting ready.
In our two previous articles, we looked at the measures law firms are taking to save costs and why fully utilizing support staff now is a key consideration. This leads us to think about the financial impact of the current climate on law firm clients, and how firms can ease that burden by evolving their service delivery to a lower cost model.
Remote working for everyone – not just lawyers
Law firms everywhere are adapting current innovation strategies and change agendas to ensure they can continue to deliver first-class client service. There will be lots of projects that firms need to action but one change that has already been focused on quickly is ensuring the smooth provision of necessary support for lawyers.
Firms had previously prepared for, and equipped, their lawyers to work from home but very few had factored in having to do this for support teams – and certainly not on this scale. An effective and profitable law firm is only able to operate when its support teams are both accessible and operational. Afterall, offering excellent service to clients not only means delivering high quality work, but delivering it extremely quickly and cost effectively too.
If anyone currently needs legal advice, they don’t want to wait for it. For law firms that means keeping lawyers focused on the tasks that need their legal skills, and ensuring the rest can be sent to the appropriate supporting resource.
Changes in the works
Over the last few years law firms of varying sizes have been implementing new arrangements for the way in which they support their lawyers. Some were centralizing, some were creating teams, some were setting up shared service centers or, badly named, low-cost centers and some were simply deciding to delegate and share support work better.
Some introduced team assistant roles – a trend that could benefit firms at this time. TAs can assist PAs with administrative tasks, freeing up PA time to focus on skilled work that is sometimes billable but certainly more valuable than photocopying and printing. TAs mean those other administrative tasks are still completed, but at a lower cost to the business - and probably done faster.
The common goal in all these methods is to ensure that the right work is being done by the right resource, at the right cost, using real data to see and monitor workloads across the business. This was to, firstly, replace the practice of lawyers simply sending all support requests to their PA in the way they had done for years - mostly because they were sitting near each other – and secondly, to meet the demands of clients to ‘do more for less’ and to streamline back-office operations.
Maintaining client relationships
To enable these changes, firms have implemented a combination of a workflow solution coupled with data dashboards to allow the visibility and monitoring of all delegated support work across the firm. Ensuring support requests are automatically routed to the best resource was once important but is now critical given that staff are physically distributed like never before - thanks to social distancing measures.
These changes ensure that law firms can demonstrate an active commitment to supporting their client’s cost-saving efforts, by moving work to lower cost resources where possible. How to best maintain client relationships is a hotly debated topic under our new socially distanced circumstances. Law firms that take on technology-backed service delivery projects with direct cost and efficiency benefits for themselves, and for their clients, will gain a competitive edge.
Association of Legal Administrators
April L. Campbell, JD - Interim Executive Director at The Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) shares her thoughts on law firms acknowledging their part in their clients’ supply chain:
“It’s never too late for law firms to acknowledge that they are part of their clients’ supply chain. In fact, effective supply chain management is all about optimizing operations with speed and efficiency; it’s about developing a competitive advantage without having to lower your prices.”
“A more efficient operational model makes you a more reliable service provider in the eyes of your client. Starting with legal support services, all moving parts must be aligned with the overall business strategy and a reminder that law firms are a “supplier” of legal services in the supply chain of many of their clients. If firms are not faster and more efficient, they negatively affect their clients’ supply chain — something the clients will seek to avoid.”
Last week, Am Law 200 firm, Baker Donelson, announced it has optimized firm-wide remote working and client service with the use of legal specific workflow technology. A key driver for the project was ensuring service delivery remains optimal despite the immediate challenge of all staff working remotely.
Randy Staggers, Chief Financial and Administrative Officer at Baker Donelson commented, “Our top priority is to ensure our firm's continued operation and uninterrupted service to our clients throughout the crisis. Smooth provision of support for our staff to effectively work from home is paramount, and BigHand Now has undoubtedly helped us to better enable our staff, and clients.”
“The workflow solution will provide our lawyers with the transparency they need over outstanding work, while giving our support staff a holistic view of all tasks, and the ability to complete work in an agile way, despite remote working. With the technology in place, our teams will be able to work together effectively to best serve our clients at this difficult time.”