April 27, 2020

Why law firms with visibility of workflow will make the best resourcing decisions now, and in the future

The coronavirus pandemic has forced law firms, like many businesses, to quickly adapt to remote working policies, and to take precautionary measures to shield from the economic impact. In last week’s article, we emphasized the long-term effects of reducing support staff on lawyer time and looked at the value support teams bring in reducing law firm write-offs.

This leads us to the next question, of how law firms can get the most from their lawyers and available support staff in the current ongoing climate, while also addressing the need to make cost savings. A good start is to obtain and assess all the data you need to make educated resourcing decisions.

Addressing the status quo

If we learned anything from the 2008 economic downturn, it’s that client demand of "more for less" increased exponentially, and it’s fair to assume that the same will happen in this global crisis. Having the right staff doing the right work at the right cost to the business then, is paramount if law firms are serious about reducing unnecessary costs.

Tracking work, having visibility of work and being able to reallocate work is equally as important for efficient back-office operations. With flexible working arrangements in place, support team leaders need an effective way to manage resource capacity while staff are working variable hours to accommodate childcare, or in some cases, sickness.

Secretaries and support team administrators being able to see who they can help, who is busy and which clients need the most attention is key. However, the newly enforced remote working measures means this information is suddenly buried in individual screens across the country or in hastily set-up shared mailboxes, leaving lawyers no visibility of what support resource is available to them for urgent client requests.

Having all this data aggregated and displayed in one place, and the facility to redirect and monitor work would mean that firms could see exactly what’s happening and ensure that home working  continues to run smoothly for everyone in the firm, not just the lawyers

The "new normal"

Looking to the future, law firms on the front-foot will emerge with an optimum structure in terms of numbers, ratios and skillsets, but will need to do this based on fact and not guesswork. Making resourcing decisions without data will result in firms making the wrong choices and inadvertently impacting their lawyers and clients.

There are other long-term cost savings to consider too. Do the support teams need to come back to expensive offices after this? Do they want to? Is this the chance to reduce more fixed costs (property)? Is it a chance to add attractive flexible working for all staff not just the fee earners? The answers to these questions will only be made clear with the right data to accurately inform business decision making.  

Industry commentary

Michelle Crowhurst, Director at Berwins Solicitors shares her firm’s reliance on workflow visibility while transitioning to remote working:

“When the lock down restrictions came into force we felt well placed as a firm to be able to cope with all our staff suddenly working remotely. The business continuity plans we had honed over the years and tested were suddenly called into play. Although we had never actually planned for a pandemic, we had planned for a worst-case scenario of not being able to access our office.”

“Clients and contacts have told us that there has been no interruption in our service and the transition has been seamless which is good to hear. A key enabler for us was BigHand Now, which we use to send tasks to our support teams, and for transparency over their workloads.”

“It has given us the ability to prioritize tasks, and for support staff to easily assist each other, as workloads vary across the teams. There is no lost time in discussing who does what and given that some of our staff are working their hours around childcare responsibilities it also doesn’t matter what time of day they are working. Everyone was already used to the technology but having it in these circumstances has given us the edge.”

Next week we will dive into the world of service delivery and why firms should be looking at how they can reduce the financial burden on their clients by choosing innovative and low-cost ways to deliver the same quality service.