Findings from BigHand’s latest industry report has revealed the extent to which support staff structures are evolving in law firms
With more support staff embracing hybrid working, support staff resignations increasing and rising demand for work to be handled by the most cost-effective resource, there’s growing pressure on firms to implement efficient support service models that can support the needs of both lawyers and clients.
Across August 2022, BigHand gathered over 800 responses across senior operations, HR, support staff management and practice group leader roles from firms of 50+ lawyers in North America (NA) and the UK, to understand the impact of support staff change on law firms
While hybrid working practices are being embraced, conflict between staff expectations and firms desire to impose control have led to a far from smooth transition. The results found that while half of respondents (49% of NA, 52% of UK) report that their firm has mandated the number of days they must be in the office, almost half (49%) of NA respondents (35% of UK) admit to not complying. Furthermore, inconsistent policies suggest that firms are failing to recognize the importance of creating a hybrid working policy for support staff, with nearly two thirds (65%) of NA and 58% of UK firms imposing different policies for lawyers/partners and support staff.
The findings show two thirds of NA firms (68% of UK) say accelerated resignations in the last year has affected support staffing. Law firms are under increased pressure to recruit diligently, however without the necessary data, insight or visibility to support these decisions, around half of firms (47% of NA and 52% of UK) are looking for like-for-like replacements, which the results say is difficult.
Support staff structures have been evolving for a number of years with a shift towards larger, centralized teams, however there is still work to be done for law firms to put in place the required structures to facilitate hybrid working and meet staff expectations for career development. Over two thirds of firms (89% of NA and 88% of UK) say they have restructured or introduced teams in the last two years, yet less than half (41% of NA, 36% of UK) of firms are committed to retraining and upskilling over the next two years.
Law firms need to prioritize efficiency by providing clear structure on task delegation. Over two thirds (81% of NA and 78% of UK) of firms are still manually delegating tasks to support staff working in the office and support staff working from home. Almost half of NA (37% of UK) firms admit that lawyers are doing more administrative work instead of delegating to support staff.
While firms are recognizing the need for new support structures, without visibility on staff capacity, task volume and processing time, change becomes difficult. 52% of NA and 54% of UK respondents have no or only partial data of the volume of tasks sent from lawyers to support staff, while half of NA (52% of UK) firms have no or only partial visibility of the capacity or utilization of support staff.
Overall, the report shines a light on how the current legal trends are impacting their support staff. With firms prioritizing lawyer retention and profitability, the question remains, how are they going to fix their support staff challenges highlighted in the report.