Law firms are experiencing higher client demand for work to be completed by the most cost-effective resource, but with manual reporting on key support KPIs still at large, how are firms meeting expectations?
Earlier this month, BigHand released the largest ever piece of global research into legal workflow management. With over 900 responses across senior Operations, HR, Support Services, Resource Management and Practice Group Leaders, from firms of 50+ lawyers in the UK, North America (NA) and APAC, the industry report offers an accurate view of the state of legal workflow management globally.
Increased pressure for work completed at the right level
One of the key findings from the report was that law firm clients are increasingly demanding that work is completed by the most cost-effective resource. 75% of North American firms and 67% of UK firms confirm that they have witnessed this expectation from clients, and over half of respondents in each region went on to confirm that the pressure has increased since the pandemic began.
What are firms doing to counteract this? The survey shows that three quarters (76%) of NA firms and two thirds (66%) of UK firms are encouraging lawyers to delegate legal support work to the most cost-effective resource available – although how firms are effectively monitoring this is dubious.
There is still a reliance on manual monitoring of key KPIs such as the volume and type of support tasks, capacity and utilization of support staff and turnaround times. Almost half of NA (48%) and UK (43%) firms are manually monitoring some factors (e.g. manually updating excel files, monitoring inboxes, or dedicated resources distributing and monitoring work).
Manual monitoring does not provide real time information – and it is not always accurate. Data is often out of date by the time reports are completed, minimizing the value of the information. In addition, manual monitoring is virtually impossible when individuals are working remotely.
Without this insight, how are firms going to demonstrate their commitment to meeting client expectations for cost transparency and tasks being undertaken by individuals at the right level? Are firms being forced to subsidize client activity due to the lack of information and cost visibility? Even if this is the case, without the ability to provide cost transparency, there is a risk that client confidence and relationships could be compromised.
Automated reporting on the volume and types of tasks, support staff capacity and utilization and the speed of turnaround has become a fundamental component not only of effective hybrid working but also of enhanced client experience with faster turnaround times and confidence that the right resource is doing the right work at the right cost.
Facilitating hybrid working
The report also raises questions about the management of legal workflow in a hybrid working environment, with 30% of NA firms and 35% of UK firms citing concerns regarding the need for lawyers to undertake more administrative work instead of delegating to support staff. These findings are supported by the fact that 78% of NA firms, and 70% of UK firms reduced support staff headcount / hours either temporarily or permanently.
The research reveals billable hours have been impacted, with 47% of NA firms and 56% of UK firms confirming they had stayed the same or decreased. The stats suggest that this reduction in billable time has been caused by lawyers having to spend more time on low value work due to having less support staff and a lack of good processes for allocating work to the right resources when everyone is working remotely. In both NA (61%) and UK (50%), support staff have been utilized less during the pandemic.
Change is on the agenda
Firms recognize the need to support this rapidly evolving support model, with 45% of NA firms and two in five (40%) of UK firms planning to implement workflow technology over the next 24 months. In addition, 52% of NA firms, 37% of UK firms are prioritizing facilitating hybrid working for support staff as a priority.
More than a year of extraordinary change has accelerated many of the trends that were already gaining pace within law firms. Yet as this research confirms, while both fee earners and support staff widely welcome the introduction and continuing of hybrid working there are several issues that firms need to consider.
Timing is key – firms in all sectors have managed the difficulties of the past year because individuals have pulled together and found ways to collaborate wherever possible. As hybrid working becomes business as usual, firms need to rapidly transition to an operational structure that provides consistent, efficient support to all lawyers and, thereby, clients – creating a legal support service that is truly fit for a post pandemic economy should be the number one priority.
You can access the full report on BigHand’s website here.