How Law Firms Can Combat Ineffective Work Allocation and Retain Their Associates

Employee onboarding process

Staffing associates for matters and managing resource distribution at law firms is a difficult and layered process. Firms need to:

  • Staff the right associates on each matter and project
  • Allocate the right workload and development opportunities to each associate
  • Equitably distribute a variety of work to each team member

When resource allocation is not properly managed at law firms, it can lead to far-reaching problems, such as:

Overutilization or underutilization of associates

Firms have a high volume of work and limited resources to cover it, but they don’t have visibility into their associates’ availability and workload in order to keep work balanced while ensuring everyone is billing at full capacity. Many associates are getting too much work and are at risk of burnout, while others aren’t getting enough development opportunities and may leave the firm.

High associate attrition

The hiring market is on fire this year, and firms are having a harder time attracting and retaining associates. Lateral associates are being offered extremely high salaries and benefits to leave for other firms. In a NALP Foundation study, “work quality standards not met” was the most frequent reason (18%) for lateral associate departures and the fourth most frequent reason (13%) for associates hired at entry level. Associates want quality work and exposure to different kinds of projects, especially the younger generations. They will leave if firms can’t give them the opportunities and experience they crave.

Inequitable distribution of work due to biases

Traditionally, work allocation at law firms was primarily driven by the partners. When a partner chose an associate for a matter, their skills were important factors, but so was their proximity and their relationship with that partner. Allocating work in this way risks conscious and unconscious bias, leading to unfair work distribution among a firm’s associates. Underrepresented groups can also easily be overlooked. As a result, diverse associates can have lower utilization, or they get low quality work that doesn’t help them build the relationships or skills they need to advance in their careers.

Uneven utilization among offices and practice groups

Due to the pandemic and the resulting changes in the economy, some offices and practice groups are seeing surges in client work, while others have less work to go around. The upside is that remote work taught law firms that their people can work and collaborate efficiently from anywhere, so the natural conclusion is balancing utilization among offices and practice groups. But without an efficient resource allocation system, this is impossible. Firms need to know who is available in each location and what their qualifications are.

An inefficient and time-consuming staffing process

These days, many firms have a person or team responsible for staffing across the firm or within a practice group. Some firms have given this additional responsibility to a partner, while others have an administrator or support staff acting as the “resource manager” or “work allocation manager.” But many are overwhelmed; drowning in spreadsheets, phone calls, and emails. They are switching between multiple systems and spreadsheets, but still not getting the associated availability and qualification data they need to make effective decisions.

vi by Aderant surveyed more than 100 law firms on how work allocation challenges are affecting their firms. Here are the results.

Enter vi by Aderant’s End-to-end Resource Allocation Solution for Law Firms

Holistic resource management software is the answer to all of these problems. vi by Aderant, a trusted talent management software provider with more than 400 law firm clients, has developed its own  solution. It features viResourceAllocation, the most advanced work allocation software in the industry, and was designed to solve law firm challenges in the following ways.

Staffing projects with efficiency and accuracy

viResourceAllocation is a one-stop shop for all data related to work allocation — including availability, utilization, demographics, interests, skills, and experience level. It’s easy for everyone to use. Data is pulled in from your firm’s time and billing systems and associates can update and forecast their availability in minutes. The entire process of adding a staffing request for a matter and finding qualified, available associates can be done in just a few clicks, putting the right attorneys on the right matters at the right time.

Balancing associate utilization

viResourceAllocation allows you to see real-time, accurate availability and utilization data, so you can ensure that every associate is billing at capacity, and is not over or underutilized. It reduces the risk of associate burnout, attrition, or underdevelopment.

Recruiting and developing talent

viResourceAllocation tracks the quantity and quality of work given to associates. It’s a recruiting tool for firms to attract lateral associates and law school graduates. It gives associates equitable opportunities, in and out of the office, and the exposure they need to grow in their career. It also identifies the aspirations and skills of your workforce.

Allocating work equitably and without bias

viResourceAllocation is a fair, objective system that uses data to inform work allocation decisions. You have a clear view of each associate’s workload and the type of work they get, so the risk of inequity in the distribution of work is minimized. It gives every associate an equal opportunity to work and advance in their career and makes sure diverse associates are not overlooked or left behind.

Sharing resources and balancing workloads among offices and practice groups

viResourceAllocation connects the data across your firm, which allows for easy cross-office and cross-practice group work assignments. You can see how each associate, each office, or each practice group at your firm is being utilized at any given time. This helps better allocate resources among offices and practice groups and level out the peaks and troughs in workloads.

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