As appeared on lawyer-monthly.com on August 17, 2021
Like every industry, law firms have spent more than a year working remotely due to the pandemic, and only now are some of them beginning to transition back to the office. For partners and other managers, the pandemic has been a struggle in quickly knowing which associates are available and who is the best candidate to help on a matter. As we look toward a future of remote and hybrid work, this problem is only increasing. On the positive side, this is the perfect time for law firms to look at options for modernising the way they allocate work.
Even before COVID, finding the best available people in a law firm was a challenge, especially when a firm had multiple offices and associates who travel for work. Partners may have just defaulted to working with whichever associate was most visible or familiar to them. Firms that have shifted assigning power to resource or work allocation managers were doing their best to make sure their lawyers were all being utilised at capacity, but it’s hard to pinpoint who is most available and most competent when associate data and information are scattered. Today’s utilisation problems are bigger than ever, and they need to be solved faster and better.
COVID has been a trial run for the future of hybrid law firms
A CBRE survey of law firm clients found that 72% believe all of their attorneys and staff will have a degree of flexibility to work remotely, even beyond the pandemic. Law firms have been downsizing office space and considering shared office solutions, such as hotelling.
“Many law firms have worked hard to develop systems during the pandemic to closely monitor work allocation while conducting more frequent check-ins with associates,” reports Thomson Reuters. “While those should continue, there will be a need for additional mechanisms to manage hybrid teams.”
These mechanisms include training for managers and partners on tools to “distribute opportunities equitably both to in-office and remote workers,” as well as guidance for associates on how to “stay top-of-mind for assignments while also setting boundaries and adopting habits to avoid work burnout.”
Law firms needs an effective way to staff matters with accuracy
What firms are missing is a way to help partners and resource or work allocation managers quickly determine who is available and has the right background and skills for each matter. Without an easily searchable database tracking lawyer availability, demographics, and experience, assigning and scheduling lawyers for matters is either a guessing game or a very long process. Either way, firm performance suffers.
Not only will poor capacity planning reflect badly in client work, but it will also lead to over and under utilising associates. The ones who have too much work on their plates will risk burnout. The ones who don’t have enough work will miss out on chances to develop their skills and are at risk of being unsatisfied and leaving the firm. Diverse associates can easily be overlooked and won’t be given equal opportunity to develop and advance in a firm.
Utilisation can be improved with cross-office and cross-practice work allocation
As industries are affected by COVID, different law practices and office locations can see a surge or reduction in business, and firms need more options for cross-office collaboration. If the California office is overloaded with work because the tech sector is thriving, they can mitigate employee workloads by getting help from other office locations where the client work has been reduced during the pandemic.
In general, low visibility on lawyer availability across offices is a missed opportunity for firm-wide collaboration and balancing workloads. Now that hybrid work is on the rise, staying up to date with the availability and skills of all the firm’s associates, whether they’re working from home or in a different office, has become even more necessary for effective teamwork.
Upgrading work allocation systems with technology
As part of its people management platform, vi by Aderant has created a work allocation solution that focuses on improving capacity planning and equitable work distribution. It looks to put smart tools in the hands of partners and resource or work allocation managers.
Requests for associates can specify the demographics, diversity data, skills, and experience level needed for a matter. Individual associate profiles are then filtered to pinpoint the most available and qualified associates, and users can explore an associate’s data, including their interests and matter experience, to make quick and effective staffing decisions.
“Law firms are looking for a way to find great lawyers to put on matters and projects,” vi by Aderant President and CEO Andrew Talpash said. “Our clients have told us that they not only need to know who is available across their office locations, they need to know whether they’re a good lawyer with the right competencies to do a great job for the client at hand.”
vi by Aderant said this solution can ensure that all lawyers are billing at capacity and have an equitable workload in terms of quantity and quality. The work allocation solution can also be used to staff non-billable work or to allocate work to legal support staff.