By: Kyle Reese, MBA, IGP
With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season in the rearview mirror, firms are looking ahead to the new year and the challenges and opportunities that await. Firms are being met with the reality of the effects that the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic continues to have on law firm operations. As firms look to finalize strategic goals and operational roadmaps for the new year, here are 5 things firms should be doing in 2022.
Understand your operation
Office services operations encompass a wide range of back and middle office functions, that are key to the efficient and successful operation of the firm. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted and changed the day-to-day operations of every firm. Nearly two years in, most firms are still operating in a hybrid environment that seemingly changes by the week. As we head into the new year, now is a great time for firms to reexamine their office services operations and ensure they are meeting the needs of firm end users, in line with current industry standards, and positioned to quickly adapt to the changing environment. Having an in depth understanding of the firm’s office services operations will aid the firm in making operational and strategic decisions that align end user support with the firm’s goals and direction.
Turn uncertainty into opportunity
The most recent surge of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has again brought a pause to most firms’ plans to return to the office and underscores the continued uncertainty that all firms are facing. This presents a prime opportunity for firms to focus on embracing the uncertainty and turning it into opportunities to complete perpetually shelved projects and initiatives and long overdue assessments of firm support structures and operations. Will firms ever return to a completely in-person operation? Will intense competition for talent affect firms’ decisions on whether to return to the office? Now is the time for firms to evaluate the attorney support model and look to create a model that can seamlessly meet the needs of the firm whether in an in-person, hybrid, or exclusively remote environment. Taking this opportunity now will be a competitive advantage to these firms and put them in a position to proactively respond to future uncertainty instead of continuously being behind the curve and perpetually reactionary.
The secret is out: innovation and technology are no longer a flashy, graphic-filled slide at the end of presentation deck in a firm administration meeting. The benefits of innovating and implementing new technologies are undeniable and the need for firms to get onboard is quickly intensifying. Technology innovations touch all aspect of the firm’s operation, from litigation support tools to digital mail solutions to Information Governance compliance tools. Embracing innovation and technology has never been more necessary than the now. It not only affects the operational day-to-day of the firm but is quickly becoming a major factor in firm’s retaining and earning new client business and even the ability for firms to attract top level talent. Clients and talent increasingly want to work with firms who are on the leading edge of the latest technologies and ways of practicing law. The start of a new year brings about a terrific opportunity for firms to make strategic commitments to exploring and adopting new technologies that allow the firm to operate more efficiently, with greater productivity, and with increased information security.
Change management: have a plan
Let’s face it, change is hard; especially for complex organizations such as law firms. A key, and often overlooked and undervalued, component of any change, whether it be reorganizing the firm’s operational model and support structure, adopting new technologies, or even changing the coffee in the kitchen, is change management. Firms must have a well-developed, cross functional change management plan that includes executive sponsorship and a strong leader to drive any initiative within the firm. A successful change management initiative must include not only a focus to operational and functional changes, but also address the inevitable culture change that must take place as well. The new year is a great opportunity to ensure firms are making a change management program a key component of any initiative.
Ensure the firm has the right service provider and leverage their expertise
Most firms utilize some degree of third party service providers to help support firm operations. Whether that’s an off-site records storage provider, an outsourced office services labor provider, or a copier provider, the message is still the same: ensure they’re the right fit and leverage their expertise. Service providers are an integral part of the firm’s day-to-day operation and firms should expect that these service providers are experts in their respective industries. A key element in leveraging the expertise of the firm’s service providers is ensuring the firm has the right service provider. Are they a cultural fit? Do they have a shared vision for the firm? Are they a true partner? Service provider relationships can and should be a positive for both parties but ensuring it’s a mutual fit, especially in long standing partnerships, is a must for firms as they kick off the new year. Actively leveraging service providers’ expertise and experience should be a tool that firms embrace, particularly when it comes to emerging technologies. In the uncertain environment all firms are operating in, the need to be flexible and react quickly is key – leveraging the expertise of the firm’s trusted service provider partner as an added resource will only serve the firm’s best interest.
Like all organizations, law firms continue to face unrelenting operational challenges as we head into 2022. Taking time to understand the firm’s operation, being willing to embrace the continued uncertainty and turn it into opportunity, embracing and adopting new technologies, having a change management plan in place, and leveraging the expertise of firm service provider partners will go a long way to helping firms take control of their operations as they navigate the uncertainty of the year ahead.