By Nathan Curtis, IGP
This article appeared in Legaltech News on November 09, 2022 at 10:00 AM.
With hybrid work models here to stay, traditional administrative workflows have changed. Firms need to adopt technology to change with them.
Hybrid operations might be here to stay—but they are also continuously evolving. While the majority (86%) of attorneys want to continue remote work arrangements, firms that try to mandate specific days for their RTO only achieve a 49% compliance rate. Cushman & Wakefield reports that 75% of firms will be trying some form of hoteling, but law firms are challenged to then drive the collaboration and networking that makes in-office work meaningful. All of this plays out in the hottest lateral market on record, where some firms are experiencing up to a 25% attrition rate.
The other significant change that is impacting operations as a result of the pandemic is attorney technology adoption. Faced with no alternatives, lawyers learned they required technology to make remote work a reality. In fact, upskilling technology is a welcome tradeoff for continuing to work from home. This is one of the reasons why technology adoption in law firms is the #2 increase in overhead expenses last year (behind only recruitment expenses)—a statistic that has maintained course throughout 2022—and why Gartner predicts legal tech spend will triple by 2025.
If we look at these varied challenges there are also opportunities—real estate reduction being one of them, of course. If attorneys aren’t coming to the office, what are we paying for?
Another opportunity is to rethink operations in new, innovative ways. One of the key areas firms are looking at operationally, for instance, is administrative support services.
Administrative support services sit in the crosshairs of these multi-modal transformations, starting with this obvious change: the traditional model of the secretary outside the attorney’s door is gone. The door is now a Zoom link. If attorneys aren’t in the office, why do admins need to be? At the same time, with attorneys upskilling, this impacts the skills required of admins as well.
In fact, the pandemic has created an opportunity to think of administrative support holistically. We suggest taking an end-to-end approach to re-thinking administrative support: start with a benchmark, leverage this data to develop a new (or refine an existing) model, run the new or refined model, track the outcome and measure the productivity. Rinse and repeat. Here’s more on that.
Start with Data
To know how to evolve your firm’s administrative support model, firms must start with data to create a benchmark of exactly what work is being performed by whom, where and at what cost.
With a workflow tool, like RevelationLegal, we can define what percent of, say, a specific attorney or admin’s hours are spent on word processing functions. Similarly, we can define the same for copying, scanning, printing materials and any other admin function we define. Powered by technology, not only can we start grouping these administrative functions, but we can add a layer of cost to determine how much each task costs the firm by individual, by practice group and firmwide to determine who is best suited to perform the task.
The challenge is then analyzing the data and making recommendations as to what operational changes would optimize the firm’s resources, skillsets and cost.
This first kind of data illustrates opportunities on a granular level that offers a new perspective on your firm’s labor landscape. If we see an individual who earns, say, a quarter of a million dollars a year and they’re spending, say, 30% of their time to perform tasks that can be equally or better performed by a lower cost resource—even if we can allocate just three quarters of that time to another resource—that’s a success.
This information provides the business intelligence necessary to revise workflows and determine whether support services are best delivered decentralized or in a centralized environment, and whether that centralized setting is situated on- or off-site. With expert analysis of this data, one gains insights into labor hour requirements and possibilities in shifting workflows. In turn, the drill down in detail illuminates hours needed to account for new labor models, and even account for whether that’s in a regionalized or national support center with a thinner population of legal assistants on-site, or even working remotely in their respective locations.
One of these models—centralized administrative support—is usually headquartered in a lower-cost real estate location where the firm already has a footprint along with recruiting experience. In another model, firms set up pockets of support on both coasts and even adding the Midwest to play off time zones.
Of course, firms can keep the “traditional” model of maintaining support on-site and try to increase ratios of support staff to attorneys to the highest possible level, but this often won’t deliver the best long-term outcome from either cost or scalability perspectives.
Supporting New Administrative Models
A second piece of technology comes into play once we’ve analyzed and designed a new, optimized framework to make sure we answer these questions: How do these support elements, wherever they’re located throughout the country, actually receive work from the attorneys? What does that work submission look like, how is work assigned to the best fit from both a talent and bandwidth perspective, how are submissions tracked, and how is labor utilization analyzed?
Job submission tools, such as BigHand, allow work to be routed to the right support staff at the right cost to the firm and monitored through completion. BigHand’s output reports can be leveraged by management for visibility into key metrics such as work type, volume, capacity, timeliness and labor utilization for informed resourcing and productivity decision making.
More often than not, what we see is that attorneys submit jobs through BigHand, but then the firm has a support center team lead to quarterback the jobs coming in and not let the system auto-assign who gets what task. The metrics that the application can offer are useful in making other business decisions. The timeliness of completion is a metric that could be tracked. The firm could derive reporting on how efficient certain players within the same department are at fulfilling the work that’s submitted and so can be used as a performance measurement tool and used to identify training needs to better target talent development.
Changes to firms’ operations will continue to evolve and the correct strategies for each firm’s culture will emerge. The great thing about this approach is that the analysis works for every firm, providing the insights firms of any size need to make decisions that best suit their specific business objectives. As they say, the only constant is change—and that is definitely true of law firms and administrative support, more so now than ever.