If the last year during the pandemic taught us anything, it is that law firms must be flexible in how they support a remote workforce, that they are more open than ever to embrace alternative ways for providing services to them now – and when a good percentage of staff return to the offices.
Since as far back as 2004, firms have been reducing secretary-to-attorney ratios, plateauing at an average of 4-5 attorneys to 1 secretary, with some outlier firms reporting that ratio near 8:1. The rapid adoption of technology and remote work models, however, have pushed firms to drill down even more on the cost and rationalization of the model itself, questioning whether this model is how attorney support will be optimized into the future.
This is because COVID accelerated change, not the least of which was attorneys’ willingness to adopt technology; as a result, attorneys are more tech savvy today than ever before, more self-sufficient and less reliant on their secretaries and administrative support. Instead, they are seeking a different skill set such as more sophisticated graphic design for presentations and document conversion (those typically provided in document processing departments).
Firms will need to provide attorneys with efficient workflow systems that will allow them to properly direct tasks that require lower skill sets, less training, and lower wages to the right person – and the right cost to the firm.
There are substantial cost, utilization and efficiency benefits for firms that seriously consider moving away from the traditional secretary to attorney assignments and focus more on directing work to a more centralized support model that allows work to be performed by the right skill level and best cost to the firm.
To do so, firms need to get a thorough understanding of the current activities completed by the traditional secretary and administrative staff as well as the metrics and productivity associated with each. Then the firm can determine which of these activities might be performed elsewhere to support their attorneys more effectively with a skilled and flexible workforce at the right cost. Of course, “performed elsewhere” will have a different definition for many firms, even offices within a firm. Elsewhere may include on-site or remote version of some or all the following situations:
- By another position or role within the firm
- Within a Team concept supporting certain practices within each office(s)
- Through a centralized environment within the firm such as document processing or administrative resource services
- Outsourced to a 24 x7 centralized environment
The biggest challenge of all is successfully implementing change. In the past, firms and their staff have been very resistant to change of this significance, but mindsets are quickly shifting based on recent events. Senior leadership is taking more interest than ever before and are seeking assistance from third party organizations to provide both assessments and implementing change – either inhouse or with an outsourcing provider.
It is highly recommended that firms utilize unbiased consultancies – not one affiliated with providing such services or workflow tools. This lends to a more honest assessment and recommendations for the firm’s best path forward versus one that might lead to a “sale” in the future.
Mattern, an unbiased consultancy, helps firms determine how to best utilize their administrative support staff and the most cost-effective and efficient method to deliver these services firm-wide.
Mattern provides thorough assessments including:
- Reviewing services and operational data (i.e., administrative activities, hours of operation, workflow, job assignments, work schedules, back-up support)
- Evaluating staffing arrangements/productivity/required skill sets
- Determining metrics for all key functions within each service area
- Ascertaining personnel costs
- Reviewing workflow technology and costs
Mattern also provides detailed recommendations and a roadmap for accomplishing the following results:
- Increased efficiencies by centralizing and distributing work based on ability and available resources
- Realignment of administrative staff with current required skill sets required to meet firms’ future direction and expectations
- Improved end-user satisfaction through more skilled and available talent when needed
- Reduced expenses
- Lowered secretary to attorney ratios
Lastly, Mattern will provide and oversee the change management process required to effectively deliver the most efficient and cost-effective method for completing and delivering the primary administrative activities during a current and post-pandemic environment.