Effective people management in law firm IT requires that both the firm and the employees benefit. The law firm maximizes the effectiveness and efficiency of their internal IT talent and the valued professionals on the IT team have an opportunity to develop the skills that will advance their careers. A growing number of medium to large law firms are discovering that a proven human capital model that can allow both the firm and its IT employees to flourish is to partner with an expert services provider that assumes operational responsibility for some or all of the firm’s core IT systems and operations.
This approach — commonly referred to as IT managed services — can involve transitioning some of the firm’s IT team members to employment by the managed services company and empowering them to provide similar services to those they were already delivering as firm employees. These day-to-day tasks might include desktop support for the firm’s employees, management of the firm’s network, servers, databases and applications, and monitoring and resolving IT issues. This innovative model enables a law firm to turn over the day-to-day IT infrastructure requirements to a service provider — a strategic partner who can do it at a lower cost and with greater efficiency — and to redirect the time of the firm’s remaining full-time staff members toward higher value, more strategic functions that drive the firm’s business forward.
There are a number of noteworthy benefits to transitioning IT staff from employment by the law firm to a managed services company. Here are four major human capital benefits that this model can deliver to the firm and its valued professionals.
- Avoid key person risk. We often ask law firm leaders what they think would happen if their top three IT people suddenly resigned; for most firms, this would be a serious problem. It is a major challenge for law firms to recruit and retain the best technology professionals as they are often competing for top talent with high-tech companies and other large employers. This is a tough sell because IT professionals know they will always be in a strictly supporting role in a law firm. Moreover, ethical rules in the legal profession preclude non-lawyers from equity participation in law firms, which is a constraint not imposed at other companies. However, since the delivery of IT services is the core competency of a managed services provider, it can more effectively retain those top performers who now have the opportunity to work in an organization where they are playing a more central role. Think of this as a switch from the “back office” to the “front office” for these employees.
- Enhance scalability of workforce. Most law firm HR departments are adept at recruiting qualified candidates for niche practice groups or specialized business operations teams. It is another story to expect them to ramp up IT staffing in highly technical areas when new technologies and IT infrastructure requirements rapidly evolve. That is the core business for a managed services company, which makes them well-equipped to scale up an IT support team whenever needed — by either hiring new staff or transferring staff members from one assignment to another — in order to support a firm’s growing IT needs. The managed services provider is also focused on staying up to date on the latest technology developments and delivering new training to staff members on an ongoing basis. The law firm can reap the benefits of these ramped-up IT capabilities and leading-edge knowledge base without the pressure of quickly locating those new team members who have expertise in new technical areas.
- Retain institutional knowledge. The difficulty that law firms can face with hiring and keeping talent in IT functional areas creates another variety of turnover headaches: this can be a serious business risk if the firm loses key institutional knowledge and continuity through unplanned attrition. The IT managed services model can solve this problem by working with a managed services provider that transitions those key IT employees and keeps the same professionals in place to support the law firm. This maintains continuity for the firm and minimizes the risk of business disruptions that can negatively impact client service. In the event of turnover, the managed services company is also in a better position to quickly fill any sudden employee gaps by drawing on their deeper bench of qualified IT professionals who can be reassigned on short notice.
- Greater career development opportunities. Beyond these practical benefits to a law firm’s operations, the IT managed services model often allows a firm’s valued IT employees to join an organization where they will enjoy more career opportunities. First, they will transition from working in a law firm “back office” (non-lawyer staff) — limiting career growth — to working in a managed services company whose core competency is IT, not practicing law, which raises their professional value. Second, depending on the managed services provider, they may receive more skills development and other training from the IT managed services provider, which is relying on its staff members to be on the leading edge of professional knowledge and excellence. And third, they have the opportunity to broaden their experience by working on a wider range of engagements across multiple clients. These three career development paths create opportunities for IT team members to advance in their careers both vertically and horizontally once they transition to working with the IT managed services company.
Law firm leaders must constantly review their resource allocation across their organizations. In the competitive world of legal services, where old paradigms are being challenged and new operational models are being considered, it might seem counter-intuitive to find a disruptive approach to human capital management in which both the law firm and the individual employees mutually benefit.
IT managed services can offer just that — an innovative model that allows the law firm to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of their internal IT talent and the professionals on the IT team to develop the skills and opportunities that will help advance their individual careers.