During the coronavirus pandemic, only one thing is clear: everything you think you know will change—and probably more than once. In these ever-shifting economic and market conditions, law departments must be nimble and responsive, which demands the effective allocation of the people on your team.
In the current economic environment, the key to effective resource allocation is agility. The law department must continually flex to meet emerging areas of need as the pandemic generates new challenges that require adaptation. As your law department navigates this crisis, consider these questions to evaluate how well your law department is addressing the key dimensions of an agile resourcing model.
1. What kind of leverage model does your organization have?
Begin by asking whether your organization has properly allocated its resources among the right level of attorneys and non-attorney resources. Organizations that are top heavy lack the structure to easily shift work to more junior resources. And most law departments lack a formal strategy or process that dictates how they assign work to the appropriate resources. Being top heavy or lacking a strategy for resource allocation can trap senior-level attorneys into performing lower-value tasks instead of freeing their time for more complex, higher risk or strategic work. Across the department, productivity is suboptimal, costs are higher and employees are less engaged.
Organizations should evaluate whether they have the proper leverage to shift work to meet demand. To enable your department to assign the right work to the right resource, ensure that you have an appropriate mix of experience levels in your attorney ranks, with senior, mid-level and junior lawyers. Make sure you have the right allocation of non-attorney resources for both the practice of law—including paralegals and administrative personnel—and the business of law—such as legal operations professionals.
2. Have you appropriately centralized your work?
In law departments, work can be widely distributed, with many individuals spending small portions of their time on a range of work. A more efficient operating model is to concentrate repetitive work in a centralized resource group, such as a center of excellence (CoE). For example, in a CoE, instead of 20 people each spending two percent of their time on a particular type of work, a few people spend the majority of their time on that work, developing expertise that becomes a resource for the rest of the department.
When creating a CoE, the key is to focus on recurring work that can be standardized or templatized, not work that is highly bespoke. Potential areas ripe for the creation of a CoE include contracts and legal research. By absorbing and specializing in these types of work, CoEs allow resources to flex to other areas of need that require more nuanced support.
3. Are your resources well aligned with the needs of your key clients?
In ordinary times, the practice of law tends to be reactive; in a crisis, with so many urgent priorities to address, there is a heightened need for proactive alignment with client priorities and business needs.
Now is the time to make sure that your department has the processes in place to support strong alignment with key business groups. This involves establishing methods to actively manage client relationships. This may simply be formalizing a cadence for regular client check-in meetings to discuss current and anticipated legal needs key priorities, and methods to address the demand. In the short term, more frequent check-ins are recommended. . The closer you are to the business, the better you can address its changing priorities and identify new opportunities for partnerships. By taking steps to become more integrated with clients, the in-house team transforms itself from a one-note firefighter into a dynamic strategic advisor.
4. Does your department culture support empowerment?
To be sufficiently flexible to drive initiatives forward, your law department needs a culture that empowers individuals and teams to make decisions and react quickly in a fluid environment. Requiring attorneys and staff to continuously solicit feedback on their decisions from those higher in the chain of authority obliterates agility. Organizations must confer their people the necessary levels of authority, underlaid by guidance for sound decision-making.
Providing your team with ongoing professional development and cross-training can help in developing a culture of empowerment. With expanded skills and knowledge, team members will be more confident in flexing to support the organization as business needs dictate.
How to Move Forward
It is hard to take steps like these in a stable environment, much less in the changing environment we now find ourselves. Many of these changes will not be immediately effective; it takes time to build a new culture. But it is critical to start laying the foundation for agility to respond to this and future challenges.
A recommended starting point is to understand the work your department is performing: what work is being done, who is doing it and how is it being accomplished? Study your people, processes and technology. This assessment will allow you to analyze how well your organization has aligned its work with its key resources. From there, consider how you could consolidate work now, laying the groundwork for structuring CoEs in the future. Maximize what leverage you have with the goal of developing a more balanced staffing model over time. Meanwhile, work toward strengthening alignment with your key clients to be able to proactively support their current and future priorities. All of these steps will set the stage for building an agile, empowered law department of the future.
Please contact me to discuss how a more agile resource allocation model can help your law department address—and rebound from—the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.