Work Allocation: 7 Best Practices for Effective Resource Management in Law Firms
In a culture where assignments often come in the form of a late-night email with the subject line “Over to you,” or a partner’s frantic wave to an associate who just happens by, terms like “resource management” and “work allocation” might sound foreign — at minimum, something best left to the accountants. But, as viGlobal’s CEO explains, large firms are looking at more systematic ways to distribute the work for a host of good reasons, including keeping their associates happy.
A law firm can be made up of many moving parts: separate offices, numerous practice groups, the partners, the associates, legal support staff, business professionals. Navigating this puzzle to ensure everything runs smoothly can be demanding. As the legal industry continues to identify issues with traditional methods of work allocation, more law firms are turning to new methods of resource allocation, including resource allocation technology. Some firms are motivated to modernize how they schedule associates and allocate matters to promote more equitable work distribution and reduce associate attrition. Additionally, larger firms are looking to better manage early career programs and improve how tasks are delegated to legal and non-legal support staff.
Making Sure Every Employee Gets the Right Workload
Here are seven best practices for making resource management and work allocation effective for everyone at your firm.
1. Forecast individual availability and workloads
To start, firms need a standardized process in place to track associate availability and utilization. Making resource allocation decisions requires real-time visibility into how busy lawyers are and which ones are free to take on work. Depending on the nature of a firm’s work, for example, associates can be reminded to update their availability either weekly or daily, so partners and managers can more easily monitor resource allocation.
2. Track each associate’s skills and development needs
Employee skills tracking provides a real-time view of the skills each associate has experience in and the ones they need experience in. This can be an asset in allocating work, where firms want to put the right combination of skills on each matter while giving associates the opportunity to learn and develop. The firm can actually have a “skills library” of firmwide competencies that every associate should have (i.e., business development skills, management skills, client skills) and skills that are specific to practice groups.
3. Allocate work based on availability, skills and more
With information on availability, skills and utilization, partners and managers can make strategic decisions about who works on what, and give every matter the most effective team possible. Partners request the help they need on a matter and the manager searches for associates who fit the requirements and are available for work. With firm data held in a centralized platform, resource managers can dig deeper into profiles to make informed assignment choices. Criteria can include availability (based on forecasting and utilization), demographics, associate level, billable rates, office location, diversity data, skills and interests.
4. Distribute work and growth opportunities equitably
Work allocation at law firms has been traditionally driven by partners, but this can lead to bias and inequity in the allocation of matters and opportunities to learn and grow. With a resource management system in place, firms can manage the quantity as well as the quality of work associates are receiving. A firm can make sure associates are getting the experience they need in all competencies, client-facing and otherwise. This means the firm has the ability to give everyone the experience and development they need, including diverse associates.
5. Foster associate development
In this extremely competitive hiring market, firms are using work allocation systems to attract and retain talent. Resource allocation technology can provide a holistic view of associates, not only in terms of their hourly work but also their career progression. Firms can use resource management software to ensure associates are consistently getting quality work and development opportunities they are interested in. Skills tracking helps firms arrange mentoring opportunities while they staff client matters. It also gives the associates a road map of the competencies they need to advance in their careers.
6. Plan capacity to meet demand
Availability and utilization tracking helps monitor resource distribution and capacity, helping firms determine hiring needs. With real-time visibility into workloads, firms can ensure that no one is under- or overutilized and that associates aren’t doing the same work over and over. Balancing workloads also reduces the risk of burnout, attrition and underdevelopment.
7. Balance resources across offices and practice groups
It’s not enough for a single practice group to regulate work allocation. The entire office and firm need to be strategically balanced. It’s easy to say that you can bring people in from another office or practice group, but often there’s no efficient way to see who is available or qualified. By opening up resource allocation across the firm, groups and offices can widen their staffing pool as needed. In an instant, they can know who else in the firm is available and what skills they have to contribute to their team.
Who’s in Charge of Work Allocation?
Some firms have appointed work allocation managers or resource managers who are responsible for coordinating staffing across the firm or for a practice group. Examples include Clifford Chance and Ashurt. Other firms don’t have a dedicated position, but they’re looking to create better workflows to help their partners put the right associates on each matter.
In both cases, technology plays an important role in increasing visibility and transparency, as well as streamlining the process.
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