17 December 2009

Strategic Legal Technology :: Staffing the Law Firm of the Future

I read this article on strategic staff planning - Strategic Legal Technology :: Staffing the Law Firm of the Future
- with interest.

His analysis of the thinking (or lack thereof) by large firms behind redundancies in 2009 is very likely to be completely correct - what I saw in Australia was largely "emergency cost cutting, not a conscious organisational re-design." These redundancies didn't flow from a measured consideration of workload, fit for need or organisational value. The proof of this is in that some firms ended up withdrawing redundancy terminations or rehiring the same staff shortly thereafter. The personal cost to the individuals, their colleagues and families was huge, yet it was caused by thoughtless decisions.

Large law firms still struggle with the place of the non-lawyer in the organisation. Most have come to grips with marketing or business development specialists (although I'm not sure that that many firms have hired really well in that area). However, the use of project managers and professionally qualified business analysts is in its infancy. One of the most useful courses I ever did was a week long course on IT project management. Naturally it only scratched the surface, but it introduced me to concepts of professional project management that I wasn't aware even existed. I believe that all lawyers should receive at least two weeks of professional project management training.

Client matters are a type of project, with a start, end, budget, timeline, milestones and strategy. Projects require some analysis for a business before they are approved and commenced. If a lawyer sat down with a client to build a business case for why that client should proceed with the legal matter, he may find that often there is no case for it.

I'm the owner of a project at the moment with a budget of well in excess of AUD$2 million. I ran a Request for Proposal process, I spent weeks writing a business case, I developed a strategy and vision, I have a project team of professionals in business analysis, project management, training and change management to name a few. However, the legal profession in Sydney today alone will have many client matters where the costs are or will be well in excess of AUD$3 million with nothing like the same professional attention and rigour. Instead, lawyers just put their head down and beaver away. This Dilbert cartoon says it all.

Lawyers don't understand that there are professional disciplines around projects; even something as simple as a Change Request for, say, budgeting, is not dealt with rigour. I must say that some lawyers do unconsciously do some of these things (telling an insurer client that you are recommending a change to the reserve now usually has rigour and rules), but it's more good luck rather than good management.