PARTNER COMMENT

PARTNER COMMENT

Who really needs to be back in the office?

Phil Muller

Phil Muller

I’m going to say it: support services staff don’t need to be in the same office as those they support.

It’s true there are some things done better in-person, such as client and associate meetings or strategising a case. In-person collaboration strengthens culture and builds relationships, but when it comes to the day-to-day operations of a law firm, everything from document processing to billing can be done virtually.

Moving support offsite provides an opportunity for law firm leaders to streamline their business processes, bringing greater agility to their operations. This is especially critical during periods of constant change, as we are in today.

Client pressures, data, technology, real estate costs, the war for talent and the return to the office are all major conundrums I hear law firm leaders discuss, and the pressure to invest in these areas is opening the UK legal market up for consolidation. Take the merger between Clyde & Co and BLM: both firms are aligning their strengths in insurance law, but it’s also intended to “provide the full scope of services, technology, data analytics and innovation that clients in this dynamic part of the market require,” according to James Cooper, partner and chair of the firm’s global insurance practice group.

Firms are increasingly looking to merge, float and consolidate their real estate to transfer that investment into technology and innovation. Many leaders are also grappling with ways of bringing staff back to the office and strengthening their culture, with examples at both ends of the spectrum, from Stephenson Harwood suggesting staff may work remotely – albeit for a 20% pay cut – to law firm leaders struggling to get their junior associates to return to the office at all.

Whichever strategy firms adopt, there’s an inherent benefit to having a separate hub providing support services. Continuity of operational services, with a dedicated team that delivers greater workflow efficiency to support critical firm activities, is just as relevant and pivotal to the success of a law firm as legal expertise.

“Many leaders are also grappling with ways of bringing staff back to the office and strengthening their culture, with examples at both ends of the spectrum, from Stephenson Harwood suggesting staff may work remotely – albeit for a 20% pay cut – to law firm leaders struggling to get their junior associates to return to the office at all.”

Yet, some law firm financial and operational directors have told me they have little to no visibility on the capacity or process within their support teams – requests go in one end and come out the other, with directors having no idea how they get completed. There are often a few really good people holding things together – and, if those people leave, there’s a concern that processes will fall apart. This is why we’re seeing more law firms partnering with third-party specialists with well-established virtual hubs, where security is paramount, talent is available and expert teams can harness data to measure productivity, accuracy and speed of fulfilment, helping them make informed decisions and explore improvements.

Even in the event of two firms merging, if one has a standalone third party providing virtual services, such as document processing, e-billing or other administrative support, those operations can keep going smoothly and securely, unaffected by firm politics or bias. We found in our Trends & Opportunities in Law Firm Outsourcing report, conducted by Sandpiper Partners, that 63% of law firms are already outsourcing some or all of their back- office functions and 66% are thinking of expanding into additional areas. We’re seeing greater commitment from UK law firms to outsource these services than we have for the last ten years, because working with outsourcing partners who provide a virtual hub offers law firms the key ingredients for success in a rapidly changing world – greater agility, flexibility, scalability, efficiency and transparency to their operations.

To find out more, visit: www.williamslea.com