Posted on May 13, 2021 by Joseph Lamport
The global pandemic and BLM movement in 2020 were two cataclysmic events that forced law firms across the world to reassess their traditional manner of distributing legal work, and put in place new initiatives to ensure matter staffing is done fairly, without bias, and with due regard for career development, efficiency and profitability.
But matter staffing and resource management go to the heart of law firm operations. When you change long-established procedures for staffing, you end up impacting the creation of all legal work product as well as the day to day lives of every attorney. As a result, staff resource management provides you with a good insight into the optimal way to introduce and manage major changes in a law firm environment, without triggering unwanted disruption.
That’s exactly the perspective that Dave Cook, Global Director for Resource Management, and the rest of the BigHand Resource Management team have gained over the last eight years. In that time, they have compiled an impressive track record working with some of the world’s largest law firms, including Dentons, Norton Rose Fulbright, and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, helping them transform their global operations by designing and implementing a new and far more efficient process for staffing legal matters and optimizing legal work allocation on a firm-wide basis. Success for Cook and the BigHand team very much depends on helping lawyers prepare for and adapt to a major change.
Most of the managers, consultants and other professionals who spend their careers working with lawyers and law firms usually end up with a dim view of the legal market’s receptivity and capacity to change. The general perception tends to be that when it comes to tech adoption and process improvement, the legal market lags far behind many other business sectors largely because lawyers and law firms, more often than not, are firmly wedded to past precedent and traditional forms of practice, as a matter of instinct and professional training. So conventional wisdom has it that lawyers will only kick and scream their way into the future.
But Dave Cook has a very different take on the legal market’s current attitude to embracing change. “Most lawyers today are actually quite open to exploring new and different ways of working,” he comments. “But you can’t approach them in a haphazard fashion, nor should you expect them to accept change for change’s sake. You have to invest time and energy up front, laying the groundwork by explaining the benefits of a new approach to resource management, and you have to manage the process of change every step of the way.”
As Cook sees it, there are five key phases when it comes to change management for a large law firm. This five-phase approach has been shaped by the unique organizational structure of law firms, where work gets carried out through practice groups - as opposed to divisions or product lines in the corporate world, which tend to operate with considerable autonomy. “Very often, the key success-factor in a law firm project will depend on figuring out the right place to start introducing change,” Cook explains. “Our approach is very focused on making sure we identify the most appropriate practice group to work with in running a successful pilot project.”
In any case, considering the impressive track record the BigHand team has compiled streamlining and systematizing the resource management process for their clients, it does seem like it’s finally time to move beyond the stereotyped view that lawyers and law firms are somehow exceptionally resistant to change.