Law firm staffing is more an artifact of history than design. Forward thinking law firms need to re-architect themselves.
Most large law firms added staff over time without a master plan. Hiring lawyers meant employing more secretaries. Introducing PCs meant building an IT department. Doing marketing meant creating a new department. If firms’ decisions about how much staff were driven by data, it was benchmarks of other law firms. Benchmark data merely report other random decisions, not what’s optimal.
The massive BigLaw lay-offs over the last year reflect emergency cost cutting, not a conscious organizational re-design. Even after big cuts, firms have room to reduce still massive overhead (see my post Overhead Cost at Large Law Firms Matters After All.
Cuts alone, however, are not enough. Firms must also add to deal with the new normal. Now is the time for large law firms to consciously re-design their organization. It’s not easy; I don’t have answers but I do have questions.
I start with a comment I made a year ago in Law Firm Staffing Reference Model: “To determine what support lawyers need, firms must know what lawyers should do on their own and what they should delegate.”
It seems clear lawyers must delegate analysis and management to other professionals. So firms need more business analysts and project managers generally for effective service delivery and specifically to support and alternative fee arrangements. What is the right ratio of each to the number of lawyers? Does that ratio vary by practice? What other types of professional support personnel are needed? How should firms analyze and answer these questions? I don’t have answers but I think these are important – and the right – questions. Firms that answer them well can gain clients and prosper.