Large law firms CIOs and IT managers frequently benchmark their operations against the competition for their own purposes or in response to firm management. The International Legal Technology Association (formerly LawNet) has recently released an excellent IT staffing survey to help in this regard. And it has some provocative findings. 

ILTA’s IT Staffing Survey (January 2005) offers one of the best legal IT staffing surveys that I have seen. As both a “consumer” of and “responder” to such surveys, I have frequently been troubled by questions or analysis that do not allow “apples to apples” comparisons. The authors of this survey have taken significant strides toward providing more uniform data. As well, they have provided interesting analysis. (One of the three authors is fellow blogger Tom Baldwin.)

For anyone interested in the details of law firm IT operations, the survey is a must read. One key finding is that large law firms have a higher ratio of IT staff to lawyers than do smaller firms. The ILTA study analyzes staffing ratios by firms in 9 size categories. I re-worked the numbers to three categories:

Ratio of Users to IT Staff by IT Category

USERS Network Help Desk Training App Dev Tele/AV Lit Supp IT Mgmt Total IT
<100 75 100 419 300 763 208 40
101-500 145 99 397 318 627 388 248 35
>501 137 77 368 244 468 390 198 30

The key finding: larger firms have fewer users per IT staff person than do smaller firms. That is, relatively speaking, large firms have more IT support per user than do smaller firms. So, for example, the largest firms have 30 users per IT person whereas the smallest firms have 40. The differences are especially noticeable for help desk and training.

The study authors report that factors they had considered – geographic spread, practice scope, or specialization – do not explain the difference in staffing. My hypothesis is that the relatively rich staffing of the largest firms stems from the size and complexity of matters on which they work. My guess is that the larger law firms have higher leverage (more associates and staff per partner) than do the smaller firms. This higher leverage allows the large firms to work on complex, fast-moving matters. Just as these firms typically have higher associate to partner leverage, so to they have higher leverage of IT staff. The richer staffing ratios help large law firms keep highly profitable large deals and litigation, which genuinely do require armies of smart and dedicated people.