In recent decades, law firms have added many new functions, for example, marketing, practice support, e-discovery, client service, business research, and knowledge management. Some firms have also created business analyst roles, which are often in information technology. 

A business analyst in IT is not the exclusive purview of the largest firms. At ILTA last August, I met George Ansfield, who is “Strategic Analyst” for 175-lawyer, Cleveland-based law firm Benesch (formerly Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff LLP). I was intrigued by his title and job, so I followed-up after ILTA with a phone discussion.

George started at the firm a few months ago; he reports to the CIO. His job is to liaise / translate between IT and the both staff departments and practice groups. On the practice side, he enables lawyers to work faster and more efficiently by improving business processes, often with technology solutions. George is working on re-engineering business intake, how the firm generates and delivers client bills, legal project management, and the firm’s e-discovery strategy

His position stems from a recently developed firm strategy to give even greater emphasis to client service externally and lawyer support internally. More specifically, market conditions require meeting new client demands such as legal project management and alternative fee arrangements.

Hearing about George’s role got me thinking more generally about the role of law firm business analyst. In many firms, business analysts are in finance or marketing where their focus is narrow and typically not directly related to law practice. When I do meet business analysts focused on law practice, they often are in IT and serve as practice support consultants.

Given recent market changes – alternative fees, the pressure to unbundle services, and the drive for process improvement – do firms need to consider a stand-alone practice support consulting function?

I touched on this question a few years ago in Practice and Process Improvement in Law Firms, which discussed the role of practice support consulting and where the function should sit inside a law firm. I also considered the possibility that KM would morph into practice support consulting.

Today, Toby Brown at 3 Geeks writes in The Need to Radically Change Legal KM about the need for a new, analytic approach to knowledge management, especially to analyze and set budgets. He implicitly raises a similar question.

So, does anyone think the time has come to make ‘business analyst’ or ‘practice support consultant’ a stand-alone function?

If so, how would it fit in the typical law firm organization chart? And given that tech is likely key to many initiatives, if the positions are not in IT, will the function get sufficient IT support? With all the talk about improving processes and adopting legal project management, law firms may need to consider hiring more practice support analysts and where in the support organization they should sit. Suggestions and examples are welcome.