Ensuring work is allocated fairly and based on interests, skills and development needs may help address the lawyer attrition crisis.
According to Andrew Talpash, CEO and founder of viGlobal – which offers people management software to law firms – ineffective work allocation is one of the biggest drivers of the “great resignation”.
“Many associates feel they don’t get enough quality work and developmental opportunities,” he told webinar attendees this week. “When we look at why lawyers leave firms, the number one reason why is unmet work quality standards.”
Many lawyers leave for another firm that promises “greener pastures” because they feel they haven’t been able to engage with the clients they were hoping for, or the work they had been given did not sufficiently challenge them or help develop their skills.
Others, particularly those who consistently perform well and as a result are seen as the “go to” person for a particular task, may leave because of burnout.
Some also resign because they haven’t been given the feedback needed to improve the work they produce. Talpash said associates sometimes are not given the ability to “course-correct” and will perhaps be “written off” by partners at the firm if they don’t complete work to the standard the partner expects.
Talpash said there are four types of employees that are affected by ineffective work allocation in different ways:
‘Newbies’ – individuals who are new to a firm and have not yet been able to build relationships.
“There’s a risk that they will emerge from the pandemic as fringe players,” said Talpash. “They never really got the time to foster those strong relationships that get them really ensconced into the firm’s culture.”
‘Go to associates’ – the people who are seen as skilled and competent in a particular project or task, whom partners typically choose.
“Their problem is overutilisation leading to burnout, which is why they often leave the firm,” he said. “Partners can often hog them to themselves. They will have way too much work than they can handle.”
‘Utility players’ – individuals who are generally viewed as average to good associates, who have a steady stream of work when business is going well but can experience a slowdown in work during dips in business.
‘Fringe players’ – those who lack strong relationships and have episodic workflows. Sometimes people from diverse groups who are not given enough opportunities end up at the fringes, and often miss out on the partnership track.
“People in this group haven’t been given the depth and breadth of work that they need to become a well-rounded lawyer,” said Talpash.
As well as lawyer attrition, he identified the major problems related to ineffective work allocation as:
- Lack of progress around diversity – partners allocating work to people who have the same interests or social group as them
- Poor resource utilisation and capacity planning – being unable to accurately identify who has capacity for a particular task, leading to the same groups or individuals being allocated work
- Insufficient or time-consuming resourcing processes, such as spreadsheets, to see who is available.
- Using “lagging indicators” to determine who is busy or free to take on work – “Many firms use billable hours for the past month to determine who should be given a project, as opposed to leading indicator such as their forecasted ability to take on work,” said Talpash.
Talpash advised firms to use a data-driven approach to work allocation.
“Assign work based on data including who’s available, what skills they have in their practice area, the skills they would like to learn or grow, and their interests,” he said.
Resource utilisation trends should also be analysed to identify under- and over-utilisation before the risk of resignation emerges; to ensure that office-based staff are not being given more opportunities than hybrid- or remote lawyers; and to make sure that lateral hires are getting the opportunities they were promised when they joined the firm.
He said that technology should allow resource managers to find the right lawyers for a task based on data including their availability to take on work, skills, their demographics (such as their undergraduate degree and the languages they speak) and interests.
Work allocation tech should also allow managers to assign work and track an assignment to completion; see who is available; integrate with other HR systems and billing systems to minimise admin; and offer the ability for real-time feedback to be provided to lawyers carrying out a task, he said.
For those of you that missed the webinar, you can view the recording and access the slides here.