Last week, BigHand launched an industry whitepaper featuring expert commentary from legal professionals leading the charge in law firm Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), resource management and innovation from the UK and US.
The whitepaper raises key questions around how law firms should best address DEI efforts, hybrid working models, and profitability post-pandemic, and how effective resource management can help across those fundamental areas.
External contributors include:
- Sandra S. Yamate, CEO of the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession
- Alexis Robertson, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Foley & Lardner
- Simon Beddow, Partner and European Leader of the Corporate and Finance Transactions Department at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner
- Christina Blacklaws, Managing Director of Blacklaws Consulting and former President of the Law Society of England and Wales
- Sean Monahan, Senior Manager for Legal Transformation & Innovation at HBR Consulting, and former law firm Director of Innovation
Here are just some of the key takeaways from the whitepaper:
Law Firm Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
In 2013 we saw Roderick Palmore’s corporate counsel initiative ‘A call to action’ result in over 263 law firm signatories, followed by general counsel of HP, Kim Rivera’s mandate to withhold up to 10 percent of invoiced fees for failure to meet its diversity standards in 2017, and further efforts in 2019 with open letters led by the GC’s from Unilever and Turo urging law firms to improve their diversity.
Alexis Robertson, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Foley & Lardner LLP states: ‘This outside pressure gets law firm leaders to listen. For DEI professionals like myself, we can better explain how diversity is impacting client relationships and what needs to happen to be responsive to those concerns. Our recommendations have not changed, but with the added client pressure alongside greater collective awareness of issues such as unconscious bias, systemic racism and racial justice – leaders are more willing to listen and invest funding in initiatives to make change.’
Christina Blacklaws, Managing Director of Blacklaws Consulting and former President of the Law Society of England and Wales spearheaded the largest ever global research into women in law in 2019, resulting in a government-backed pledge to promote gender equality in the legal profession.
Christina comments: ‘Our research found that women are often asked to do the low or no–value work and there is definite preferential treatment of men over women for high quality, career developing cases and client opportunities, yet the talent pool is predominantly female. The events of 2020 have certainly emphasised this disparity and made leaders more willing to listen. They are now realising that DEI measures are no longer a nice to have, but as integral as compliance or finance to the successful running of a law firm today. Setting targets and giving senior leadership the responsibility of delivering those targets is a key solution, but every individual in the legal profession can take steps to make positive change.’
The rise of hybrid working
Without everyone in the office, the traditional method of simply walking over to associates to allocate work no longer exists and it may be harder for partners to build relationships with associates and fully understand their skills and availability. Lawyers will therefore be more reliant and open to technology to bridge the gaps.
Simon Beddow, Partner and European Leader of the Corporate and Finance Transactions Department at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP (BCLP) explains his experience of effective resource management: ‘When the pandemic hit, I was under no misapprehension that you can work really effectively with all teams working remotely. Having implemented resource management at Ashurst, I had already experienced staffing matters in the UK with people from international teams to really ensure resources were being utilised effectively.
‘When I moved to BCLP in 2019, the firm had a more traditional method of work allocation and I was keen to get more structure in place. COVID-19 came along before we’d had a chance to go live with BigHand however, and remote working was enforced. Without visibility of workloads, some of our associates had anxiety about whether they were getting enough work and access to new opportunities by not being in the office.
‘Since we’ve had the technology and new approach in place these concerns have been addressed, our efficiency has increased, and lawyers are reassured that everyone has an even amount of work at any time. Resourcing matters with DEI in mind is also made easier as the system helps us to ensure our diverse lawyers are carrying out high quality, career-progressing work.
‘My advice to any firm looking to improve their work allocation method while offering flexible working for staff is not to be afraid of change. Introducing structured resource management, backed by technology, will bring positive results and you won’t regret it.’
Retaining talent and margins
As well as supporting DEI and work allocation, there are other business benefits of introducing resource management for firms in the form of increasing profitability and retaining and attracting talent.
Sean Monahan, Senior Manager for Legal Transformation & Innovation at HBR Consulting, says: ‘Our extensive research at HBR has shown that wherever there is pricing or spend pressures that call for matter margins to be maintained, resource management can be just as important as more established functions like LPM and Pricing. Many firms have spent time developing and deploying their profitability metrics in recent years, and the next natural step is to look toward resource management to ensure firms can call in the right resources throughout the lifecycle of a matter.’
Sandra Yamate, CEO at the IILP, comments: ‘Younger talent coming through the ranks do their research on firms! They want to know that whatever firm they choose to work for will offer them opportunities for development while still offering flexible working and they have the right DEI measures in place. A Resource Management system offers all of these benefits and more.’
Where to start with Resource Management
As with all law firm change management, you cannot control or improve what you cannot see. Alexis Robertson comments: ‘There’s a difference between changing hearts and minds in a firm, and having the right systems to implement effective change. In his recent book ‘Atomic Habits’, James Clear says: ‘You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems’.
‘What we have right now is an industry that has very noble goals but the systems don’t exist or are widely lacking. Firms should gather relevant data around their work allocation and career development processes to enable data-informed goal setting.’
To download the full whitepaper, visit the BigHand website here: https://www2.bighand.com/al-resource-management-whitepaper
BigHand are hosting a panel session webinar with some of the whitepaper contributors on the 29th June. To register for the webinar, click here: https://www2.bighand.com/al-rm-webinar
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