A key part of a job is the work that is assigned each day. In a law firm, this usually means that the partners assign the work to the partners and choose the best candidates for the most important tasks. However, to effectively manage the law firm’s distribution of work, the work must be distributed as evenly as possible without overburdening or underutilizing the team.
In a fast-paced and demanding legal industry, these tasks can come from anywhere (and nowhere), such as late-night emails, voicemails and after-hours calls, social media posts, etc. This is not only inefficient, but exposes associates to failure if they miss a critical task when managing multiple touchpoints.
In addition, some tasks are assigned to non-lawyer staff members, such as legal support staff or sales, marketing or accounting staff. This can create information silos that disrupt workflows and negatively impact both employees and business success.
For both the company and the associates, it is essential to create systems to distribute work and ensure employee satisfaction. Here are some tips for managing the distribution of labor for law firms:
1. Plan availability and workloads
As mentioned, the distribution of work usually involves assigning high priority tasks to the most suitable candidates, which can lead to disproportionate workloads and possible burnout. Effective work dispatch requires real-time visibility into staff availability and current workloads, especially in large enterprises.
It can be easy to offload an unrealistic amount of work onto just a few staff members, not realizing that they are already overloaded with the tasks of others. Ideally, associates and other staff should notify the company of their availability, whether weekly or daily, so that management and associates can ensure work is properly distributed.
2. Track development needs
While it may make sense to assign critical tasks to the most skilled staff, it can create skill and experience gaps among other associates. It is vital for law firms to have a holistic view of each partner’s skills and those they need to work on, ensuring that the distribution of work is evenly distributed and develops the skills of each partner. .
If there are significant skills gaps, law firms should take a proactive approach to correcting them. For example, all associates and staff must have basic management training, customer training, and business development training. Partners must have acquired training in areas specific to the practice groups and firm objectives. Companies can also designate partners, teams or mentoring relationships to ensure that less qualified associates can develop their skills with the necessary guidance and supervision.
3. Develop a division of labor strategy in law firms
Once partners and management have complete information on availability and skills, they can make strategic decisions about the distribution of work and assign the most useful and effective staff members. For example, a partner can request a task and then search for the most qualified and available colleagues, rather than just blindly assigning work.
Centralized practice management software can be an asset in this situation. Partners and managers can step through tasks or stages of associates and staff in a workflow to get real-time availability and delegate accordingly.
4. Support continuous development
In addition to firm-wide skills, it is important for law firms to support ongoing employee development in order to attract and retain top talent. When a company invests in its associates, they create an environment in which young talent can thrive. In turn, these associates will be more loyal to their company and dedicated to its larger business goals.
5. Distribute tasks fairly
Historically, the division of labor in law firms has been determined by the relationships between partners and partners. Associates understand that the best opportunities come from building relationships with partners, and partners tend to disproportionately assign work to them. This is not only unsustainable in the long term, but it robs other associates of a chance to learn, grow and contribute.
With a law practice management platform in place, law firms can keep track of the amount and type of work assigned to associates. With this overview, management can ensure that associates have the opportunity to develop all skills and that no associate is overloaded with an unreasonable amount of work.
It also helps with company resources. Having overutilized employees can lead to burnout and attrition, and conversely, underutilized employees are a waste of resources and may seek more beneficial opportunities. As law firms struggle to attract and retain top talent, no one can afford to let great candidates slip through the cracks.
6. Balance workloads across departments
The division of labor in law firms can be more difficult in large law firms, especially if they have multiple offices and practice groups. If the law firm is diverse in this way, it is important that the distribution of work is managed by all groups involved. It is virtually impossible for an office or practice group to effectively determine company-wide availability and qualifications.
The distribution of work must take place across the firm, offices and practice groups. If necessary, law firms should consider increasing staff to meet their work distribution needs and create more efficient systems for assigning work to appropriate partners. For example, a work dispatch manager can ensure that work is assigned strategically and manage workflows across different offices or practice areas of the company.
Streamlined law firm work distribution
Law firms can struggle to distribute work, but streamlining and systematizing processes can ensure that work is delegated consistently. For larger companies, it can be beneficial to assign work dispatch managers who are responsible for monitoring availability, qualifications, skills, resources, and work dispatch.
Technology can go a long way in supporting work distribution, whether with a dedicated work distribution manager or not.