Law firms of all sizes face increasing price pressures from clients. We are all trying to develop business, price effectively, and compete for clients. But, what happens when efforts finally pay off? How do you handle an increased workload without completely burning out?
No one wants to turn down work. Professionally, we also understand the need for competency and capacity to handle the work. Unfortunately, our ego often makes us think that only we can possibly deliver what is needed. At some point, everyone realizes that they need help.
The real issue is how—not who. Work comes and goes. Thus, firms need to be creative in the terms of the arrangements rather than just focusing on the individual. Here are four ways to put some flexibility into the arrangements that build out your talent bench:
Outsource. Consider sending out work that does not have to be done by a person employed by your firm. This is a competitive market with numerous vendors. Shop around and find a couple of options in various categories. Cost-effective areas for firms to outsource all or part of their needs include:
- IT (support and security)
- Accounting (book-keeping and billing)
- Marketing (website design, branding, social media)
- Legal research (authority for briefs, prep for CLEs, contributions to treatises, etc)
- Administrative support (receptionist, data entry, scanning, etc)
Freelancers. These are professionals who chose to accept work based on need rather than merely choosing an employer. Many are seasoned professionals that operate as 1099 rather than W2 employees. Freelancers often chose this path over traditional firms for the flexibility and economic benefits. Some examples of effective ways to work with freelancers include:
- Researching technical legal issues (i.e. securities, IP, bankruptcy)
- Appeal brief writing (federal or state)
- Assisting with trial prep (compiling exhibits, witness prep, briefing, etc)
- Coordinating and drafting documentation in big deals
Karin Ciano, who frequently freelances, blogged about freelancing in a prior Soapbox post. In addition, with assistance from the Minnesota Freelance Attorneys Network, the MSBA has provided resources on practice law (see the sidebar on “Freelance Resources”) for those hiring freelancers and those who freelance.
Leasing. Traditionally, this has been called “long-term temps.” The evolving trend in this area is for firms to identify the individual and pay a reduced fee to the agencies to take on the employment obligations. Thus, the agency gets paid for its payroll/benefits responsibilities and the employer gets to “return” the person at any time. Examples of types of roles firms may want to consider leasing include:
- Staff attorneys
- Administrative assistants
- Other professional staff (i.e. business development, HR, etc)
Hybrid models. Job titles can be restricting—people are never seen or try to be more than what others expect. One way to overcome this is to establish roles which have mixed responsibilities or establish a clear career trajectory. This can also be an effective way to manage overhead where someone otherwise may not have been billable. Examples of some effective hybrid models include:
- Legal Assistants/Paralegals. Person does admin tasks, but also typical billable paralegal duties. Often an exceptional assistant or junior paralegal.
- Marketing/Assistant. Handles traditional admin duties, but also has savvy for social media, website updates, blogging, etc.
- Office Manager or Firm Administrator. Person could do host of things including administrative, marketing, billing, collection, or HR based on individual skills)
The key is in the execution. A bad hire often costs more than no hire. However, firms can turn a smart hiring plan into a profit center. See i.e. ABA Formal Opinion 08-451. This is a diverse market with a deep legal talent pool (i.e. 3 law schools, 6 ABA accredited paralegal programs, etc). Think strategically in formulating the plan and align the implementation with the actual needs—as they evolve. Doing so might just free you up enough to focus on what is actually enjoyable about practicing law.