Collaboration Focus: Incentivising collaboration within the fee earning model

We all know the benefits of collaboration. But if that is well acknowledged both in theory and practice, why do we find it so hard? Or why do people make it so hard to do?

We all know the benefits of collaboration. But if that is well acknowledged both in theory and practice, why do we find it so hard? According to Deloitte, companies that prioritise collaboration are twice as likely to be profitable and twice as likely to outgrow competitors. Interestingly it’s a similar challenge around diversity. It is well documented that a diverse leadership team leads to increased profitability, yet this is also slow to change.

Collaboration takes time, commitment, patience and prioritisation. From a law firm and fee earner perspective the prioritisation of time to collaborate is one of the biggest challenges. This is not new information of course, in fact, it is something debated regularly at the various legal innovation forums. Including how fee earners can be tempted to attend these forums! Whether it’s collaborating with a client, a vendor, such as a LegalTech company, or internally, unless there is a clear and relatively fast RoI, it’s a challenge to justify the time away from billable hours. Yet, we want to gain the deeper relationships (and greater revenue potential) from collaborating with clients, and benefit from the efficiency gains which LegalTech can provide. We also want to develop new products and services and engage with designing the future of law.

So, how can we change this?

There are certainly pockets of change across the legal industry and, from a higher level, an understanding of the need to change. Over the past few years, law firms have launched various initiatives to give staff time: innovation hours, or investment hours, to have the time and space to work on projects; all with varying degrees of success. The concept is sound, but for this to be successful depends very much on having an engaged reporting line who sees the value in this activity to complement billable time and to truly factor this time into the end of year review, bonus and career progression discussions. When successfully included and rewarded, it can positively impact people’s engagement in collaboration. However, implementing something like this also takes collaboration, from the leadership team to the people who have a say in the reviews, career progression and remuneration of their staff. It also requires continual nudging; facilitating the culture change required to really see the benefits. And most importantly, communicating on the successes and identifying and tapping into the appropriate hooks. Everyone has a different hook: the ‘what’s in it for me’ mentality. Whether its promotion, reputation, remuneration, or a legacy… those hooks need identifying and exploiting for successful change to embed.

Rachel Barnes

Rachel Barnes

Rachel is Head of Collaborations, Ashurst Advance. Previously Rachel was Innovation Lead, UK, US & EMEA at Herbert Smith Freehills. Rachel has spent time exploring the broader innovation and start-up space, spending time consulting for Janders Dean, Innovation Beehive, a variety of start-ups and also managing an HR Tech focussed start-up incubator. Prior to that, she had a varied and fruitful 11 years at BNP Paribas running consecutively, the Innovation, Transformation, Client Relationship Management teams in Global Markets.