Fees First or People First? How Progressive Partners are Focusing on People
By Doug Sawers, Managing Director at Access Legal
It’s no surprise that the legal sector has been traditionally seen as a fee-first industry, given many legal practitioners are still referred to as fee-earners.
Yet as partners, managers and legal practitioners become more progressive in their approach, there has been a cultural shift towards a people-first focus – with the view that exceptional experiences for both staff and clients will go hand-in-hand in ensuring the fees follow.
Forward-thinking firms are moving away from partnership or billable hours models and implementing people strategies that consider the experience of both their team and their clients to gain overall greater commercial output for the firm.
It comes at a time when law firms are at a bit of a crossroads. The proliferation of lawtech, the acceleration of consumer use of technology due to the pandemic, and the fact Generation Y and Z are moving their way up the ladder in law – means both on the inside and the outside of law firms, expectations are changing. With that, comes the need to alter strategy.
The people management practices of leading legal firms has not gone unnoticed. The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For rankings – which named seven legal firms – noted their positive approach to culture. While a questionnaire issued to legal practitioners in mid-size law firms in 2019 found that 89 per cent of respondents said their firms offered flexible working options and 85 per cent said they encourage staff to invest in their personal and professional development, all to help retain and attract talent.
Investment in people through technology has increasingly become part of many firms’ people strategy, especially following the impact of the pandemic. According to one survey, 56 per cent of firms indicated an increased need for legal tech as a result of the pandemic, while 65 per cent plan to continue investment in tech at the same or increased level .
A people strategy
Leading firms who have already implemented a people-first approach have reviewed their people’s experiences from the recruitment and onboarding journey, to whether they offer a healthy work-life balance, support good mental health and provide and encourage training and development.
The firms that invest in employee experiences are more likely to create vibrant, inclusive environments, where collaboration, knowledge sharing, job satisfaction and commercial ambition grow organically.
One of the legal firms named in The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For, Nockolds Solicitors Ltd, had a staggering 96 per cent of staff say they felt proud to work for the organisation. The senior leadership team there encourages its team’s strong drive for learning and supports staff with ongoing development through training courses and funded qualifications. Other perks for employees include gym memberships and private health insurance – indicating how the business considers support that transcends cases.
Of course, happy employees need the right tools to be efficient and effective and any software that can help reduce bottlenecks in processes, speed up paperwork and remove the shackles of admin tasks will free up hours to focus on delivering better client outcomes or increasing billable time.
The age of people
The legal sector is often viewed as lagging behind sectors like banking and insurance when it comes to the customer experience – but with the adoption of customer-facing tech, this is all set to change.
With the technology available, there’s no excuse not to enhance the customer experience. Back-and-forth emails can be replaced with secure online portals and apps, available 24/7 from any location. It opens up opportunities for firms to target new clients based on their expertise, rather than geography, and keep them fully informed throughout their case.
When clients are engaged in the process, the chance of hold-ups also diminishes, so firms increase their capacity too. Younger people, in particular, are likely to be put off by companies that are still paper-based and don’t offer apps and easy-to-use websites. Covid-19 has raised expectations, as we’ve all experienced the convenience and speed of remote interactions.
Technology is a core part of effective people strategies. Clients, like employees, want to feel valued, understood and have their expectations met. Not to mention achieving all these things makes it much easier to cross-sell and clients are more likely to take up more business with a law firm if they are happy with the service provided.
This drives commercial gain for the practice and overall helps to increase the fees that come in, even if it comes second after people.