How Can Law Firms Retain Talent in a Recession?

Whether in the United Kingdom or abroad, economic hardship is becoming a threat to the success or even survival of many law firms. But how can they adapt to these difficulties and continue to develop their business and their staff?

Female legal consulting expert in front of red background.

In this article, we hear from Bishu Solomon Girma, Customer Success Director for Access Legal, who argues that firms should continue to invest in their people if they want to weather the economic turbulence and emerge stronger.

It is no secret that top talent is hard to come by in the legal sector – and now the challenging economic climate is heaping even more pressure on firms.

The start of Q3 brought a spike in the number of firms facing financial difficulties, and many are bracing themselves for a tough winter and a recession that could be the longest we have ever known. In this climate, it will certainly be difficult for many to offer the sky-high salaries and other rewards that some candidates now expect.

Faced with economic uncertainty, more firms will be looking to reduce their costs as much as possible, whether it be personnel, business support services, or property. They might also avoid making investments in the very things that could help them to respond quickly to changes in the market and not just survive but achieve growth, such as technology.

Non-billing teams, like HR, are sometimes areas that are looked at first for savings, yet this is invariably short-sighted. Talent acquisition and retention are critical to the success and survival of any firm because their expertise will help to steer the ship at the very highest level and deliver exceptional client experiences. When talent is in such short supply, firms need to invest in every aspect of the employee experience – helping them to develop their skills, progress their career and achieve a good work-life balance.

Non-billing teams, like HR, are sometimes areas that are looked at first for savings, yet this is invariably short-sighted.

It is easy to see IT projects as an area to cut back, and we are already seeing firms exercise caution when it comes to buying legal tech. Some are opting for essential software over the ‘nice to have’, or only purchasing it when it is absolutely necessary rather than seeing it as a vehicle for growth and innovation. But a reluctance to harness technology can be just as damaging as failing to invest in people. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand.

Driving Efficiencies

That is not to say that there is no room for greater efficiency in law firms in both billing and non-billing departments. Those who are still paper-heavy and reliant on legacy software can streamline their processes, helping people to be more productive so they avoid clocking up long hours outside the working day and feeling burnt out.

Often, you only have to ask your teams to find out where the biggest inefficiencies lie. Having to log into different systems, or access various spreadsheets, eats up valuable billable time and is frustrating for users, especially if they have to remember multiple passwords or the technology is outdated and clunky.

Working in a highly regulated and complex sector means that compliance training and client casework requires a high level of expertise and concentration. The last thing fee-earners need is for their working day to be disrupted by poor processes.

Then there are the hidden inefficiencies that staff might not be aware of but are nevertheless making it difficult for them to do their job well. Lack of visibility across different departments, for instance, means they might not easily spot the potential up-sell and cross-sell opportunities that would bring in much-needed revenue during these challenging times.

Small and mid-sized firms in particular worry that they will never be able to compete with the bigger ones on salaries and other benefits. That may be true, but they can still create attractive places to work – and importantly, empower fee-earners to grow their own client base and generate more revenue to support higher salaries.

The last thing fee-earners need is for their working day to be disrupted by poor processes.

This is why choosing a platform that allows your team to be more efficient in every aspect of their work is an investment in people as much as it is in technology.

Flexible Working

Flexible working patterns are also critical in talent management. The COVID-19 pandemic paved the way for a new era of hybrid working, signaling a sea-change in workplace cultures and expectations. Last year, Cherie Blair KC said that the presenteeism endemic in the industry was a ‘curse’, adding that “we are not going back to the way things were.”

While talent is in short supply, my colleague Claire Jamieson, talent partner at The Access Group, pointed out during a recent Access webinar that it can be framed as an opportunity, not a threat.

She said: “People started to say, ‘this is the harmony that I wanted to have in life, having that ability to work from home and work from the office’. Having that balance is really what a lot of people are looking for.”

Hybrid working has become something that many people expect as standard, in the legal profession and beyond. Cloud-based legal software that can be accessed at home, in the office, and in court gives people the freedom to manage their day in a way that works for them, so they can be productive. It can take the pressure off having to commute to the office every day, without losing those vital connections with colleagues and clients.

Hybrid working has become something that many people expect as standard, in the legal profession and beyond.

Legal tech is now increasingly available via subscription-style SaaS (‘software as a service’) packages so do not demand the same upfront costs, nor long implementation times associated with on-premise systems. This is important given that research by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) shows that lack of financial capital is the reason why firms are unwilling to invest in technology. In fact, around 58% of respondents said that it was a significant or very significant obstacle.

Updates, security, and servers are all managed by the provider too, allowing both fee-earners and internal IT teams to work more efficiently and keeping running costs down.

Choosing a single provider, who can offer not just legal tech but a wider suite of business software such as finance management and HR and compliance solutions, can also be more cost-effective. We know many firms value having a ‘one-stop-shop’ for technology, but they also want to partner with a provider who is continually adding new features and increasing the functionality of the system so it grows with them.

Firms that migrate their operations to the cloud can confidently implement hybrid working models to attract the best and brightest talent, while also reducing financial and security risks (such as insecure VPNs). Regardless of business size, employees benefit from intuitive technology that allows them to deliver a high standard of service and make a valuable contribution to the firm’s success.

Data is Key

It has been said many times that data is key to commercial success – and never is that truer than during a recession. The pandemic brought a surge in demand for conveyancing services, and now firms have to be ready for what might come next, such as a rise in insolvencies. Trawling through the data and proactively spotting opportunities is an impossible task for busy professionals, so they will need a good dashboard, with up-to-date analytics showing changes in demand and revenue as they happen.

It is not just commercial data that is valuable, but staff data too. By combining your HR and financial data, you can see who the top fee-earners are and nurture their talent and drive, and support underperformers with training or mentoring. Personnel data also provides early warning signs that people are dissatisfied or planning to leave, which gives firms time to implement changes and hold onto their top talent.

Looking Ahead

It is clear that cutting back on key areas of technology and talent is costly mistake that firms cannot afford to make.

As we have seen, far from being a cost burden, the best legal tech can make firms more efficient, more productive, and ultimately more attractive to the talent and energy they will need to get them through the uncertain times ahead.

Bishu Solomon Girma, Customer Success Director

SOURCE: Access Legal

Bishu Solomon Girma is Customer Success Director at Access Legal. With over a decade of experience in the legal industry across both the UK and Canada, she works with software developers, expert consultants and support staff to better enable customers’ ability to navigate their legal cases.

Access Legal is a division of business software specialists The Access Group. Serving thousands of customers, Access Legal’s software solutions enable firms and in-house teams to become more efficient, accurate, productive, and communicative. Over 35% of UK law firms utilize tailored Access Legal solutions as part of their business.

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