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Seven Key Trends of Law Firms Improving Legal Service Delivery

By Harrison Barnes, Managing Director


Seven Key Trends of Law Firms Improving Legal Service Delivery

As part of their Law Firms in Transition, 2014, series of reports, Altman Weil is set to publish the full survey report on law firm service delivery efficiency on September 10, but the highlights already show that there are seven principal tactics used by law firms to improve legal service delivery.

Seven Key Trends of Law Firms Improving Legal Service Delivery

The survey conducted in March and April 2014 polled Managing Partners and Chairs at 803 US law firms with 50 or more lawyers. Forty-two percent of the 350 largest US law firms responded to the survey, while 304 law firms across all sizes responded.

The report authors, Thomas Clay and Eric Seeger are both principals of Altman Weil and while Clay heads consulting assignments in strategic planning, law firm management and law firm mergers and acquisitions, Seeger directs Altman Weil's market research department and is the guy who oversees collection and meaningful analysis of information.

Altman Weil's report, "What Are Law Firms Doing to Increase Efficiency of Legal Service Delivery?" focuses on the following seven key trends identified by law firm leaders:
  • Using technology tools to replace human resources
  • Greater focus on knowledge management
  • Shifting work to contract/temporary lawyers
  • Shifting work from lawyers to paraprofessionals
  • Project management training
  • Re-engineering work processes
  • Using non-law-firm vendors

According to the authors, the top two tactics used by law firm leaders to increase efficiency in 2014 include "knowledge management," and "using technology tools to replace human resources." Overall 60% of the law firms surveyed agree on these two tactics. In cost-cutting efforts, rather than using technology, some law firms are trading higher-priced human resources for lower-priced substitutes. Forty-six percent of firms who responded to the survey reported they are shifting work to contract or temporary lawyers while forty-one percent are shifting work from lawyers to paraprofessionals.

The seven key tactics seem to be a mix-and-match. Strategies targeted solely at cost-cutting include shifting work to temporary and contract lawyers or to paraprofessionals. Strategies targeted at both enhancing efficiency as well as cost cutting include those like "using technology tools to replace human resources," and "using non-law firm vendors." And strategies like "knowledge management," "project management training," and "re-engineering work processes," have greater stress on increasing service efficiency, though resource savings and greater profits or ROI is the expected end result.

The trends show that US law firms are definitely not focused solely on initial cost-cutting in choosing their strategies and from almost half of small law firms (50-99 lawyers) to 100 percent of big law firms (1000+ lawyers) are conducting knowledge management exercises to improve efficiency. One fourth of small law firms engage in project management training while all big law firms surveyed engage in such training.

In terms of re-engineering work processes, firms with 250-499 lawyers and 500-999 lawyers are significantly more involved than small law firms or law firms with 1000+ attorneys. However, the sectors of law firms giving highest priority to re-engineering work process are also the same sectors that are shifting the highest amounts of work to non-law firm vendors.

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