Take a look at your monthly management reports. If you’re like any other firm you’ll have some fee earners with utilisation well over 100%, and others with utilisation well under 100%. Why is this? Are some fee earners incurable workaholics? – Maybe. Are some fee earners, to put it nicely, not quite pushing themselves as they might? – Possibly. But those individuals at each end of the ‘effort’ scale are only a minor reason for the utilisation peaks and troughs. The real reason lies in the complexity of a law firm and its work.
Law firms are complex. You have thousands of clients, tens of thousands of matters. Each client and each matter has its own unique characteristics. You also have hundreds of employees. Each one has their own set of skills and their own unique personality traits.
Regardless of the type of matter, whether a deal or a dispute, its resolution will require multiple different activities over its lifetime. There will be drafting required; negotiations; research; client meetings; and any number of other tasks. And these could run into hundreds, even thousands, depending upon the life of the matter are its intricacies.
Your firm no doubt have a number of experienced senior lawyers who, thanks to their skill-set, would be capable of handling every activity for the majority of their matters. However to do so would be to use highly skilled, and presumably costly, resources on some activities that could be undertaken by less senior and less costly staff.
Alongside these highly qualified staff you have less experienced colleagues who can perform certain activities unsupervised, other activities that they can do with supervision and some that are totally outside of their skill set.
Let’s for one moment imagine that you are the proprietor of a very small, very niche firm. You have only a few matters, and let’s say just half a dozen staff. You work together in one room, all sat around one large table. At the start of each day you personally review all matters and determine what needs to be done by the team.
Under such circumstances a couple of things would happen.
First, for each activity that was due that day you’d allocate them between your ‘table colleagues’ based on their capabilities of doing that piece of work (or doing it under supervision) and their levels of busyness.
Second, as a consequence of this logical allocation of work, you’d find that pretty much everyone would be working at the same pace, and those utilisation peaks and troughs would be much smoother.
Unfortunately the ability to work in such a way is lost in a larger firm. It is impossible to know and remember each employee’s skill set, impossible to easily monitor the day-to-day busyness of each person and impossible to distribute thousands of individual activities from hundreds of matters each day.
Luckily this is where technology can assist.
Let’s imagine you could break each type of matter you deal with into its component activities. This would take some up-front analysis time, but within the firm you possess experts in each matter type who are capable of defining matters in such a way.
Let’s then imagine that for each of these activities you could identify the skill set necessary for its completion. This might be based on a level of qualification, a role or maybe even one or more named individuals within the firm who have specific expertise. You might even identify activities that could be performed by juniors, under supervision.
Now let’s imagine that you can define critical dependencies and timelines between these different activities; for example we know that after activity X has been done, activity Y becomes due and must be done within so many days.
That’s exactly what sharedo allows you to do (together with a ton of other clever stuff, but for the purposes of this article we’ll focus on just this aspect of sharedo).
And once you’ve given sharedo all of that information it now has all it needs to know how to disaggregate, or distribute, work across the entire business. As activities become due it knows the people capable of those tasks and it adds them to work lists. Where activities require supervision, it adds them not just to individuals’ work-lists but also to supervisors’ work lists as ‘delegated’ items.
By itself this would reduce the cost of work within the firm by ensuring that activities are only ever undertaken by the right level of staff, and that relatively expensive resources are not doing work that could be performed by less costly ones. As price pressures continue in the legal market, the ability to control costs in this way remains vital.
However sharedo has another trick up its sleeve. It can allocate work based not just on skill levels but also on busyness. Hence across each skill set it will allocate activities taking account of individual workloads. So if there are two or more people equally qualified to perform a task sharedo will distribute it to the least busy person. This means that utilisation peaks and troughs within the firm will be vastly reduced, each employee kept uniformly busy.
sharedo is the intelligent ‘digital table director’ for your firm. It will ensure work is performed as cost effectively as it can be, and is spread between employees to maximise the resources you have available. It does not commoditise or deskill work, it takes your expertise, your resources and marries them together in the way that makes most sense.
David Thorpe: David is the Business Development Director at slicedbread and has over 35 years’ experience in the legal software industry. Having worked at Thomson Reuters, Aderant, Peppermint Technology and now slicedbread, David is unrivalled when it comes to breadth of industry knowledge.