The impact of the global pandemic has made risk real to everyone. All of us are thinking about risk for our families, teams, and businesses. And as the world faces this event together, and looks forward to recovery, we must build resilience to deal with uncertainty and risk. One way law firms can do so is by taking steps now to make business process improvements. But also by preparing for the uptick in work that will inevitably occur by future-proofing business processes. Here’s how:
Mine your institutional knowledge
One of the best ways to take advantage of any new-found downtime as a result of working from home is to repurpose your staff’s time and mine their institutional knowledge. Refine what works and repair what doesn’t. And for the most significant impact and risk management benefits to the most constituents, target shared business processes.
To identify the best candidates for transformation, shine a spotlight on client and firm projects. Then aim for the processes linked to these project outcomes:
- Regularly recurring data-driven fire-drills
- Bottlenecks due to siloed data sharing or data availability across departments
- Client relationships, business development, or firm realization issues due to process misalignment
This exercise is sure to highlight the widely-shared processes like conflicts and business intake, closing client/matters, Outside Counsel Guidelines, lateral onboarding, and ethical walls. But don’t be daunted by scope. Tackling these processes is doable. The key is in task allocation and staffing to support ongoing, incremental improvements.
Sharpen your focus
Begin to zero in on the areas of greatest impact by breaking down your list of processes into three categories:
- Which needs tweaking?
- Which needs to be created or formalized?
- Which includes subprocesses?
For instance, lateral onboarding requires erecting ethical walls when attorneys join the firm. Once your list is categorized, prioritize it by the breadth of efforts required and the overlapping opportunities subprocesses present.
Set small, attainable goals
Once you have selected priorities, break down the processes into bite-sized tasks. Utilize your staff’s expertise to understand the task types and dependencies. Separate small tasks that can be done quickly from those that require more skill or research. And separate “one-time” tasks from those that will be continuous. Finally, note which tasks depend upon the completion of others. The resulting breakdown will inform task allocation and define potential phases.
Doing these exercises provides clarity regarding the type of staffing best suited to tasks and phases. You can then connect the dots for staffing each task, e.g., matching task requirements with the optimal choices among temporary staffing, dedicated individuals, managers, and single or multi-department teams.
Keep the intended outcome in mind
Improving shared business processes results in better-coordinated risk management activities to meet the firm’s strategic goals. The resulting alignment makes it easier for people to work more collaboratively on the individual and collective desired outcomes. This means that targeting process improvements simultaneously targets your firm’s top pandemic-induced challenges and attendant risks:
- The evolving future of remote work
- Attorney and staff utilization, productivity, and morale
- Clients’ emerging issues and impact on practice areas and client relationships
- Implications for business intake and contractual terms of engagement
Establishing incremental process improvements allows your firm to adapt to the pandemic recession and renormalize risk management in a sustainable way. But ongoing returns on investment include helping the firm deal with the next new challenges, such as a sudden resurgence in legal work for hard-hit industries, or the backlog of cases and business intake that will hit when courts resume normal operations.
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