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The five mistakes law firms make when managing their administrative support staff

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Back in 2011, Robert Bourns, senior partner at TLT spoke openly about the importance of properly rewarding and promoting law support staff through renumeration schemes. In a piece written for the Law Gazette, Bourns penned…

 

“Salary structures can be developed to ensure that support staff are incentivised in a way that is similar to the partners interest in profit. Base salaries, with additional remuneration dependent on successful implementation or delivery of particular projects and firm profit.”

 

Almost eight years on and a large majority of law firms still overlook the importance of implementing alternative management styles in support functions. In doing so, these law firms are making mistakes that, if rectified, would see them enjoy results such as higher quality of service to fee earners, autonomous functions which require less tactical direction, and services that are continuously improved.

 

Below are the top five issues with the way law firms approach their administrative support staff and the key mistakes we address with our Managed Services solutions.

 

The five most common mistakes

 

1.No career progression

Many firms provide their lawyers with access to postgraduate qualifications and other forms of structured career development, however it’s rare that similar consideration is given to the career progression of those in their administrative support functions (Source: Law Gazette).

 

This oversight is often down to a number of reasons which include no clear monetary value attributed to their time, a lack of understanding on the purpose of progressing their skills, or simply a case of putting their progression at the bottom of the firm’s priority list.

 

However, with such significant advances in technology and shifts in client expectations, the purpose of developing the skillset of administrative support staff is twofold. The first, to keep up with the pace of fee earners, the second to ensure their skills are relevant and useful to fee earners in 3-5 years’ time.

 

2.Not valuing their input and efforts

It’s easy for senior members of law firms to claim they value the input and effort of their support staff, however, in practise, doing so takes time and a concerted effort—two things which are in short supply for busy fee earners.

 

However, identifying, acknowledging, and recognising those delivering support services goes a long way. This doesn’t necessarily always need to translate into grand gestures of external recognition. In our experience, it’s as simple as fee earners demonstrating a positive attitude toward administrative support staff such as a simple thank you when work is done well.

 

To create successful administrative support functions, we ensure an environment where fee earners are treated as the client AND in turn value and praise those within them.

 

3.Overlooking key motivators

Often law firms expect that fee earners, business support, and administrative support functions need and want the same things from their roles. This is often not the case.

 

Typically, firms default to giving extrinsic rewards to all functions. While these are of course invaluable, striking a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators is the key to success. This is especially important in administrative support functions where additional renumeration is not always possible and therefore knowing the different drivers and levers of individuals allows law firms to motivate and incentivise more efficiently.

 

Law firms should therefore take heed of the motivators discussed in one of our earlier pieces—Incentives administrative support care about.

 

4. Not making them feel core to the business

When administrative support staff leave and/or make negative claims against law firms, it’s typically because they feel undervalued or actively separated from the fee earning functions. This can cause unnecessary HR-related issues and, in the worst cases, fee earners having to turn down work because of a lack of administrative support resources.

 

A simple way law firms can address these feelings is by involving one or two administrative support staff in occasional and relevant decision-making processes—asking them for their opinions on how things could be improved. Ensuring administrative support staff feel involved will foster trust and respect. Giving them a voice demonstrates that their role doesplay a significant part in the success of the wider firm and therefore their contribution is valued.

 

In turn this improves quality of output and incentivises them to go above and beyond their everyday duties.

 

5. Not giving senior support staff autonomy

In pursuit of an ‘open door policy’ and a haste to get work done, managing partners can risk getting caught up in tasks outside of their remit. This can result in deadlines being pushed back or fee earner time being wasted (Source: SB2 consultants).

 

Within law firms, work flows more efficiently when senior support staff are given the power to make decisions, and when fee earners trust the decisions being made.

 

If you relate to any of the above…

 

Left unaddressed, these mistakes won’t turn your law firm upside down, however they will act as a ceiling—preventing it from substantial growth.

Firms we work with consistently identify in their testimonials that the Intelligent Office team has an incomparable way of getting the most from administrative support staff. How we do it is no secret; it’s achieved by a carefully orchestrated balance of three initiatives. These are:

  • Investing time and energy into supporting employees so they can do their best
  • Having a robust approach to recognition so that people are rewarded for the good work they do
  • Challenging people to improve in a fully supported environment and at an appropriate speed so they can provide a higher quality of service to fee earners

 

So, next time you catch yourself or another fee earner displaying any of the above-mentioned behaviours, give us a call to see how we can support you. After a short consultation, one client even called the decision to outsource their support services to us a ‘no brainer.’

 

To get the ball rolling, email sam.nicholls@intelligentofficeuk.com or give the office a call on +44 (0) 345 658 9443 and ask for me, Sam.

 

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