Administrative support vs fee earners: The right balance to support growth

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As a member of the management team or partner of a law firm, you know that PAs, document production and administrative support staff are integral to the smooth running of your firm.

While fee earners carry much of the responsibility of chargeable activity, non-fee earners are heavily relied upon to ensure deadlines are hit, work flows efficiently and client expectations are met.

However, many firms struggle to hit the right balance between fee earners and support staff, a ratio that if not properly managed can impact the day-to-day running of their firms.

A team with a healthy ratio is one that operates efficiently to produce more high-quality output; administrative support staff have the capacity to foster better relationships with clients and assist fee earners, while fee earners themselves are freed up to do their best work, and ultimately, bring in more revenue.

In the pursuit of operational efficiency and in an ever more competitive landscape top law firms are endeavouring to do more with the support resources they already have, improving their approach to service delivery to enable their firms to do more with less.

According to PwC’s Law Firms’ Survey Report 2017, the average number of full time staff in support roles has fallen across Top 50 law firms. For instance, it has decreased by 3% in the Top 10, 1% in the Top 11-25, and 6% in the Top 26-50.

In fact, the same report identified support staff numbers are decreasing, fee earner headcount is on the up and the ratio of fee earners to secretaries has increased throughout the Top 100 law firms—with a 5% increase in fee earners in both Top 10 law firms and 51-100 law firms, and a 1% increase in fee earners in both Top 11-25 law firms and 26-50 law

If the fee earners of top performing firms are relying on fewer administrative support staff, could this signify that tightening staffing ratios is the way forward? And if so, how exactly are these firms managing to do more with less?


As clients expect more for their money, law firms are feeling the pressure to surrender to their growing demands. Proactive firms are using new technologies to deliver on their clients’ needs, while relying on new processes and better trained staff to manage growing workloads and to remain competitive.

In the UK, 80% of Top 10 law firms are using new technologies to improve day-to-day processes—client experience, operational efficiencies and new services.

Operational efficiency matters more than ever to not only ensure a job gets done to the required quality and that clients are happy, but that resources aren’t abused in its completion. With a greater focus on planning processes and delivery systems to manage client projects, administrative support and legal staff across the board are working more efficiently as technology supports them in completing everyday tasks.


Administrative support staff are surprisingly under-utilised in some firms. Typically, there are support staff who get the bulk of the work sent their way because they are considered “the best”, they have been working in a firm longer or fee earners are more familiar with them. This means there are staff who are overloaded with work, while others aren’t given the opportunity to grow their skills or to share the workload.

Training and up-skilling staff on key processes not only ensures your workforce is stronger, but allows workload to be distributed evenly, which increases operational efficiency, and ultimately, keeps staff happier and more fulfilled.



In our experience, PAs, document production and administrative support staff work more efficiently and deliver higher quality output if they feel rewarded and recognised for the work they contribute to the firm. With the right incentives—career progression, pay, training and up-skilling—staff are more likely to work smarter and to be more committed to the growth of the firm and the fee earners they’re supporting.

Moreover, a law firm that motivates its administrative support staff to work hard—with greater opportunities and recognition for the work they do—ensures its clients receive the highest quality service, as fee earners are freed up to do their best work and go the extra mile.

In essence, incorporating technology into day-to-day processes, training and incentivising your staff, leads to improved efficiency in support functions and ultimately better support-to-fee-earner ratios. At Intelligent Office, we offer a range of PA, document productions and administrative support services which help law firms achieve operational efficiency and increased revenue. These are:



If you’re looking to outsource your law firm’s PA, document production and administrative support services but aren’t sure of exactly where your efforts should be focused, you’re not alone.


For a high-level assessment of your firm’s needs (which we can do via a phone call or a visit to your office), and recommendations for how Intelligent Office can ensure your support services are helping (not hindering) your growth efforts, speak to one of our friendly team—no strings attached.


Email: or give us a call on +44 (0)7984 252 150.


Alternatively, if you’d like to hear more about outsourcing your law firm’s support services to a third party like us (and hear from the people who are currently doing just that), we send emails twice a month to our database.


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