You can’t change what you can’t measure

June 05, 2020

Phil Muller, Director of Legal Services at Williams Lea, explains why metrics are so important to help evaluate and identify support function effectiveness.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the way we work in the spotlight. We’ve been busy speaking with many law firms on both sides of the pond about the impact of remote working on their operations. One of the key challenges law firms discuss is productivity.

The instant survey we conducted with Sandpiper Partners on the impact of COVID-19 on law firm operations was taken during the peak of the crisis. In it, 58% of respondents stated that fee earner productivity was a concern and 66% of respondents had concerns over support service productivity.

Anecdotally, we’re now hearing from clients that productivity is rising and, fee earners are billing more hours, their prime productivity indicator, when working remotely.

However, support staff performance in law firms is rarely measured to the same degree, and without clearly defined roles, technology and metrics applied to support staff, firms lack comparison data to know how their support functions are performing against pre-COVID-19 levels.

The crisis has polarized support staff performance

We are seeing from our research and empirically with our clients (virtually of course) that this crisis has created two distinct kinds of support productivity:

  • Staff, for example secretaries, who are more efficient working remotely, outputting more than the norm
  • Those who were generally busy and “getting things done” when in the office, but who are now finding it hard to stay busy when working remotely

This crisis has lifted the lid on support roles and, for many firms, revealed the essential roles versus the “nice-to-have” roles. With secretarial and admin functions a key focus for firm reshaping, redefining, reallocating, and reducing, this crisis has made it easier to identify essential staff. As the crisis is also driving cost pressures on law firm operations, is now the time to capture the efficiencies remote working has exposed, and how do you do it?

Law firms who manage metrics will lead the market

This is why metrics are so important to help analyze and identify support function effectiveness. A post-COVID-19 world with greater remote working means that business practices will have to change. Using data analytics will help firms deliver informed decisions on productivity – regardless of whether staff is working remotely or at the firm. Understanding which firm departments are overstaffed and which are understaffed, can help balance the number of administrative assistants, e-billing analysts, and secretaries in each group. Or, the data may tell you that centralizing some of these functions may be more optimal. The tide is already moving towards this, with 58% of law firms considering centralizing secretarial support in their future business model.

Your clients will judge you on how you handle and manage metrics beyond just billable hours. Firms fall into three camps. There are laggards, who don’t use data and can’t see where they are. There are followers, who have good data, they can see what the business has done, and they are managing the present. And there are the leaders who have excellent data analytics. They will have insight into what the future will look like and they will lead the market.

For more information, download The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on law firm support operations. Find out what the largest US and UK law firms are doing to control costs and manage operations.

How we help

  • Improve team productivity

    Boosting productivity using workflows and performance analytics

  • Align skills of support staff

    Upskilling support teams to thrive in a digital-first era

  • Improve secretary-to-attorney ratios

    Optimizing staff structure through centralized secretarial support


Jan 24, 2023

Global Insights

Technology can improve business processes, but people determine their success

A hallmark of successful businesses is that they are always innovating and improving the way they work. Streamlining processes, adopting…

Dec 19, 2022

Global Insights

Bracing for 2023: Law firms and their clients examine the expanding role of outside counsel guidelines

Law firms have displayed remarkable agility during the pandemic, overcoming business disruptions and adapting to constant workplace evolutions. With a…

Dec 05, 2022

Global Insights

Hybrid working requires dynamic thinking for long-term success

The annual People in Law Conference 2022 took place in London in late November, with a great turnout and many…

Ready to transform your operations?

Contact us