Learn how industry leaders are using talent management strategies to drive success for law firms
When law firms have an adequate team of lawyers and staff to manage a heavy workload, all seems well with the world. However, it is more common that is not the case. Law firms typically face the challenge of having many assignments without enough qualified talent to complete them, or associates idling their engines – and collecting paychecks – while waiting for skills-appropriate work to do.
Attorneys are the most valuable asset at a law firm. The people are the product, and they must be in the right places for a firm to succeed.
In a recent Momentum Talks panel discussion in Denver, key executives discussed the “People Paradigm” and emerging talent management strategies that are proven to drive success for law firms. The conversation was moderated by Rafi Shure, COO at Aderant. Panelists who participated in the discussion included, Jessica Julich, Senior Management of Associate Development at Fenwick & West, Andrew Talpash, founder of vi by Aderant, and Chris Kessler, Director of Sales at vi by Aderant
Short Team Objectives and Long-Term Visions
Shure relayed that law firms he spoke with were feeling “fairly positive” about productivity and the future. However, Shure noted these responses were not fully enthusiastic, often containing caveats such as “could be worse” or “call me in a few months.” In uncertain times, firms are now having to address short-term objectives like keeping their lawyers working – and billing time to clients – while still preserving their long-term visions of profitability, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Jessica Julich, Senior Management of Associate Development at Fenwick & West, offered a unique perspective as a former practicing attorney who switched to talent management two years ago.
During the pandemic, Jessica and her colleagues at the firm experienced “crazy levels of activity”. In contrast, in 2023, her firm’s outlook was much different. Since 2022 it has marked lower productivity for associates than in previous years, and the challenge now was to keep associates engaged even while workloads were fluctuating.
Talpash and Kessler provided an additional layer of expertise to the conversation. With vi by Aderant being one of the legal industry’s top software solutions for strategic talent management, Talpash and Kessler were very familiar with the problem-solving tactics and technology solutions needed to address talent management issues firms are facing today.
Here are the talent management recommendations provided by the panelists:
Skills Assessment and Usage
For effective talent management, HR professionals should know their associate populations personally while also assessing their skills and noting which skills are being used. To make associates successful, make sure they receive sufficient feedback and are staffed on strong deal teams based on their capabilities, leaving room for growth.
Employee Engagement and Resource Allocation
Engaging employees is a crucial component of retaining top talent. Resource allocation efforts can engage associates and use data to drive those decisions. Look at what associates have accomplished and what their goals are. Then, match those elements with work that the firm’s partners are bringing in to determine which opportunities are well-suited for associates to cut their proverbial teeth on, and which allow them to establish relationships with potential mentors. These strategies build the associates’ loyalty to the firm and open channels of communication for partners to tell associates what is expected of them and whether they are doing well, or not. When partners periodically make time to communicate with associates about their performance, they – and their firms – will extract the most value from people-related investment.
Post-Pandemic Performance Management
When everyone was working from home during the pandemic, legal work could be centralized and distributed more evenly among associates, regardless of their geographic location. Now that firms are partially or fully back in the office, some of those office-by-office barriers have returned. Firms must make sure work is evenly distributed, while also ensuring that valued people stay busy and engaged. Performance management can be measured by technology tools from vi by Aderant, and the resulting data metrics can be leveraged to reward high-performing talent or to identify weaker performance if budgets require trimming.
Both new and lateral associates must be intentionally integrated into the firm. This calls for a standardized integration process. Law firms must ensure that associates have a career path they feel confident about.
Coaching and mentoring from established attorneys at the firm also play an important role. Look at which associates the partners like and cultivate those relationships to get the right fit. Also, look for opportunities to introduce alternative associates to partners that have useful skills but have not had the proximity or similarity to be a favorite. This can drive diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Assigning mentors, rather than waiting for these relationships to develop organically, can also increase the firm’s talent pool and profitability.
Communicate Errors and Find Solutions
Make sure there’s a clear two-way street of communication between mentors and associates. Urge mentors and HR professionals not to wait until associates’ annual reviews or exit interviews to tell them what’s wrong. Better to tell them when the problem arises so they can fix the issue. This approach leads to better performance and increases the odds of retaining talented people who have grown and improved.
When it comes to the “People Paradigm” at law firms, it’s essential to focus on leveraging the skills and talent in the associate pool to maximize results. Resource allocation calls for optimizing the right people on the right projects at the right time. Everyone is trying to farm the same fertile soil, so look beyond the handful of sought-after associates. Focus on discovering talented individuals that can benefit the firm, while increasing their range and versatility. Above all else, benefit from data and technology advances that help the firm manifest an ideal approach to talent management.
vi by Aderant specializes in people management for law firms, and its suite of products addresses the people-related problems mentioned above. vi by Aderant’s products address recruitment, new hire integration, performance management, resource allocation, skills development, and learning management. Law firms have unique talent management needs and vi by Aderant’s provides law firms with a talent management solution specific to their needs.
For more information, visit: vibyaderant.com/products/.
When it comes to the “People Paradigm” at law firms, it’s essential to focus on leveraging the skills and talent in the associate pool to maximize results. Resource allocation calls for optimizing the right people on the right projects at the right time.