Fostering Growth and Innovation in Law Firms - Insights From Our Legal COO Network!

Last week, we hosted our first half day Legal COO Network and it was a fantastic day that has left me with so many new (or evolved) ideas and perspectives.

We initially started The Legal COO Network to bring together the growing legal COO community, to better understand and support their challenges and opportunities. The network has been meeting (both in person and virtually) every quarter for the past several years, but last weeks event was the first extended session, which ended up being fully booked with a waiting list! Across the day, as discussions evolved and people shared their perspectives, I noticed a few recurring themes emerging so I’ve tried to capture these below.

One overarching theme that resonated throughout the event was the importance of organisational culture. Attendees emphasised the significance of a clear vision, that is well-communicated across the firm. All firms also noted that there is a need for a culture that embraces change, starting from top management and permeating throughout the law firm. Although attendees agreed it was often challenging, they did agree that there is a pressing need for firms to foster innovation and adaptability to drive long-term success.

Another key takeaway (which was not a surprise) was the acknowledgment that while the billable hour remains a cornerstone of legal practice, there is a growing need for broader metrics of success. Attendees agreed upon the importance of focusing on additional measures such as pricing, profitability, and cash collections. Additionally, incentivising and encouraging innovative thinking that is either factored into billable targets or recognised alongside those targets. Some in the room were already on this journey but many were not. One of the barriers to progress was that lawyers need access to real-time financial key performance indicators (KPIs) for driving this change effectively (and many firms are not set-up or in some cases willing to do this). However, by giving access, it can empower better, more informed decision-making, better strategic planning and support succession planning.

With a whole session dedicated to resource management and work allocation within firms, it wasn’t hugely surprising that this topic arose in several other sessions. The discussion covered the more-recent challenges around lawyer utilization across different practice areas. The attendees generally agreed that approximately 60-70% of lawyers are being fully utilised but certain practice areas are definitely struggling. This imbalance underscored the importance of cross-practice, cross-office, and cross-region collaboration to optimise resources and drive growth. Unsurprisingly leveraging (BigHand) resource management technology emerged as a viable solution to better manage lawyer utilisation in real-time, while also supporting lawyers growth, development and well-being.

Another theme that was heavily covered across the sessions, especially the Gen Z panel session, was the significance of improving communication and engagement across law firms to drive increased job satisfaction/value and gain better buy-in for initiatives, particularly technology adoption. The COO’s in the room agreed that transparency about the rationale behind initiatives and their benefits to individuals within the organisation (‘what’s in it for me?’)  needs to take more of a priority for law firm leaders.

Lastly, there was a notable call for greater investment in associate development and training, particularly in areas beyond legal expertise. Associates expressed a desire for more involvement in firm initiatives and emphasised the importance of softer skills training in their career growth including people management and financial awareness training. However it was noted that these trainings need to be considered alongside the target billable hours, as expecting both on a continued basis will lead to burnout and job dissatisfaction (and in extreme cases, a reason to move firms).

There were so many other great talking points across the day that I’ve no doubt will continue to be discussed in future COO events we run. But for our first half-day event, in my (biased) opinion, it provided a great forum for meaningful conversations and reflections on the challenges and opportunities facing the legal industry and how COO’s can help firms navigate through these.

If you are a COO and would like to attend the next Legal COO Network event, it is an in-person event on June 26th at the Annual BigHand Conference in London. Please get in touch or register here

About BigHand Resource Management

BigHand Resource Management is a legal work allocation tool that allows law firms to identify resources, forecast utilisation, manage workloads and add structure to career development for lawyers. The solution delivers real-time visibility of team availability, improved profitability on matters and supports DEI goals and equitable allocation of work.

BigHand Resource Management