Step 2: Streamline Workflows to Maximize Firm Operations

January 19

As the priorities of the modern workforce continue to evolve, law firm leaders need to recognize and take advantage of the opportunities presented.  The first of these opportunities was outlined in our previous post:    Step 1: Build a Strong Firm Culture.  This current post will outline the great opportunity law firm leaders have to structure workflows, resulting in boosted work efficiency, reduced burnout, and empowered employees who recognize their value as part of the organization. 

Opportunity 2: Bring structure to workflows

How work gets done can be structured to improve efficiency and avoid burnout. Burnout is caused by dysfunctional workplace dynamics like lack of autonomy, unrealistic performance expectations, or unclear work processes. Structuring workflows should enhance work efficiency, reduce stress levels, and empower employees to recognize their value as part of the organization. To achieve this, firm leaders should implement processes and systems that bring clarity and order to operations while increasing productivity.


Pay attention to the talent and skills your people possess and place them in roles that best suit them. Through regular communication and collaboration, leaders can assess individual strengths and weaknesses, understand what motivates their people, and track what kind of work they perform best and enjoy. Grant autonomy when possible to allow people to choose their work type. However, have a training plan in place that comprehensively covers all of the base-level performance progression criteria. The training plan should ensure attorneys (and staff) can develop all the necessary skills to perform at a high level. 


High-level performance does not equate to overworking. The goal is to set your people up to deliver high-quality work efficiently. Performance requirements should be set with realistic expectations for skill progression and billable hour requirements to avoid burnout and high turnover. When setting performance goals, the firm should not primarily focus on overachievers. Instead, it should aim at eliminating underachievement by curating a balanced, inclusive approach to attorney development. Managers can use data analytics to make inferences about workload balance to avoid over and underutilizing individuals.


Performance evaluations and career development paths should be directly aligned with the skill development goals outlined in the training plan and performance goals set by the firm. The firm should have an in-depth performance evaluation and feedback system that consistently and accurately assesses employee performance, address challenges proactively, and ensures productive communication between the supervisor and the evaluee. The firm should also have a clear career progression path that outlines expectations and opportunities for career advancement. Attorneys and staff should have a clear understanding of their growth potential with the firm. It also positions people to be proactive in setting their professional goals. 


To improve productivity, firms should strive to make processes more efficient. Law firms should properly define workflows and standard operating procedures for each functional area. Once processes and procedures are defined, roles and task responsibilities can be assigned to ensure the best use of talent. Collaboration is an important factor in reducing inefficiencies in workload distribution. If overutilization is detected with no way to balance responsibilities, outsourcing roles to external support is a great option. Finding specialists to relieve responsibilities or even fill knowledge gaps can be rewarding because specialists can delve deeper than an internal person with many other duties. New opportunities for firm advancement could stem from simply creating a more balanced work environment.


Another great way to bring more balance to firm operations is to automate tasks through legal technology, including case/ project management apps, billing and accounting software, and document management programs. A robust technology infrastructure system will reduce workflow bottlenecks and allow the firm to advance in professionalism and strategy. 


Firms should encourage consistent use of case and practice management software to help attorneys manage cases efficiently. Leaders can apply technology to balance workloads, identify areas that need support and ensure projects and tasks are advancing according to plan. When selecting practice management software, firm leaders should seek systems that enhance collaborative communication, task distribution, deadline management, and utilization monitoring. These functions will position the firm for high-performance and optimized operations. 


And be sure you are caught up reading our posts on the fascinating and relevant topic of the evolving legal workplace. Previous posts are listed below: