Today’s lawyers may not even be present in the firm’s office for extended periods of time ― or ever ― due to travel or the ability to work remotely. And from a practical perspective, the luxury and convenience of having a fully dedicated secretary
is certainly not a given. Most lawyers must share legal secretaries (now called legal assistants or other titles ― check out Jennifer Hill’s white paper “ The Changing Role of the Legal Secretary”) with several fellow attorneys, or do without them completely.
The role of the legal secretary continues to evolve as the job market shifts and law firms re-engineer how clients’ work gets done. Operationally minded firms are embracing new technologies and resourcing models to realize crucial efficiencies and
cost savings. The 1:1 lawyer-to-secretary/assistant ratio has been replaced at many firms by a leaner ratio of 6-7 lawyers per secretary. In the foreseeable future, this model is poised to double to 13 lawyers (or more) to 1 secretary, assistant or
Legal assistants have become more like air traffic controllers, ensuring work is expediently funneled to the right departments and resources. Accomplishing this feat for multiple attorneys and their clients often involves a mixture of people, process
and technology that requires specialized skills and training.
Some attorneys are bridging the gaps in legal support themselves, becoming more versatile, tech-savvy, and self-sufficient. However, firms need their lawyers to spend time on more high-value client-facing work, not generating documents. The legal work
for corporate clients needs to get done and done well ― but by whom if outside counsel lawyers and legal support professionals are pulled in too many directions?
CLIENT EXPECTATIONS ARE GROWING
Clients have raised the proverbial bar for suppliers, including their law firms. Large corporations continue to hire legal operations professionals skilled at combining resources to produce streamlined results. Like their clients, outside counsel law
firms are also investing in people and technology to realize the efficiencies and cost savings needed to ensure a well-run, profitable business. If law firms want to retain corporate business and stay in business, too, they must be willing to reinvent
themselves by creating an updated vision for attorney support.
If law firms want to retain corporate business and stay in business, too, they must be willing to reinvent themselves by creating an updated vision for attorney support.
First, the law firm must be realistic about its capabilities and limitations. If the client’s expectations increase but their bills don’t (or perhaps even shrink), the law firm has no choice but to adjust its service delivery model. Although
the client wants a vast network of resources capable of providing accurate responses around the clock, the firm cannot expect lawyers and legal support staff to regularly perform at that level with no room for breaks. If the law firm cannot adapt
to meet the client’s needs, the firm can expect to lose that client soon, or risk operating at a loss.
One option is for the law firm to hire more lawyers and legal support personnel to meet clients’ 24/7 needs. However, this usually comes at a very high price that may not be covered by the firm’s fees. If upping internal staffing is not a viable option, there are two primary alternatives to consider: leveraging technology and outsourcing parts of the legal work.