Risky once-in-a-generation skills shortage poses existential threat to firms

Legal employers are now facing a skills shortage. UK unemployment has fallen to a 44-year low of 3.8% and employees, armed with more options than ever, are constantly on the move to greener pastures. The inability to replace a good employee can pose a severe threat to your business.

Rather than push existing employees to work longer hours, technology can help law firms undertake more work with the same number of people. Technology achieves this by automating administrative tasks, helping lawyers to work more effectively and get home on time.

Legal support roles like legal secretaries and bookkeepers are no longer as popular because people seek high-prestige employment with the promise of strong wage growth. Junior lawyers currently undertake this work but this solution is costly and the work menial, which means technology can be better, faster and cheaper than an employee.

Competition for staff is also coming from new entrants to the legal market, including the alternative legal services market and the Big 4 accounting firms who economies of scale to offer a full suite of professional services – essentially, a one-stop shop. Both are becoming attractive career options for lawyers, particularly mid-career or senior lawyers.

A simple solution

Using good technology can offer employees more rewarding careers filled with valuable, interesting work. Good technology can do away with dull, repetitive and non-billable administrative work.

Law firms which provide advice in common areas of law can deliver a stable career path as demand is well-established for the areas of law they offer. They are free of the bureaucracy of large firms and the Big 4 and of the start-up chaos common to emerging new legal models. Their size is an advantage, making them nimble enough to move quickly, adopt good technology and adapt to deliver superior client service and flexible working conditions.

Legal technology is freeing lawyers to work flexibly. By maximising the use of technology and implementing flexible working conditions, law firms can attract and keep the best talent. Technology allows support staff to work flexibly across multiple law firms.

Follow the Action Checklists throughout this white paper for guidance on how your law firm can overcome the skills shortage.

1. Use technology and allow your legal staff to get home on time

Technology has shrunk the work of legal bookkeepers from full-time to freelance and automated much of what legal secretaries, paralegals and junior lawyers do. More than ever, lawyers are empowered to focus on billable client work.
Less staff can make the departure of a skilled lawyer particularly difficult. With fewer graduates hired and trained, skills shortages are impacting firms of all sizes at the mid-career level.

Attracted by the promise of shorter hours, flexible and remote working, skilled lawyers are flocking to forward thinking firms and alternative legal models that are embracing new working practices and technology.

The introduction of Service Portals

A recent study showed that 40% of online appointment scheduling is occurring after hours. Service portals allow clients to request or reschedule an appointment at a time convenient to all. Prospective clients can also complete instruction forms online, providing essential information about their case and saving you, their lawyer, the need to input the data.

By accepting appointments and instructions online, you can have a clearer idea of a client’s needs before meeting them or taking them on as a client. This can allow you to focus on high-value work and develop your expertise.

Act! | Checklist

  1. Identify tasks in your workflow that are non-billable and time-consuming.
  2. Speak to your lawyers to understand how their non-billable time is being spent.
  3. Explore Service Portal technology and practice management software to automate non-billable tasks.
  4. Reduce administrative ‘busy work’ and keep your lawyers focused on billable work they prefer.

2. Offer flexibility to win back your staff

Where did all the lawyers go? In many cases, they aren’t gone at all. Parenthood can interrupt lawyers during their career. However, this doesn’t need to be the case. Female lawyers now comprise over half the legal profession.

By using effective legal practice management software, you can allow your lawyers to work wherever they are. With good practice management software such as LEAP, your lawyers can work between court sessions or add new matters on their mobile after a client meeting. LEAP allows lawyers to work the way they want and helps you win back your best employees.

With good practice management software, law firms can provide genuinely flexible work conditions. Lawyers can work remotely.

Act! | Checklist

  1. Better understand the personal pressure points for your lawyers – for example, childcare or elder care responsibilities, or hobbies.
  2. Integrate good legal practice management software that lets lawyers work faster and more effectively.
  3. Use good legal practice management software and workflow tools to allow lawyers to work with legal secretaries and bookkeepers they trust – whether they are in the office or working from home.
  4. Downsize office costs, desk space and meeting rooms by empowering your workforce to work remotely.

3. Invest in eradicating the skills shortage: train junior lawyers

Junior lawyers are facing a catch-22 when it comes to getting their first job. They don’t yet possess the project management skills or commercial networks to effectively attract and retain clients. It is likely they will lack the legal expertise or business acumen necessary that comes with experience. However, it is impossible to gain any of these attributes without first getting a job.

Up-to-date legal guides can provide junior lawyers with the crucial training they need to progress. Detailed matter plans provide practical guidance so any new lawyer can learn how to complete legal work in areas of law they may not have previously encountered.

Legal commentaries educate junior lawyers on relevant legislation and case law and are regularly updated by experienced legal practitioners. Precedents mean that a junior lawyer rarely needs to draft correspondence from scratch and can have access to legal documents they can easily customise for a client’s needs. Legal forms are also readily available to complete.

Act! | Checklist

  1. Hire smart junior lawyers who demonstrate the potential to learn and work independently.
  2. Clearly plan and map out a junior lawyer’s career progression within the firm.
  3. Train junior lawyers through products like By Lawyers so they can upskill in areas of law valuable to your firm without costing billable hours from your senior lawyers.
  4. Encourage junior lawyers to assume client-facing responsibilities alongside senior lawyers, allowing them to develop their project management skills, emotional intelligence and business acumen.

4. Automate mundane tasks to keep lawyers doing what they love

Too often, lawyers leave the profession because they don’t get the chance to practise law. Their days are busy with chasing up overdue invoices, tracking each billable unit, training juniors or trying to schedule a client meeting or obtain signatures from a client. Fortunately, many of these tasks are now automated by good practice management software.

Are you chasing a client to come into your office and sign a document? This can now be done securely online. Would you like to offer your clients the ability to pay by credit card or set up payment plans? This is now possible through seamless integration with RapidPay – a financial services provider for the legal profession. Tired of manually tracking every billable minute? Set an automatic timer and instantly generate an invoice.

With LEAP, you can automate the work that lawyers hate. Let lawyers to do the work they love and work how they want.

Act! | Checklist

  1. Identify inefficiencies in your workflow that automation can improve.
  2. Research services that can automate the work your lawyers hate.
  3. Implement these solutions so your lawyers can focus on their clients.

5. Access skilled expertise beyond the cities

Cloud-based practice management software means firms no longer need to limit their search for expertise based on their office location. Cloud technology is available on desktop and mobile devices, empowering both lawyers and support staff to work off-site at a time that suits them.

Act! | Checklist

  1. Liaise with your staff. Could flexible arrangements that allow them to work off-site increase your firm’s productivity?
  2. Capitalise on the skills and the available time of semi-retired senior lawyers or legal support staff. Cloud-based software like LEAP allows them to work from home while still recording billable time.
  3. Expand your client base beyond your local area.

Empowering law firms to compete effectively

Competition for skilled staff is more intense than ever. Historic unemployment lows, the automation of legal bookkeeping and legal secretarial work, increased hiring from competition and the absence of training for junior lawyers has led to a critical skills shortage of mid-career and senior lawyers. Technology has also automated much of the work traditionally undertaken full-time by legal secretaries and legal bookkeepers.

However, technology can also empower law firms to effectively compete in this environment. Technology can automate non-billable administrative tasks, helping to get your lawyers home on time. By implementing a good practice management system, your lawyers can work from home or between court sessions and client meetings, allowing them to make the most of their day.

By providing practical legal guides and step-by-step matter plans, commentaries, forms and precedents, you can attract and train talented junior lawyers who will become the future of your firm. Manual tasks once dreaded by lawyers are now automated.

Lead the competition. Use technology to reimagine how your firm runs, how your lawyers work and what their careers can offer. Find the solutions lawyers need to continue their career through parenthood and part-time after retirement. This is how you can overcome the skills shortage.

LEAP Legal Software has been helping small to mid-sized law firms to become more efficient and profitable globally for more than 25 years. You can find out more about LEAP at https://www.leap.co.uk/.

Richard Hugo-Hamman is the Executive Chairman of LEAP Legal Software.

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