Enhance service delivery and surface support staff value by harnessing data

Over the last four years, BigHand have carried out annual surveys to gain insight into trends across the legal sector. We recently published our Trends Analysis for Legal Support Staff Report, which investigates the current landscape for legal support staff structures, costs and value. In this article, I’ll explore what those numbers tell us about support staff trends and, crucially, why law firms need to adopt workflow management solutions now more than ever.

Support staff turnover 

The research reveals that law firm support staff turnover remains a significant issue, whether as a result of retirement, redundancies or moving firms. For the second year running, more than 50% of firms reported the number of support staff switching to other firms has increased, indicating there is genuine competition for support staff between firms – likely because their skillset is recognised as becoming increasingly rare! 

The latest data also clearly emphasises the need for solid, well-informed succession planning, with 49% of firms expecting over 20% of their support staff to retire in the next five years. In this context, it’s particularly striking that over 50% of firms have again reported forced support staff exits in the last year, and you must question whether this might be short-sighted. 

It’s clear that support staff are feeling the impact of economic turmoil in recent years, and we know that some firms react to market downturns without considering skillsets and workload, which leads to them having to rehire each time the market stabilises. 

Doing so is a costly process, especially against the trend of increased salaries (25% expect these to rise by over 10% in the coming year). In order to holistically optimise support staff structures, firms need to leverage data to understand team capacity, skillsets, and performance. 

Acceleration towards centralisation and teaming 

In 2023, the most popular structure for support staff in law firms was a 50/50 split between support staff in teams and direct lawyer support, with 35% of firms adopting this approach and 34% aiming to implement it within the next 24 months. 

This year, we’ve seen firms exceed their own expectations to accelerate their journey towards centralisation and teaming. In 2024, the most popular support staff structure is 75% in teams and 25% in direct lawyer support (24% of firms), with a further 6% having moved completely to the teaming model! 

These statistics align with what we’re seeing at BigHand. Our Workflow Management clients are benefitting from evolving their firm into a centralised and/or team-based organisation with more transparent workflow models and teams staffed with the right balance of Legal PA and Administrative resources. 

Some typical benefits of teaming and centralisation are: 

  • Higher quality output 
  • Faster turnaround times 
  • More around-the-clock support 
  • Seamless coverage in the event of absence 
  • Lower cost to deliver the service 

The bottom line? Achieving an optimal support staff structure is a constantly ongoing process for all law firms today. 

Data-driven insights for enhanced efficiency 

To realise their ideal support staff structure, firms must access the data required to evaluate their current workflow effectiveness. BigHand Workflow Management empowers you to automatically route work to the right staff at the right time for the right cost. You’ll also find answers to questions like: 

  • Which support staff are most used and why?  
  • What types of tasks are being delegated, and to whom?  
  • Where does the team have capacity? 

When utilised to their full potential, an effective support staff function maximises the firm’s effectiveness and profitability by enabling lawyers to focus on (recoverable) billable work. The issue is lawyers tend to complete their own administrative tasks when there isn’t a simple and apparent way to identify the support resource with the most appropriate skill set and capacity for the task at hand. Clients are increasingly intent on transparency of work allocation and will refuse to pay for administration carried out by a lawyer. Write-offs become inevitable, and profit is compromised. 

On the positive side, firms are addressing these pitfalls by adopting technology to delegate legal support tasks. This year, over 50% of firms BigHand surveyed now have a solution in place, so progress is being made, and those firms embracing technology can stay competitive, optimise staff value and increase their bottom line. 

Check out BigHand’s Support Staff Trend Analysis in full for more actionable insights to enhance your firm’s operations.

About BigHand Workflow Management

To provide the best client service while supporting your bottom line, it’s vital to ensure your teams are working efficiently and smartly. Ineffective and outdated methods of delegating tasks makes it easy for things to be overlooked, means your workforce isn’t properly optimized, your tasks aren’t being delivered on time, and your bottom line is suffering as a result. BigHand Workflow Management is a task management solution that lets you turn your tasks into fully auditable, digital workflow entries. You can create tasks from voice, email, electronic or paper-based requests – from document production requests to reprographics and travel bookings.

BigHand Workflow Management