Nigel Wright, managing director of Converge Technology Solutions, looks at agile working and how it is enabling law firms to grow.
Agile working has become a key differentiator for law firms seeking to provide the best client service and win the war for talent. The benefits are clear to firms and employees, and, most importantly, clients see the difference as they are often able to access legal services when and how they need them, benefitting from improved service levels.
At one of our Innovation Forums earlier this year, managing partners, FDs, CEOs and heads of IT from 20 law firms unanimously agreed that an agile workforce, where staff do not require office space and instead are empowered by IT, enables imaginative use of skilled people, and results in more time dedicated to generating revenue than travelling.
Indeed, there are many reasons for firms to move to agile working. Certainly, where the largest firms go, others tend to follow. However, many mid-sized firms have operated in this way for a number of years.
Optimising fee-earners’ time
Agile working makes a huge difference to fee-earners who travel as part of their job, optimising their downtime, maximising their profitability and enabling their firm to offer clients on-site support, consultancy and – where required – round the clock service.
Reliable and secure IT systems are essential to make agile working a reality. By transferring to cloud computing and providing staff with a laptop, tablet or mobile device, employees logging on to the internet will be instantly connected back to the office system and able to safely and securely access and update files in real time.
By doing this, firms can offer clients on-site services and consultancy, and the potential to extend service hours to meet client demand. It also optimises fee earners’ billable time enabling lawyers to work effectively from any location or between client meetings, taking back the downtime from their day when travelling.
As employees have become more accustomed to using technology outside of work, in their own time, it is also important that firms match, or exceed, their employees’ expectations for technology use when they’re at work. Today mobile devices are used by the average person 3 hours per day = 18.8% of waking hours and by 2020 50% of the UK workforce will be freelancers, contractors or temp staff. Firms need to be more agile to accommodate this change in approach.
Greater flexibility – the weapon in the war for talent
Becoming agile enables firms to offer flexible working, which is increasingly becoming a strategic tool for firms looking to attract and retain talent. It broadens the pool of available talent helping business growth, ultimately improving the firm’s reputation in certain markets or practice areas and has a positive impact upon profitability.
Increased flexibility also aids the retention of employees in line with life changes and could be the difference between keeping good people at your firm or losing them to the competition. How does your firm currently support key people to return to work after some time out due to a long illness, bereavement or having been on parental leave? And how do you go about retaining good people who are nearing retirement but want to work on a part time or consultancy basis? Flexibility in these areas has been proven to make a difference in the costly war for retaining and attracting talent and maintaining key business relationships. Most people want to complete tasks, perform well and not let their team down at work. Flexibility gives staff a bit more control around their work/life balance but it also means increased productivity for firms too. 80% of mid-sized firms surveyed, that made a shift to mobile working, reported improved workforce satisfaction and improved productivity levels. If someone knows they can work from home in order to attend a hospital appointment, work around a sick child or finish a report before going on holiday, then why not offer that flexibility if it means they can get a job done without having to take unnecessary time off?
Agile working also brings benefits to firms beginning to outgrow their office space. Hot-desking can be supported with homeworking to free up space so that an office move no longer becomes urgent or essential. Many firms talk about the productivity boost and cost savings that this can bring.
Agile working can also help to manage accommodation costs as hot-desking can be introduced to free up space used by staff who are often client facing or travel as part of their job. Deciding to give permanent desks to those teams or people who are generally office-based and require specific technology to do their job can make a big difference in the cost of accommodation. While many of the larger firms have only recently announced the move to hot-desking, many smaller firms have operated in this way for a number of years, maximising technology, enabling staff and growing their firm.
Employees have higher expectations of their employers and many see flexible working as the norm rather than the exception. With a little flexibility, a new mind set and the right technology, everyone can mutually benefit.
Case study: agility aiding Olliers’ expansion
Matthew Claughton, managing partner of Olliers, the top tier rated criminal defence specialist firm, is a strong advocate of investing in the right technology to facilitate growth. Having moved to the cloud to enable speedier and more reliable access to IT systems, Olliers is better able to promote agile working, providing staff and clients with greater flexibility and benefits.
The firm recently opened an annexe in Mayfair, London, recruiting three highly-experienced consultants. Each works flexibly, fitting in existing commitments beyond the firm: one lectures, another is a local councillor; another provides freelance compliance services; and two are also High Court advocates.
Recently, the firm was appointed to a four-week trial at very short notice and this is where agility really became a deciding factor in the firm’s appointment. Defence solicitors withdrew two days into the trial, defence counsel contacted Matthew who in turn deployed one of the London team.
Matthew explains: “Technology enables our London-based consultants to access our systems, and distance becomes irrelevant as we can provide seamless representation for our clients. Our clients benefit from a service that is far more cost effective and we are in a position to provide them with local representation.”
Having invested in the right technology to become more agile, timing could not be better for Olliers. Under current Ministry of Justice proposals, consolidation of the criminal defence market place is inevitable. Whereas this may cause panic in some firms, it doesn’t cause concern for Olliers.
Matthew explains: “Becoming a more agile firm, it is entirely conceivable that we could replicate our London set-up in other cities, and within a very short period of time. Where larger firms may struggle with wider personnel-related issues, given our size, we are better able to introduce and control the concept.”
The growth potential is significant: “This is a nationwide opportunity for anyone to join Olliers,” he concludes.
Case study: flexibility and productivity boosted at TCS
Total Conveyancing Services (TCS) in Cheshire Oaks has seen a significant boost to staff retention and productivity since their finance director Robert Hastie came in 18 months ago and moved the firm to the cloud after identifying IT as a significant risk to the business.
In fact, flexibility and agile working was a by-product of the move as his key priorities were to upgrade legacy systems and hardware and implement a robust business continuity plan. The aim was to minimise business interruption and thereby win new contracts from banks and building societies which had increased their stringent security demands.
Robert explains: “Staff retention has been a welcome benefit of the move as our people are able to work from home when they have a doctor’s appointment or if their children aren’t well. We are also able to work more flexibly around client demand. Our staff are no longer tied to traditional office hours, nor do they have to be in the office to complete as they have ready access to our files from whichever location they choose to work. On top of this, we just don’t have the downtime we used to have while we waited for server issues to be resolved – and it’s making a big difference to us and our clients.”
“As the banks and building societies have raised the bar in terms of security, we have found that our operating system meets and exceeds their expectations because we operate on a cloud that is compliant with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority. It’s been a real differentiator for us in terms of winning new contracts and providing banks with the stringent security they demand of their suppliers. It’s also making a big difference for our people, which points to a winning move all around,” concludes Robert.
Poole Alcock - agility enabling everyone and improving happiness and profitability
Poole Alcock has seven offices with staff working between all offices, meeting clients and attending internal meetings. The firm introduced hot-desking to streamline staff costs and offer its people a greater degree of flexibility about how and where they work.
Explaining the move, Stacey Parkin, Operations Manager, says: “Introducing hot-desking has enabled our staff to work from any office, and this has resulted in significantly decreased downtime and increased profitability. Our clients have also seen a difference as our people now have better access to emails and our case management system, which they can access from mobile devices.”
Hot-desking and remote working has been found to have a hugely positive impact on morale within the business. “Working restrictions lifted significantly, thus reducing stress and increasing productivity, which has subsequently increased profitability as a result of reductions to downtime. Hot-desking also helps in our move towards a paperless office. We have also reduced the amount of travelling our staff do, which is positively affecting the environment and reducing travel expenses.
“The biggest advantage is our ability to spend more time delivering excellent client service. Prior to the introduction of hot-desking, staff being away from their desks meant staff being unavailable to clients. As our staff are more mobile, we can maintain client contact throughout the day and are able to access the information needed by our clients at any time.”
The firm has also seen flexible working help it to retain its best talent as changes in circumstances no longer mean people having to give up work or leave the firm. Agile working means that staff returning from parental leave have been able to change or flex their hours to accommodate childcare and staff with a sizeable commute have been able to cut it down by working from home for one or two days a week. But it doesn’t end there: the firm is also able to remain open for business during bad weather conditions. “Hot-desking also provides our people with the opportunity to work from home if they need some time away from our busy office environment to focus”
The benefits are clear to firms and employees, and, most importantly, clients benefit from improved service levels as they are often able to access legal services when and how they need them. Employees, too, now have higher expectations of their employers, and many see flexible working as the norm, rather than the exception. With a little flexibility, a new mind set, and the right technology, everyone can mutually benefit.
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 13/10/15, and is reproduced by kind permission. Please click here to view the original article.