One of the major shifts of this decade in law practice management is for law firms and legal departments to bring in more consultants and other project-based professionals for as long or short a time as needed. Indeed, 82 percent of respondents to a National Association for Law Placement (NALP) survey said their firms use temporary or contract lawyers. Flexible staffing adding legal staff on an as-needed basis is one trend that’s here to stay.
Here are some of the numerous benefits a flexible staffing strategy offers, followed by tips to make it work for your organization.
Benefits of flexible staffing in the legal field
More hands on deck. Your legal employees are already busy with their daily responsibilities. If you rely on only your full-time staff when urgent or spur-of-the moment projects materialize, you risk adding to their stress, and routine tasks could fall through the cracks. That’s poor law practice management. With a staffing strategy that includes adding legal staff on an as-needed basis, your firm or department won’t suffer any lags in productivity or business.
Additional expertise. At times, your in-house staff may not have the experience in certain specializations that you need for a case or project. Let’s say your firm is representing a client in a property rights dispute; the case has an intellectual property component, and your legal team’s specialty is real estate. An IP consultant can bolster your full-time staff’s abilities to successfully take on this case, which may otherwise have been outside their comfort zone and lost business for your firm.
Less burnout. Legal professionals are no strangers to long workdays, but with too many grueling hours come increased mental and physical fatigue and the potential for burnout. One of the first rules of law practice management is to take care of your staff and reduce turnover. A flexible staffing arrangement helps ensure that employees aren’t stressed and overworked during peak periods.
Easier hiring in the future. If you’ve been burned by bad hires, having a flexible hiring strategy can help you avoid bringing someone onboard who looks good on paper but turns out to be a poor fit in real life. When you engage legal professionals on a temp-to-hire basis, you can observe their actual knowledge, work ethic and customer service skills in real time. If the interim worker meets or exceeds expectations, you can confidently offer him or her a full-time position.
Tips for optimizing the benefits of legal project professionals
Just like your full-time staff, interim legal professionals do their best work when they receive proper guidance and feedback. Here are some law practice management best practices to employ when working with project professionals:
Communicate a common goal. When temporary staff are brought in for a specific legal project, be sure to include them at the kickoff and all other team meetings so they better understand the why’s and how’s of the initiative. Sharing the common goal with everyone simultaneously not only ensures the group hears the same message, it also fosters a team mentality.
Lay out clear roles. Make sure contract and full-time employees understand and agree on who is responsible for what tasks. If you’re not the lead, you should appoint someone who has authority to make decisions and function as a point person for that project.
Hold check-in meetings. Even the best legal teams can flounder if left to run on autopilot without input from the project lead. Schedule regular meetings. The earlier problems are resolved, the more likely the project will wrap up on time, on budget and within scope. Check-in meetings are also good occasions for thanking staff and giving constructive criticism, both of which are essential to law practice management.
Respect consultants. Do your best not to make temporary staff feel like outsiders. Practice inclusivity by inviting them not only to all meetings but also social events. The more cohesive your legal team is, the better the members will work together.
Clients and workloads are unpredictable, which is why it’s good to have a strategy for staffing up and down as needed. Having a good working relationship with staffing agencies with a track record of finding the legal professionals you need when you need them makes law practice management easier and more efficient.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.