Partners and associates competing for work

On November 14th, ALM Legal Intelligence released a new report “Turf Wars: Defining New Roles and Competing for Business.”  The report is yet another examination of the ongoing impact of the “Great Recession” on the transformation of large law firms. The report contrasts results with a similar 2011 study and in just two years there are significant shifts in trends. The 2011 report focused on down sizing, the 2013 report focuses on ” Right sizing.” Working smarter in order to meet client demand for efficiency requires an emphasis on project management, knowledge management and business development.

The real headline of 2013 is the struggle between partners and associates for billable hours. Partners who are feeling Insecure about workload are  hoarding work. Although firms have begun hiring again, partners are focused on project management and business development and neglecting associate  development and training.
Chief Satisfaction Officers  The biggest change in partners roles in past 5 years is the increased emphasis on business generation and marketing.   One partner  respondent describes his role as “Chief Satisfaction Officer.”
In 2011, the report  tracked the increase in non-equity partners. This report focuses on the nebulous definitions of the   “Of Counsel”  roles. Some of the definitions are too harsh and  depressing to repeat. But the counsel role is a win-win if the firm gets to keep valued talent who lack a client base and the attorney gets more work-life balance.

Key findings:

  • 46% of respondents indicate that firms are beginning to introduce project management
  • Recruiting is 
    focused on  experienced lawyers with both project management experience and knowledge
    of clients industries.
  • Three
    quarters of respondents had reduced support staff in the last year 
    and 50% expect this continue in 2014
  • Over
    next three years Legal Process Outsourcing is expected to increase for 19% of respondents ( but we don’t
    know if this is their first round of outsourcing or if they are extending ououtsourcing into more functions)
  • Reliance
    on contract lawyers is  slowing, down from 29% 2011 to 20% in 2013.Respondents indicate that the revolving door
    of contract attorneys too hard to manage.
  • 44%
    of respondents want to increase permanent associates. Only 1/3 indicated firms
    should increase partner track associates.
  • Complaint that partners are hoarding work from associates.56% respond that partner are doing
    more work than associates.
  • Non
    equity partners continue to increase.
  • Since
    clients are refusing to pay for associates, associates are receiving less
    training and hands-on experience
  • Partners
    spending time on marketing rather than training associates. Associate training squeezed
  • In associate
    recruiting, practice expertise more important than Ivy league education or GPA.
  • Top
    factors impacting morale “failure to eliminate dead weight, lower compensation
    than other firms and too much work for current staff levels.
  • Firms
    have brought in CFOs and COOs but don’t’ give them the authority to implement
    financial reform. Firms not planning beyond the end of the fiscal year.
  • Predicts
    a volatile staffing picture will continue. Top challenges are  Hiring and retaking talent and establishing right  partner associate leverage ratios.

Knowledge Management and Project Management Reign. The report underscores the need for skilled professionals who can assist lawyers in driving efficiency through project management and knowledge management. Staff who perform routine commoditized work, will continue to be under considerable scrutiny and vulnerable to  outsourcing. More strategic staff, especially those who can help partners implement and leverage project management and knowledge management will continue to be in demand.