HOW WORK SURVEYS CAN HELP:
As in-house law departments become larger and more robust, keeping track of which member of your staff is working on a deal or matter can become complicated. In addition, project management is essential for both in-house and outside counsel to work efficiently and cost-effectively. A simple and effective way to manage this is to create a weekly work survey for your in-house lawyers to complete. Whether your department is small enough where your lawyers are a “jack of all trades”, or you have a larger legal department where your lawyers are subject matter experts, a simple work assignment process can benefit you and assist with career development. As the person charged with attorney professional development at my firm, I can attest that this simple tool has helped our associates become more proficient in their craft. It allows me to see where their strengths and weaknesses are in their skill development on a weekly basis. When they need to better hone a specific skill, I can help them my giving them an assignment that will do that. This tool has also helped our partners better produce efficient and excellent work, as they know that the associates working on their matters have the required skills to be valuable not only to the partner, but also to our clients.
The benefits to implementing a work assignment system to your in-house team are as follows:
It will help you better track which team member is working on which project. If you have a large legal team, it will provide the tools to assist you in determining which attorney is working on each of the open matters on your team, and what the weekly status of those matters are. You can even use it as an effective tool when following up with your outside counsel, or in giving status updates to the executives of your company. It will help you with overall project management.
2. Professional Development
One of the challenges that legal executive leaders face in companies is keeping the in-house legal team engaged in the work they are doing and ensuring that their legal careers are progressing. Putting together a formalized work allocation system will allow you to see what kind of matters your staff is working on more clearly. For example, if one attorney is only getting specific types of matters to work on when they are supposed to be serving in a more generalist role, this will be evidenced by their work survey responses. Further, you will be in a position to see if a lawyer has asked to undertake a different type of assignment to further his/her professional growth. The point is to keep each attorney engaged in his or her professional development, as well as the long term success of your department.
It will better help you understand how your staff is being utilized, and specifically whether certain attorneys are being over or under-utilized. It will help you focus on balancing the work of your lawyers so as to avoid a sense that one member of the team is not pulling his or her weight. Perhaps more importantly, it avoids any concern that assignments are favoring some and not others.
4. Appraisal Process
It will provide an effective tool to assist you with your lawyers’ performance reviews. Having a record of what your legal team has worked on will provide invaluable assistance in putting together each annual performance appraisal. It will give you a snapshot of what they have worked on during the year, and what they have accomplished, allowing you to give guidance on their career development.
It will create goodwill within your legal team. Sometimes simply knowing that there is a system in place whereby someone is paying attention to what a member of your legal staff is working on is helpful for morale. An effective work assignment system renders the highest quality client service by leveraging an attorney’s skill development to maximize their engagement and retention. Use of the process is likely to enhance communication between you and your staff, and will make each person feel more invested in their legal careers.
Getting started down this path is quite easy. Several vendors produce excellent and inexpensive software that is easy to use and will generate informative reports. Equally as effective is developing your own tracking tool.