Resource planning in the industrial engineering sector is usually well organised, with staff used to various methods of time control and task scheduling.  Project control, using work packages and defined tasks is standard in engineering projects.  However, the same can not always be said of the legal department.  With increasing demands on in-house legal departments and a rise in the senior management responsibilities of General Counsel, effectively managing the team workload is time consuming, complex, usually haphazard and prone to constant fire fighting.  The objectives of resource planning  are also numerous, ranging from simply allocating work to lawyers, to addressing training needs and demonstrating value to the wider business.

There are many intricate IT solutions that promise to deliver the answer, but are expensive, take weeks or even months to implement and require in-depth training and staff learning very different methods of working to be successful.  When time and costs are precious, these solutions are difficult to justify.

Too often, IT solutions are bought and implemented, which force the legal team to change their processes and strategy to fit.  It’s not surprising many legal teams have a catalogue of failed IT systems or processes that were deemed at the time to be the solution to resource planning.

Eversheds Consulting has successfully lead work across multi-jurisdictional and international operations including Africa, Europe, the Middle East, China and U.S for clients such as Qatar Foundation, GE, and DuPont.  Using this experience, Eversheds Consulting present some top tips for GCs who are looking to effectively resource plan for their legal team:

Step One – Define your strategy

This is often repeated, but equally ignored.  All well run legal teams have a clear, communicated and adhered to legal strategy.  The strategy defines who the legal team work with, how they work with the business, how they engage external counsel and the remit for the team to deliver against.  Without a strategy, there is no way to define the legal undertakings of the team, and therefore the resource planning tool to enable the team to work effectively.  If there is an absence of strategy, Karl Weick’s famous quote “any old map will do” has an element of truth to it – a strategy, no matter how loose, is better than no strategy at all.  Defining where you are, and where you want to be as a legal team is the fundamental building block of resource planning, and no IT solution should be purchased without it.

 Step Two – Know your value

Analysis is needed of what tasks are currently being performed by the legal team.  Understanding of how critical each task is to the vitality of the legal team, both in the short and long term is key to resource planning.  It is through accurately defining these tasks that an understanding of the value of the legal work emerges.  Once tasks are understood in terms of value, they can be categorised into strategic, complex, risk mitigation or just routine.  They are then more easily defined and allocated to team members according to knowledge and skill levels.  As a basic tool, this is still effective for team planning.

Step Three – Define the metrics

With the understanding of legal task value, metrics should be introduced so the value of legal work can be tracked and measured.  Metrics show performance, enabling the legal department to demonstrate achieving targets, delivering goals and value to the wider company.  They enable benchmarking and reporting and help to justify budgets, costs and headcount.  The metrics can be Key Performance Indicators set according to the overall legal strategy – ensuring all tasks undertaken are working towards the goal of realising the legal strategy, delivered by the right lawyer with the right skills and expertise (for further guidance on setting metrics and KPI – please refer to my previous article “The power of numbers – legal KPIs and driving performance”).

Step Four – Finding the right tool

Technology innovation is revolutionising legal services delivery, but it can be bewildering for General Counsel to understand.  Getting support from in-house IT departments can also prove difficult as the legal department are not seen as a priority.  Many legal IT systems seem to be aimed at large law firms, and can be frighteningly expensive and unwieldy.  Lastly, in busy legal departments, it is not often that there is spare time to fully undertake an IT procurement exercise.  In the midst of these pressures, it can be difficult to find the right tool.

Key to the usefulness of a tool is fully understanding the need it will assist with.  If the objective is to drive a nail into a piece of wood, buying an industrial jackhammer to do it doesn’t seem logical – and yet this is a good analogy of legal purchases of IT solutions.

Therefore, legal teams using Microsoft Sharepoint as a platform for resource planning is increasing.  It has the advantages of being widely installed on business networks already (therefore not requiring complex and expensive install requirements), and can be tailored specifically to a legal team needs.  It can also be fully hosted in the Cloud, or on business servers in existence.

The platform enables team diary planning, automated legal instruction process, contract management, business reporting and external counsel finance tracking and can be tailored in a matter of weeks.

Whatever the tool used, it should be done so with the strategy, value and metrics to be measured as the focus.

 Step Five – Implementation

With the above steps in place implementation of resource planning can occur.  To ensure this is undertaken successfully:

  • plan for sufficient resources (such as staff time for training, General Counsel time for working with IT providers);
  • understand that collecting data on metrics is fundamental to measuring them – being able to interrogate, demonstrate and classify the data is key;
  • know that a simple spreadsheet or IT platform may be needed, the solution matching the level of reporting complexity required;
  • understand that implementation of any new process initially requires a period of harder work and more effort, before efficiencies can be realised;
  • realise there is a natural learning period for all when embracing new processes, where mistakes are going to be made and further training is needed;  and
  • understand that communicating project successes and coaching staff are key to realising any IT solution benefits.

Many General Counsel become disheartened by new systems not having an immediate effect.  Therefore, to tackle this common issue:

  • communicate to the business that a new system is being implemented, and to understand that some legal matters may take longer than usual while this is taking place;
  • communicate to the legal team what the expectations are for their workload and the speed in which they adopt the system; and
  • demonstrate early successes to the team and wider business and quickly communicate metrics which are measuring success.

Step Six – Ongoing Review

Lastly, commit to an ongoing review of the resource planning methods and tools implemented. Continue dialogue with the business in terms of benefits they are experiencing.  Continue to share metrics and performance targets with both the business and the legal team.  Set in the calendar official review periods and ensure that it is taken seriously and attended by relevant stakeholders.  Resource planning is a living process that requires ongoing attention to ensure success.

Fundamentally, resource planning is generally seen as a tool to fix a problem.  However, it should be viewed as a device for generating deeper understanding of legal tasks.  Better, more informed conversations with lawyers about work undertaken, as well as with business departments should be the benefit of resource planning.  Managing workload should not just be assigning tasks to lawyers, but be the method for achieving a comprehensive in-house legal strategy.