The legal profession may be seeing rising caseloads and improving prospects, but legal employers remain cautious about adding full-time staff too quickly, concerned they may need to scale back again down the road. But under-staffing can be just as risky if legal managers find themselves unable to meet client needs, take advantage of new opportunities or find specialized expertise.
To strike the right balance in a continually changing environment, keep these legal hiring and staffing considerations in mind:
- Use staffing to address “billable hours” concerns. As clients increasingly insist on flexible billing options for the delivery of legal services, firms are reconsidering how they staff projects. For instance, some are focusing on hiring highly skilled and versatile law clerks who can deliver certain legal services, especially in Ontario, at more cost-effective rates. Other strategies include relying more heavily on junior associates, rather than senior lawyers who command higher rates, and using temporary professionals to reduce costs at certain project stages, such as eDiscovery document reviews.
- Be open to a range of staffing options. When new or expanded needs arise, consider various staffing alternatives, including possibly shifting the responsibilities of current staff to fill the most pressing needs. This has the added advantage of providing loyal team members developmental opportunities to gain expertise in a new area. You can then backfill their position to meet remaining work requirements by adding full- or part-time employees, temporary professionals or a mix of the two.
- Access specialized expertise. Taking a broader view of available staffing resources is a particularly good opportunity for legal organizations that need to bridge the talent gap in specialty areas. Not every case or project component requires a full-time employee. Engaging project lawyers, law clerks and legal support staff on an “as-needed” basis expands the pool of specialized skills available to law offices. This approach also offers a cost-effective way to manage complex and time-consuming projects and helps firms respond to workload peaks and valleys.
- Consider temp-to-hire arrangements. If employers consider converting a temporary legal professional to a full-time position, they have the advantage of already knowing the person’s strengths firsthand, including how good a fit they are with the organization’s culture. Not surprisingly, having the opportunity to “audition” prospective employees in this way typically improves hiring success.
- Partner with a specialist staffing firm. As legal organizations are becoming more exacting in the expertise they require, finding legal specialists with sought-after skills has become more difficult and time-consuming. Seventy per cent of Canadian lawyers polled in a 2016 Robert Half Legal survey cited finding skilled legal professionals somewhat or very challenging.
Legal organizations increasingly are looking to outside resources to staff hard-to-fill positions, especially when faced with unanticipated projects or the sudden loss of key employees. Specialized legal recruitment agencies can save time and reduce the costs involved in finding highly skilled temporary as well as full-time professionals. In addition, a staffing partner can help organizations determine the optimal staffing mix and the best types of professionals to meet particular requirements.
With human resources being one of a firm’s largest expenses, it only makes sense to give careful thought to finding the most flexible and cost-effective staffing solutions. By being receptive to using a mix of staffing scenarios, legal organizations can stay nimble, keep pace with expanding workloads and maintain better control over budgets.