The changes that have started to develop this year will manifest themselves more clearly in 2021. This includes the reduced staffing levels we’ve seen as firms became focused on cutting costs, adjusting to remote work, and keeping rainmakers happy during an economic downturn. The pandemic led many to shed practice areas they viewed as more marginal and to cut back on administrative staff, but so far, not enough time has passed for the industry to really see the impact of this trend.
There is, however, a trend that pre-dates the pandemic and is sure to survive it: When corporations hit a certain size, the CEO is no longer on the front lines. Running the place, setting strategy, getting teams to work together, managing finances, and complying with government regulations constitute a big enough job on their own, yet many law firms work on a model that requires equity partners and heads of practice areas to keep billing hours.
This system is becoming increasingly untenable, so firms would be wise to invest more in attracting, cultivating, and supporting managerial talent. In 2021, firms of all sizes will benefit from making managerial talent a top priority. For mid-sized firms, this could mean hiring an office manager or Chief Operating Officer. Having someone who can perform all the important functions of accounting, payroll, IT, and HR for the firm will open up partners to bill hours they would have otherwise spent on administrative tasks. For larger firms, this means challenging the idea that the most powerful people in a firm are necessarily lawyers and, instead, empowering management to make decisions for the strategic growth of the organization.
With so many changes this year to the usual policies and procedures, law firms need to improve the quality of their management. Whether that’s bringing on a professional office manager or even, dare we say, retaining a consultant, the most important hire you make in 2021 might not be a lawyer.