These past few months have been labeled the “summer of the great resignation,” with many lawyers seeking out new positions or being lured to new firms or corporate legal departments amid ongoing salary wars, increased bonuses and alluring benefits packages. With this turmoil in the labor market and so many people walking out the door, law firms and corporations must increase their productivity and revenue while capturing their departing employees’ knowledge and best practices.

By taking several steps, organizations can retain institutional knowledge, capture the best employee workflows and improve new employee onboarding before their own attorneys and staff take part in the Great Resignation.

The Power Balance Shifts

These have been unprecedented times in many ways—and the shift in the power balance between employers and employees is just one example. Like organizations in many other industries, law firms and legal departments are finding that employers no longer control the market. That means attorneys have more autonomy and power than ever before. After working from home for many months, many professionals are not interested in returning to the office full time. Many of today’s associates are also Millennials, who as a group scorn traditional requirements for logging hours in the office and staying loyal to one firm.

These attitudes are conflicting with the plans of many law firms and their clients. Consider how Morgan Stanley recently informed its law firms that working from home was producing sub-standard work for clients and hampering efforts to develop talent. “Our profession cannot long endure a remote work model,” Morgan Stanley’s chief legal officer, Eric Grossman, wrote in a recent email to firms representing the bank, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The costs of employee turnover have always been high, and the situation was exacerbated during the COVID pandemic. Consider that in March 2020, the turnover rate reached a record high of 9.7%, according to LegalJobs. On average, an employee’s leaving will cost the company 33% of their annual salary.

Fortunately, law firms and legal departments can take steps to help boost retention. According to LegalJobs, employee engagement and retention statistics point to the first six months as the most important period for new employees. Making new attorneys feel welcome and giving them tools to succeed can make a significant difference in ensuring retention.

That’s why effectively and efficiently onboarding new employees matters. By teaching new attorneys and staff all the workflows and processes that will help them be productive from Day 1, firms and legal departments can improve the odds that their current employees will stay for the long term.

By boosting productivity through enhanced workflows, such as billing, time tracking, form generation and expenses, organizations don’t only set their people up for success. They help to build the firm’s institutional knowledge and retain that knowledge, even if lawyers move on.

There are other benefits as well. Establishing workflows allows for more consistency, saves time and minimizes some of the tedium of administrative tasks. By capturing workflow, firms and legal departments improve revenue and organizational financial health, provide extra productivity to clients and increase ROI.

For one law firm, Winthrop & Weinstein, using new technology and processes allowed the firm to produce an additional 50 hours of new billable time per attorney per year. The firm did this by instituting time-capture automation on mobile devices to track time that would have been lost otherwise, since few timekeepers can effectively keep track of fragmented mobile time consumption without additional tools and technology.

Instituting this type of workflow not only produces enhanced revenue. By automatically analyzing, prioritizing, and filing large quantities of email and documents, the firm’s lawyers work more efficiently and productively by saving countless hours of tedious labor.

Capturing Employee Workflows

The key to achieving all these advantages and effectively capturing and automating workflows lies in developing and honing specific processes, and then rigorously using them throughout the onboarding process.

For example, many attorneys complete time entries at the end of the week or even at the end of the month. This means they have to rush to reconstruct time as quickly as possible to release the bill to the client. This also creates stress for the team, which can’t release a bill until every member has submitted their time. And when bills are reconstructed over the course of days and weeks, the quality and narratives decrease, while the chances that clients will appeal or reject the bill increase.

Consider a more efficient workflow system, where attorneys capture billable time contemporaneously and submit that information at the end of each day. This approach is finely tuned and highly organized, and it allows for accurate descriptions of narratives and activities. This not only saves attorneys time, it means the billing partner doesn’t need to make many, if any, changes. Clients also receive bills that are cleaner, which leads to faster payment. In turn, this directly impacts profitability.

There are several different types of workflows that lend themselves to these types of efficiencies. By introducing these into the onboarding process, attorneys can establish productive habits from the beginning and continue to leverage them during their time with the organization.

The kinds of workflows include:

  • Categorizing unstructured data, such as identifying client, matter and project relationships for communications;
  • Managing spontaneous tasks and suggesting actions, such as active reminders for calendars and appointments;
  • Capturing activities, including time and billing management; and
  • Preventing data leakage by protecting users from sending data to the wrong recipients.

Once the firm has instituted these workflows, they can also use them to generate data-based, organizational-wide institutional knowledge and capture employee workflows through automated processes that work in the background. That includes information on which attorneys are top performers, and which activities take up the most time. This will also help identify pain points around administrative functions and allow for insights that make processes even more efficient.

Conclusion

When workflows are inconsistent and inefficient, not only does productivity suffer. Morale and happiness do, too. And in this environment, unhappy attorneys will find another law firm or legal department that offers greater personal and job satisfaction. And the greater the turnover, the more likely it is that an organization loses valuable institutional knowledge.

Capturing institutional knowledge and employee workflow can help firms and legal departments be employers of choice by creating a high-value environment that entices attorneys and staff to stay by utilizing technology that allows them to be more efficient and have good work/life balance. That will help organizations be the place that attorneys leave their current organizations to come work for, and not the one that they leave.

Alex Babin is co-founder and CEO of ZERO. He has a degree in Applied Communications and ZERO is his second startup. ZERO is dedicated to applying artificial intelligence and smart automation to the most pressing operational challenges of the professional services industry.