As law firms consider how they can better allocate work to associates, one key part of the conversation has to be about skills and skills tracking.
How Skills Tracking Improves Bench Strength
Skills tracking is already a growing part of law firm talent management. Firms are formalizing their skills libraries and standardizing the skills each associate level and practice group needs to advance. This strengthens firm competencies and ultimately contributes to firm growth.
If resource allocation focuses on an associate’s availability and utilization, skills tracking takes it to the next level by considering each lawyer’s skills, experience and interests when making work assignments. It ensures work is being done by the best available lawyer while keeping all associates on track in their development.
Here are a few ways law firms can use skills tracking for smarter resource allocation.
Targeting the Right Associates for Each Assignment
Skills tracking gives law firms a real-time view of associates’ skills and experience, enabling more targeted work allocation. This consists of identifying the available associates with the skills required for each matter and then digging deeper into their experience before assigning work.
For example, one litigation associate has reached 75% proficiency in trial skills. Going deeper, most of that experience is in depositions, but very little is in cross-examinations. Depending on the work, they might be the right choice, or another associate may be a better fit.
Creating Mentorship and Development Opportunities
Work allocation isn’t only about an individual’s skills but also how the team’s skills will work together. Mixed competency levels in a team create mentorship and shadowing opportunities, where those with more experience in a skill can help others learn.
In some situations — such as a new or high-profile client or a sensitive matter — the firm may want the best of the best. In other matters, they may take the opportunity to put a junior associate on a team with more experienced associates.
Ensuring Equitable, Unbiased Distribution of Work
Traditional law firm work allocation, where partners are likely to pull in the first associate they see, or the one they’re most familiar with, can be susceptible to bias. With skills tracking, assignments can be based on skills, enabling a more equitable distribution of work and development opportunities. This keeps the firm accountable and ensures that diverse associates get an equal chance to work and advance.
Giving Young Lawyers What They Want
With skills tracking, the firm can also consider an associate’s goals and interests and target work assignments to them. It makes associates feel appreciated and engaged when work allocation considers their needs as well as the clients.
In addition, skills tracking and development plans give lawyers a roadmap toward advancement at the firm and in their careers. They know exactly what competencies are required to advance to the next associate level, become more well-rounded, and achieve their professional goals.
This is an asset for firms in terms of retaining current associates and can also help recruit new lawyers. Work experience that helps develop their skills and progress in their careers is a big factor for today’s young lawyers.
In a world of remote and hybrid work, resource allocation and skills-tracking systems enable more virtual collaboration. Offices and practice groups can still manage their own staffing but can open it up to other locations and groups as needed. This also promotes more development opportunities for associates who want to branch out beyond their practice group.
Suppose a practice group is missing a particular skill, or the associates with experience are too busy. In that case, the assigning team can see who else in the firm is available with that skill. Firms can even incorporate private feedback and ratings to give other offices and practice groups a better picture of each associate’s competency and strengths.
Tech’s Role in Skills Tracking and Resource Allocation
Skills tracking can improve resource allocation, but both processes take a lot of time and organization to manage, let alone integrate across office locations. Resource allocation software creates a searchable database of lawyer profiles that can be accessed from anywhere, making it easy to find out who is available for work. Management software that incorporates skills tracking allows firms to formalize their skills library and monitor each associate’s progress. With both, associate availability, utilization and skills are brought together in one single source, allowing for better work assignments and better professional development.