Legal Service Design Jam - Report 1: People

Following on from our introductory article ‘Legal Design Jams – 9x more productive than Jack Bauer’, Panicos Iordanou reviews the output from the ‘People’ team at the Legal Service Design Jam hosted by LexisNexis, in collaboration with The BIO Agency, at Janders Dean’s ‘Horizons’ conference in May 2016.

Reviews of the output from the other two teams can be found here:

People: who and why?

The people team started with a general brainstorming session, aimed at identifying the key issues relating to ‘people’ in law firms. While a great number of individual suggestions and ideas were generated, these can be summarized in the form of the following three assumptions/ideas that formed the basis of the rest of the team’s activity:

  • A law firm’s success ultimately depends on the happiness of its clients.
  • By putting the success and happiness of their own people at the core of their activities, law firms will be better able to attract; develop; retain and leverage talent to its fullest potential.
  • Happy and successful employees are far more likely to produce work that keeps clients happy.
How to go about recruiting people that will be happy and successful

Enter the matrix

The starting point is for law firms to recruit the people they need (not those they think they want). Nurturing and leveraging talent shouldn’t begin on a new starter’s first day. It should begin before you have even started trying to recruit. To do this right, law firms need to know – truly know - what (and therefore who) they need.

The people team therefore suggested that law firms should create a ‘skills matrix’ to accurately identify and capture what skills exist within the firm, who has those skills and where any gaps are or might be in the future as the firm’s environment evolves.

Light_bulb_yellow_icon.svg_The idea of a skills matrix was one of the ideas that the people team actually continued to work on throughout the day. You can see the original model and read about some of the insights that came out of that exercise here: Enter the matrix: mapping skills in a typical law firm.

Your clients views must be taken into account

Any assessment of how necessary or important certain skills are, should also be informed by clients. As such, skills which might once have been regarded as 'softer' - such as relationship building and other client interaction skills – should be credited with the importance they deserve. After all, clients have more choice than ever and they are entitled to take technical legal ability as a given so it is often these customer-centric skills that make the difference.

Things not to do

There are also things the people team agreed law firms shouldn’t do. These included:

  • only recruiting from the ‘best’ universities or those the firm has relationships with,
  • just recruiting the ‘best’ academic talent, or
  • allowing any bias (however unintentional) to hinder recruitment of a genuinely diverse workforce.

It was also the team’s clear view that all of the above applies to non-lawyers as well as lawyers and to senior hires as well as junior hires.

What if a particular skills gap cannot be filled by a new recruit?

In that case firms should be ready and willing to look outside the firm for these skills. Firms might do this in a number of ways, including:

  • engaging external consultants to provide or teach those skills;
  • maintaining genuine and mutually beneficial relationships with their alumni; and
  • actively seeking opportunities to learn those skills from other law firms or even companies outside of the legal industry.
Having recruited great talent, how should law firms go about retaining  and motivating those people?

One of the core ideas, was that people must not be treated as mere units of production. Neither should their careers viewed solely in terms of service to the firm – it is a two-way street.

Law firms must seek to understand what all of their staff – at all levels of seniority – actually want from their careers. This means not making any assumptions.

For example, some team members reported working with more junior lawyers who have explicitly stated that they have no desire to become a partner and that they value work-life balance above the more traditional (or even antiquated?) notion of lock-step career ‘progression’.

Once a law firm understands its people this way, it is incumbent upon them to ensure that they understand the career paths open to them and that they are given the recognition and rewards they deserve - irrespective of job type or seniority level.

This understanding also equips us to help people play to their strengths. This means providing inspiration and encouraging creativity rather than imposing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to skills and progression.

As important as firm-employee relationships, are the relationships between employees themselves. A large part of this is finding ways to ensure that all of a firm’s people are motivated and – importantly – properly equipped, to share their experience, knowledge and contacts with one another.

The challenge of change

As the team worked through the ideas set out above, it became that many of these would require not insignificant changes to the traditional models and working practices.

The team acknowledged that change is hard and can only really be achieved if there is sufficient ‘organisational slack’. Where a particular practice has been embedded for a long time, finding or creating this slack can be a real challenge.

Specific challenges the team identified included the need for law firms to work out how they could:

  • work in a more agile way
  • reduce/remove the traditional hierarchical (and what to replace it with)
  • carve out time for people to really think about structural innovation
  • accommodate and benefit from some degree of ‘structured chaos’ or ‘letting the playground play’.
What would success look like?

The team also thought about what might be the key behaviours of a firm that was ‘getting it right’ in terms of its people and these included:

  • leaders are open-minded and the relationship between senior and junior staff or legal and non-legal staff is collegiate and never hierarchical
  • people work in cross-departmental and/or cross-functional teams wherever that is the best way to secure the necessary mix of skills for a particular project.
  • at an individual level, staff mentor and coach each other and take advantage of the opportunity to ‘buddy’ with colleagues from other teams or locations.
 More jam here...

Light_bulb_(yellow)_icon.svgThe idea of a 'skills matrix' (referred to above) was one of the ideas that the people team actually continued to work on throughout the day. You can see the original model and read about some of the insights that came out of that exercise here:  Enter the matrix: mapping skills in a typical law firm.

Also, Don't forget to read our reports on the output from the other two teams:

Report 2: Process

Report 3: Technology

Or, for a brief overview of the legal service design jam and to find out why legal service design jams are 9x more productive than Jack Bauer read this post.

Finally, to read more about the actual process of running a design jam, read this article by Alex Smith (Senior Product Lead - Platform Innovation at LexisNexis).

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