Legal Department Capacity Planning

A Lawyer walks into a bar......

A Lawyer walks into a bar...

A couple of weeks back one of our team was in a bar and got chatting to a lawyer*. During the conversation, the lawyer picked up a pen and started making notes about what they were talking about.

We decided we'd share with you one of the insights he found very interesting;

Economies of scale are effectively a myth in the legal profession. (In fact they are a myth in nearly all situations think  Economies of Waste and you'll be closer to the mark.)

Our team member asked the lawyer "Why bother acquiring another law firm to achieve ‘economies of scale’ when these can’t be known without having an operating a capacity planning model?"

This sparked a long and fruitful debate.

Why would we say this though? 

We all know that work ebbs and flows, one week is busy, the next quieter, those end of the month or quarters that suddenly seem to loom large on us (particularly for those of us dealing with non-legal commercially focussed third parties) workloads often fluctuate.

What does a capacity planning model give you?

It helps you to see the maximum amount of work that can be completed, under normal operating conditions (8-5 Mon-Fri?), with the resources you have.

Plugging in details about a case into such a model will help to identify when the actual activities for the file will hit; whether these be in 6 days, 2 weeks, 3 months or a combination of dates.

Helping you to see if these coincide with other cases you have on the books; identifying whether individual or team workload suddenly rise, only to fall again.

  • Will you need short term help to get through the peak of work. 
  • When could you release staff for training,
  • Authorise more holidays,
  • Take time to look for other improvements,
  • Conduct business development activities?.

If you still manage the sharing of files in your departments in the following ways; 

  • Senior partner giving work out to the next person on the "list" or
  • Asking who wants the case, or
  • Looking at the number of files each person currently has

You're managing by the input of file numbers, creating all work as equal with similar inputs, assuming similar timelines for activities. You're failing to identify the activities generated or the resource demand that is being created and when it will hit.

 In this case we often find departments under staffed at key times of work overload, with the potential for failings to occur. On occasions though we find firms over staffed for most of the time (ready for the peak) with staff constantly in fear they need to generate more work and a different type of stress and less sharing of business development techniques. 

Put two teams together that are under staffed at key times and guess what happens?

We hope you find this of value. 


* the lawyer in question wasn't known to us but knew about us and had a copy of our  Free 7 Wastes in Legal Firms Handbook in case you missed it.

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