by Charles Volkert, Esq.
Today's business environment requires law firms and legal departments to function in a collaborative relationship with their clients, rather than just provide counsel. To stay competitive, these legal professionals have to keep up with client demands and industry changes. Here are the three trends that are having an impact on today's law offices - and legal careers.
1. The need for specialized talent. Legal organizations are seeking highly skilled candidates who can immediately add value to the needs of existing clients and augment service offerings. The growing demand for specialized talent in the workforce can be seen in the way law firms and legal departments recruit for legal jobs. Many firms are actively seeking professionals with skills in not only hot practice areas such as litigation, commercial law and healthcare but also niche specialties to help develop new business.
Attorneys often have a competitive edge if they are tech savvy and bring knowledge of "hot" issues, such as data privacy and security that may come into play in cases and transactions. Corporate legal departments are especially in need of staff to help the company manage its risk exposure and meet regulatory compliance. But all lawyers, paralegals and legal support staff can improve their career prospects if they have stellar tech skills.
Building an in-house team that can provide targeted, specialized support to clients while still controlling costs is a huge challenge. Since the need for certain specialized positions may shift with varying caseloads, it doesn't make economic sense to fill all open positions with full-time employees. To keep costs down and still provide high-quality customized legal services, many law firms and corporate legal departments are using specialized staffing agencies to secure highly skilled talent on an as-needed basis.
2. The work-life balance factor. Once organizations hire employees, they don't want to lose them to competitors. Six in 10 lawyers interviewed in a recent Robert Half Legal survey said they had at least some difficulty in finding skilled candidates for legal jobs, and one-third (33 percent) said they were concerned about top talent leaving to pursue legal careers elsewhere.
While competitive salary and benefits packages continue to be crucial for attracting and keeping top performers, a healthy work-life balance is a growing demand in legal careers - not just from the perspective of younger lawyers, but also baby boomers who want to step back in their hours. Nearly seven in 10 (69 percent) lawyers interviewed for the Robert Half Legal 2014 Salary Guide said flexible hours or the ability to telecommuting were among the top incentives for the recruitment and retention of today's legal professionals.
3. The need for business and industry knowledge. Clients and companies increasingly expect legal professionals to take time to understand their business and industry. For example, this includes developing an understanding of a company's products and services and expertise in the regulations they face. Lawyers need to enhance their business acumen if they are to understand how each decision affects clients, other departments and a company's bottom line. If this is lacking, they will fall short in their advisory roles. In addition, globalization is driving the need for legal counsel to understand the potential impact of local laws, cultural factors and events on their clients' business operations in other countries.
Organizations that fail to keep up with trends and changes in the industry and in legal careers will find themselves lagging behind their competitors. To thrive in today's highly competitive business environment, law firms and corporate legal departments must recruit employees with specialized talent, and then enhance their business acumen. And once they've put time and effort into hiring and training, successful law offices will work hard to retain their valued employees and recruit top legal professionals.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal®,
a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. The company also provides managed review and e-discovery services. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and international markets.
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Question & Answer
I am the manager of a litigation paralegal team and lately we seem to be experiencing communication problems, which are causing missed deadlines and other hiccups in our document review production. Any advice on how I can help my team better interact and share information?
Among the many roles of a litigation paralegal team, meeting a request for discovery can be one of the most important and time consuming projects. To stay organized and meet the critical deadlines that come with the document review portion of the process, team members have to work well together. Here are four ways a project manager can improve communication and reduce frustration:
1. Identify the source of the problem. If the litigation paralegal team worked well together in the past but is now running into issues, take a hard look at what's happened since. Maybe your staff is tired from the hectic pace, or perhaps communication has broken down. To identify and resolve the problem, call a timeout from document review production and hold a group meeting, making sure to include both full-time staff and any temporary legal professionals working on the team. Sometimes the problem can resolve itself when members express their concerns and reconnect on a group level. But if you think people can speak more candidly outside a team setting, set up one-on-one meetings.
2. Set the example for good communication. A team follows the lead of its project manager, so make sure you are doing a good job of communicating. Avoid future misunderstandings and frustration by setting clear expectations and getting group buy-in. Clearly define workflows and deadlines, and have regular team check-ins. Encourage them to speak to you or to each other with questions and concerns. When people are sure of their individual responsibilities and know exactly which pieces they'll be held accountable for, they have a greater sense of ownership of their work.
3. Make sure you are fully engaged. As the project manager, it's your responsibility to head off conflicts. Don't wait to address problems, and certainly don't ignore them. Foster an environment of honesty, transparency, diplomacy and open-mindedness. To boost buy-in and reduce finger pointing when things go awry, include the litigation paralegal team in planning and decision-making. This will help them feel they're part of a cohesive group instead of individuals working away in their silos.
4. Build up your team. To foster positive group dynamics, host a fun gathering away from work when legal project deadlines permit. It doesn't have to be fancy. Go out for lunch at a nearby pizza joint or organize a potluck. If the weather is nice, order sandwiches and head to the park. When employees have a chance to relax and interact with each other outside of the office, they're more likely to communicate better while on the job. And don't forget to hand out praise when it's due. Acknowledging people for their hard work is a great way to build up morale.
Every work team experiences communication problems every once in a while. While normal, the project manager for document review needs to take quick action to make sure the hiccups don't turn into something more serious. Renew your litigation paralegal team by following the above steps; consider it a tune-up for your well-oiled machine. With your guidance as project manager, your group will likely be back to producing high-quality results again in no time.
Submit a career-related question to Charles A. Volkert, Esq., executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing
service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal
professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Charles will answer one question