The importance of business support in the legal sector

2013 Annual Law Firms’ Survey

Business support continues to be an area of focus for the legal sector, as firms seek to improve their operating models and provide more flexible services and resourcing to meet the changing needs of both their firm and their clients.

The effective use of people, processes and systems remains a priority across all business support functions.

  • Client demands, merger activity and the need to reduce costs are all contributing to the continued need for change.
  • In 2013, 60% of Top 10 firms and approximately one-third of the Top 11-100 invested in business improvement and cost reduction programmes. However, most firms do not achieve the scale of benefits that would be expected, the majority of firms implementing programmes saved less than 5% of pre-programme costs.
  • Finance and HR are most often regarded as ‘a strength’ (52% and 35% of responses, respectively) while Knowledge Management and IT are most frequently seen as ‘a weakness that needs improvement’ (23% and 20% respectively).
  • Future priorities for Business Support are to ‘improve the use of technology’ (81% of responses), ‘standardise business processes and ways of working’ (74%) and ‘cost reduction’ (56%).
  • Within functions, some of the key areas being given attention include:
  1. Finance processes to support management in order to reduce revenue leakage;
  2. IT solutions that improve fee earners’ ability to be more responsive to their clients;
  3. HR processes and systems to support talent management and increased international working, particularly in larger firms; and
  4. Marketing and BD support for the continued development of sector expertise to differentiate firms in their chosen markets.
  • The majority of firms currently use procurement professionals to support less than 20% of annual spend; therefore, there is a good opportunity to reduce costs and improve third-party arrangements.
  • Business process outsourcing remains a viable solution for many firms, with areas currently outsourced ranging from IT user support to payroll to reprographics to reception.
  • Legal process outsourcing remains in its infancy for the sector, and although the number of firms adopting LPO remains small, there are an increasing number of responses in this category, year-on-year, from firms outside the Top 10.