Many support service groups in law firms do a fair job of delivering their services and work hard at doing it, but beyond that, do not ‘add value’. That is a fairly common observation we have when we undertake firm reviews for clients and my own experience having run large law firms in three jurisdictions. This is a missed opportunity. Support service groups potentially can provide distinct strength and even competitive advantage and differentiation.
Why don’t support service groups provide that added value?
- it is not easy – for instance, it is hard to show in any meaningful way that their services are superior to another firm’s offerings or that they are providing value relative to their cost;
- often their roles are ill-defined, as are expectations and criteria for performance;
- as a result, they are treated purely as a cost centre, and their performance is based in part on whether they are costing more or less, as say a % of gross fees , than other firms’ support groups, i.e. they are not an area that is expected to deliver added value;
- inadequate budget or recognition by partners as to the value they can offer and that the firm is missing – in the eyes of some they are an expensive, ‘necessary evil‘ of modern law firm structure. In many firms practice groups simply ignore support services and try to go it alone;
- inadequate leadership of support services;
- lack of support for support services leadership i.e. in backing up their decisions and work and helping to grow the stature and role of the leader;
- they don’t have a separate vision, strategy and implementation plan geared to support the main firm strategy;
- if they do have a strategy, it is not aligned with the firm strategy or other strategies. As a result they often operate in splendid isolation, touching others only when they use their services;
- the person or persons to whom support service leaders report, don’t understand these principles, which sadly, is frequently the case. The overall leader’s role is critically important, in fact I would say definitive, in determining whether that added value is created. Too often, it is left entirely up to the support services groups and/or their leader.
How can you start to get that added value? Here are a few ideas to start with: