Posted by: johnocunningham | April 16, 2015

Grading Autonomy Of “Non-lawyer” Professionals In Law Firms

Whether your firm has less than 100 lawyers or more than 500, it likely gives its professional administrators the same level of autonomy. That is what the data suggests in a recent survey conducted by professional service consulting firm Altman Weil (based on 5o responses from administrators and fewer than 10 participating management level lawyers).

Perhaps the most interesting result of this survey is found in the nearly 10 percent of administrators (from IT, marketing and other functions) who reported that they have complete autonomy to make decisions in their area of expertise when zero law firm partners agreed with that conclusion.

By contrast, ALL of the responding lawyers said that administrative professionals had less than the full confidence of the partnership, suggesting that individual partners could over-ride their decisions to some extent (giving admins an average rating of 6.5 on the autonomy scale, where 1 represents very little autonomy to make decisions and 10 represents total autonomy) so some admins are blissfully unaware of their relative lack of authority.

On the other hand, some admins said they have absolutely no autonomy and no confidence placed in them to make decisions, and nearly one-third see themselves as having a 4 or less on the autonomy scale. More than 40 percent scored their own autonomy as 6 or less, suggesting that admins see most law firm partners holding very tightly to the reins and not letting go.

The sample size was admittedly small, but the results seem to resonate with numerous anecdotal reports among “non-lawyer” professionals, who commonly say that they are paid well, and treated respectfully, but too often second-guessed or just disregarded when it comes to their professional opinions. The obvious question arising from these observations is: Why pay so much money to these marketing, finance and technical pros if you are going to ignore or not even seek their professional advice?

As an outside consultant, I also see a varying degree to which firms look to me for strategic advice or just “made to order” finished products. In my experience, the firms that know how to collaborate with their in-house and outside professionals reap the benefits of doing so. These are the firms who are claiming market share and growing their revenues (other than through mere acquisitions). The firms that don’t collaborate, but issue orders from the ivory legal tower are much more likely to be struggling with or oblivious to unfamiliar customer demands in a fast-changing world, writhing in fear and wondering what happened to “the good old days” when services rendered bills were paid without question and competition was not so keen.

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