This could be a golden age for law firms. Demand for legal services has been high throughout the pandemic. The sudden recognition that lawyers can, in fact, work from home has freed law firms from the restrictions—and the costs—associated with expansive (and expensive) offices. Video conferencing and digital filing technologies have made the courts more accessible while reducing the burden of in-person appearances.

Yet associate turnover is holding many firms back. According to the 2022 Report on the State of the Legal Market from Georgetown University and Thomson Reuters Institute, associate turnover rates at Am Law 100 firms reached nearly 25% last year, an increase from about 19% in 2019.

Worse, many law firms don’t realize that they’re inadvertently driving talent away. How? By failing to provide appropriate technology to ease their lawyers’ workload, which could improve workplace satisfaction and boost associate retention.

Why is talent retention a problem for firms? Where are firms missing opportunities to improve their associates’ quality of life? Just what is intelligent automation, and how can it help?

Let’s find out.

Law Firms Have a Talent Retention Problem

It’s not just law firms; businesses everywhere are struggling to find—and keep—qualified talent amid the Great Resignation. But under the current model of lawyer development, law firms pay a higher-than-average penalty for turnover. Firms invest heavily in talent development, training their newly barred attorneys to elevate them from capable students of the law to confident practitioners.

That’s why new associates cost firms between $250,000 and $300,000 each year. Premature turnover therefore creates a labor crisis for law firms.

Money is still a major driver for young lawyers in search of greener pastures. But firms have already played their hands in increased salaries and bonuses, to little effect. 

The fact is that younger generations are increasingly unwilling to suffer through many of the hardships that their forebears in the legal industry accepted as a matter of course. Millennials expect a greater work-life balance, and greater emphasis on mental health and well-being, than previous generations. They value money, to be sure, but they aren’t working just for a paycheck; they want a sense of purpose and shared values in their workplace.

There’s another important differentiator for Millennials and, to some extent, Gen X workers: they understand what modern technology can do and they expect their firms to leverage tools appropriately to make their day-to-day work easier and more rewarding.

So far, most law firms are falling short.

Where Law Firms Are Missing the Mark With Technology

I’m not discrediting the steps that law firms have taken. It’s true that firms have made considerable progress in adopting new technologies. In the face of heightened competition for work, firms have embraced the efficiencies afforded by technology to streamline legal document drafting, contract management and redlining, and document signing, among other tasks.

But those changes only alleviate some of the pressure on associates. Nonbillable administrative tasks pose a huge problem for associates—and it’s a problem that law firm administrators are mostly blind to.

That’s what we learned last year in the inaugural State of Automation in Legal survey. Over 82% of the timekeepers who completed our survey reported that the nonbillable work they have to do is impeding their ability to achieve their business goals.

On average, our results indicated that the average timekeeper spends almost a third of their time dealing with nonbillable administrative tasks like tracking time and managing email. That adds up to about 700 hours annually per timekeeper. As a result, more than two thirds of timekeepers reported that they’re working too many hours. Almost the same percentage stated that their firms aren’t providing the tools and technology they need to reduce the burden of nonbillable work. 

Those are pretty clear results, which begs the question: why haven’t law firms onboarded tools to better manage administrative tasks? Our survey found that most administrators don’t recognize the extent—or even the existence—of this crisis.

Whereas over 70% of timekeepers said they spend at least 20% of their time managing nonbillable tasks, less than 25% of administrators recognized that nonbillable work was consuming so much time. And in contrast to the 65% of timekeepers who felt they didn’t have appropriate tools to reduce nonbillable work, only 21% of administrators agreed.

So, what technology should law firms be adopting?

Intelligent Automation Is the Key to Lawyer Satisfaction and Talent Retention

Artificial intelligence has been touted (ad nauseam) as the way to complete legal work efficiently and effectively. Indeed, AI has revolutionized areas like ediscovery, contract review, and due diligence. But most of the areas where AI has excelled have involved rules-based, high-volume repetitive tasks that don’t require human input or intelligence to complete.

Those tools offer only a glimmer of the potential of AI. What we need now are intelligent automation tools: automated processes that use AI to mimic human decision-making. These tools can free lawyers from the burden of many administrative tasks, giving them time back to spend working on more rewarding billable tasks or enjoying a greater work-life balance.

Intelligent automation tools can complete traditionally time-intensive tasks like time capture or email filing by essentially “watching” over the attorney’s shoulder to glean clues about what client, matter, and task the attorney is working on. These tools integrate directly with timekeeping and email software to make quick, intelligent decisions and act on them—thus saving attorneys from the time or effort involved in making those decisions themselves.

Law firms need to take an honest look at where their lawyers are spending time—and where they’re wasting time. Intelligent automation tools offer a way to ease the administrative burdens inherent in operating a legal practice, creating more time for lawyers to engage in the work they’re trained to do.

Younger associates understand that there are boring, repetitive administrative tasks that simply must be done for their firms to appropriately bill clients and maintain compliant records. They just don’t believe that they need to waste their valuable time on those tasks—not when technology is capable of picking up the slack for them.

Adopting intelligent automation tools clearly communicates to your associates that you respect their time and you support their efforts to find purpose and engagement at work. And that makes it more likely that your associates will stay with you, which benefits the firm’s clients and the bottom line.

What message is your technology sending about the value you place on your associates’ time?

The post Law Firms Can’t Afford to Lose Their Best Talent—That’s Why They Need Intelligent Automation appeared first on Zero Cognitive Systems.