Sweet & Maxwell has just published the result of some research into the role support departments now play in running modern law firms however while upport functions such as Marketing, Finance, HR and Knowledge Management rising in status, IT Directors are concerned the role of their department may be under appreciated. Here is a synopsis of the report and you can click on the attachment link at the bottom for the full report…
 
The research, carried out by Sweet & Maxwell amongst the heads of HR, Finance, IT, Marketing and Knowledge Management within 56 of the UK’s Top 100 law firms, reveals that 82% feel that their department has taken on a more prominent role within their firm over the past 5 years.
 
Sweet & Maxwell says that the growth of the legal market and the increased turnover this has brought has enabled law firms to invest more heavily in their support functions. Law firms are now increasingly looking to their support departments to provide them with a competitive advantage.
 
Despite the unique business model adopted by the legal profession, lawyers understand that they can learn from the approach of other corporates such as investment banks and international accountancy firms in harnessing the talents of their support departments.
  
The new-found importance of legal support departments is demonstrated by the growing numbers of non-lawyers who now sit on management committees or boards. Around 40% of HR, IT and Marketing Directors now have a place on the management committee, along with 13% of head librarians, who are now more often described as heads of Knowledge Management.
 
The research also highlights the leading role Finance Directors are playing in the running of law firms, with 63% now sitting on the management committee or board.
 
Sweet & Maxwell says that once the Legal Services Bill, which will allow external investors to hold shares in law firms, comes into force, support departments are likely to take on an even greater role as investors demand greater efficiency and higher returns. Finance Directors in particular will have a pivotal role in ensuring that the demands of external investors are met.
  
Sweet & Maxwell’s research reveals the extent to which the business of law has changed in recent years. As the legal market becomes more competitive business development and marketing departments are playing a greater role in mapping out the strategies of law firms.
 
According to the research Marketing has emerged as the non-lawyer department with the highest status within law firms. 32% of all respondents said that Marketing is the department with the greatest cachet within their firm, ahead of Finance (28%) and HR (11%)
 
An overwhelming majority (94%) of Marketing Directors feel that their department has increased in importance over the past 5 years and 70% revealed that they have seen an increase in their budget during that time.
  
Whilst Marketing Directors are satisfied with their standing within their firm IT Directors are concerned that their department is often overlooked by senior management.
 
With the exception of Head Librarians, IT Directors have the least direct route to their firm’s Managing Partner. Only 36% of IT Directors report directly to their firm’s Managing Partner or CEO, compared to 88% of Marketing Directors.
 
Sweet & Maxwell suggests that law firms could offer IT Directors more contact with senior management if they want to retain the best talent.
 
However, a significant proportion of other support departments believe that IT is the department that receives the most generous funding. 44% of all respondents said that IT receives the most supportive budget within their firm, followed by Marketing (22%) and Finance.
 
Despite the perception that IT receives the most generous budget only 36% of IT Directors said that their budget had increased over the past 5 years, with 27% revealing that they feel their department is under-resourced.
 
IT heads were also the most confident that the performance and overall profitability of their firm could be improved with more investment in their department. 78% of IT Directors agree that if they had a bigger budget they would be able to make a greater contribution to the success of their firm, compared to 46% of HR Directors.
 
Sweet & Maxwell suggests that IT departments are unsure of their law firm’s commitment to IT in the future following the Internet boom and the availability of web-based services that have revolutionised the way lawyers work.
  
HR Directors are also concerned about the legal market’s ongoing commitment to their department’s future, with a number indicating that their department could be outsourced to an external HR adviser.
 
Surprisingly, despite the importance that the HR function has taken on within law firms in recent years, not one HR Director mentioned their own department when asked which support function had the highest status. 42% believe Marketing to have the highest standing in their firm, followed by IT (17%).