The best way to identify a law firm bottleneck is not to query the people who have the biggest investment in the bottle: the old ways, the old days, behaviors shaped by longstanding habits. Better to ask the ground level timekeepers – the people stuck in the bottle — what most frustrates their efforts and their outcomes.
We did that systematically throughout November and December, and the chorus was loud and consistent – across firms and across practice areas. Strikingly, the most frequently-mentioned bottlenecks focused on barriers to communication and restricted information flow:
- Knowledge “black holes” about the big picture – client information, project budgets, available resources, past firm experience with client. This denies timekeepers the perspective they need to work efficiently, minimize budget-busters and develop their own “best practices.”
- Having to constantly re-invent the wheel because there is no way to access prior projects, documents and work product. This includes the lack of consistent naming conventions needed to store and retrieve documents. Most timekeepers described their firms’ document management systems as utter disasters.
- The unwillingness of a surprising number of partners to share their personal tools, templates, budgets and checklists, making working for multiple partners a real challenge and turf wars inevitable.
The impact of these communication bottlenecks goes beyond frustrating the firm’s work horses. Clearly, intense pressures on partners are making it harder to strike the balance between short term economic imperatives and the importance of giving younger talent the information, training and tools it needs to grow and mature.
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