It’s time to teach performance managers in law firms about how a law firm works

The role of this additional layer of management in solicitor firms has increased in recent years. 

Many are decent, but the bulk of performance managers are still unable to truly assist fee earners.

What is the background of a typical performance manager? 

  • failed solicitors/FILEXs;
  • career paralegals wanting a management role;
  • former liability or loss adjusters; and
  • ex-insurance company employees, who tend to have instructed the firm in the past.

What are they expected to achieve? 

  1. Compliance with Service Level Agreements
  2. Shortened life cycle of claims
  3. Maximise recoverability of damages (pence in the pound percentages)
  4. Increase costs activity
  5. Stupid things like monitoring departmental telephone statistics

How are they failing?

  1. Interference – they ask too many questions and interrupt with enquiries This is time consuming, because their thirst for performance data is insatiable. Management information is typically non-billable.
  2. Unnecessary meetings – this links to number 1, however the first example is generally more an ad hoc problem. The weekly and/or monthly meetings benefit the manager, but time credit does not go to the fee earners. If a department bills most people out between £100-200 per hour, it is easy to lose £1,000 of fees with these types of meetings.
  3. Unqualified offering of legal advice – this is a case of a little knowledge being dangerous. It may be of benefit for them to offer some advice on strategy and tactics, to present risk to an opposing party, however their contribution towards legal matters is a Prof Neg claim waiting to happen.
  4. Focussing on the wrong statistics – it is about getting as much cash in for the client and maximising your costs in doing so. The silly questions about time statistics, spreadsheets and reporting data can go and take a running jump.
  5. Inability to support fee earners with hitting their individual targets – their goal is a departmental target. They need to hit £X hundred thousand or £Y million. They want to do this by hook or by crook. Their focus is upon low hanging fruit and living from 1 year to the next. It prevents them from buying into large litigation cases which may take 2-5 years to settle. The big picture is wasted on them.
  6. Failure to understand funding – they generally lack the commercial sense to assess the appropriateness of CCFA’s, ATE funding, capped fee arrangements, CCFA-discounted rates, etc. One of our managers was looking into DBA’s at one point before an assistant solicitor took them to one side and had a quiet word!

How to solve the problem

  • Training those without a legal background – make them sit with fee earners for a week and gain exposure to how the job is carried out. Talk through individual targets, the cases within the case load, and assess priorities. Get a feel for how work can be streamlined and organised. Try and help by making templates available and embrace technology.
  • If the performance manager already has a legal background – make them redundant. Place them on a capability procedure. They failed as a fee earner, so let them fail as a performance manager.

Over and out.

Legal Orange.

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2 thoughts on “It’s time to teach performance managers in law firms about how a law firm works

  1. Pingback: CIVIL PROCEDURE, COSTS & SANCTIONS: LINKS TO RECENT ARTICLES AND POSTS | Civil Litigation Brief

  2. So very true!!!! They are incredibly annoying. I worked at a firm where there was a spreadsheet of next actions we had to take created by our performance managers. The points made were either really obvious, or wrong. Either way, it took ages to update the spreadsheet and explain why you hadn’t done a particular step. The problem they had was they only looked at the last few things on a file, rather than the whole file, so they did not understand all the issues involved. I think they can be useful in identifying people who are perhaps below standard. However, senior colleagues should be able to pick that up themselves. They’re just another salary cost for us to cover – and they like to repeatedly interfere to try and prove their existence and justify their role.

    We also got monitored on how many calls we answered in 2 rings! This was incredibly annoying if you were on another phonecall elsewhere, and the same client would ring back repeatedly. Hang up. Ring back. Etc etc.

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