What have we learned about work allocation as a D&I strategy?
During the week of April 22nd, we had the privilege and fun of traveling with Dave Cook and Bob Brown of Mason & Cook, probably the leading experts on work allocation systems for the legal profession. We learned a lot about work allocation as a D&I strategy and wanted to share some of what we learned here:
- Work allocation systems may have some similar features but designing a system that is both highly functioning and effective takes effort and expertise. This isn’t something that can simply be delegated to some bright and well-intentioned individual(s). A poorly designed or badly executed work allocation system can do a tremendous amount of harm and be worse than staying with a more “free-market” approach to work allocation. If a law firm or corporate law department plans to implement a work allocation system, it needs to be done properly.
- Not surprisingly, the 12 London law firms that tried work allocation at first had some reservations and preferred to implement it as part of a pilot program. After their pilot programs expired, ALL 12 decided to adopt and expand their work allocation systems.
- The data the London firms are generating from their use of work allocation systems are showing decided improvement in the retention of women lawyers – the data about other types of diversity hasn’t been released for public consumption yet but we expect similar if not quite as dramatic results.
- A properly designed and implemented work allocation system has the potential to support end-runs around barriers imposed by the implicit (and explicit) biases of law firm partners.
- For lawyers returning to the practice of law after a three-month (or more) absence, a work allocation system can result in improving their work productivity from 16% in the 6th week of their return to 62% in week 1!
- Work allocation has benefits for corporate clients, too! While a corporate law department could certainly use a work allocation system itself, when outside counsel firms use them, those clients who desire to better assess how their firms are doing with regard to the advancement of diverse attorneys in the firm can now see data that reveals not only which diverse attorneys are working on their matters and the number of hours being billed, but also whether those diverse lawyers are getting to work on progressively more challenging work and thus, progressing in their career development.
- One of the firms using a work allocation system has not only seen better retention rates, it’s also seen significant improvement in lawyer morale in that more lawyers are getting to work on the types of matters that truly interest them more frequently.
- Increased career satisfaction coupled with better utilization of attorneys’ time is generating measurable increases in law firm productivity and profitability.
Mason & Cook had some very compelling data about work allocation systems. We know that several US law firms/offices are beginning to experiment with these systems. As a D&I tool, work allocation shows tremendous promise, so we’ll be continuing to monitor it and report on what we’re seeing!
By: Sandra Yamate