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PSLs are key to law firms embracing new technology

'Don't let the partners expect you to be a Cinderella, nanny or butler to them,' says Melanie Farquharson

8 October 2015

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Law firm partners tend to view professional support lawyers (PSLs) as servants, nannies and butlers, an ARK Group conference heard yesterday.

However, PSLs need to redefine their role as innovators in the business of law who can significantly improve processes and profitability.

That's the view of Melanie Farquharson, a consultant at 3kites who has advised 56 law firms after serving as director of professional support at Simmons & Simmons.

"The knowledge function is the lynchpin of the business; you need to be perceived as entrepreneurs," she said at the Professional Support Lawyer Conference 2015.

"Don't let the partners expect you to be a Cinderella, nanny or butler to them."

PSLs need to highlight where they can add the most value, such as with reducing write-offs of billable time caused by poor delegation, client communication and/or project management.

"You can't live in an ivory tower - you need to think about the firm's strategy, which work types are most profitable and where time is being wasted," warned Farquharson.

"You need to take the initiative, set out your business plan and priorities, and put it forward to the partners."

One area in which she believes PSLs can add significant value is in developing a deep knowledge and understanding of technology and how it can be used to benefit the business.

"The knowledge function has a key role to play in ensuring there is a meeting of minds between the lawyers and the technology team," said Farquharson.

"You need to be seeding, feeding and weeding technology in your law firm. You need to think about big data and artificial intelligence, and what this technology can do for your firm."

Other areas of technology in which the knowledge function should be up-to-speed include metadata, enterprise search, document automation and social media.

"You need to push your firm towards innovation," she said. "You need to be at the forefront of technological developments and show how it can assist with knowledge management and knowledge sharing."

The key, Farquharson believes, is for PSLs to keep asking questions, developing ideas and taking the initiative to make change happen.

One way to do this is to "piggyback" proposed changes to systems and processes onto other change projects which are underway within the firm.

"It is much easier to piggyback on someone else's project than to get a new one off the ground," suggested Farquharson.

Also important is recognising when to step back and let go of a proposed change in the face of resistance.

"Pick the right battles to fight and make sure the door is half open already, rather than being seen as an irritant within the firm," she warned.




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