How do you know if your admin support services are delivering?

One of the questions we are asked before a firm elects to outsource is, “once we are working with you, how can we monitor the value you actually deliver to us?”, and at a more tactical level “how will we know you are meeting agreed service levels?”

How we demonstrate this is partly dependent on the key performance indicators (KPIs) we set, in close conjunction with each client, during our relationship with them. KPIs are deployed by outsourcing providers, of course, but law firms also use them regularly across their business. But in our experience rarely when evaluating the efficacy of their secretarial and administrative support. This is a missed opportunity, especially if a firm is serious about continually developing and improving its administrative support functions to its internal customers and end clients.

We have therefore provided some of the KPIs that we often track as custom and practice and also shared some of the KPIs that in more recent times have become of greater interest to our law firm clients, particularly in helping to answer that first question—“how do we measure the value you deliver to us?”

KPI one: fee earner to admin support staff ratio

A lot of prospective clients say, “we’re not interested in tracking our ratios,” and then ask, “but how are our PA ratios compared to Firm X?”

Law firms can get very focused on ratios, particularly their PA or secretarial ratios, and this distracts from determining the overall value that support teams deliver to firms.

That said, tracking how ratios change and develop over time in response to fee earner numbers is useful, when deployed as part of a raft of metrics regarding efficiency and service development.

However, you must ensure that you are including all the administrative support infrastructure that delivers a service to your fee earners. Firms might loosely track their PA ratios, for example, but not the rapidly increasing headcounts in their administration, document production, and office services teams as one consolidated services cohort. This can mean the firm isn’t considering the correct data and might make the wrong decision in which administrative support teams to invest going forward.

KPI two: cost of service per fee earner

A useful metric for understanding how your support costs are tracking the overall performance of your firm, especially in terms of fee earner growth or contraction. Tracking the cost of service per fee earner month on month is particularly useful if the firm is growing rapidly and there a need to scale administrative support functions accordingly.

In our experience, the rush to scale administrative support functions because of quick growth can lead to over-capacity of resource. Notably so, if the firm has a support service structure that would benefit from review and improvement in the first place.

KPI three: fee earner satisfaction rates

The level of support fee earners feel they do or don’t receive, is equally important as the quantitative metrics outlined above. If administrative support functions aren’t running smoothly, fee earners will feel the repercussions first and most substantially. And, in our extensive experience, they sometimes won’t raise concerns until invited to.

Information on how fee earners consider the support they receive should be consistently gathered, recorded and acted upon. The resulting data will help to optimise your administrative support services, tackling issues and continuously developing the service provided to your firm.

Tracking the KPIs outlined, alongside more operational metrics relating to the volumes, profile, quality and speed with which your administrative support teams deliver their services, should be custom and practice within your administrative support teams and their management.

Once that reporting framework is in place, attention should turn to the tracking and analysis relating to more impactful operational objectives such as:

  • Seeking to fully understand costs: firm-wide, by practice department, by partner, by individual. This knowledge allows far more informed decision making on the financial strengths and weaknesses of the firm as a whole and helps drive more sophisticated strategies related to the composition and volume of support provided to the firm.
  • Ensuring that every process your administrative support is responsible for is documented, streamlined, and standardised as far as practicable, practice team to practice team. Genuinely streamlining at practice-team level helps facilitate the use of technology (automation and MI) to increase capacity and enhance the fee earner experience, while minimising risks associated to individual or non-compliant actions.
  • Seeking out negative feedback to improve performance: When negative feedback is received, root cause analysis should be conducted to understand why the issue occurred and outline the action(s) that need to be taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

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