Kevin Smith, Head of Managed Services at Pinnacle, says law firms are challenged to hold onto their investment in IT expertise when a big project ends, and continually rehiring roles is far from ideal. There’s a more flexible and cost-effective way to work on business transformation and resilience.
One of the clearest findings from the Briefing/HSBC Law firm strategy and investment survey 2022/2023 – a poll of 76 senior strategic or operational leaders at the largest law firms in the UK – is that talent retention is this sector’s leading organisational challenge by some distance.
Of course that’s against the backdrop of the pandemic period’s so-called ‘great resignation’, soaring inflation, and salary increases in step – and it isn’t a problem restricted to well-paid lawyers. Project management experts, developers, and all manner of tech expertise is in huge demand across a profession that has picked up the pace of transformation and digitisation to future-proof the business.
Experts on Demand
“These firms are finding it ever harder to recruit and retain the skills they need to keep on top of relatively complex new software,” says Kevin Smith, co-founder of enterprise technology consultancy Pinnacle, which partners with large and smaller boutique firms alike on implementation of their core management systems, as well as bringing its own software into play. “You see lots of people helping to put these systems in place successfully, and the risk is they are then quickly recruited into a new project for another firm. The firm losing them then has key knowledge and skill gaps to fill as the system is managed, modified and adopted over time.”
A firm might try to re-resource this internally or recruit once again with all the associated challenges – but there’s also another way. Smith heads up Pinnacle’s growing managed services practice, which is designed to help manage the cost of this key talent supply more effectively, amortising the cost over a defined contract term.
“The idea is to provide experienced people who can do exactly what the firm requires in line with its strategy, but sometimes only for the potentially short periods of time needed for the specific work,” he explains. Ongoing support isn’t a constant requirement; they won’t be continually busy, but that isn’t a problem – much like the growing trend for freelance or contract lawyers to take on some legal work, the firm can turn to Pinnacle to resource itself for peaks and troughs in IT workload as needs arise.
Firms are finding it ever harder to recruit and retain the skills they need to keep on top of relatively complex new software. You see lots of people helping to put these systems in place successfully, and the risk is they are then quickly recruited into a new project for another firm
Another potential ongoing cost for firms is skill-updating – and the firm is also buying this in with a Pinnacle managed services arrangement. The work could involve several systems with which Briefing readers will be familiar, from the Thomson Reuters 3E and Aderant practice management systems, to the Intapp cloud platform, and iManage or NetDocuments projects in the document management space.
“We are over-resourced and ringfenced, so there’s always somebody who can pick up the highest priorities – and we then have teams that specialise in deep understanding of the particular products,” explains Smith. Somebody in one of these teams may be involved in five or 10 contracts at a time, intervening as required. “As one client put it to us, they have ‘experts on tap’.”
Smith is also super-focused on safeguarding his own pipeline of talent; exploring ways to ensure this path – and of course Pinnacle – is a truly attractive prospect to a diverse group in this highly competitive knowledge market. Technology has a talent shortage, and it’s a key pillar of strategy to plan for succession and service continuity, he says. Each specialist team will actively mentor one or two quite recent graduates, for whom the pressure isn’t as intense as being embedded on a client project. “The knowledge is there ready when a client needs it, but at the same time those at the start of their careers can be building their skillsets with us, which of course benefits all in the long-term. They are learning directly from people with decades of knowledge and experience across multiple projects, fast-tracking their skills and market value, and our clients can be confident we’re investing in their future service continuity.” This is also the case internationally, with Pinnacle (managed services) rapidly growing its presence in the US in recent years; and now expecting to recruit in Australia as larger firms look for more round-the-clock access to an expert for the most business-critical systems.
Business Balancing Acts
With the talent challenge churning away in the background, firms are meanwhile busy balancing the pressures of ‘business-as-usual’ with exploring opportunities to scale, diversify or innovate – both strands of course enabled by the technology that can also lead to significant loss if it runs into problems. They want to manage these pressures with fewer, but trusted, partners – who can bring deep understanding, extra insight and breadth of value.
“One key part of the managed service is data quality monitoring – ensuring a system’s fundamental integrity and that nothing is going awry without the firm realising,” says Smith. “Issues requiring proactive attention are quickly reported back.
“Also, where a firm has hired somebody to be responsible internally, it isn’t just the talent at risk – it’s a potential single point of failure. Law firms tend to be risk-averse businesses, and engaging Pinnacle means a high-priority problem can always be tackled by one of our pool of experts, who are based around the globe.”
But clearly they also want to turn carefully-weighed investments in technology into truly improved process – efficiency, productivity, profitability, or measurably lower risk – and in this case a single person to lead the way could prove a bottleneck: “There’s often a huge sigh of relief after any change implementation, but you then have a lot more work to keep moving it along – continuously improve – and extract the full business benefit from what’s available,” he says. Pinnacle consultants can proactively advise here, bringing experience from earlier projects and other relationships.
There are product enhancements, workflow improvements, customisations and integrations, and the detail also depends on whether a firm has made the move to cloud for a given system – something we certainly know to be a direction of significant travel. In Briefing Frontiers 2023, one fifth of strategic leaders recently indicated they already had all core business systems in either public or private cloud, with a third eyeing a two-year horizon to reach that outcome. As a Microsoft partner, Pinnacle specialises in Azure integration among many other possibilities – and cloud means more testing prior to a quarterly release and reporting, rather than the design and unblocking of workflows associated with life and work on-premises.
But whatever the size or complexity of workload with a key system, the bottom line is that Smith’s team will work closely with firms to make the resourcing and onboarding journeys with Pinnacle as smooth and cost-effective as humanly possible.
This article first appeared in the April 2023 issue of Briefing Magazine here >>