Tips to Perform a Needs Assessment for Law Firms

Businesses use needs assessments to identify the gaps between the current state of operations and the desired business results. Needs assessments for law firms can be used to identify and correct skills gaps and reach business goals. In addition, needs assessments can be used to provide better balance in law firms and keep top talent satisfied with their work, a vital benefit in a competitive landscape.

What Is a Needs Assessment?

A needs assessment is the study of a gap between a firm’s desired state and its current state. Done correctly, it broadens the discussion to include group and individual biases, and divergent perspectives and allows for more inclusion, better decision making, and better results.

A needs assessment identifies the solution necessary to get the desired outcome. Without it, professionals may create training programs that don’t solve the organization’s business problems.

The benefits of a needs assessment for law firms include:

  • Informing decision-makers of gaps

  • Facilitating decision making to prioritize the optimal solutions

  • Providing data to justify proposed solutions and goals

  • Allowing for reflection on current methods and previous decisions

Tips to Perform a Needs Assessment

1. Conducting an External and Internal Organizational Scan

Scanning the internal and external environment and gathering information from a wide variety of data sources, such as financial statements, newspapers, and client data provides a comprehensive and thorough assessment,

2. Compiling Data for Business Needs

Organizational needs, whether for a law firm or another type of business, typically fall in the category of:

  • Opportunities that can be capitalized upon, such as a new market

  • A problem that can be solved, such as client complaints

  • A strategy that can be supported, such as a marketing approach for a specific demographic

3. Gathering Information

It’s important for needs assessments to be standardized across all departments, stakeholders, and departments. The same questions need to be asked – even small changes in the language could affect the way the question is interpreted, and by extension, the data it provides.

The questions should also be clear and concise. Double-barreled questions or the same questions asked in different ways could skew the data and its results. Consistency is crucial across the entire assessment.

4. Performing Data Analysis

Data analysis offers key insights that identify the gaps between the current performance and skillsets and the desired performance and skillsets. This can be used to provide training that will target – and bridge – those gaps.

5. Identifying Training Solutions

The client or the needs assessor can identify possible training initiatives that can be used to bridge the gaps shown in the assessment.

Training may not always be the correct solution. The root cause of the issues or gaps could be caused by unclear expectations, ineffective use of resources, or other causes unrelated to training. If this is the case, it’s best to implement solutions to the underlying issues instead of wasting resources on training and development.

6. Delivering Data Analysis Feedback

The needs assessor can provide a presentation or report for the client detailing the training recommendations or other solutions that arose from the assessment and data analysis. This will also include recommendations for possible causes beyond knowledge or skill deficiencies, such as causes related to policies or the use of resources.

7. Designing a Training Process

Once the assessment and plan are complete, the solutions can be put into place. The process shifts to designing training and development objectives, content, and learning activities, as well as measurement and evaluation tools to help staff meet these goals.

It’s important that any aspect of the design process is directly connected to the business needs of the firm. Otherwise, it’s a waste of resources and effort.

Where Law Firms Can Benefit from Needs Assessments

According to research, law firms are currently struggling with young, diverse talent that’s unhappy with the hours. Law firms are hiring more professional staff to alleviate the non-billable workload, such as legal research and legal billing, and directing lawyers’ responsibilities to their experience, interests, and skills.

One possible solution is to match non-billable tasks to lawyers’ individual interests, ensuring the firm gets a return on investment from professional support teams. Data and assessments can inform decision-making to direct lawyers toward their desired work and ensure that the support staff is a good investment.

Lawyers can be compelled to do non-billable work if they’re passionate, and data can help determine the opportunities they wish to be involved in and their preferences. Surveys also reveal interests that can be used to better balance the workload.

Another challenge is the limited work for associates that’s interesting and beneficial for them. If interested, associates can be brought into initiatives like technology adoption to better utilize their skills.

Partners should also be free of day-to-day work. Instead, they could act in a leadership capacity to reinforce the firm’s culture or spearhead different initiatives like diversity, equity & inclusion.

Another significant change is incentivizing and rewarding non-billable work and distributing it across multiple lawyers, rather than only a few. Some ways to do this include:

  • Billable credit: Lawyers can become involved in initiatives in exchange for billable hour credit.

  • Benefits for promotions: Non-billable work can be a determining factor in promotions to incentivize young lawyers to get involved in activities beyond billable work.

  • Time tracking: Law firms can use non-billable codes in a timekeeping solution to track different lawyers’ involvement in initiatives or extracurricular activities. This data can be reported to see which lawyers are spending the most time contributing to the overall firm objectives with non-billable activities, and which aren’t.

  • Connecting firm goals to work: Lawyers should understand how their performance and contributions beyond just billable hours benefit the firm as a whole. Their non-billable work should be considered for performance reviews and bonus allocation as well.

Outlook on Needs Assessment for Law Firms

A properly performed needs assessment can identify the current gaps that are preventing a law firm from reaching its goals, whether to attract more talent, bring on new clients, or increase revenue, and develop better decision-making processes.

National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 126