Law firm survey finds misalignment between idea of success and firms' planning and metrics

Reputation and client satisfaction were seen as success factors but not treated as goals

Law firm survey finds misalignment between idea of success and firms' planning and metrics
John Stefaniuk, president of Canadian Bar Association

A recent survey of Canada’s law firm market found that the definition of success among law firms is not always aligned with how they measure and plan for it or their assessment of goals and risks.

The Thomson Reuters Institute and the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) released the first-ever “State of the Canadian Law Firm Market” on Wednesday.

“Lawyers have a good sense of what they believe to be important to the success of their firms and their legal businesses,” says John Stefaniuk, CBA president and partner at Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP in Winnipeg. “But they don't do a great job of measuring the achievement of those indicia of success.”

Similarly, lawyers are effective in identifying upcoming challenges but less so in determining the appropriate action to address those challenges, he says. As the saying goes, you cannot manage what you do not measure. Stefaniuk says law firms must recognize that they need to better measure factors associated with the keys to success.

The report’s findings come from a survey of 330 lawyers at law firms in Canada. The survey was conducted in October 2023. Ninety survey respondents were solo practitioners, 116 worked at firms with between two and ten lawyers, 84 came from firms with between 11 and 179 lawyers, and 40 were at firms with 180 or more.

The survey’s respondents view law firm reputation, client satisfaction, and repeat client business as the three top measures of success. However, only 50 percent of their law firms measured firm reputation, and only 46 percent measured client satisfaction as success metrics. Only 21 percent of the respondents had “enhancing your firm’s reputation” as their top three goals and priorities.

“Firms are reasonably good at identifying challenges, but then there's a lag in implementing concrete plans to tackle those challenges,” says Stefaniuk. “And I think that's not atypical of our profession.”

The most common challenge that survey respondents identified was “spending too much time on administrative tasks, not enough time practising law,” which was either a significant or moderate challenge for 81 percent. Sixty-nine percent said “clients demanding more for less or rate pressure from clients” was a challenge. Also, for 69 percent, managing mental health was a challenge.

“Law firms are paying more and more attention to mental health issues,” says Stefaniuk. But just as with work-life balance or diversity, law firms may struggle to match their identification of the challenge with an ability to measure their success or lack of success in dealing with it.

Stefaniuk says law firm management generally focuses on handling return-to-work, balancing remote work with office work, facilities and personnel management, and retention. They are also dialled in on incorporating generative AI into the legal practice. “Just evaluating what tools are out there and how they can be incorporated is a huge challenge,” he says.

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