Thought Leadership

Unlocking the Potential of ALSPS for Legal Teams: A Strategic Approach

The transition to a post-pandemic world has brought a host of new challenges for in-house legal teams and their leaders.

High levels of inflation, driven by conflict, geopolitical instability, and supply chain disruptions, are putting immense pressure on both consumers and companies and, with a possible global recession on the horizon, cost-cutting is expected to become an even greater focus in 2023.

Large rounds of layoffs have been making headlines for months – with more than 150,000 jobs impacted in the tech sector alone in 2022 – but what stands out is the extent to which white-collar professionals, including corporate legal teams, are being impacted compared to previous downturns.

All the while, workloads continue to grow and, even where headcount is not being slashed, budgets are not keeping pace, leading to ever more weight being placed on the shoulders of in-house legal teams.

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Among many of the in-house lawyers in our network, the end of 2022 was characterized by an overwhelming feeling of relief as a hectic and challenging year came to a close.

However, with teams already stretched thin and having barely had time to recover, the mounting pressure to “do more with less” raises concerns about what will happen next – all while BigLaw continues to raise headline rates (2022 saw an average 9% increase in rates internationally among global UK-headquartered law firms according to a recent survey by PwC).

The war for legal talent has been a salient topic for a while – driven in part by lawyers’ evolving expectations and preferences – and is not just a law firm problem, with some estimates putting the number of dissatisfied in-house lawyers who are thinking about changing jobs at 60-70%.

However, with talent being the backbone of the legal department and hiring freezes potentially becoming the norm for the foreseeable future, a paradigm shift in the way in which legal departments source and structure their support options is needed in order to address more-for-less pressures in the longer term, whilst providing a more sustainable culture and environment for employees.

Where do ALSPs fit in?

One traditional port of call for overstretched legal teams has been to reach out to panel law firms to request a secondee – ideally on a no or low-cost basis.

In practice, this solution is only viable for a law firm’s most valuable clients – for whom they can make a very strong business case for sacrificing a fee-earner in return for notable longer term gains (something that is becoming ever-harder to justify as BigLaw partners face increasing pressure to improve profitability whilst growing revenues) and, in recent years, alternative legal services providers (ALSPs) have stepped in to pick up some of the slack.

However, while it is becoming increasingly common to use interim resources for maternity cover, while a role is being backfilled, or to support on a particular project, few teams have fully leveraged the potential of ALSPs as strategic partners for fulfilling broader support needs.

Indeed, with quality concerns being widespread – and in many cases likely reinforced by experience – it is understandable if ALSPs have not been high on the list when in-house leaders are looking to create a more comprehensive resourcing strategy.

Globe with city lights, representing the network of legal talent

Although the market has been evolving rapidly, and a number of quality-focused players with more curated talent pools are now on the scene, the current mindset around utilising flexible staffing will continue to make it hard for legal teams to realise the full benefits of ALSP-driven solutions, particularly while:

  1. Relationships with ALSPs remain very transactional and lacking in depth
  2. Support options continue to be sought on a very reactive (and often last-minute) basis, resulting in a limited supply of available talent (particularly at the higher-quality end)
  3. Additional constraints, including complex procurement processes and restrictive policies on remote support further impede the ability to secure the best talent

However, by carefully choosing the right ALSP partner, and focusing on building deeper and longer-term relationships, in-house teams are able to access a broader range of ALSP solutions that address talent, resourcing and volume-related issues.

For example:

  1. Personalised Talent Pipelines
    Often, when a team is looking to staff up with either a new hire or a contractor, they will need to start the process from scratch.

    What this means in practice is either a prolonged hiring process or, when time is of the essence, making compromises in terms of candidate qualifications, experience and skills.

    However, with earlier, deeper, and more consistent engagement, a strategic resourcing partner can gain far greater insight into the teams’ and key stakeholders’ requirements and preferences, and proactively build a more targeted and personalised talent pipeline that can be leveraged for future resourcing needs – even in the case of last-minute roles.

  2. Staff Augmentation
    A major barrier for teams considering using a wider range of flexible resource-based solutions is onboarding and the resulting loss of productivity.

    Losing 2-3 weeks (at a minimum) to bring someone up-to-speed may be manageable for a 6-month maternity cover role, but is almost certainly a showstopper if what the team really needs is an extra pair of hands for a few weeks to get through a busy patch, or the ability to access on-demand resources for overflow work.

    Certainly, the business-as-usual approach to flexible staffing (of tapping the market on an as-needed basis and choosing the best option out there) does little to mitigate the onboarding challenge, in addition to not being dynamic enough to provide a truly on-demand solution – which results in reverting to a familiar law firm for more ad-hoc support needs seeming like the only sensible option.

    However, a strategic ALSP partner can help to design and implement customised support models, specifically built around client needs and preferences, providing a much broader range of support options to choose from.

    Over and above just providing a secondee, more sophisticated support models can include elements such as more experienced ‘core’ team members who bring ongoing consistency of support and knowledge retention, as well as access to pools of flexible resources (including based out of lower-cost jurisdictions).

    Clients can then leverage such solutions – built around combining talent in the right way, using an appropriate mix of both on-the-ground as well as virtual teams – for everything from cost-effective overflow support through to managing specific documents or contracts more efficiently.

  3. Mix & Match Approach
    While ALSPs can provide an alternative solution for a broad range of work traditionally done by law firms, at times a hybrid support model that combines the strengths of both traditional and alternative legal services may be more impactful.

Although in some cases a large law firm may be able to support with such a hybrid approach – for example by providing or sourcing one or more secondees to work alongside its team on a project – for clients who prefer more control or have less experience with integrating traditional and ALSP-driven services, a strategic partner with the right network and experience in designing and implementing hybrid solutions can be invaluable.

A higher-quality ALSP partner, particularly one with experience working closely with law firms in an integrated and seamless manner, can both act as a sounding board as well as help to define and implement the best resourcing and support model to achieve the team’s desired outcomes, whether for a specific project or as part of a broader re-evaluation of its overall sourcing strategy.

The Time to Act is Now

Although the use of ALSPs is no longer new (Axiom, for example, was founded more than 20 years ago), the concept of flexible resourcing in the legal industry is still very much in its infancy.

While the future will undoubtedly see broad innovation in terms of the ways in which legal teams (both in-house and private practice) collaborate with ALSPs for their resourcing needs, even today the potential for finding creative solutions through flexible resourcing remains largely unrealized.

However, with higher-quality ALSPs now offering a far wider range of options than just vanilla contract-based staffing (and in a tech and data driven manner), it is possible to access a broad range of talent-driven support models more quickly and efficiently than ever.

Those teams that recognise the benefits of proactively identifying and collaborating with the right provider will find themselves able to do “notably more with less” –  and will therefore be better positioned for successfully navigating external challenges over the longer term.

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