A survey of legal support staff in New Zealand, the UK, Australia and North America has found that 59% of respondents do not believe that support work is currently being submitted as effectively as it could be.
The survey was carried out by legal software supplier BigHand. It obtained responses from 807 individuals in a 28-question survey between September and November 2018. The number of New Zealand participants is unknown.
Almost three-quarters - 73% - of survey respondents reported that they move work internally at least once a week, with 50% stating that this was due to workload and capacity issues. One-fifth - 20% - said that passing work internally was due to it being incorrectly allocated in the first instance.
Delegation of support work was seen as a significant challenge, with 83% relying on email and 67% on verbal instructions. A high 24% of respondents said they are "very likely" to receive tasks by Post-it note.
"Clearly, tasks that are delegated in this way can't be tracked or reported on, which makes it impossible to truly gauge each person's workload and explains why often, some staff are much busier than others," the BigHand survey report says.
The report says the survey uncovered that support staff are tasked with a diverse range of tasks including calendar management, travel arrangements and email management, as well as transcription, document formatting, PDF conversion, printing, photocopying and more.
"Further, support staff are often under pressure to work on a high volume of tasks with unfaltering efficiency and firms' failure to ensure that this work is allocated appropriately and according to skillset, or to provide the complete information upfront, makes it difficult for support staff to meet their deadlines. This creates a problem for highly skilled, dedicated individuals who want to complete their tasks on time and to a consistently high standard."
In a summary of findings, the report says the attorney/secretary dynamic has changed for good, and there's clearly no single solution to creating an optimal legal support working environment.
"The new working relationship is still in transition, but firms are increasingly committed to building a more collaborative model that ensures the right work is placed with the right person, and at the right cost to the business. The goal is not only to improve turnaround for attorneys and their support staff, but also to leverage the value and skills of existing staff and build a strong, engaged and motivated legal support team that meets the evolving needs of the firm."