Recently the “Law Times” reported on an interesting and growing trend among the top Toronto law firms regarding the use of Professional Resource Managers in their offices to delegate tasks among associates and paralegals. This move towards a more unique and catered management approach is in line with a general (and constant) trend to increase productivity and engage each employee to his or her fullest potential.

The industry has changed from generations of generalists to the current patchwork of specialized pockets. Professional Resources Managers will not upset this evolution; rather they aim to ensure fair and equal distribution of work within a practice area. Like any business decision, and like any question of law, there are arguments on both sides of the fence.

Cons: Why a Professional Resource Manager not be right for your firm.

As an associate, there is a strong conception that your department works as a team, but each individual must both find him/herself and prove him/herself during the early years of any blossoming law career. Associates do this through a variety of means. Working with different partners, seeking out their interests, following their passions, demonstrating their strengths through particular projects, and most importantly, showing initiative. A Professional Resource Manager may take away from this type of training and instituting independence in young associates.

Many studies and articles have been penned on the importance of personalized and genuine mentorship programs in the workplace, the law firm is just one more examples of the positive effects of mentoring between partners and associates. A Professional Resource Manager does not take the place of a mentor by any means, but the ability to work continually with preferred partners and the opportunity to develop informal mentors through this personal process is lost.

Of course in order for any business or office initiative to work, all members must be on board and committed to the program. Currently, many law firms who have brought on Professional Resource Managers have not made their use mandatory per se. If there is little harmony or consensus among the partners regarding such a new addition to the team, then the work allocation program will not be effective for the associates or the firm.

Pros: Why your firm may benefit from a Professional Resource Manager.

With large firms comes large practice groups, with a high number of associates floating around. It is inevitably more difficult for each partner to develop a personal rapport with each associate within their practice group, nevertheless, the firm. A Professional Resource Manager will ensure each associate is allowed a fair and equal opportunity to work with a number of partners. While it is easy to simply call the associate you are familiar with, rather than look up someone else’s name in the directory, this may not be the most efficient and effective choice.  Your “go-to” associate may be swamped, and other associates may have more time and effort to give to a particular project, another associate may be better qualified for a specific task, and convenience or familiarity factor is taken out of the equation.

A Professional Resource Manager also takes pressure off associates to ever “Say No” to their superior. Law firms have changed drastically, but the hierarchy of power remains steadfastly in place. Professional Resource Managers take into account how busy any particular associate is at any given time, and attempts to create an equal division of labour throughout the team.

Tie-Breaker: Should your law firm consider bringing on a Professional Resource Manager?

There is no one-size fits all answer. In fact, that’s the mantra for Professional Resource Managers. There is no work allocation system that will work for every firm, or for every practice group. Mangers tailor create a system to best utilize the associates and staff available to match the needs of the partners and projects. Consider the size and culture of your firm to determine whether you should stick to tradition or join the trend.