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Best Practice Tips: Law Firm Staff Work Distribution Analysis

Asked and Answered

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am a new firm administrator with a 35-attorney litigation firm in Los Angeles, California. The accounting department has seven staff members handling a variety of tasks. My partners are concerned that we are inefficient and over-staffed. I am having a hard time finding where to start so to get a handle on this issue. Please provide any information that you are willing to share.

A. There are questions that you must ask yourself in order to analyze the work distribution of your accounting department. Such questions as the following will help you in knowing what to look for:

  1. What activities take the most time?
  2. Is there any misdirected effort?
  3.  Are skills being used properly?
  4. Are you staff doing too many unrelated tasks?
  5. Are tasks spread too thinly?
  6. Is work distributed evenly?
  7. Are the right people on the bus?

Before you can analyze your accounting department you must be able to see clearly, in one place, all the activities of your accounting department and the contribution of each employee on each activity. A work distribution chart is the easiest and best way to arrange these facts in simple form. A properly made work distribution chart will help you determine if the largest time of your staff is devoted to the major function of your department. (Operations list down the left rows and staff names listed across the columns) It may indicate that more time is being devoted to other functions than is necessary. A function or task may require a more detailed study, as might be indicated where total hours seem unreasonable. You may discover that your accounting department is spending too much time on relatively unimportant or unnecessary work. Misdirected effort appears on the work distribution chart when staff are involved in tasks not contribution directly to the mission of the accounting department.

Here is an overview of the process:

  1. Have each staff member prepare a task list.
    1. List specific and clear activities for a specific time period with time listed for each activity.
    2. Task lists should cover a complete cycle of work. (Weekly, Monthly, etc.)
  2. Determine operations performed
    • Prepare an operations list grouping related or same kind of tasks (operations).
    1. Check operations list against breakdown of department mission.
  3. Complete the work distribution chart
    • Complete heading
    1. List operations.
    2.  Enter staff names in a column of the chart.
    3. Enter tasks, time, and work count for each operation.
    4. Total the columns and rows.
  4. Examine the present work distribution
    • What operations take the most time?
    1. Are they essential?
    2. Is there misdirected effort?
    3. Are skills used properly?
    4. Are you staff doing too many unrelated tasks?
    5. Are tasks spread too thinly?
    6. Is work distributed equitably?
    7. Is the department overstaffed?
    8. Are the right people on the bus?
  5. Improve work distribution
    • Consider eliminations, additions, and rearrangement of tasks and operations.
    1. Prepare a proposed work distribution chart.
    2. Discuss proposed changes with your partners.
    3. Put proposed changes into effect.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, ( is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at

Posted on February 21, 2018 by Sara Anderson
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