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ANALYSIS: Missing Piece of Multidisciplinary Teams: Non-Lawyers

April 12, 2022, 9:00 AM

Preliminary results from Bloomberg Law’s Legal Ops & Tech 2022 Survey suggest that lawyers are still not expanding their multidisciplinary teams to include non-attorneys. In fact, more than 75% of initial respondents report that a group of attorneys alone is sufficient to form a multidisciplinary team.

This leaves a relatively small percentage—less than a quarter—of respondents who believe that multidisciplinary teams should include at least one non-attorney. And while this represents an increase from last year’s responses (from 18.5% in 2021 to 22% in 2022), it continues to raise the question of whether lawyers truly understand the purpose and nature of MDTs and, more importantly, the benefits of forming a truly cross-functional team.

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The importance of multidisciplinary teams and cross-collaboration was a hot topic at Legalweek 2022, which I attended last month in New York City. One critical takeaway: Given the changing legal landscape and emergence of new technology, the delivery of legal services is no longer an attorney-only game.

Rather, there is an ever-increasing need for non-lawyers—including those in business development, data analysis, IT, and operations—to be asked to join the team and provide a holistic solution to tackling more complex legal issues and business challenges.

Who Should Be Part of a Multidisciplinary Team?

Last May, we discussed that law firms were no longer reserving the use of multidisciplinary teams only for specific ad-hoc projects, but also for formalized work across multiple projects. As teams continue to formalize, it is important to better understand exactly who can—and should—be a part of an MDT to ensure that it operates effectively.

When reflecting on panel discussions at Legalweek and past Bloomberg Law survey data, current trends indicate that the combination of both lawyers and non-lawyers is necessary to form a true modern multidisciplinary team. Here are some suggestions for whom to include:

  • Licensed attorneys
  • Legal personnel without a license to practice (i.e., paralegals, litigation support professionals)
  • Subject matter experts
  • Legal operations professionals
  • IT specialists
  • Project/matter management professionals
  • Law librarians
  • Alternative legal service providers

Of course, not every team will call for all of the above. But by blending a group of professionals from diverse backgrounds, different disciplines, and varying work experiences, law firms and legal departments will increase the number of perspectives on their teams and projects, which may lead to greater efficiency—and to better outcomes for those more complex matters.

Lawyers’ continued hesitation to expand their professional “club” and welcome non-lawyers can only hinder their ability to adapt to the challenges of today’s cross-functional, multidisciplinary legal age. And as the use of MDTs will hopefully expand to include more non-lawyers, here is one key point to remember, which came to me during Legalweek and has been repeating in my head ever since:

The importance of mutual respect between lawyers and non-lawyers cannot be overlooked nor overstressed. Only with this respect can teams collaborate effectively and allow for the matter to run smoothly—which is the ultimate goal for all parties.

Bloomberg Law’s 2022 Legal Operations and Technology Survey is fielding responses through April 22. To participate, click here.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our Surveys, Reports & Data Analysis, Legal Operations, and In Focus: Lawyer Development resources.

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