WHAT IS THIS OUTSOURCING THING?

When I was 13 years old, like most youngsters, I was given a ton of homework each night. Now, of course I could have done this myself, I had all the skills, had done it for many years, and was wonderful at multi-tasking.

However, I did have certain subjects that I was much better at. I preferred them, and in a time-driven teenage world, there were many other distractions. Also, my grasp of the unusually named pre-historic ages was causing me some issues, and I felt I could not focus on my core strengths. So my solution was to call for help; parental help of course.

Now, they certainly had better skills than me, much better experience, and had seen my pressing issues many times before. As a consequence, the task was completed much more quickly, to a higher standard, and I don’t think my reduced understanding of the Neolithic age has hampered me too much. Plus – for a relatively small incremental cost to my household chores, I liberated time for some much more interesting opportunities.

Little did I realise that I had entered the world of outsourcing!

So, a few years later, how can those same principles be applied to our modern working life? If we look at law firms, we will see that internal resources are stretched like never before, and clients of law firms are relentlessly expecting more for less, quicker, but with no reduction in quality.

Law firms have therefore been adopting my homework solution and outsourcing their support services to experts in the field—and they’ve had great success!

By working in this new way these firms have freed up time for fee earners. They are better able to capitalise on growth opportunities. Partners/Directors have achieved an increased peace of mind that their support staff (both internal and external) will be able to manage all increases in workload, in a highly cost advantageous fashion.

That said, there’s no doubt that the profession can still be cautious about outsourcing, and it seems to be for three key reasons:

  1. Outsourcing is typically associated with compromising quality.

  2. It won’t save enough money or resource and is not worth the change.

  3. The legal sector is too niche and requires specialist skills that an outsourced firm cannot provide.

So let us explore these misperceptions, and see how they can be dispelled with just a few sensible actions and research.

“Outsourcing is typically associated with compromising quality”

Misconception number 1  – this is a common and valid concern, but one that can be addressed with a little understanding and research. When you’re used to things working in a certain way, change and trusting someone to do the job for you leaves you thinking: “They’ll never care as much as I do”.

BUT, that’s not always the case, and often it takes a fresh pair of eyes to see what’s working and what’s not. This fresh pair of eyes can come up with a new perspective on solutions not previously considered (such as integrating new technology and different tools to improve service).

For me, I just needed a few words on the Stone Age – I didn’t actually need to do it myself (though perhaps my Headmaster may have disagreed).

However, choosing a third party to run a whole function of your business depends on trust and aligned standards. That can be achieved from a range of enquiries, endorsements and pilot schemes.

“It won’t save enough money or resource and is not worth the change”

Misconception number 2 – it’s not worth the effort. This may in the very short term be correct. Outsourcing your support services can sometimes incur additional initial time and cost. However, in the medium term this investment will quickly give you:

  • A better understanding of costs (and savings on unnecessary spending) which means better profit margins.
  • Improved efficiency in support functions, which means freeing up time for fee earners and better, quicker client service and response.
  • Better staff-to-fee-earner ratios, which means freeing up funds and resources such as space and time to reinvest in their firm.

And in the longer term, you’ll get:

  • Better incentivised support staff (household chores are far better than pre-historic homework) which means increased output and improved quality of activity.
  • More support for fee earners, which means business growth and more opportunities to win new clients.
  • Decreased staff turnover, which means saving costs on procurement and training.

“The legal sector is too niche and requires specialist skills that an outsourced firm cannot provide”

Misconception number 3 – law firms are too special and niche is also reasonable. But of course, is addressed by using companies who already provide support services to the legal sector.  There are suppliers out there that have already acquired those specialist skills and experience to provide cost-effective, efficient and high-quality support to fee earners.

Culture

Pervading all of the above, and far too big to be called a misconception, is of course culture. To be effective in providing these support services, an understanding of the impact that a law firm’s culture has is vital so that a provider can adapt their approach accordingly.

What’s next?

So, now that we’ve been re-assured that adding external resources to our existing ones is not the doom-laden scenario we first feared, what should we do next?

Fear not, all will be revealed in more detail in the next episode from me, but as a taster, the best way to ensure your firm chooses the right service provider for you is to background check their experience, perform due diligence on any potential provider and ensure they specifically focus on providing support services to firms in the legal sector.

I personally, very quickly established the relevant background of the preferred parent for my teenage outsourcing. Whilst I didn’t need to speak to any colleagues and contemporaries for references and case studies, I knew that my mother had the correct credentials after many years of her own studying.

Outsourcing works – just take care in who you choose as your partner.

Martyn Best, Document Direct

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