Critical Elements for Successful Legal Support Outsourcing
Key components for a successful collaboration.
Outsourcing is not a new concept in the legal field. Whether your firm or legal department is a traditional, transitioning, or next generation practice, you are probably familiar with outsourcing to some degree. Outsourcing may range from retaining a court runner or copy service to outsourcing every aspect of your practice – from reception to billing and bookkeeping to administrative and paralegal support – to professional service companies that specialize in their field.
Outsourcing photocopy and runner projects does not require much effort but when a firm partners with a legal support service, a higher level of support is being retained. As a result, there is a higher level of due diligence and interaction when partnering with these services. The existence of certain key elements within such collaborations is highly indicative of the success that will result. Some elements come into play before a support service is ever contacted.
Have a Clear Understanding of the Firm or Department’s Needs
It’s simply not enough to know you need or want support. Take some time to determine where your legal department needs the most help. What aspects of your practice need improvement or increased support? What aspects do you want to outsource completely? What tasks are you doing that you would prefer not to do or are not an effective use of your time? There’s room for improvement in every practice. You may be aware of that need but until you are able to identify it, it will be difficult to reach out to the right type of service provider. Try to determine where you want support or where it will be most effective in your practice before reaching for the phone.
Admittedly, that’s not always easy to do, especially in a legal practice that’s growing quickly. Start with an internal evaluation to identify what you believe are the firm or department’s most significant needs. When you bring in a service provider, however, be open to discussion. For example, you may think you need paralegal support, but from an outsider’s fresh perspective the best solution for meeting those needs may be something completely different.
Define Specific Goals
Setting goals is equally important to identifying logistical needs before beginning a relationship with a professional service company. As with any endeavor, it’s helpful to begin with a clear understanding of your firm’s goals. If you do not have a clearly defined picture of what the desired end result will look like, you will be unable to convey that information to your service provider. Moreover, if you are unable to fully and accurately convey the department’s expectations, your service provider cannot meet those expectations.
As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat and the saying holds especially true in outsourcing. Often, more than one path leads to the same result. For example, if you have a preference for one path and your service provider takes a different one, you may feel that the provider is not meeting the firm’s expectations because it expected the work to be completed differently. The same concept holds true for the end product. If you have a particular style (format, tone, etc.) and the provider’s style is significantly different, you may be unhappy with the work product because even though the result is the same, it differs from the look and feel of the work product you typically produce.
Understanding your firm or legal department’s goals and expectations will help you articulate those preferences to your service providers, increasing the likelihood that the work product you receive will meet your firm’s expectations.
Partner With Legal Support Services That Make You Comfortable
Security and confidentiality surrounds just about everything we do. These ethical requirements often pose significant concern for firms when it comes to outsourcing – and with good reason. However, they can be alleviated with the right provider. In many ways, collaboration with a good support service is more secure than how we regularly work. Nevertheless, it should still be a prime consideration.
The level of trust that exists between attorneys and their staff is equally important to have with a support service. The first step is to partner only with providers the firm or legal department is comfortable. As the firm vets legal support services, consider whether the support service’s core values and guiding principles align with those of your firm. How comfortable are you when you talk with the main contact(s) at the company? Do you relate to each other? Are you at ease when speaking with them? Can you see yourself working with them or assigning work to them? If so, you may have found a support service worth trying.
Maintain Open and Regular Communications
The legal department’s support service should be easy to communicate with and responsive. Communication should not differ significantly from how you communicate with your in-house staff. The level of communication will vary depending on the work or project at hand. For example, if the legal department is receiving complete, ongoing paralegal support, you and your service provider should be in regular contact as the work progresses, just as you would if they were working in your office as a traditional employee. The level of communication may range from a brief discussion while assigning work to several communications during a revision process to almost constant communication and collaboration while working on an urgent matter. In contrast, if the department assigns a large one-time project that will take significant time to complete, then communications may be less frequent with the exception of occasional milestone updates and questions.
No matter the type of support, regular and open communication by both the legal department and the service provider is essential to successful collaboration. Your legal support service cannot provide the results your department needs if the supervising attorney is largely unavailable to answer questions or provide feedback when needed.
Once the firm or legal department finds a legal support service that it likes and fees that both parties will communicate effectively, the firm may decide it is ready to retain the support services. Start with a small project before moving forward with the full services for which the firm is seeking support. This is a great opportunity to see each other in action, confirm that the firm and support service work well together, and verify that the work quality meets the firm’s expectations.
A legal support service is an amazing way to fill a significant need within a law firm or legal department. They can reduce stress and improve morale in overworked staff, and significantly increase the value of the legal services that the firm or legal department provides to its clients. Done right, a legal support service can become an integral part of your team.
About the Author
Kris L. Canaday, legal analyst and advanced certified paralegal, is the founder of Integrative Legal Support, a paralegal support service providing substantive legal support to law firms and legal departments nationwide. Kris has worked in the legal field for more than 15 years, providing quality legal support to both public and private sector attorneys, law firms and legal departments across numerous jurisdictions. Kris also holds a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies and psychology as well as a paralegal certificate.