SCALING YOUR FIRM’S AUTOMATION – WHY OUTSOURCING MAKES SENSE
Okay, I’ll come clean from the start – I’m a consultant, a gun for hire, one of those smug people who work in the garden when (or if) the sun comes out and what you’ll read below is almost entirely, unapologetically, biased towards what I do. Having said that, I’ve put in my hours in practice and therefore feel I’ve earned my two pence. With that out of the way, here’s why I think outsourcing will play a huge part in the future of law and, specifically, the scaling up of your firm’s automation and tech offering.
As a consultant specialising in the management of automation projects across the market I’ve seen a marked increase in the number of firms coming forward saying “we’ve heard about Firm X doing this with automation, how can we do it?” or “we’ve invested in this automation software but cannot find the time or resources to scale up its use to a firm-wide level”.
From my perspective, there has been a tipping point in automation being the preserve of the forward thinking few towards becoming the industry norm. With that in mind we (as in the collective legal community) need to be open minded as to how this change can be effectively managed and implemented.
With any shift like this, there comes an inevitable scramble to catch up with competitors and demand. As lawyers, we are all used to straining to meet the needs of clients (both external and internal) expecting everything for nothing and wanting it done last week. There is also an inherent reactivity within the legal community when it comes to new ideas and implementing technology; it takes a brave managing partner to invest and take the lead, but when that decision is made it is usually implemented with a degree of urgency to make up the perceived time lost to strategising.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, it’s a sign of the times and is usually symptomatic of prudent business practice. What does matter is how we adapt to and manage the situation while maintaining a working and living environment that keeps us sane and ready to face the next job.
Here’s where outsourcing makes real sense. By acting as a release to the pressure of an increased workload, your consultants will free up time for your internal teams and lawyers to do the work that they have been hired and trained for – their value to the firm and enjoyment of the working day increases. They can get home at a reasonable hour to spend time with their families and come back to work the next day feeling ready to go again. There are too many people, myself included, who have walked away from roles because the balance has been lost.
QUALITY OF WORK
Consultants are, by their nature, highly motivated experts in their field. We’ve taken a huge leap of faith to leave employment and nail our ability to the mast. If the work we do isn’t up to scratch, the bills don’t get paid and it’s beans on toast for the next month. There’s a huge incentive for us to get the job done to a high standard and to deliver it on time – “good enough” or putting work onto a pile doesn’t cut it. By outsourcing you have instant access to proactive individuals who are keen to impress and driven to succeed. The John Lewis Partnership has recognised that employing people who have a vested interest in their own success equates to a significant increase in their output; consultants operate on exactly the same platform.
Our time is also dedicated to the job at hand. We’ve made a decision to specialise in one task and apply our time and expertise to that end. When I’m appointed to automate a suite of documents, that’s all I’ll be doing – I won’t be going to telephone training sessions or meetings to decide the time of the next meeting. Turnaround speeds and accuracy of work increase significantly as a result, the needs of clients can be satisfied.
So why don’t you just beef up your existing team with a few new appointments?
Simple, finding the right people is difficult and expensive. Whilst automation has turned a corner in the industry, there is still a lack of “legal engineers” in the employment market who have the required expertise to manage and scale things up. I have been approached on numerous occasions both by recruitment consultants and firms directly asking whether I know of anyone who they could approach to build up an automation team. Realistically there needs to be a team of at least two engineers to effectively run a successful automation project at firm-wide level – in a market where finding oneavailable engineer is difficult, this is a huge and possibly unrealistic task.
There are thousands of highly skilled frustrated paralegals and junior lawyers who would make excellent coders, I for one cannot wait for the day when the potential in these people is unlocked and applied to legal technology. However, it takes a good deal of time, money and faith to transform a lawyer into a legal engineer. A junior lawyer for example would likely demand a starting salary at their relevant PQE level and, ultimately, may end up missing day to day practice and decide coding and people management is not for them. There’s also the very real risk of your new legal engineer moving away to a competitor – there are few things more destructive to a project than the departure of a key stakeholder.
As with most lines of work, automation projects tend to come in peaks and troughs. You may have a client specific product that needs to be rolled out to meet a deal deadline or you may be waiting months for a precedent review to be completed at department level. With the right form of outsourcing agreement, you can effectively resource for the times when pressure is at its highest then turn the taps off when it recedes. This is a highly flexible and cost efficient form of management that, ultimately, accommodates the reactivity I mentioned earlier.
There is an understandable concern and scepticism about outsourcing to “unknown” consultants; they may not necessarily have gone through the firm’s recruitment process and, often, it will require a stakeholder putting their head on the block in vouching for the individual or company appointed. The best consultants however will be able to prove themselves and earn your trust before any agreement is signed – with the correct confidentiality, trust and dialogue in place collaboration need not be the elephant in the room.
So, to revisit our original conundrum, when people ask me how to scale up I will always suggest outsourcing as an option – of course I will, it keeps me in a job and the beans on toast at bay. However, it is something that I strongly believe is a route to success and one that is proving fruitful for an increasing number of forward thinking firms.
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