Growing your law firm is a bittersweet endeavor. You’ve built a reputation for the quality and efficiency of your legal services, but as this reputation draws in more and bigger clients, that internal support quality and efficiency begins to crumble under the increasing pressure. Your secretaries work into the evenings, trying to catch up. Your computers crash, and documents are destroyed.
At some point, you have to stitch the wound. An outsourced legal services provider can help you elevate your processes as your business scales — but the wrong provider can wreak havoc on your firm’s reputation. And so, the question to ask is: How do I guarantee the same quality and efficiency from my legal services provider as I get from my in-house employees?
You’re right to be skeptical. An outsourced legal services provider serves as an extension of your team, so it should be chosen with care. Here are the top 7 ways to guarantee quality from legal outsourcing.
The Best Way to Guarantee Legal Outsourcing Quality
1. Define your needs and expectations.
Before you begin looking for a legal services provider, first make sure you understand exactly what it is you need. Dig into your data. You might think that cutting costs is your main objective, but what are the reasons behind that need? Maybe your employees aren’t familiar enough with your technology to perform tasks efficiently, or there’s too much work for them to handle individually. Take the time to understand where the need for outsourcing truly lies and clearly define your objectives, expectations and pain points.
If you’re not sure where to start, a good provider will be willing to unpack that data with you. They’ll be able to tell you exactly where they can add value — whether it’s by making technology recommendations, helping you improve internal workflows or taking on some of your work — and they’ll be honest about the tasks that won’t lend themselves well to an outsourcing company. An unwillingness to go through this discovery process with you is an immediate red flag.
2. Do your homework!
Diving blind into an outsourcing partnership is, in fact, the best way to guarantee a poor-quality engagement. Cost is important, but it shouldn’t be the only factor that drives your decision. Speak to other firms about their experiences with legal services providers — especially those that have had long-term engagements. The service they bought ten years ago likely isn’t the service they have now, because their business strategy and pain points have evolved. A good provider will be able to evolve with these changes.
If possible, visit the delivery center. A quick visit might be all you need to reassure yourself that the infrastructure is in place, that there’s a cultural affinity and that the people there have the skills they need to deliver quality service. When you’re looking at the whites of everyone’s eyes, you can see for yourself whether or not the provider is the right one for you.
3. Create an SLA.
Everyone wants a legal services provider who can say, “we guarantee perfection.” But the truth is, they can’t. Nobody can. That’s where a service level agreement comes into play.
An SLA acts as a contract between your law firm and your outsourced legal services provider. By holding each party accountable to specific, agreed-upon and achievable goals, you have a tangible measurement of the quality of the service — and as long as your provider is meeting those realistic benchmarks, you can both work on continuously improving the engagement.
Don’t forget: Providers are often held to a far higher standard than internal employees are. If a secretary’s computer crashes and loses an important document, the lawyer might be upset, but they spend the workweek on the other side of each other’s door, so the lawyer is more likely to give the secretary space and time to fix the problem. If an outsourced provider calls and says their computer crashed, the lawyer is much more likely to say, “that’s just not good enough.” That’s why the SLA is so important; it clearly defines the expectations of both parties and allows you to maintain those high standards.
4. Look for robust governance and engagement.
The legal world is constantly changing, and the goals, pains, and challenges of your firm will change with it — so you need a service provider who can adapt accordingly. Strict governance and transparency will ensure smooth, continuous communication between your firm and your provider and will allow you to continuously optimize as needed.
Ideally, set up monthly meetings with your service provider to discuss ways to improve. During these meetings, the provider should share reports, dashboards, the status of projects, efficiency levels and more so that everyone is on the same page about what is working and what isn’t working. Regular, open communication helps you not only build trust with your provider but also ensure quality operations from start to finish.
5. Remember that communication goes both ways.
Here’s where many law firms slip up. Communication between the firm and the provider is important, of course, but internal communication is equally important. Be transparent with your employees about why you’re outsourcing, what your goals are and how outsourced work will be dealt with internally. The most effective legal outsourcing engagements occur when the entire firm is working in harmony with the provider.
6. Consider the technology they use.
Many firms waste money by rolling out new technology to every single person in the company. To make the most out of your investment, you need to think about who actually needs these tools, when they need them and why. Not everyone in the firm needs to have Vizio, just the people designing the charts.
For a more successful engagement, ask the provider for technology recommendations. What do they use for other clients? How would they tailor that use for your specific needs and challenges? If the provider can’t answer those questions, then they likely don’t have the expertise you need.
7. Run a pilot.
Ultimately, the best way to guarantee quality from legal outsourcing is to simply try it out. Pilot the provider with one or two departments for a short time to learn how they work, how they communicate and whether or not they can deliver.
However, a pilot won’t tell you anything if the department doesn’t actually need help and nobody is engaged. For the best results, pilot the service with a busy department that’s desperate for help.
Quality Legal Outsourcing is An Alliance
If your business is outgrowing your small team, remember that the most effective legal outsourcing engagements serve as an alliance between the firm and the provider. Do your research and look for a provider who’s willing to do their research too.
The bottom line: Quality legal outsourcing all comes down to taking a partnership approach. Look for a provider who’s willing to explore your needs, goals, and challenges with you — because if they’re willing to sign you up to a service too quickly, then it’s about fast money, not about adding real value to your business.