Solex preview, The external solution

Mike Oppenheim describes how his company delivers facility management systems to law firms across the globe. Mike Oppenheim is head of marketing and sales at Pitney Bowes Management Services.

In today's competitive legal environment firms must not only keep up with the competition – but stay ahead of it. Firms have to manage their office support structure more like a business to remain competitive and effective. This has not been an easy task in three major areas – people, process and technology.

Managing people is perhaps the most important function. But how does a firm whose core skill is practising law develop the infrastructure to recruit, train, develop and manage the business professionals to provide office support?

Similarly, process innovation has made what was once an acceptable level of service unacceptable in today's fast-paced business environment. This, coupled with a move towards more cost-effective service provision, has led many firms to rethink and re-engineer their business support services.

But how does a firm whose main responsibilities lie in the management of fee earning and related functions justify the expense and time of developing and managing a re-engineered business structure for a non-core activity?

Finally, those firms which at one time were the last organisations to implement technological change are finding it necessary to be at the leading edge of the technological revolution. From voice recognition equipment to document and practice management solutions, more and more firms are realising that the implementation of these technologies is not an option but a necessity in today's competitive legal marketplace.

One option that many firms have adopted to manage their business support infrastructure is outsourcing. This provides them with the outside expertise, resources and experience which cannot be provided in-house.

Pitney Bowes Management Services (PBMS) provides business support services to more than 450 firms in the US, Canada and the UK, with a number of employees based on site in London.

Its services encompass the management of a firm's mail, reprographics, fax facilities and records, as well as the organisation of related office services such as the reception desk and the switchboard. By outsourcing these functions, services can be improved in these areas and costs can be cut.

PBMS' core competency is managing message systems, and it provides client firms with the experience, expertise and resources to manage such systems more effectively.

At one leading London firm, PBMS manages the mail, the records, the reception desk and the switchboard. It has recently analysed the way in which the firm handles its records and has proposed automating the entire department by implementing the latest record management technology and procedures.

The new system will provide the firm with electronic filing and retrieval using imaging and bar coding technologies, which will allow its professionals to access information more efficiently and cost effectively.

Similarly, at another leading City firm, PBMS has been appointed to manage the distribution service that includes the delivery of mail, faxes and other related materials to more than 1,500 internal customers.

Using PDMS' proprietary Site Support System, all accountable packages (courier deliveries, registered mail and so on) and faxes will be bar coded. On delivery the packages and documents will be scanned and an electronic proof of delivery will be recorded.

By using advanced technology to track packages and documents from the point of entry to the recipient, the system minimises the chance of a package or fax going missing.

In the US, some of the solutions offered by PDMS involve the re-engineering of the entire business support infrastructure.

At one firm it has been involved in a “paperless” office project to provide immediate access for the firm's lawyers to all pleadings, research and memoranda via its intranet. PBMS has provided the firm with the people, processes and technology to produce an enterprise-wide solution to scan, index, archive and access vital client information and documentation.

Legal practices cannot afford, either financially or operationally, to maintain the status quo. They must change with the times and use all of the available technology, processes and best business practices to face the challenges of the next century. Outsourcing of business support functions is one option firms may wish to consider as they strive to meet these challenges.