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The experience of CMS Cameron McKenna is a lesson for anyone who assumes that reorganisation of business processes can lead us to the sunlit uplands.
The week before last (14 May) TheLawyer.com reported that Camerons was preparing for a £600m outsourcing deal with Integreon that could involve all business services. Camerons is by no means the first major law firm to instigate outsourcing - even Slaughter and May has contemplated it - but the scale of the potential project is the biggest in the UK legal market.
At Camerons, the internal reaction was horror. Several employees protested that they were being ’dumped’ in the name of partner profit. “Staff will feel cheated having dedicated their career to a firm and ending up working in a call centre,” said one typical comment. Said another: “I appreciate this is the cost-cutting and competitive world we live in now, but it has absolutely smashed morale.”
Camerons has rowed back from what first appeared as a radically totalising approach. All services will be reviewed, but many of them may retain elements that will still be done in-house.
The obvious precedent to examine is Osborne Clarke, which - despite initial qualms on the part of its staff - does not seem to have unleashed havoc. I stand to be corrected on this, but so far we have not seen an uprising on the part of former Osborne Clarke employees who are now part of the Integreon operation in Bristol. Managing partner Simon Beswick argues that business support professionals are given a bigger platform and hence better career development prospects.
Camerons’ problem is not necessarily the transfer itself but the way it has been sold. There is an enormous disjunction between management and staff: what appears as impeccable logic to a management team always looks like an apocalypse to an employee. There is surprisingly little attention devoted to the emotional convulsion this represents to an organisation, however short term that upheaval may be; all law firm leaders need to spend a little more time explaining to staff the rationale behind outsourcing. And it implicitly shows that the last thing any management team should farm out is the communications function.