Screen Shot 2016-10-28 at 11.51.25With a great wave of UK law firms struggling to promote efficiency and reap the benefits in their bottom line, many have opened business services centres to carry out their back-office functions.

But what motivates a firm to outsource work? And what is the best way to do so? A panel at The Lawyer’s recent Business Leadership Summit, sponsored by UK provider of global switchboard support services ComXo, discussed the market trends and best practice.

More than 100 managing partners, chief marketing officers, chief operating officers (COOs), chief financial officers and general counsel were in attendance at The Lawyer’s Business Leadership Summit at The Brewery in London on 28 -29 September.

The two-day event focused on innovation, culture and technology, with keynote speakers Dr Nicola Millard, head of customer insight and futures at the BT Global Services Innovation team, and Kotter International Europe managing director Graham Scrivener.

ComXo managing director Andrew Try moderated a panel of law firm innovators from Taylor Wessing, Ashurst and Ince & Co.

On the panel

ComXo managing director Andrew Try

Ince & Co procurement manager Simon Muir

Ashurst Advance director Mike Polson

Taylor Wessing COO Rachel Reid

The firms featured on the panel have taken different approaches to outsourcing. Taylor Wessing (as yet) does not outsource work, although it has worked on improving internal efficiencies, while Ashurst launched a Glasgow back office in 2013 and Ince & Co partners with a few key providers.

“We’re a bit of an anomaly,” Taylor Wessing COO Rachel Reid told the audience. “We have chosen not to outsource at the moment. There are a few discrete areas where we do, but we still have our entire catering team in-house, which is interesting to me. We have a flexible model. In terms of paralegals we will bring them in to deliver work on the legal side of things, but it’s a cultural decision for the partnership on how they want to run the firm.”

Ashurst has pockets of outsourced work, document production being a good example.

“We wanted to do something more,” Ashurst Advance director Mike Polson said, “and geographically we weren’t going to go anywhere exotic. Glasgow was the right fit.”

Ince & Co procurement manager Simon Muir commented: “We avoid the term ‘outsourcing’ and prefer to say we’re partnering with a provider.”

Firms’ motivations to outsource work are diverse, the panel explained, and are mostly driven by need rather than the desire to innovate. However, innovators can turn the situation to their advantage.

Reid said: “The business always says it’s about trust, but for the people running these things, it’s all about quality. There’s more of an acceptance [of outsourcing] when there’s a cost need.”

Cost gets outsourcing on the agenda, Polson agreed. When the firm was planning its Glasgow offering, Polson said there was a “blank sheet of paper as to how we would do it”.

“Communication is critical during the process,” Reid explained, “because there’s an element of collective responsibility.”

The most important part is to make sure that the project objectives are clear and the firm fully understands the deliverables expected of them. Making the investment without clear outcomes will lead to problems later, the panel explained.

“Be clear about the success criteria,” Polson underlined to the audience. “Do all that up front, and don’t reverse-engineer.

“The management [of the outsourcing project] should go back and prove they have achieved what they set out to do and show if there is any added value.”

Proving that such projects are truly valuable to law firms is vital, especially when the implementation of technology and low-cost solutions are becoming make-or-break factors in gaining new client relationships.

View the entire session here: