Thursday, 24 February 2011

Can outsourcing work for small and medium sized legal firms?

The buzz word within the legal profession is “outsourcing”.

A lot of the larger legal practices are already beginning to save vast expense through outsourcing backend and administrative tasks. They are handing this work to legal support services either from an outside law firm or a legal support company. If the work is outsourced to an entity based in another country this practice is sometimes called “offshoring”. The outsourcing industry is increasing each year and as of April 2010 there were around 5,200 professionals working within that sector. These were mainly based in India and the Philippines.

The question is whether a small sized legal practice should particularly in an age of austerity be looking at some form of outsourcing. The area in which there seems to be some growth is in the area of typing support.

Many of the providers of transcription outsourcing are based in the UK and work not only with legal firms but also other sectors such as the NHS.

The majority of these services operate on a “pay as you go” basis with no joining or monthly subscription fees. The dictation is digitally recorded and is transcribed by a nationwide panel of secretaries normally secretaries with legal experience.

There are a number of advantages to be gained by outsourcing transcription apart from the obvious one which is cost.

These include:

1.     The ability to get work out on the same day or within 24 hours of the work coming into the office which intern helps to speed up transactions and advance cases meaning that costs come in much quicker with the resulting benefit for cash flow.

2.      There is no sickness or holiday issues to worry about.

3.      The service can be provided 24 hours and is not limited to 9-5pm.

The downside is that those working on the typing of letters and memoranda etc are not aware as a secretary would of the background to the case and this lack of case knowledge can sometimes be found to be inhibiting.

There are also the SRA requirements to be addressed.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority issued its first public statement on the ethics of outsourcing back in July 2010. In general the SRA considers legal outsourcing to be perfectly acceptable as long as contingent ethical obligations are satisfied that include client disclosure.

In the statement issued the SRA notes “in accepting work from a client, the firm must always consider whether the work should be outsourced at all as they should have the necessary resources and competency to undertake the task. In summary a firm must act in the best interests of their client.."  

In November of 2010 the SRA announced that it is set to launch what is refers to as a “thematic review” of outsourcing. This is likely to take place sometime this year. The review is to identify whether there are any particular issues or risks that require changes to the current regulatory requirements or whether certain outsourcing arrangements need particular attention in a supervision process.

So coming back to where we started and the question of whether outsourcing can be an option for small to medium sized legal firms the answer must be yes although one must not underestimate the cost and management that will need to be invested in overseeing the outsourcing and making sure that the conduct rule requirements is met.

How much money would the outsourcing of transcription service save is really down to the individual firm to assess. The cost of a good legal secretary can range between £18,000 - £26,000 depending on the region. In comparison the cost of outsourcing is around £1 per minute of dictation and on the basis a fee earner will probably do around 60 minutes of dictation each day the annual cost is likely to be around £14,400.

Outsourcing will not be every firm's cup of tea but in an age where there is more and more pressure on resources this should be an option  to be considered sooner rather than later.

Morgan Jones and Pett are solicitors who provide legal advice and services to clients based in England and Wales and who can be contacted on 01603877000 or via email at

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