In this time of economic downturn, a number of firms are looking at making Staff cuts. And one of the areas they are looking hard at is word-processing. There has been an aggressive pitch by “vendors” offering to outsource the word-processing department. With the advent of high-speed color scanners and high-speed internet, it is possible to send your document (or your dictation) around the world, and have it delivered back to you 24×7. With worldwide networks and hosted document repositories, it is possible to have a service provide with offices in every major time zone. And so, what is missing in the bid by these vendors for your work. What are some of the choices.
In a time of economic downturn there is a tension between “management” wanting to cut costs via outsourcing and “staff” wanting to preserve viable employment. There is also a tension between overseas outsourcing (meaning India, Phillipines, China, etc.) and domestic insourcing (United States operations or European Operations). The latter have the benefit of (1) time zone, (2) language, and (3) staffing by highly training individuals, often by the very same people who used to be word-processors in law firms. The former have the benefit of far lower wage scales.
Whether out-sourcing or in-sourcing, there is a requirement for clear terms of service, an agreement on form and format, and a consistence of styling, possibly through the use of templates.
WHAT IS MISSING
What is often missing in the outsourcing is the personal touch, the ability to go down to wordprocessing and sit with the WP professional to explain your specific needs, and to have a dedicated professional who learns your handwriting and markup, and can efficiently and consistently interpret your hieroglyphics. Dedicated specialists in an insourcing context can help in this regard. But often, the personal touch, the ability to sit down with the professional can provide a key productivity element that reduces the number of drafts required and the turnaround time.
I have clients and colleagues who have dealt with outsourced wordprocessing services. The first casualty is the “personal touch”. But the more insidious casualty is hard to measure; it the amount of work that is no longer sent to the wordprocessing department. This is the work that that that the attorney just does by herself; the attorney cuts her or himself off from the support service because it just won’t get done in time, will require too much time in revisions and redrafts; and the work needs to get done. What then happens in the short term is that attorney billables go up. BUT, more insidious, revenue received from clients goes down when they refuse to pay the full freight of the attorney time drafting documents that could have been handled by lower cost providers who were “on-site”, could put together the package of documents, and properly service the attorneys.
ALTERNATIVE TO WORDPROCESSING AND OUTSOURCING
In this discussion, we are missing consideration of alternatives that keep work within the firm, while making the existing firm staff more productive. I am talking about use of templates, macros, and document assembly tools. A focus on standardizing workproduct, getting agreement on what documents should do and say, and building automation tools can result in major productivity gains that can offset the high perceived cost of the inhouse wordprocessing staff.