This is a case study of my law firm, which is outsourcing its paralegal and clerical processes. These processes include: completing immigration forms, drafting employment letters and collecting personal data and information required to complete the forms. Outsourcing was necessary to grow my practice without increasing fixed overhead costs.
Before I started down this path, I had several concerns about the entire initiative:
- How to share information among my office, the service provider and the client to minimize difficulties with the client.
- How to assign and manage assignments to the service provider to make sure everything was completed on schedule.
- How to ensure consistency in communication-style between the service provider and client.
You Need To Be Networked and You Need To Join the Digital Era
Before covering how I dealt with these specific concerns, I have some general advice about outsourcing.
First, the law office has to have at least some level of office network technology or be willing to make the investment to get it implemented. If each attorney saves files on his or her computer that can’t be accessed by anyone else without physically sitting at the desk, there won’t be much benefit of outsourcing. Fortunately, the cost of setting up a network is greatly decreasing while ease of use is increasing.
Second, the law office must make a commitment to have as many documents in a common electronic format as possible. We use the full version (vs. Reader edition) of Adobe Acrobat. It’s hard to work with a service provider if most the important documents are only on paper. If you have to fax the documents or send them to the provider by express mail, the entire process becomes cumbersome. Again, the cost of the hardware and software for accomplishing this digitization is coming down and scanning is getting much easier to do.
How We Share Information
I work with a US- and India-based firm, Quantum Technologies. This firm has offices in both New York and Philadelphia, as well as Mumbai and New Dehli.
I use two important elements to share information with Quantum:
- A folder on my office computer that the service provider could access from outside the office. This can be easily accomplished if both the law firm and service provider use Windows XP Professional as operating systems. In my case, Quantum uses high speed Internet access to “take control” of a computer in my office. I only give the service provider access to one folder while other folders remained hidden.
- Software that enables me to assign tasks, set deadlines and keep an on-going record of what is happening on the immigration case (a text-based client log). I use Microsoft Access to do all of this.
How We Assign and Manage Assignments
When I need Quantum to do work for me, I create a new client folder in the shared drive that the service provider can connect to. I then assign a task from the database, explain what I want them to do in the client log, and set a deadline where I’ll check to see if the task has been completed. I can also prioritize the tasks to show which are the most urgent. (A sample rundown is included in the Useful Links list below.)
Everyday somebody at Quantum logs in and prints out a list of assigned cases in the order of highest priority. Then the service provider goes to the database, reads the client log to see what needs to be done, goes to the folder to get the relevant information, and does the work.
Service provider staff members save their work in the same folder, put a notation in the client log that the work was done, and send me a task to review it.
I review it and make sure it’s correct. I then either send the material to the client for review or ask the service provider to do so. When Quantum communicates with the client, it always uses an email address from my company.
I make notes about these tasks in the same client log available to both me and the service provider. We both include all of our actions and interactions with the client in the log so we can keep track of exactly what has been done.
How We Ensure Consistency in Communication
We want our clients to feel that they’re dealing with our firm, not a bunch of unrelated individuals. So we’ve created many templates of memos, email messages, letters, and other communication we expect to have with the client. This ensures a level of consistency among the various missives they receive from us or Quantum.
We’ve also created a flowchart to show what information is needed at each step of the immigration process and the order of steps along the way. We make this available to Quantum staff and require them to use it.
We’ve done this by using the software MindManager, which allows us to create flowcharts of each type of immigration case we work on. In addition, users can have links to relevant files or Web pages embedded in the flowchart. Finally, both our office and the service provider can write notes on the flowchart for special emphasis.
For each new case we create a flowchart based upon the MindManager flowchart template. Both our office and the service provider continually refer to this chart to make sure we’re working in a consistent way. (See the sample in the Useful Links list below.)
I Can’t Imagine Growing without Outsourcing
Outsourcing is an essential part of my current business and even more of my future. I can’t imagine my office without it. I feel strongly about this for many reasons.
The work is of high quality — higher than I originally expected. Also, as we worked together the people from the service provider quickly adapted to my style.
The people at the service provider are flexible and cooperative. They really try hard to work with me.
I had many urgent cases during the H-1B cap season and other rush periods and couldn’t have handled them with my current staff. With this new set-up, I assign the task during my workday, and the service provider, which is located in India, starts working when I leave. When I return in the morning the cases are always completed. It’s a tremendous feeling.
This approach lets me focus on getting new cases without worrying about hiring and training people, getting them a desk or a computer. I get the cases, and there’s a tremendous reserve of talent able to help me on very short notice.
Also, I don’t have to be somebody’s technical support desk. Before offshoring, I tried hiring individuals who wanted to work from home. While this worked to some degree, most of the people didn’t have the level of technology I needed to work with, or if they did, they didn’t have the ability to fix problems when those surfaced. I was spending too much time as a technical support desk. My service provider has excellent technology and the ability to support it themselves.
I can give the data directly from the client to the service provider and not have to organize it for them first. For example, I can give my provider copies of the passport and other documents, and the people there can review them and use them to complete the forms and letters directly. Before, I found myself spending a lot of time organizing these documents — it almost felt quicker to do it myself.
Last, the cost benefits are tremendous. The hourly rate or per-project fee for outsourcing is a fraction of what similar services would cost me to have done in the U.S.
Of course, I’ve hit some difficulties. For one, the service provider can only work in English. I have many Japanese and German clients who would prefer to communicate in their own languages. At this time I can’t do that with my current provider. I suspect over time I will be able to do so. Also, there are some stylistic differences that creep into the client communication. They’re minimal, to be sure, but unavoidable.
Given the current global climate that seeks to improve efficiencies and optimize processes with the use of technology, it’s hardly surprising that outsourcing is an attractive alternative. Immigration firms are particularly keen clients of outsourcing as a means to reduce overhead, process lengthy forms efficiently and perform clerical work. Proper use of outsourcing is an effective way for immigration law firms to remain competitive. As such, the trend of outsourcing will, no doubt, continue expanding.
Immigration Law Offices of James C. Nolan
H-1B visa list flowchart sample
A sample of the priority list in table form
Roshni Khattar, Esq., with Quantum Technologies, also contributed to this article.