The abrupt transition to remote working caused by COVID-19 uncovered gaps in many law firms’ back office services SOPs. How will mail be processed? How can I get things printed? Who can facilitate deliveries? And these are just a handful of common issues firms have been working through in 2020.
In recent years, law firms started to really look at overall profitability, and the events of the past six months have only made that more of a core focus today. For those firms that have yet to transform their back office services into profit centers, their leadership teams continue to struggle with controlling these costs.
How COVID-19 has affected back office services:
Real estate footprint – With law firms finding that they can operate efficiently with lawyers and support staff working remotely, many may begin to reconsider their working space. With fewer employees in the office, and if clients don’t visit frequently, do you need to pay for four floors of prime property?
Cost recovery and bill back are gone – Many firms have had a skeleton crew operating their mailrooms and copy centers during the pandemic. Cost recovery mechanisms and metrics have taken a back seat to an emphasis on service levels, as many operations are striving to “just get through the day.”
People doing the wrong jobs – Right now, it’s crucial that the number of support staff working remotely stay on track with their billable work and client service. When routine tasks such as mail, copying, scanning, coordinating deliveries, etc. permeate their schedule, you end up with highly paid legal assistants handling administrative work.
How back office services cost firms money, regardless of the current pandemic:
Overhead – Firms often waste a lot of money on equipment. Some vendors oversell firms on the equipment necessary to run a business. They push high-cost functions that a firm will rarely use, or these features just don’t perform as they should. There are also overages and their associated monthly invoices. Another possible issue: the firm is locked into a contract or, worse, purchased equipment and is now stuck with it for the long haul. Finally, don’t forget the supply vendors who charge premiums on office supplies, just because they can.
Healthcare expenses – We all know that the costs of employee benefits has been rising steadily for years, and right now, this is just one more financial consideration creating problems, and firms are looking for areas of opportunity to impact this cost as well.
Most firms truly believe they have a handle on what their true expenses are for overhead office services, as countless hours are put into creating budgets to lay out money allocation each month. Generally, these numbers come from a team of office managers, IT departments, firm administrators, or even support staff. They agree on what they feel is the best solution to fit their daily workflow and plug in a number. Equipment is purchased or leased and then – bam! – you have systems in place. How much time was really invested in this process? Has each function been truly vetted? Snap decisions on equipment, software, or procedures are put into play and off they go. And bad decisions on contracts or purchases can cause a firm to hemorrhage money.
So, what’s the solution? Three words: Managed Office Services (MOS).
The items listed above are all important considerations. While they may seem minor individually, together, they can wreak havoc on a P&L. Luckily, MOS providers can assist firms with these challenges. In fact, many large firms have already incorporated MOS into their business plans, moving their back office centers and staff from high-cost environments to other cities or to an outsourced arrangement with a trusted MOS partner.
MOS providers often find that their clients are great at their core business, making the appropriate adjustments and decisions to support growth, but handling office services can often be a speed bump along the way. That’s why directing the right work to the right place at the right cost – i.e. taking advantage of managed office services – can help put a law firm miles ahead of its competition.
A firm can expect an MOS provider to perform a detailed audit of their current systems, processes, volumes, and expenses; to quickly recommend and install equipment and software; and even to place people in the office to increase the firm’s efficiencies, while allocating the appropriate expenses by project and facilitating the recovery of those expenses.
Another enormous benefit of using managed office services is that, when it comes to finding human resources, the provider won’t just “fill a position.” They will do all the sourcing, recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training before a talented professional is placed in a firm. And, since expensive machines are only as good as the people who operate them, this is one less thing a firm needs to worry about.
Back office services offered by MOS providers range from hospitality/reception, mail room management and other secretarial tasks (e.g. copying, scanning, etc.) to equipment purchasing, and can help provide pathways to cost reduction, overhead consolidation, streamlined document management, and even healthcare expense savings. By putting the right people, processes, and technology into place, a firm can ensure a more efficient and cost-effective future.
Given the change in perspective that has taken place across law firms (and businesses of all kinds) in regard to profitability, considering this type of engagement is worth a discussion with your executive team. Law firms that can focus on the practice of law and the business of law will no doubt be better equipped for whatever comes next.
This article was originally published in The Daily Record.