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Law Firm Help Desk: To Outsource or Not To Outsource?

Geoff ZoddaThe rapid evolution of legal technology over the last 10 years has forced partners and executives at law firms of all sizes to address organizational efficiency challenges. Tough decisions to insure stability, reputation, and sustainability both internally and in the industry abroad need to be taken. The Help Desk within Legal IT departments has long been the target of scrutiny during difficult financial periods, and in a recent informal survey, 25% of the AmLaw 200 Firms stated they have outsourced Help Desk functions. Some firms have outsourced their overnight and weekend shifts, while others have outsourced their whole support group. Besides considering the present and future financial impact of utilizing external resources for these functions, law firms also have to weigh any potential long-term effects it may have on the IT department.

Law firms considering the outsourcing model have to assess factors such as, “Will the outsourcing company have a sense of urgency on our behalf? Will they be dedicated to giving our attorneys and our users the best support possible? Are they going to be a customer advocate?” Not only are they taking into account the outsourcing organization’s overall commitment to service, but equally as important is determining if outsourcing reduces headcount while yielding a positive bottom line financially. Once their diligence has determined that the outsourcing company has the ability to support their needs in a timely manner, has a documented record of strong resolution percentage, will save the firm money, and can make the users feel comfortable with the team, the firm will most likely move forward with the outsourcing process. Barry Keno, CEO of the Legal IT consulting and outsourcing firm Keno Kozie Associates, states, “Help Desk is one of the aspects within IT that a firm can outsource successfully without compromising the integrity of their IT environment.”

There are two scenarios for firms evaluating the level of their need to outsource: Outsource Help Desk functions full time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or simply outsource the after-hours work or overflow. Firms who commit to full time outsourcing make a serious statement about the volume of workflow compared to the cost of retaining in-house personnel to accommodate that work, as the firm is more or less exchanging a familiar group for an outside party, not knowing exactly who the users will be speaking with or working with as a daily resource. Most firms who are inclined to outsource, tend to hire a vendor to manage their overnight and overflow support, as there are a lot less calls from users during this time frame, and thus less risk to the firm.

Executives from three of the most successful outsourcing firms provided some insight into the prevailing reasons why firms choose to outsource their Help Desk, either full-time or after-hours. Lance Waagner, CEO of Intelliteach, Inc., states, “Firms are able to get more strategic with the rest of their IT if they outsource their Help Desk. [In fact] I originally wanted to outsource my after-hours desk as CIO of Kilpatrick Stockton in the 90’s.” Keno suggests, “Firms struggling with staffing stability, turnover within Help Desk, and do not have the depth of knowledge within the department, are the most likely candidates to outsource the whole group.” He continues, “If the vendor is doing a good job, it’s one less thing to worry about within your department, as it runs by itself.” Another benefit to engaging specialized outsourcing firms in this area is they have encountered practically every situation and have a response plan intact, plus, they know exactly what resources are needed, and how to properly run a Help Desk, all according to the firm’s size. Waagner agrees, saying, “We’ll provide Level 1, 2, and 3 [support] for our clients and put the proper number of resources and headcount for the firm’s group to be successful.” Greg Bartnicki, VP Client Services for Williams Lea, has clients who identify the health of the overall user experience as a major reason to outsource a department. He proposes, “You can transform your support group from good to great by outsourcing. Our solution is very structured - employing ITIL methodology, benchmarking to ensure continuous improvement, and leveraging an internal Williams Lea 'Community of Practice'. Our goal is not only be efficient with our service delivery, but to continually engage the user and IT community, which enables us to tailor our going-forward strategy. This approach allows us to fully support complex needs of the users, and establish best-in-class IT support.

With these vendors doing a stellar job managing these relationships and generating such positive results, why wouldn’t all firms want to outsource their Help Desk groups? What assurances do law firms have that their needs are better served by a group of individuals whose performance and results are managed primarily by contractual obligation, rather than by a similar, firm-employed support staff with a truly vested interest in providing successful service and problem resolution? Anthony Figueroa, IT Support Manager for Littler Mendelson, P.C., points out, “Communication needs to be tremendous if you are going to think about outsourcing your help desk and make sure you are not just one of their many clients. More often than not, individuals working internally within help desk are more committed to the tasks at hand, understand the needs of the organization better, and the turn-around time is quicker.” Yolanda Muhammad, Support Manager for Olgetree Deakins, P.C. and its 40 national offices, furthers this sentiment purporting, “If your audience is the type that needs a lot of desktop support, requiring individuals to be hands-on and accessible at all times, you may not want to outsource. It all depends upon the law firm’s corporate culture and how mature they are in centralizing service management and utilizing ITIL standards.” Other law firms opposed to outsourcing have cited anticipated difficulties in transitioning a support group back to an in-house situation after being moved fully to an external organization. Of additional concern, with security and privacy being of the utmost importance for law firms, giving outside vendors access to internal and proprietary systems, even at the support level, poses a potentially significant risk to information integrity.

Geoffrey Zodda (VP IT STaffing) has been a recruiter with The Glenmont Group since early in 2005. His focus is within the Legal IT industry, partnering up with law firms and professional service firms spanning the globe. Geoff considers himself a consultant to all of his clients, as he works hand in hand with them to develop solutions for even their most complex staffing needs. He graduated from Muhlenberg College with a degree in Business Management and worked with the New Jersey Nets previously.

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