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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Immigration Law Firms Outsourcing Back Office Processes : A Case Study

by James C. Nolan, Esq. and Roshni Khattar, Esq.


Introduction

Outsourcing is the transfer or delegation of the operations and day-to-day management of a business process of a company to an external service provider. In turn the company receives a service that performs a distinct business function that fits into the company's overall business operations.

Outsourcing is one of the fastest growing service industries in today's global economy. Companies typically outsource as a way to reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and refocus on their core competencies, leaving the rest of the business activities to their outsourcing partner.

Case for Outsourcing:

Why companies should outsource.

As globalization matures, outsourcing becomes almost a necessity in most global 2000 companies business strategies. Outsourcing is no longer limited to Information Technology, it is happening across the board in all industries including HR, retail, health care and legal.

A forthcoming study by McKinsey looks at possible shifts in global employment patterns in various service industries, including software engineering, banking and IT services. Between them, these three industries employ more than 20m workers worldwide. The supply of IT services is the most global. Already, 16% of all the work done by the world's IT-services industry is carried out remotely, away from where these services are consumed, says McKinsey. In the software industry the proportion is 6%. McKinsey reckons that in each of these industries, perhaps as much as half of the work could be moved abroad. But even a much smaller volume would represent a huge shift in the way that work in these industries is organized. There may be just as much potential in insurance, market research, legal services and other industries.

“Outsourcing inspires more fear about jobs than hope about growth. But the agents of change are the same as those that brought about the 1990s boom. New-economy communications and computer technologies are combining with globalization to bring down costs, lift profits and boost growth.” From The Economist print edition

”Despite the challenges to moving IT, outsourcing and contact center services to India, China and other overseas locations, American companies are satisfied with their initiatives and plan to expand.

Weissman Center for International Business at Baruch College and The Paaras Group, jointly released a study based on comprehensive surveys and in-depth interviews with 38 global companies, mostly in North America.

It found that offshore outsourcing continued unabated last years especially as companies gained confidence in their ability to manage offshore operations.

It also found that outsourcing delivered significant benefits to pioneers as well as new comers last year and the companies were able to improve their quality while cutting costs.

"Despite protectionist backlash in the US and Europe, the offshoring wave has turned into a Tsunami - an inevitable outcome of globalization and economic integration," said Suresh Gupta, Managing Partner, The Paaras Group.” From The Economic Times

Why outsourcing works for immigration law firms.

  1. There is a substantial amount of clerical, paralegal and secretarial work inherent in the practice of immigration law such that immigration attorneys are often waylaid from focusing on the business/legal side of the practice. This can easily be taken care of by outsourcing such work offsite and taking advantage of technology to process this work efficiently.
  1. The immigration law practice comprises of a significant amount of small size practices and sole practitioners who do not maintain a full-time back end support system. It is especially beneficial for them to outsource these processes and effectively reduce overheads and improve over-all management. For example, Quantum (a service provider) provides services to an attorney in Virginia who is working out of home on account of her becoming a new mother. Quantum helps take care of her paralegal and clerical work so that she is able to focus on her core business and client management while spending quality time with her family.
  1. Most immigration attorneys use some sort of immigration software to complete the USCIS forms and for case tracking purposes. Many immigration forms can be submitted online. Immigration attorneys are therefore more likely and more comfortable to use outsourcing services.

Case against Outsourcing:

  1. Companies considering outsourcing must understand that not all components of the business can be outsourced. Processes like client contact and management, business development and rendering of legal advice cannot be outsourced.
  1. Due to possible reduction of overheads, staff morale can be affected. To mitigate any such personnel issues companies need to consider outsourcing as a complementary service to their core business. Outsourcing should not be treated as the core component of the practice but rather a delegated function.
  1. Companies must recognize that as with any corporate reorganization, there is a potential transitory cost (monetary as well as efficiency) attached to any transfer of business processes to the service providers. The key drivers to facilitating a successful transition are the ease with which the service provider is able to familiarize itself with the company’s processes and style of functioning. Service providers need to understand and customize the company’s needs to optimize the outsourcing relationship. Both sides should have a clear vision of how the process will work, and each one should know its responsibilities. Law firms with more organized and automated systems will find it much easier to transition clerical and back office processes to a service provider.

Case study.

Below is a case study of a law firm that is out sourcing its paralegal and clerical processes. These processes include, without limitation, 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. I had the concerns and was able to solve them to my satisfaction:

    1. How to share information between my office, the outsource company, and the client to minimize any difficulties with the client;
    2. How to assign and manage assignments to the outsource company to make sure everything was completed on schedule;
    3. How to insure consistency in communication-style between the outsource company and client

Before getting to how I dealt with these specific concerns I have some general comments 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 one. If each attorney saves files on his or her computer which cannot be accessed by anyone else without physically sitting at the desk, there will not be much benefit of outsourcing. Fortunately, the cost of getting this type of networking 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 of Adobe Acrobat. It is hard to work with an outsourcing company if most the important documents are only on paper. If you have to fax the documents or send them to the outsource company by express mail the entire process will be very cumbersome. Again, the cost of the hardware and software to do is much lower than in the past and scanning is getting much easier to do.

How to share information and assign and manage assignments

I used two important elements to share information:

  • A folder on my office computer that the outsource company could access from outside the office. This can be easily done if the firm computer and the outsource company both use XP Professional as an operating system. In my case, the outsource company used a high speed internet access to “take control” of a computer in my office. I only gave the outsource company access to one folder while other folders were hidden from them.
  • Software which enabled me to assign tasks, set deadlines, and keep an ongoing record of what has happened in the case (a text-based client log). I used Microsoft Access to do all of this.

When I needed the outsource company to help me I created a new client folder in the shared drive it could connect to. I then assigned it a task from the database, explained what I wanted them to do in the client log, and set a deadline where I would check if the task was completed. I can also prioritize the tasks to show which are the most urgent.

Every day the outsource company would log in and could print out a list of assigned cases in the order of highest priority. They would then go to the database, read the client log to see what needed to be done, go to the folder to get the relevant information, and do the work. They would 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 would review it and make sure it was correct. I would then either send the material to client for review or ask the outsource company to do so. When the outsourcing company communicated with the client they would always use an e-mail address from my company.

I would make notes of these assigns in the same client log which was available to both me and the outsource company.

We would both include all of our actions and interactions with the client in the log so we both knew exactly what was done.

Insure consistency in communication

We wanted the client to feel that they were dealing with our firm, not a series of unrelated individuals. We created many templates of memo’s, e-mail messages, letters, and other communication with the client. We also created a flowchart to show what information was needed at each step of the immigration process and the order of steps along the way.

We made this available to the outsourcing company and required them to use it.

We did this by using the software Mindmanager which allowed us to create flowcharts of each type of immigration case we work on. In addition, you can have links to relevant files or Web pages embedded in the flowchart. Finally, both our office and the outsource company can write notes on the flowchart for special emphasis.

For each new case we created a flowchart based upon the Mindmanager flowchart template. Both our office and the outsource company continually referred to this chart to make sure we working in a consistent way.

I have the following comments in conclusion:

  • Outsourcing is an essential part of my current business and even more of my future. I cannot imagine my office without it.
  • I feel so strongly about this for the following reasons:


    • The work was of very high quality – higher than I original expected. Also, as we worked together the people from the outsourcing company quickly adapted to my style.
    • The people at the outsourcing company are very 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 could not have handled them with my current staff. With outsourcing I assigned the task and since the company was in India they started working when I left. When I returned in the morning the cases were always completed. It was a tremendous feeling.
    • I can focus on getting new cases without working about hiring and training people, getting them a desk and a computer. I get the cases and there is a tremendous reserve of talent able to help me on very short notice.
    • I don’t have to be their technical support desk. I first tried working with 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 and when they did didn’t have the ability to fix it when the inevitable problems arose. I was becoming more of their technical support desk then I wanted. An outsourcing company has excellent technology and the ability to support it themselves.
    • I could give the data directly from the client to the outsourcing company and not have to organize it for them. For example, I could give the outsourcing company copies of the passport, and other documents, and the people there could review them and use them to complete the forms and letters directly. Before I had to spend a lot of time organizing these documents and it was almost quicker to do it myself
    • The cost benefits are tremendous. The hourly rate or per project fee for outsourcing is a fraction of what similar services would cost in the U.S.


  • Of course, there were some difficulties. They were:

    • The outsourcing company 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 the outsourcing company. I suspect over time I will be able to do so.
    • There are some stylistic differences which creep into the client communication. They are minimal, but unavoidable.
Conclusion

Given the current global climate that seeks to improve efficiencies and optimize such efficiencies with the use of technology, it is hardly surprising that outsourcing is an attractive alternative that companies are considering today. 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 towards outsourcing will likely continue.


About The Author

James C. Nolan, Esq. practices immigration law in New York City. His law firm is located at 75 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038-4810. P: 212-402-7840 F: 212-402-7841. Visit http://www.jnolanlaw.com to learn more.

Roshni Khattar, Esq. is with Quantum Technologies Inc. located at 116 John Street, 35th Floor, New York, NY 10038. Tel : 212-406-3503• Fax: 212-406-3527. Web: www.quantum-usa.com He can be reached at:info@quantum-usa.com


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.


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