Striking The Perfect Balance: How Outsourcing Benefits Immigration Solos And Small Firms
by Jan Krasny
Why immigration law is a good candidate?
It seems wherever you look legal process outsourcing (LPO) is the talk of the legal industry. Many law firm efficiency experts have hailed LPOs as a way for corporations and large firms to save money during these tough economic times. Along with the recent escalation of first-year associate salaries at many of our country's largest firms, shrinking or stagnating legal budgets left the average general counsel with no choice but to be creative in dealing with pending legal work and use offshoring as an alternative solution. So, we all know, or have read about how LPOs can benefit large corporations or law firms that handle mass volumes of process-oriented work like document or contract review. But I think the real question on many immigration attorneys' minds is how a solo practitioner or a smaller firm can benefit from legal process outsourcing.
Immigration law firms tend to have high paralegals to attorney ratios. Anyone familiar with immigration law practice understands the reasons behind this phenomenon. A large part of immigration law, such as employment and family based immigration, is transactional in nature and most cases are primarily process-driven, meaning they have a predictable life cycle consisting of repetitious steps. The attorneys tend to work as managers of the firm, carefully reviewing the work of the paralegals and limiting their direct hands-on involvement to questions of law or more complex casework. Because immigration law is generally a flat-fee practice, attorneys need to always balance volume and quality. Those attorneys that are able to achieve a proper balance are the most successful and are recognized as leaders in the field.
How do LPOs help you balance?
So where does legal process outsourcing come in? It is an easy way for solo attorneys or law firms to achieve a balance. Commonly the workload that immigration practitioners face varies dramatically over the year - some months are very busy, others are very slow. Various factors cause this, including visa bulletin updates, receiving unexpected denials, RFEs, the government's fiscal year or simply because a number of clients decided to send their supporting documentation at once. Because of the valleys and peaks in the volume of work, one of the issues that many attorneys face is making the decision to hire a paralegal or law clerk. This decision can be daunting as it initially creates more work for the attorney, rather than helping the attorney to become more productive. The process of finding and hiring and later retaining the right candidate requires an investment in both time and money that prevents or discourages many attorneys from taking that leap. Legal process outsourcing offers a viable alternative to employing a law clerk, paralegal or a secretary on a full commitment basis. Many LPO firms offer staffing solutions that give the attorneys the kind of flexibility that is required to effectively run their law office. These range from monthly hourly packages to task-based flat fees. For attorneys that require assistance on specific tasks, like drafting a petition cover letter, preparing a job description, replying to an RFE, or doing legal research, the flat fee option may be the best, as it allows the attorney to plan his or her budget accordingly. But for attorneys that require on-going assistance, the hourly packages provide a better value for the money. Utilizing LPOs for virtual staffing gives the attorneys control over the costs and helps them better balance the incoming volume of work. When an unexpected volume comes in, the attorney can simply outsource the additional work to an LPO and avoid having to lower quality standards, increase internal processing times, or hire a new staff member to get the work done.
Who are the people that work at LPOs?
The LPO legal associates are usually highly trained attorneys in common law jurisdictions like India that perform the required work at highly competitive rates and with comparable quality. Oftentimes, they have skills and experience that many paralegals or law clerks do not posses, including litigation and legal research experience, as well as well litigation honed analytical skills. The LPO legal associates straddle the line somewhere between being lawyers, law clerks and paralegals. All of them have bachelor degrees in law (LLB) and many have LLMs and law practice experience. For the client this means that the value proposition increases, since for a lesser price than a paralegal or secretary in the US, he/she is getting trained common law attorneys. A common misconception is that outsourcing or offshoring are all about labor arbitrage, but in reality it is more about expanding the potential talent pool. All of the Indian attorneys initially undergo several weeks of US legal training and receive ongoing training throughout their time with the LPO. In addition to the unlicensed foreign attorneys, many LPOs employ experienced US licensed attorneys that carefully review all work and ensure the highest quality possible.
What tasks can virtual paralegals handle?
Generally the virtual paralegals can handle almost anything like a paralegal in your office. The legal associates are capable of managing a broad variety of assigned tasks, including:
How does the process usually work?
At the initial stage of the engagement, the LPO will closely analyze prospective client's requirements and establish what is the best way to handle the workflow. Many LPOs have an already established set of processes in place and they will use those as the starting point when designing a custom solution for a client. After the best process has been determined based on the individual client's needs, the LPO will typically assign either an onshore or offshore client manager as the point of contact, train the client on how to best utilize the LPO services, and start production. Prior to starting the work, it is important for the client law firm and the LPO to reach a service level agreement and thoroughly address the expectation of each contracting party. Many outsourcing relationships fail, because the parties did not clearly identify each other's expectations from the process. Transparency and a thorough understanding of each other's requirements will lead to a more successful ongoing outsourcing relationship.
Legal process outsourcing is a service that enables immigration lawyers and law firms to remain nimble and better control overhead expenses. At a time when the economy has dramatically slowed down, making a hiring decision is not easy. With virtual staffing options from leading LPOs, a new affordable and quality option has become available. It is a great way to control overhead expenses and improve the overall customer service experience for your clients, since cases will be handled faster and you will have more time to focus on rainmaking and managing your firm
Jan Krasny is an attorney and LPO consultant with Juris Global LLC, a legal process outsourcing company with offices in US and India specializing in immigration support services. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.