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May 2001
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Outsourcing Basics

How to Jettison Your Most Annoying Tasks

Admit it, you'd love to work on those 'control' issues. Here's a start.

By Albert Barsocchini

How to Jettison Your Most Annoying Tasks MANY law firms spend too much time and money on technology. Part of the reason: Lawyers and administrators are reluctant to give up control of technology to third parties.

Almost by definition, attorneys like to be in control -- indeed, that's a very important trait of a successful legal practitioner.

But sometimes, it's good to let go. Outsourcing can ameliorate the headaches of trying to run (and understand) technology. There are just some things you simply don't need to know to practice law. Such as computer maintenance and the mechanics of data storage.

For example, application service providers will rent software, on a month-to-month basis, and take responsibility for running it. Do you really want to spend your energy learning how to upgrade your time-and-billing software? Is that a "core competency?"

Large corporations have been outsourcing there technology to third parties for years; lawyers are just beginning to catch on.

When you think about it, the business value of outsourcing is readily apparent. Outsourcing can mean faster implementation of technology in a large firm, no upfront capital expenditures for software, lower cost of management and operation which provides predictability of costs, and you can write it off as a business expense instead of multi-year depreciation. It can reduce the time you spend dealing with technology issues, keep you current on the latest software updates, and reduce overall technology stress. Most important -- you can focus on the law instead of technology.

What to Outsource?

* Computer maintenance by entering into leasing and service contracts.

* Practice management.

* Virus protection.

* Data backup and retrieval.

* Document storage and archiving.

* E-mail service and storage.

* Networking (i.e. exchange server hosting). All the law firm should have to worry about is making sure there is power for the computers and the DSL is up and running (Which should not be a worry except if you live in California or are using an overextended and under funded DSL provider).

Tips

Consider the following when evaluating outsourcing services:

1. Vendor stability.

This is important because you don't want to be in a situation where your vendor goes bankrupt or does not have the resources to fulfill its obligations.

2. Technical support.

A Sample of Outsourcing Vendors

* Virus protection: McAfee Online Virus Protection, www.mcafee.com

* Document storage: My Docs Online, www.mydocsonline.com

* E-mail: Critical Path, www.cp.net
* Data backup and retrieval: Connected, at www.connected.com

* Networking: Microsoft: www.microsoft.com/exchange/ techinfo/hosting.htm

When problems surface, what is the response time and how helpful are they on the phone? Newbies tend to focus their attention on building a customer base and worry about the support department latter. Get references and check them.

3. Service agreement.

Don't put your lawyer personality on hold when you're ready to sign the bottom line. Read what you are signing. Negotiate! Many agreements are one-sided and protect the vendor, not the customer. They are written by talented lawyers with one thing in mind: to minimize risk to the client! (That's not you.)

If you are outsourcing your data storage, make sure they respect your privacy and understand attorney-client privilege. Many vendors that offer data storage in turn outsource that storage to third parties. So you may end up dealing with two companies: the vendor offering the service, and the vendor actually storing the documents.

4. Security and fault tolerance.

What type of security does the company provide for your data (SSL? Virtual private network? Encryption? A combination?) What procedures do they have in place to deal with hardware problems on there end?

5. Functionality.

Compare features of the various services. Get what you paid for.

6. Integration and ease-of-use.

Does the service integrate with the other software tools on your desktop?

7. Cost.

Compare what you are paying now to maintain information on your hard drive and what you will save by outsourcing your technology.

Albert Barsocchini is a Bay Area-based law practice automation consultant, and a member of the LTN Editorial Advisory Board. Among his clients is West Group. E-mail: al.barsocchini@westgroup.com.

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