The specific motivations leading a law firm to outsource some or all of its support functions to a facilities management vendor are varied. My firm is now in the fourth year of a facilities management contract with a vendor that provides a broad variety of support services. The frustrations and limitations that led to our outsourcing those operations were many, and included some pain points.
Firm lore includes a story (which I have been assured is not apocryphal) that one of our early and desperately-needed file room employees was drafted by a senior partner who happened to share an elevator ride: "Would you like to work in our file room?" was the sum total of the job interview.
(Throughout this piece, I use "file room" as the generic description of the operation that provides copying, filing, mailing, facilities and other logistical support to our firm.)
These are difficult positions to staff. Entry-level pay is low, hours can be long and working conditions can be stressful. Those conditions also lead to difficulty in maintaining ongoing adequate staffing levels; in our case, "callouts" were frequent and were occasionally multiple, leaving a support operation seriously understaffed or even unstaffed.
Staff will bolt for the first opportunity that provides improved pay and/or a less stressful work environment. In our case, several of our file room staff were students who left when it became time for that first "grown-up" job.
The process of recruiting file room staff to fill vacancies resulting from high turnover was fraught with peril. Running our own help-wanted ads resulted in a flood of hundreds of resumes, all requiring evaluation. Hiring someone with a "connection" to the firm becomes the path of least resistance and succumbing to that temptation led to uncomfortable situations when the hire did not work out.
We also noticed our file room personnel were self-selecting into specialties based on length of time in service: The more seniority you had, the plummier your job. New hires were making office rounds and hand deliveries particularly in bad weather while more senior staff might be at a desk all day, filing. Thus, one employee was known as the filing person; another was the copy machine wizard. The result? Work waiting for completion until the specialist was free.
A consequence of that specialization was the development of job queues in each area of the file room operation, each queue serviced by that area's specialist. Because those queues were serviced at varying tempos, we found, for example, filing severely backed up, while the copy job inbox was clear. The de facto specialization seemed to prevent staff from crossing over to handle work in a different specialty.
We found our legal secretaries, paralegals and attorneys adopting an "I'll just do it myself" attitude when faced with tight deadlines or critical accuracy requirements. Don't think your paralegals and other support staff aren't thinking about this while they're feeding papers into a machine: "I could be doing so many other more important things right now." It is an express point of job dissatisfaction revealed to me in more than one interview.
Handling the file room's staffing, resource contention and performance issues was taking away time from other key administrative functions. The tail was wagging the dog. The firm concluded it was time for the back of the house to grow up and match the front of the house in both capability and execution.