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As law firms in a depressed legal market continue to scale back on attorneys, paralegals, and support staff, management faces considerable planning challenges. Partners, legal administrators, paralegal coordinators, and case managers all have the difficult task of making long-term plans for personnel, space, and infrastructure without really knowing what their long-term needs will be. Outsourcing the staffing, staging, and management of large matters can provide firms with the flexibility they need to handle fluctuating demands for resources. Personnel resources can be dramatically leveraged by supplementing permanent legal staff with project attorneys and legal assistants. Project people are particularly effective for handling more rudimentary tasks, such as document review and the more clerical type of legal assistant work, which frees the staff to focus on more substantive issues, to interact with clients, and to perform higher-level management responsibilities. Having enough high-quality work for all staff boosts morale and ensures that they remain busy, even when there is a slowdown in work flow. And when the firm is ready to hire more permanent staff, the contract attorneys and paralegals provide a pool of candidates who are a known quantity. The use of temporary attorneys improves the quality of life and the quality of work for the firm’s associates. Traditionally, part of growing up at a large firm is the experience of being thrown into “the dungeons” with hundreds of boxes of documents. Junior associates are “asked” to wade through these documents, reviewing them for responsiveness, potential privileges, and that elusive “smoking gun” that will turn the tide of the investigation or litigation. Many young lawyers, having greater aspirations, become disillusioned with this experience, which is not quite what they envisioned as law students. Using project attorneys not only allows the associates to handle higher-level tasks, but also increases the sets of eyes looking for privileged and significant documents. Associates involved in document reviews can therefore concentrate on reviewing critical categories of documents, preparing the privilege log, and substantively managing the review. The depressed legal job market and the draw that Washington, New York, and other cities have for lawyers means that the quality of candidates willing to work on a temporary basis is very high in these cities. In addition, the local candidate pool is enhanced by recent law school graduates, spouses following spouses pursuing dream jobs, parents re-entering the legal job market, government and military retirees, and former partner-track attorneys seeking a more flexible lifestyle. Besides having much lower expectations for substantive work than their associate counterparts, project attorneys are very eager to impress on an assignment. They are highly motivated to provide quality legal work. INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY Bringing on temporary legal assistants increases the productivity of firm legal assistants and case managers, improves their quality of life, and helps address the shortage of full-time experienced legal assistants. The 1990s telecom and dot-com booms drained the normal pool of entry-level legal assistants, as college graduates flocked to those higher-paying jobs. That phenomenon left the D.C. area with too few legal assistants with two to five years of experience. When that bubble burst, many college graduates began turning once again to law firms to begin their careers. There is now an abundance of talent at the entry level, but law firms are reluctant to hire in such an uncertain economy. The “win-win” answer is for firms to hire temporary legal assistants. Taking advantage of this available talent to handle lower-level legal assistant tasks allows the firm’s legal assistants to focus on tracking multiple tasks rather than having to do those tasks themselves. Experienced legal assistants may be in short supply, but those who are on staff are able to work on multiple matters simultaneously because they are supported by quality temporary legal assistants. Another factor to consider is the high turnover rate of entry-level legal assistants and the cost of training people who have law school on the horizon. Putting temporary legal assistants under the supervision of senior legal assistants lets firms focus their recruiting and training budgets on career legal assistants and on those contract people who show particular promise. Of course, a major advantage of turning to quality contract people is that staffing decisions can be based on work flow. Taking on short-term staff means that hiring and firing decisions can be based on work quality rather than work flow. When the firm gets busy, using contract attorneys saves it thousands of dollars in recruiting and benefits costs. And if business slows, the use of contract attorneys avoids painful but sometimes necessary layoffs. MANAGING LARGE PRODUCTIONS Large document productions, whether hard-copy or electronic, require huge resources in the form of senior-level case managers, overhead costs, and current litigation technology. Even firms equipped to handle one document-intensive matter may struggle if that matter becomes too large or if another large matter arises at the same time. Outsourcing the day-to-day management of a legal project, or a component of a large project, lets experienced case managers handle more projects concurrently. Outsourced managers report directly to the firm’s senior case manager. With effective management and reporting, a case manager may be able to handle four or five cases simultaneously. A significant benefit of outsourcing legal project management is access to the accumulated knowledge of an experienced project management company. While a typical large law firm manages a few major document productions in a year, some project management companies manage dozens of productions, with a variety of production types. Having encountered hundreds of logistical challenges and having worked with dozens of different case managers, those companies have been exposed to a multitude of ways to review, process, and produce documents. Moreover, they can provide access to cutting-edge electronic discovery technologies, saving the firm from making a significant investment. Firms that select new litigation technology on their own (i.e., electronic online review platforms) can find themselves stuck with outdated or ineffective technology months into the production as deadlines pass, but they often have no recourse but to stick with the technology. Because management companies work on major products with a multitude of firms, they can enable their clients to invest only in technology that is both current and proven at other firms. STAGING AREAS Just as it is often not cost-effective for firms to employ large numbers of permanent staff in hopes of landing a large project, it is often not cost-effective to keep large quantities of flexible project or “war room” space available, especially at the expensive rates prevailing in the D.C. area. Legal project management companies can quickly provide fully equipped space to handle projects for as many as several hundred attorneys and legal assistants. Production space can take a variety of forms, from empty space to a state-of-the-art document production facility with networks of computers, T-1 capability, storage rooms, large review spaces or offices, high-tech security options, fully equipped kitchens, and even media rooms. Firms can custom design, tailor, and outfit the space as needed, instead of having to make do with whatever empty space can be found in their own office. Having an abundance of project space available with a phone call alleviates long-term planning anxiety, not to mention the cost of maintaining sufficient project space. Outsourcing litigation resources translates into savings for clients and increased net profits for law firms. In today’s competitive legal marketplace, turning to staffing and case management providers is a smart alternative to making enormous human resource and capital investments. Just as firms have grown accustomed to outsourcing litigation copying services, outsourcing is fast becoming the model for staffing and project management. Scott M. Becker is a co-founder and director of Compliance Inc., a Washington- and New York-based temporary legal staffing and management company. Julian S. Brown is director of business development in the Washington area. They may be reached at [email protected] and [email protected].

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