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John Cogan Jr. is chasing the sun. As the chairman of the global practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Cogan is in charge of business that never sleeps. And with his firm’s goal of expanding its international client base, his time-zone challenge is getting even tougher. Like many law firms, Akin Gump has recently added attorneys to its foreign practices and, in turn, is boosting its efforts to maintain 24-hour operations where lawyers, legal secretaries, paralegals, technical support and security personnel fill in the gaps in the wee hours. But those law firms that need to function round-the-clock are discovering that altering the traditional workday paradigm requires careful coordination to avoid employee burnout and resource duplication. “The biggest constraint is the physical stamina of the lawyers,” Cogan said, who admitted suffering from a touch of jet lag himself last week. “When I’m in London, I’m still on the phone at midnight.” Akin Gump is in the midst of enhancing the coordination of 24-hour services among its offices in Houston; London; Washington; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to handle the firm’s growing international energy practice. “I’m waiting for the day when we can communicate by hologram,” he said. Linking those offices, where key partners now serve as linchpins for the coordination effort, is critical in accommodating clients involved in deals all over the world, he said. Although many firms have grappled with time-zone differences and trans-Atlantic inconveniences for years, those challenges are multiplying. In 2005, the size of foreign offices in U.S.-based law firms grew by 23%, according to this year’s National Law Journal survey of the nation’s 250 largest law firms. [See special pullout section.] In 2004, the number of attorneys in foreign offices grew by only 3%, compared with 2003. This year, some 12,942 attorneys worked in foreign offices of U.S.-based law firms, compared with 10,493 last year. And apparently, more work in those offices means more clients with 24/7 expectations. Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal, said his staffing company is receiving more requests for second- and third-shift workers as firms go global. Law firms increasingly are modifying their 9-to-5 domestic operations and hiring more flex-time workers and those who want to work remotely from home, he said. Finding workers to handle word processing, document production, technical support and even research assistance at odd hours is easiest in New York and Los Angeles, he said. Those locations have plenty of aspiring actors, writers and artists who need to augment their day jobs with part-time income. Biggest cost: technology The greatest expense for running around-the-clock operations is technology, said Arthur Gurwitz, executive director of Proskauer Rose. The New York-based firm recently added six partners and 11 associates to its Paris office from Rambaud Martel. Law firms not only need the hardware to support late-night messaging and document processing for attorneys and support staff, but they also need live bodies to handle computer freezes and other glitches that may occur, he said. “You buy the computer once, but you always need the support,” Gurwitz said. As 24-hour needs become greater, law firms also are expected to increase their reliance on outsourcing to handle some of the technology work and document production. In 2004, an estimated 12,000 legal jobs, including those in research and document production and preparation, were sent offshore, according to research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and technology consultant Forrester Research based in Cambridge, Mass. The same research predicts that number will rise to 79,000 by 2015. Still, plenty of work is expected to remain in-house, which will require law firms to retool their operations to keep pace with the demands of international clients. But it will take much more than merely hiring qualified night-owl employees. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, with its 13 international offices, has the benefit of experience. It has operated large international offices for years using a staggered method. “We have a multifaceted approach to serving our attorneys’ needs when the secretarial staff goes home,” said Laurel Henschel, director of human resources for Skadden. For example, the attorneys on the East Coast use the firm’s library staff in Los Angeles for some of the after-hours work. Smaller offices, such as the one in Wilmington, Del., utilize document-production workers at the New York office, which is staffed for late-night work. In addition, tech support for the 1,790-attorney firm is a “follow the sun” approach, in which the unit is staffed based on the varying volume of questions and problems coming from offices as they open and close throughout the day. The firm, said Henschel, takes a “holistic” approach to functioning on a 24-hour basis, which avoids the duplication of services. That same theory is what prompted Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe to set up its 88,000-square-foot Global Operations Center in Wheeling, W.Va. Orrick has eight international offices, including one in Hong Kong that it opened last week. Since 2002, the firm has funneled its document tasks, administrative functions and technology services to its center, which employs 130 workers working three shifts per day. There, the firm centralizes its payroll, billing, collections, word processing and other duties. The strategy apparently has led to other opportunities. Effective this month, Orrick has an agreement with Williams Lea, a business document processing firm with off-site operations in India. The company will open offices at Orrick’s Wheeling facility and manage its document-service needs. Orrick will continue to handle payroll, marketing and all other tasks in-house at the facility. Under the arrangement, which the two companies are calling a partnership, the law firm and Williams Lea will offer what Orrick Chairman Ralph Baxter described, when the agreement was announced, as a “basket of services,” to other law firms and professional services companies. One of the advantages of the agreement with Williams Lea, besides the chance to service other firms, will be Orrick’s ability to provide its own clients with documents processed in different languages, said Doug Benson, chief operating officer at Orrick. He added that having virtually all support services based in West Virginia is cheaper than paying for employees in big cities to do the work. “Not only does it provide improved service and more coverage, but it does it in a much more cost-effective manner,” he said.

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