Mark Ford of Clifford Chance LLP explains how the firm’s clients are benefiting from a legal process offshoring operation.
In 2007, Clifford Chance (CC) became the first major law firm to open its own "offshore captive" legal process outsourcing, or, more correctly in this instance, legal process offshoring (LPO) operation to provide transaction and case support to lawyers in the firm on a global basis. This support covers a wide variety of lower-value, more routine tasks across all of the firm’s practice areas. The firm’s Knowledge Centre (KC), located in a global shared service centre (GSSC) established in Delhi through a separate Indian entity controlled by the firm, now numbers nearly 40 people and headcount will exceed 60 within the next six months.
The KC was created as a result of a desire to strengthen the firm's value proposition. We had begun to see a trend of purchasers of legal services looking for more innovative methods of delivery from their external suppliers, in the same way that many of them had looked to minimise their own internal costs. The KC was set up to address this trend and to help the firm better address our clients' needs.
The KC was formed in 2007, initially as a pilot with four people who were hired in June 2007. This followed the successful establishment, earlier in 2007, of the GSSC, which had been set up to support various back office processes for the firm, including finance and accounting, IT, research, and a variety of administrative functions. The GSSC has now grown to over 350 people. During the pilot, we worked with lawyers in three practice groups in London, although it was always intended that the KC would be available as a broader resource and it is now supporting all practice areas and over 20 of the firm’s offices.
The decision to set up our own captive operation, rather than use a third party provider, was made very early on. The primary reason for choosing this option was that we felt it was important for us to retain control over the hiring, training, management and supervision of the team, so that we could guarantee the quality of the KC's output.
We also think that a captive solution is better because it is the simplest and clearest solution from a client’s perspective: the client continues to deal with, and receive advice from, CC exclusively and does not have to worry about entering into a separate relationship with an LPO provider. In addition, potential disputes around apportionment of liability are avoided by the use of a captive.
In our model, the firm uses the KC in order to maximise its own internal efficiency, and the benefit of this is passed on to the client in the form of lower fees. The KC works as part of a wider team delivering legal services to our clients, so the team’s output is packaged and delivered to the client as part of a value-added product.
The other main benefit that the KC offers is that it frees up our lawyers from the more routine aspects of the job so that they can focus on the high value legal advice to clients. Our philosophy is that lower-value administrative tasks should be handled by the KC where possible so that our lawyers are able to focus on substantive legal work. Clients have responded very positively to this goal and are keen for us to engage with the KC as much as possible.
While, for Indian regulatory reasons, it might be possible to refer a wider range of work to a third party than to a captive, there are increasing complications associated with outsourcing as opposed to offshoring. For example, the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) in England is introducing rules which would require English firms to contract with a third party LPO on terms which would permit the SRA to enter the premises of the third party to inspect its operations to ensure they meet the regulatory obligations affecting the law firm.
From the start, it was clear that the success of the KC depended on the team’s ability to produce work of the highest quality: after all, nobody would want to work with a group whose output was unreliable. We have achieved this by a consistent focus on quality. First, we put a great deal of time and effort into the recruitment process. We recruit only from the top 15 law schools in India, and we put candidates through an extensive selection process that includes various written tests and interviews.
We provide training for all new joiners that includes a detailed induction course and a period of at least a month on secondment to CC London. Many KC team members also have the opportunity to go on secondment to other CC offices for longer periods. We offer the team regular ongoing training that is a mixture of classroom training, e-learning and on-the-job supervision from more experienced team members.
Finally, supervision and an additional layer of quality control are provided by senior individuals seconded to Delhi from one of CC’s offices on a six-month rolling basis. To date, we have sent secondees to Delhi from Amsterdam, Dubai, Frankfurt and London.
With any new way of working, it is natural for people to be sceptical or nervous at the outset. Conscious of this, we took a number of steps designed to build trust in the KC as quickly as possible. For instance:
We spent a significant amount of time not only letting our partners and lawyers know that the KC resource was available, but also educating them as to the wider benefits, both for clients and for them, of using the team in India.
We turned some of our early successes into case studies and publicised these widely throughout the firm, simultaneously looking for influential champions to help us change people's thinking. This helped to turn the KC in people’s minds from an abstract idea into a concrete resource that could add real value.
We started seconding members of the KC team to London and other CC offices. This has a dual benefit: first, it provides an invaluable learning experience for the secondee; in addition, it allows lawyers across the network to meet and work directly with individuals from the KC. They are invariably impressed with them.
Although the KC is now successful and well established within the firm, some ongoing challenges remain. For example, we would like the KC to be able to provide foreign language support but have not found it easy to recruit speakers of European languages in India. Although the KC can still provide some support to lawyers in the major European jurisdictions in which the firm operates (as much of the work is done in English), the lack of language ability limits what we are able to offer.
Another challenge as the team grows is to maintain the strong sense of culture and team spirit that we successfully developed in the early days of the KC. At the same time, we have to create a management structure that will allow the individual team members scope for personal growth and development while maintaining standards at the expected levels.
We don’t expect it to be easy, but we are very proud of what we have achieved so far and are looking forward to the challenges ahead.
Mark Ford is the Director of the Clifford Chance Knowledge Centre.