The power of insourcing and how to build the future of your firm from within

[Australasian Law Management Journal,General Management,People Management(HR),Strategy & Leadership] February 28, 2019

While outsourcing has long been on the agenda for law firms seeking to lift their performance, smart managers should not ignore the advantages that insourcing can deliver for the firm and its employees, writes Kirsty McPhee.

Outsourcing is an obvious, easy and practical solution for small and medium-sized law firms seeking additional support and non-legal services.

What is less obvious, although potentially infinitely more valuable, is an effective system of insourcing for firms. But what is insourcing exactly? It is defined as the practice of using an organisation’s existing personnel and resources to address new or existing skills shortages now and into the future.

Effective insourcing draws on the existing skills and experience of employees, as well as creating a culture of learning and development that effectively identifies potential opportunities for upskilling and developing existing staff. The benefits of insourcing include happier and more engaged employees who have a long-term commitment to the firm and who grow and develop. From the firm’s point of view, such long-term staff retention helps reduce corporate memory loss, disruption, the costs of recruitment and the expenses associated with employing someone who does not fit the role or the firm.

Conduct a skills audit

It is good practice to design and undertake a skills audit across your firm to gain the full benefits associated with insourcing. You may be very surprised to learn what resources you already have available to you now and into the future. For example, there could be a future office manager who is currently juggling calls in her first job as your receptionist. There could be an accounts payable officer with a degree in website design who could be revolutionising your online presence in those hours that are now being spent feeling bored and unchallenged. Remember, too, that if employees’ skills are not being used they will inevitably fill in time searching Seek for new opportunities at a new organisation.

A skills audit should identify who already has the capacity and skills to take on non-legal work within your firm. If conducted effectively, the audit should also identify who has the desire and potential to grow and develop their skillsets over time.

Providing such opportunities for non-lawyers can often seem impossible in a small firm, but gains can be achieved with very positive results with a small investment of time, frank conversations and effective skills auditing, all of which should be used to ensure the leadership group is making informed decisions that look at short and long-term benefits.

An effective audit should also identify those employees who have found their groove and do not want to progress further. Often, organisations promote individuals to supervisor or management roles because of their excellent skills as a team member, but this move fails because the individual has no desire to transition to management responsibilities.

Use the skills of law librarians

Investing in a law librarian is one example of how a firm can hire one person with the skills and capacity of many. Law librarians come with IT skills, legal research skills, training skills and contract negotiation skills; they can run in-house CPD programs, mentor clerks and law graduates, promote current awareness and keep the firm informed on industry and business trends. Legal information professionals can source information and resources from all over the world, quickly and cost-effectively. If a full-time dedicated information professional is not an option, look at part-time or job-share options, or try blue-sky thinking to find a solution that is right for your firm.

It is important that all staff understand the intention of a skills audit before the work begins to ensure that employees don’t feel overwhelmed or worried about losing their jobs. It is also crucial to carefully manage expectations around training, development and career progression before the audit begins.

Engaging an external consultant to run the audit may be the best fit for your firm, but running the audit internally presents an opportunity to upskill and insource. The key to the job satisfaction and continued growth and development of all non-lawyers is to create an environment that supports, encourages and rewards learning and development.

Some simple ways to develop a culture of learning in your firm include:

  • promoting and encouraging attendance at professional development events – CPD is not just for lawyers;
  • fostering the sharing of information, knowledge and experience within the firm – doing so across teams and departments will lead to innovation and unexpected developments;
  • redesigning performance-management and rewards systems to include coaching and learning and development opportunities;
  • making sharing a habit;
  • understanding your audience – work with those who are engaged and enthusiastic, but don’t force the program on those who are resistant and reluctant as they will sour the experience for others and gain nothing from it themselves;
  • creating systems and processes that capture, store and share knowledge across teams and the entire firm; and
  • encouraging questions and curiosity, while creating safe environments for learning through experience.

Kirsty McPhee is an Information Manager in the mining industry. She has previously worked for the past decade in law libraries and has been responsible for library, research and knowledge services, as well as IT and administrative functions.