Do you know the outsourcing score?

If legal services want to look at outsourcing business functions generally, there is information available. Payroll and financial services, documentation and archives, and IT departments can all be managed by external operations.

But given your business relies on legal and business information, the knowledge hub also deserves your attention. It is an important and expensive resource so you should consider all your options. We are all agreed library and information services should flexible to suit the needs of a changing legal business environment.

What outsourcing information is available?

A search for legal library outsourcing in the UK has generated a few hits. There is a practical chapter called ‘outsourcing’ in the BIALL Handbook, and a freely available article. There have been conference papers about managing outsourcing staffing resources, as well as a few blog posts. It seems the topic hasn’t been discussed exhaustively. Certainly the impact of outsourcing on legal libraries hasn’t attracted impartial academic interest yet.

As Fiona Brown said in 2014, ‘outsourcing has played an important part in these new lower cost models of service delivery. Since 2009, ten large and leading UK law firms have completely outsourced their law libraries to one of two commercial providers of law library and legal research services.’  More have followed and models have adapted to suit each unique set of legal client needs – obviously no model will be perfect. Ultimately, flexibility is the answer.

Why is there so little outsourcing information?

There are reasons why there isn’t a lot of information available. Confidentiality agreements between outsourcing companies and clients are clear that no details are to be shared. Information about how it works in practice is scarce, and limited to carefully worded press releases with little data or insight. Or alternatively adverts disguised as articles extolling outsourcing virtues should be read with caution.

There are divergent ideological matters which can affect perceptions. Experienced internal legal information professionals are cautious of outsourcing companies because they are perceived as a threat. As the book above says, ‘outsourcing may not be a welcome concept to many’ (p331). Still, the firms mentioned in the article – plus recent additions – have made it work, and report general satisfaction with the services offered.

It is better to be prepared, than the alternative

There is a perception that information departments are still an integral part of the firm. So unless you are asked as part of the perennial budget battle, why would you submit a business case to management potentially leading to your own redundancy or transfer? Given that library managers have the same conversation with finance departments regarding the impossibility of reducing online resource expenditure, it is staffing which has to become more flexible.

Iris Briefings is different kind of outsourcing. Our third way of working is not a threat to existing services. But designed to be a helping hand, or an emergency back up service providing quality research services. To take over time consuming training and inductions. Whatever you require, we can offer advice or guidance to change a traditional model and mind-set. This is what it means to be truly flexible and innovative.