I had high hopes for the next session – Chris Bull and Michael Maher from Integreon discussing “Emerging Alternative Models for Managing Information Resources in Law Firms: Outsourcing, Co-sourcing, Offshoring”. Outsourcing is a pretty hot issue in law libraries at the moment. A few firms have outsourced their libraries and other support departments to Integreon recently, the latest being CMS Cameron McKenna, and there’s a lot of concern about how this is going to affect us as information professionals. I think everyone was hoping for some clear information about how the process is handled, and looking forward to asking questions and airing their concerns with the representatives from Integreon.
To say I was disappointed with the session would be an understatement. The vast majority of the presentation came out like a sales pitch for Integreon – they talked a lot about the clients they’ve worked with, the range of services they offered, etc., but didn’t address what most of us were there to hear about. They did eventually talk a bit about how they actually ran their outsourced library services, but I think it was too little, too late. They also ran over time, so there was only time for one question – perhaps this is cynical of me, but that seemed rather convenient!
Here’s a few points I thought were interesting, from when they actually got around to discussing the running of their shared library services:
- At the moment, the physical collections are managed from the central Integreon office in Bristol, but they say they can occasionally go out to client sites. I got the impression that this was dependent on how close the offices were to Integreon, and I don’t really see how this is sustainable if they plan to expand to more law firms.
- Incoming calls and emails are all received by a shared team, but each firm has its own email inbox – prevents people accidentally forwarding reply to firm A on to firm B, for example.
- Some aspects of current awareness and basic business/legal research are provided offshore. At some point this may also include intranet and know-how work. I would be concerned about the quality suffering, but apparently this hasn’t been a problem.
- User education and guidance is currently run separately for each firm. There are plans to integrate this, and produce standard Integreon documents/guidance and training programmes.
- There are currently separate library management systems and e-resource packages for each firm supported by Integreon. They are attempting to move towards negotiating shared services deals for clients.
There was only time for one question at the end, which was about confidentiality with regards to the law firms’ clients. There was concern about the idea that passing on research enquiries relating to a specific client to an outsourced information department could be breaching client confidentiality. Integreon responded that this was usually the first point discussed with new firms, and that confidentiality agreements would form part of the firm’s contract with Integreon. They noted that it was always possible that a firm would decide not to use Integreon’s services for work for specific clients, and to keep any research/enquiry work needed for sensitive clients in-house (in which case, who would do it? Would they need to keep some information staff in-house??) but that this situation hadn’t arisen yet.
I still believe that outsourcing library services is a bad idea – but then I accept that I am probably biased! Personally, I would love to hear from one of the less senior library staff from firms that had outsourced their services. I think the “view from the ground” would be interesting – Integreon were very keen to stress that outsourcing actually provided more opportunities for information professionals to take on more interesting work. They actually said that their aim was to be the employer of choice for information professionals! I’d love to hear from someone with direct experience of the process and of Integreon’s management style to get a fuller picture on this.