Comment: Why outsourcing transcription overseas is not a good idea

by Maxine Park…

With a growing number of UK law firms choosing to outsource some aspect of their business processes, in the pursuit of greater efficiency, it is boom time for the large global transcription and secretarial service industry.

Whether it’s just general legal transcription of digital sound files, letters, reports and memos, or transcription of voice recording of interviews, conferences and consultations, is there really a difference in the service provided by UK-based service providers and their counterparts overseas?

Solicitor Maxine Park, co-founder of digital dictation, transcription and support services provider DictateNow explains why the service overseas isn’t necessarily as good as it paints itself: “When we discuss our service, with law firms in particular, there are five common myths that re-occur when comparisons are made between the service we deliver and that offered by overseas service providers.

1 – the work is just as accurate

Historically, transcription provided by individuals who are perhaps not specialist legal typists or do not have English as a first language has a poor record of accuracy. A large number of the transcriptions returned from overseas will contain grammatical errors, geographical inaccuracies and an obvious failure to understand English legal terminology.

As a result, the work returned to the client will require fee earners or administrative staff to undertake unnecessary, additional work to improve the accuracy of the transcription before it can be approved or used. The geographical spread of our typists in the UK, even allows us to make allowances for strong regional accents, which could otherwise affect the accuracy of the finished transcription.

2 – work is returned more quickly

Our bespoke software integrates easily with any IT system and our app turns any Smartphone into a digital dictation machine, allowing almost instant access to our large pool of UK-based typists, from the office, home or on the move. With access to our extensive resource of qualified experienced legal secretaries, clients often find work is delivered faster than when they used an internal solution with finite resources.

Our system offers an average turnaround time of 45 minutes for a standard dictation of up to 10 minutes, which includes time for the transcription to be checked by our quality assurance team, based in our head office.

3 – there are no safety concerns

Our software allows firms to grant typists remote access to their systems, ensuring sensitive data never leaves its servers, removing any doubts over the potential for security or confidentiality to be compromised. For those firms sending dictation outside their firms to be transcribed, our ISO 27001:2013 certification, the international standard for information security management, stands testament to the importance we place on protecting sensitive data. We are also ISO9001:2008 certified for Quality Management for all typing and documentation services.

Information being transcribed is likely to include data covered by the Data Protection Act and if a breach occurs it is the law firm that outsourced the work that will be held responsible and it will be their reputation that’s damaged. It is essential therefore that law firms check the level of security provided by their chosen transcription partner, looking at the encryption used for sending and receiving work; the storage of finished documents; the location of the typists; etc. And to comply thoroughly with the Act, firms should ensure work is only being undertaken within the European Economic Area (EEA) or countries outside this area that offer levels of data protection that satisfy the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

4 – we get a dedicated team

The claim is made to imply it is a unique service offered by businesses overseas with access to large numbers of workers, but is perhaps the easiest myth to dispel. Outsourcing service providers in the UK will also provide dedicated teams, trained in the methods of a particular business and understanding of its ethos; they just have to ask for one. Typically we would call this co-sourcing, where we create a dedicated team of typists, available to pick up any day to day typing or even overflow work from the in-house resources, at the drop of a hat.

Co-sourcing is proving to be a significant growth area for outsourcing service providers like ourselves, where clients want the benefits of outsourcing, but with the added advantage of the greater control and guaranteed service levels provided through a co-sourcing arrangement.

5 – it’s cheaper overseas

We have left this until last because for many firms, this appears to be the overriding reason for sending work overseas, yet it is again another myth our overseas competitors are happy to repeat. Whilst we believe we can compete directly on the cost per minute for transcription of digital sound files, when everything discussed above is taken into consideration, is the service from overseas really cheaper?

Once a fee-earner has spent more time correcting inaccuracies in a returned document, or has had to wait longer than our 45 minute turnaround and weighed all this against security concerns, is the cost really that much less to make the risks worth it? We would argue not.

However, we would argue that improving efficiency, whilst cutting costs is not just important, but essential for the modern law firm. And those still struggling with the overheads associated with large in-house resources, should start by comparing their costs to those offered by UK-based outsourcing service providers like DictateNow, rather than looking at the minimal differences in cost between the UK and overseas service providers.

I understand the argument for the largest law firms setting up or utilizing their own in-house operations for both commodity legal work and support services to help reduce overheads and improve profitability. But, these firms have total control over both the quality of the work supplied and the ultimate security of the information being dealt with, which is not the case for smaller firms using the services of third-party providers based in the far-flung corners of the world.

The world gets ever smaller thanks to the advent of digital information, but once you look at the services offered abroad and take into account all the myths I have exposed, there really is little advantage in damaging the UK balance of payments, by exporting work abroad. It cannot just be done as well in the UK, but to a higher, more cost-effective and secure standard in a faster time, whilst providing jobs and security to workers in the UK, looking for a better work-life balance.