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Thursday, Dec 7, 2023

LEAD—Symbiotic Relationship

Like some highly adapted environment in the wild where unique plant and animal species lean on each other for help or for sheer existence, San Diego’s law offices do their work with the help of specialty businesses.

Process servers, couriers, investigators and artists are some of the people law firms hire. Contractors may put records in long-term storage or hold documents in a central place for opposing attorneys to access. Contractors may even work within a law firm’s walls, providing photocopy and messenger services.

“We need them. They certainly need us,” said Vincent Mercurio, the Downtown-based executive director for Luce, Forward, Hamilton and Scripps LLP, one of the area’s biggest law firms.

Working from a building in Middletown, Junes Attorney Service sends representatives as far afield as Ventura County. Its 48 employees are split among the San Diego, North County and Las Vegas markets. Deborah June Schuff, the company’s founder and president, said she tries to get an edge on her competition by offering superior service.

Knox Attorney Service, Inc., headquartered in the same Middletown neighborhood, uses 150 local employees and roughly 70 more in other counties , mostly Los Angeles and Orange. The firm tries to provide one-stop shopping for its clients, said Robert C. Porambo, the company’s director of legal services.

Employees of both carry documents back and forth between law firms and courthouses on established routes. They serve summonses, subpoenas and other legal documents. They track down witnesses and people who fail to pay their debts , a process known as “skip-tracing.” To varying extents, both companies copy and reformat documents, transferring back and forth from compact discs and other formats.

The contractors’ “facility management” services place employees at large law firms to do photocopies and other office work. One reason a law firm may go for such an arrangement is because insurance companies will not compensate law firms for their overhead, but will pay the bills of third-party providers, Schuff said.

In addition to facilities management, some law firms may contract out human resources, said Luce’s Mercurio. For large pieces of litigation with voluminous documents, they may bring in assistants to sort and put codes on files , or even bring in temporary attorneys. Some firms have “captive consultants” for their information technology needs, he said.

On top of messenger and photocopy services, firms may outsource accounting and billing, said Jeff Bloom, a principal at Downtown’s Glavis & Bloom law office.

Why contract out work?

In Bloom’s case, there are only so many hands in the office. He and partner Greta Glavis have a single assistant in a practice that addresses business, professional corporation, homeowners association and bankruptcy matters.

“We’re lean and mean,” Bloom said. Outsourcing helps the firm save on labor, he said.

Often firms choose temporary help in areas where need fluctuates, said Luce’s Mercurio. Firms might bring in temporary help to update loose-leaf publications, for example. Or they may bring in someone with specialized experience, who knows particular pieces of machinery or who can better measure the output of contractors, Mercurio said. Then there is work no one at the office can do or wants to do, like running errands. In such cases, messenger services have infrastructures in place and established relationships with courts, Mercurio observed.

One service that attorney John Allcock finds invaluable in working technology cases is graphic design.

Allcock is a partner in the Downtown office of Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich LLP. As a member of its intellectual property and technology group, as well as its litigation group, his challenge is to quickly educate a judge and jury on the science and engineering of whatever technology comes to court.

Frequently, he said, he needs graphics of the Time magazine variety: “black-backed images” designed to explain some complicated scientific principle, like the way DNA works.

He recently commissioned an animated graphic showing how a server can be a bottleneck in a computer network. The graphic used animated balls to depict the flow of information.

Allcock has been using such services for about a decade, and sees the need for them.

At first, “I couldn’t figure out the stuff myself,” said Allcock, who was a philosophy major in college. A majority of federal court judges come from liberal arts backgrounds as well, he added.

Allcock said his favorite graphics contractor is Legal Arts Multimedia, a 21-employee firm based Downtown with other offices in Mission Valley, Los Angeles, Palo Alto and Washington, D.C. He praised the company’s help in translating the science to well-understood material, as well as its turn-around time. (Knox also provides courtroom exhibit services.)

Deadlines go with the territory of attorney service firms. Tight turnarounds on photocopy and courier jobs are the subjects of company lore at Knox and Junes.

Couriers have to contend with court closing times and 4 p.m. traffic. Porambo and Schuff said traffic has worsened since the days both worked as couriers.

For short hauls, some firms use bicycles. Putting its Downtown couriers on bicycles saves Knox from “a ton of parking tickets,” Porambo said.

According to Schuff, San Diego is unique in Southern California because its services provide cars for their couriers. Couriers in other counties must use their own cars, but here the company car is an “ingrained” part of the culture, she said. And it’s an extra expense. “If there’s one thing I’d like to change, that would be it,” Schuff said.

Anxious clients and not-so-enthusiastic recipients are also part of the trade. Porambo spoke of “overwhelmed” court clerk’s offices that nevertheless manage to get things done. People being served often have bad attitudes, but not always. Porambo said he recently served divorce papers to a happy recipient.

Then there are the evasive people.

In one of her more creative cases, Schuff said she got a box normally used for roses from a friend and used it as a ruse to successfully deliver court papers.

Junes and Knox also do insurance company work, ferrying documents from outlying offices to company lawyers. But with only a few exceptions, both companies’ work centers on the law.

Schuff and Porambo said their companies have considered ways to expand their clientele. Knox is contemplating a name change to reflect service to a broader segment of businesses, Porambo said.


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