Legal referral services are nothing new, but one of the growing trends in the legal profession is the outsourcing of services through legal process outsourcing (LPO) companies. This can be a way for firms to lighten their workload and potentially cut costs.
Whether using the low-cost services of lawyers in other countries, hiring legal research firms, or using contract attorneys to handle temporary legal projects, a significant amount of legal work is now being performed by someone other than the attorney actually hired to do it. In some instances, the American lawyer is bypassed entirely. The most popular form of legal outsourcing seems to involve sending work to lawyers in India.
Benefits of Legal Outsourcing
Legal outsourcing may be a great way for a busy attorney or law firm to handle complex or time-consuming projects on a more affordable budget. Solo practitioners, small firms, and boutique law practices can take on cases that would otherwise be too large for them to handle. Midsize and large law firms can make their billing rates more competitive by obtaining subcontracted legal services at a dramatically reduced rate. Firms that use legal outsourcing find that it provides all the benefits of having associates and paralegals who perform research and document review but at a fraction of the cost and without full-time employees.
News Spreads Quickly
The downside to this trend for law firms is that lawyers are not the only ones who know about legal outsourcing. Many Fortune 500 companies have taken notice of the cheap billing rates for lawyers overseas and cut out the middleman (the U.S. firm) in favor of dealing directly with the legal outsourcing firms. Restrictions on unauthorized practice of law are avoided by simply having the U.S.-based in-house counsel or a local law firm review and approve the outsourced work.
In an interview with the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel, Jane Weir, director in the forensic and dispute practice of Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP, said that the economic downturn motivated companies to look at how much they spent on legal services in a search for ways to reduce costs. She believed that law firms will also seek out LPO vendors as a way to reduce costs and manage data for their clients.
Mundane Tasks or Complex Work?
According to a New York Law Journal article published on Law.com, legal process outsourcing firms "target the more mundane but nonetheless time-intensive tasks associated with legal practice." They are more likely to be hired to handle voluminous discovery work, rather than draft complex legal briefs.
While much of the work may be mundane, that certainly can't be said for all legal outsourcing jobs. Reports indicate that firms and companies are entrusting Indian law firms and legal outsourcing companies with not only mundane discovery but also complex legal briefs and court pleadings.
For example, Lawyers Without Borders reported on how SDD Global Solutions in India prepared the court pleadings and appellate brief that won a slander lawsuit in California appellate courts over a comedy routine performed by Sacha Baron Cohen.