Legal Outsourcing: My Take as a Lawyer Who Has Tried Outsourcing

Posted on August 30, 2007

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The use of Indian law firms for American legal work has recently made the wires.  (See Jones Day, Kirkland Send Work to India to Cut Costs)  Various firms and clients have used these Indian legal professionals to solve their U.S. legal problems.  The trend – so the story goes- follows the other outsourcing trends in other industries, such as engineering and software development.  Indian law firms provide professional services at a fraction of the cost.

I have actually used Indian law firms for certain legal tasks in my law firm, which provides services to small and middle size businesses.  We have not used them directly on client work, but we have tried to outsource research and form development.

I received mixed results.  Yes, it was inexpensive.  But it did not necessarily get me to where I need to be.   Here were my three main issues:

1) Not too many mundane legal tasks.

The article suggests that a key benefit of outsourcing legal work is outsourcing “routine” legal work.  What exactly is routine legal work, particularly for small and middle size businesses?   The example cited was a client that was quoted $400,000 for a 50 state residential lease project and got the project work for $45,000 using lawyers in India.   I have heard stories about these projects, but I think they are few and far between. My question is whether the company really needed all 50 states.  Heck, maybe you could have saved yourself all the money and never undertaken the process in the first place.

I do what I do because it is not routine.  Small and middle size companies do not have routine tasks.  No professional is going to do something routine day in and day out, and if they are doing something routine, it is their job to find a way (technology, paralegals, what have you) to handle the routine.

Most people are lawyers because they do not have to do the same thing every day.  When a task becomes routine, non-lawyers take that task back over.  Why use lawyers when you can use non lawyers?  Maybe Indian non lawyers, but it does not make sense to use Indian lawyers.

2) Difficulty in the language barrier.

Law – unlike software and engineering – is deeply rooted in language.  The subtleties of disputes and legal issues play out in the margins of dialect.  An Indian lawyer is not necessarily going to understand the dangers involved when someone says – “Hey ya’ll, watch this.”   

More seriously, clients do not like memorandums that have British English in them.  The issue is not the quality of the memo.  However, clients are going to pick up on the dialect and wonder what is up.  You then have to explain it to them.  That is no small task.

3) Dealing with Intermediary.

Each time I have dealt with Indian firms, I have had to deal with an intermediary.  I think the primary reason is so that I do not do an end around and hire the lawyer directly.  That is understandable.  But legal work rarely fits into a nice box where you can write it up an email, send it on and have the deliverables returned in the exact package that is desired. 

When I have attorneys who are working for me, it is a constant process.  They need to be able to phone and email and preferably meet in order to get it right.  An intermediary kills that work flow and makes it extremely difficult.

My take:

I am constantly trying to find ways to deliver to clients the services they need at a better value.  I will continue to do this.  The hurdles to providing a better value to clients are not technological hurdles.  In fact, the technology exists to provide service this wayl.  The problem is in the cultural, language and business methods currently in place.

Maybe these dynamics will change over time.  Maybe the expectations of clients and the culture differences will meld over time.  Maybe some problems will lend themselves to being solved by utilizing overseas lawyers; maybe with more familiarity the delivery of outsourced legal services will become a more routine practice.  However, as forward thinking as I like to be, I do not see it happening with my practice and its focus on small and middle size businesses.  In some areas it may make sense, but for 95% of what attorneys are doing today- attorneys are not going to lose their jobs to outsourcing.

(This article also was published in the August 26, 2007 Birmingham News.)

Mike Goodrich, Goodrich Law Firm, LLC

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