Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) continues to be the buzzword, in Canada, US and the UK.
This month’s edition of The Canadian Bar Association’s National Magazine features LPO on its cover page and a six page article on the topic. The article is titled “Bangalore Calling” and showcases a Canadian perspective on LPO.
Legal Week announced last month that Balfour Beatty, the construction giant, is planning to press its law firms on the topic of legal process outsourcing. According to the global general counsel and company secretary Chris Vaughan:
We are at the start of a process to review the provision of legal services across the group, and outsourcing will be one of the options which we will be considering, in all its guises
I have often said that the ultimate showdown will be where legal departments (who use the services of LPO companies) will “influence” their law firms to offer LPO services. Or, at the very least, insist that their law firm partners work with an LPO. Stay tuned on that!
What are the academics saying about LPO?
Case Western Reserve University’s (one of Americas leading private research institutions, located in Cleveland) Associate Law Professor Cassandra Burke Robertson published a law review research article late last year titled “A Collaborative Model of Offshore Legal Outsourcing”. In this article, Robertson writes that,
International outsourcing is quickly reshaping the practice of law. Sending legal services offshore does not merely shift existing legal practice to a lower-cost provider. Instead, it can change the nature of the services rendered……making additional legal services affordable.
Robertson concludes that the LPO trend is revolutionizing the way in which law is practiced in the West. Backing up this claim, she analyzes the example of high-profile Hollywood litigation involving defendant Sacha Baron Cohen of "Borat" fame. Robertson articulates some of the most surprising ways in which LPO services are shifting the legal landscape.
Offshoring…. changed the nature of the defense entirely. It took a case that would likely have been handled outside the court system through a nuisance settlement and brought it within the formal adjudicatory system. As a result, the case was decided on the merits, and the decision is publicly available, potentially discouraging further meritless claims,
Robertson's views show how offshore legal outsourcing is not only confined to quasi-legal work such as filling out forms and coding documents; however it also includes complex work such as legal research, drafting contracts, and preparing patent applications. Robertson points out that,
… while this higher-level legal work represents only fifteen percent of the LPO market right now, it is quickly growing; as LPO firms become more established, they tend to take on increasingly more sophisticated work.
So are we there yet? Is LPO here to stay? Have we reached that point of no return? I’ll bet if you ask ten lawyers that question, you’ll get ten different answers. That’s lawyers for you!