Let’s face it. Lawyers aren’t well-known for innovation. It’s a fact. Pictures of law books, gavels and scales of justice adorn so many lawyer websites even today. That’s not exactly the vision of the 21st century is it? Over the last few decades, the role of the in-house lawyer has evolved from being purely a legal service provider to a strategy/risk/business adviser. Gone are the days where in-house lawyers are “merely” asked to opine on the state of the law. As such, in-house lawyers have become innovative industry leaders.
Part of the reason for this may be because the business appetite for risk has changed. These days, law departments look more like any other profit making business unit in any large organization (minus the profit of course). Law departments are increasingly more accountable and are required to justify their cost to the company.
Traditionally, law firms have dominated the industry. This meant that they could dictate what services they offered and what they charged. Times are changing.
The LPO industry has somewhat complicated the situation by inserting itself in the typical lawyer-client mix. You’ve heard the saying “two’s company, three’s a crowd”. The legal industry has unquestionably been resistant to change. However, unrelenting cost pressures have given the LPO industry a boost. Recent announcements by global companies to embrace LPO continue to validate the innovative approach that law departments are taking. Microsoft’s recent announcement to offshore legal work to lawyers in India follows Rio Tinto’s announcement to offshore legal work as well.
These announcements are significant because they send a clear message that the world’s largest corporations are serious about change. Multi-jurisdictional legal support work, legal research, contract review, drafting and legal research are some of the tasks being outsourced offshore. I am not suggesting that LPO is the only innovation being touted by law departments. Sig Sigma (a business management strategy which seeks to improve quality by identifying and removing the causes of errors and minimizing variability in business processes) and project management (the discipline of planning, organizing, and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project goals and objectives) are also making their debut as well.
I like to think of the LPO industry as an iceberg. Most of the activity is hidden beneath the surface. Only a small portion of the activity is visible. Just because you can’t see all of the activity, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Over time, more law departments will be comfortable talking about their LPO experiences and aspirations. Until then, we will have to be satisfied with the notion that that in-house lawyers are serious about, and are actively driving, change.