This morning I received an email from mindspring.net offering outsourced legal services in India: research, transactions, document coding, drafting services, all at prices that would be a fraction of the cost of having a paralegal on staff. No benefits. No taxes. No overhead. And I only need to pay them when I actually use them. The frequency of these offers, and the fact that many law firms are seriously considering them, represent a tectonic shift in the practice of law. It is one, of several possible outgrowths of the commoditization of the practice of law. There are other options.
It is a fact that the provision of certain types of legal services has gotten more competitive. Consumers and corporate law departments, courtesy of the internet, have a much better understanding of what legal services they need and some idea of what they should cost. By taking legal services and productizing them, there is now the ability to compare “apples to apples”. In the race to distinguish one bundle of services from another, some law firms have focused on quality, while others have focused on price. Many who have focused on price have been open to outsourcing offers and their merits. And once you open yourself up to the merits of the mobile and outsourced work force (the anonymous worker), termination is “just business”. From the local temporary paralegal service and the U.S. based temporary professionals, it is a slippery slope to the “back offices of Mumbai”. Oh … attorney-client privilege …. try enforcing that in Mumbai.
There is an alternative that builds on the innovation, creativity and productivity that we are known for in America. It is the wise application of technology. Armed with technology, your own paralegals and attorneys can be more productive; review and abstract more documents, produce more documents, pull together research from web-resources, and do what the outsourcing providers offer you, but in a fraction of the time. With a wise investment in technology and process redesign, you can retain a greater share of the profits on these services. Moreover, the talent you train and the processes you build don’t walk out the door at the end of the engagement and get offered to the next highest bidder.
So when looking at these tempting offers and when facing the pressures of commoditization, you have a choice. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. Don’t be sorry for the road not taken.