Last week, the ABA’s Commission on Ethics 20/20 issued a discussion draft of proposed changes to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct as they relate to domestic and international outsourcing, along with a number of related documents, including (among other things) a compilation of the the comments it received. The commenters fall into a few main categories:
- large legal process outsourcing companies (LPOs) that operate partially or entirely offshore (primarily in India);
- solos or small firm lawyers who have hired freelance lawyers;
- in-house counsel who have outsourced, either domestically or abroad;
- individual lawyers or law students (i.e., those who didn’t identify themselves as affiliated with any company or firm)
Additionally, there was one comment from a “traditional” (document review) contract lawyer who complained about abysmal working conditions before bemoaning ” . . . and now you want to take even this miserable existence away from me? By allowing outsourcing?” The comment that I submitted in conjunction with the National Association of Freelance Legal Professionals is the only one that addressed the interests of freelance lawyers.
Solo and Small Firm Lawyers and In-House Counsel: Outsourcing’s Fine, But keep it Close to Home
All of the solo or small firm lawyers who have outsourced have hired freelance lawyers: none have outsourced internationally. All expressed a strong preference for hiring locally.
David Wells has been a solo or small firm lawyer for eight years. His experience with outsourcing to other local attorneys or firms (who he has hired based exclusively on personal relationships and reputation) has been mixed: he received a generic and unhelpful answer on one research project, but has been extremely satisfied with the work product he’s received on other projects. The idea of outsourcing overseas “horrifies” him.
Sally Scherer is a North Carolina lawyer and “State Bar Councillor.” She had a negative experience with a Virginia legal research company she hired to research a family law issue, but was very satisfied with research performed by law students at several North Carolina law schools. She expressed her view that “[r]elying on anyone who is not known and is not a member of one’s firm or local bar is . . . asking for trouble” because “[t]here is no way any lawyer can oversee—directly or indirectly— a person is doing in another state, much less in India or some other country.”
Jill Fox was an associate at a three-lawyer firm that worked with a local freelance lawyer, who it found through word of mouth. Her experience working with the freelance lawyer was positive, as he did not take any interesting work away from her.
James Lai, in-house counsel at Cision US, Inc., stated that, based on news disclosing the failure of data privacy and security policies by major Indian business process outsourcing companies, he has “grave doubts” about the ability of any overseas provider to comply with contractual and legal rules governing privacy and data protection. His company will outsource only to a company that performs services in the U.S. and employs staff who are subject to U.S. ethics laws and enforcement.
Gabe Miller, in-house counsel for Sokolove Law, LLC, stated that his firm “reluctantly” outsourced abroad and that, “all things being equal” the firm would always prefer to deal with a local, or at least US-based company. His firm found that it had to perform a greater degree of due diligence when hiring an overseas LPO provider than it does when hiring any local vendor, and that the due diligence is harder to accomplish.
The substance and tenor of the comments from solo/small firm lawyers and in-house counsel are consistent with my anecdotal observations about outsourcing patterns among solos and small firms, which I wrote about earlier this year.
Individual Ranters, uh, Commenters: The ABA is Evil
Very little information was provided about the background of the individual commenters; for example, we don’t know where they are located, how many years they have been practicing, or the areas of law in which they practice. Most of these commenters focused exclusively on foreign outsourcing. Not surprisingly, they were against it. Their comments were fairly short (averaging about one paragraph) and contained little, if any, actual analysis. I’d say they’re on par with the comments—or should I say rants—that appear on sites like Above the Law whenever outsourcing is discussed. Like the ATL commenters, the individual Ethics 20/20 commenters generally argued that:
- LPO companies are practicing law
- the ABA should be sticking up for American lawyers
- the ABA should be doing more to reduce the oversupply of new law school graduates
Comments from this group include these gems:
“By allowing law firms to ship attorney jobs overseas, the ABA has essentially destroyed the legal industry.”
“Your organization has ruined my life…I pray for the collapse of the ABA.”
“Outsourcing centers have zero quality control and the ‘lawyers’ working there are retarded.”
Of course, these commenters ignore the fact that the same principles that allow firms to send legal work overseas also allow law students and law grads awaiting admission to do actual legal work when they’re working at firms, and allow U.S. lawyers to work as freelance or contract attorneys in jurisdictions in which they are not admitted.
By the way, you can find my response to whiny Above The Law—and Ethics 20/20— here.
Two Unique Perspectives: Foreign Outsourcing is Risky
I found two comments particularly interesting. Sameep Vijayvergia is licensed both in the United States and in India. In his view, Indian lawyer are sufficiently competent to provide quality work and address security, confidentiality and UPL concerns. However, he believes that Indian entrepreneurs don’t understand the significance of these concerns and “would even engage non competent lawyers and/or unqualified paralegals etc: [sic] to save a few bucks . . . .” He suggests that outsourcing be allowed only if the outsourced services are provided by firms or organizations managed by lawyers.
Another fascinating comment is by Michael Simkus. In the course of developing an outsourcing company to provide document review services, Mr Simkus investigated outsourcing firms located in India, the Phillipines, Singapore and China. His observations include:
- few LPO companies carry errors and omissions insurance that is equivalent to the malpractice insurance carried by U.S. law firms. Most of the LPOs that claim to have E&O insurance have siginficant “holes” in their coverage blanket or a complete misunderstanding of what E&O insurance is. Some companies have policies underwritten by foreign insurers that will not respond to U.S. lawsuits.
- few LPO companies comply with the existing ethics opinions and guidelines addressing data security
- several employment candidates his company interviewed stated that none of the other LPO companies where they had worked conducted a pre-hiring conflict of interest inventory
These actual, observed shortcomings of foreign LPOs are consistent with the potential risks of foreign outsourcing identified in the ABA’s Formal Op. 08-451.
The Ethics 20/20 Commission is seeking comments on the discussion draft by January 31, 2011. You can email comments to Senior Research Paralegal, Natalia Vera, at firstname.lastname@example.org.