Last fall, I wrote about the risks that lawyers take when they outsource work to foreign legal process outsourcing companies. The primary risk I focused on wasn’t the possibility that the foreign provider might violate confidentiality or conflict of interest rules: it was the risk that the LPO company would produce substandard work.
My last post on this subject was prompted, in part, by the abysmally poor grammar used in a particular LPO company’s marketing piece. As I explained in comments to that post, I think the quality of a company’s marketing materials is a good predictor of the quality of its work product. Last Friday, I came across The Legal Outsourcing Handbook from LegalEase Solutions. Ever curious, I downloaded the Handbook and started to read.
I was immediately struck by the “quality” of the writing. From the first paragraph (and, as I was to find out) to the last, the Handbook is rife with grammatical and usage errors; a few typos are thrown in for good measure. These errors alone would be sufficient to disqualify LegalEase from consideration by any sole practitioner or small firm looking to outsource: the last thing that a busy solo or small firm lawyer wants to deal with when outsourcing substantive legal work is having to practically rewrite a brief to get it signature-ready.* But more serious still are the Handbook’s substantive errors.
The Handbook describes ABA Formal Op. 08-451 (Lawyer’s Obligations When Outsourcing Legal and Nonlegal Support Services) as “the first opinion issued by the ABA regarding legal outsourcing.” However, while Op. 08-451 is the first ABA ethics opinion that discusses offshore legal outsourcing, it isn’t the ABA’s first opinion concerning outsourcing.
In fact, Op. 08-451 itself discusses the ABA’s two earlier opinions concerning outsourcing: Formal Op. 00-420 (Surcharge to Client for Use of a Contract Lawyer) and Formal Op. 88-356 (Temporary Lawyers [the ABA acknowledges in Op. 08-451 that engaging the services of a temporary lawyer is “a form of outsourcing”]). Although the ABA’s ethics opinions are not binding in any state, they are widely cited in relevant opinions issued by state ethics authorities and some influential local bar associations (such as the New York City Bar Association). One would expect an LPO company like LegalEase to have a better understanding of these opinions, upon which the very viability of its business model rests.
There’s more. As every 1L knows, if you’re going to cite a case or statute in a brief, it’s important to make sure that the case or statute is still good law. In its discussion of its conflict checking systems, LegalEase quotes N.Y. Code of Professional Responsibility DR 5-105(e) (actually, it mis-cites the section as “DR 5 – 105(E), New York Lawyers Code of Ethical Responsibility”). New York abandoned the Code in favor of a modified version of the Model Rules 13 months ago.
If you’re intent on squeezing every last penny of profit out of the outsourcing equation, you may be willing to spend the time to re-write poorly-written briefs, or to submit lightly-edited versions of those same briefs to the courts, in the hope that the judges before whom you practice aren’t sticklers for good writing. But are you willing to re-do the research, too, or run the risk that the brief you submit overlooks significant cases or statutes, or cites bad law? At what point does the extra work you have to do, or the extra risk you have to take, as a result of sending legal work offshore outweigh the benefit you obtain by maximizing the spread between what you pay to outsource the work and what you bill your client for that work?
There’s no question that you’ll most likely make less profit if you work with a freelance lawyer who lives, is admitted to practice in, and works in the United States than if you hire a foreign LPO company. But there’s more to outsourcing than dollars and cents: foreign LPOs may offer a better price, but onshore freelance lawyers offer solos and small firms better value.
*Update 7/2/16: It appears that LegalEase has revised the handbook, as the grammar, while not perfect, is much improved.