Biglaw, Outsourcing

Outsourcing: Is It Good for Associates?

I Can Has Your Job? (I Don't Eat Cheeseburgers.)

There’s been a lot of negativity surrounding the first steps of Biglaw into the outsourcing market. For obvious reasons: the U.S. legal job market is soft, and recent graduates are terrified that their entry-level jobs will flow out of the country.

And they’re probably right. If outsourcing catches on, the structure of a law firm in 2020 could be wildly different from the structure of a law firm in 2010. But maybe that’s a good thing. Let’s face it: whether you’re being paid $145K, $160K, or even (dare to dream) $190K, spending 2,000 hours a year on menial document monkey tasks is no fun. If some of these rote, mind-numbing functions can be done by attorneys overseas, attorneys in the U.S. might have a reason to actually bring their brains to work, along with their mouse-clicking index fingers.

That’s the argument, at least. And it’s being made by former Kirkland & Ellis partner Stephen Harper in today’s Am Law Daily

If you are able to get a job in this market (no easy feat), then outsourcing might just be the best thing that’s ever happened to you:

With these trends, new law school graduates will face shrinking labor markets, especially at entry-level positions in big firms. But for the fortunate few who get jobs, their work could get better as outsourced labor performs some of the menial tasks that now account for most young associates’ billable hours.

Meanwhile, senior attorneys will have new incentives to mentor proteges so they become their firms’ next generation of leaders.

Harper’s line there is buried in a larger discussion about the profit-maximization opportunities gained from outsourcing legal work. And you should never forget that: firms will outsource if they can make more money than firms that do not outsource. It is that simple. But there’s a possibility that a positive externality of outsourcing will be better work for associates who are able to get in the door.

Because the recession has taken such a toll on the job prospects of new graduates, people tend to forget that most junior attorneys hate document review. I’m not using that word casually; there are only so many hours of document review one can do in life before a man dies inside. The kind of work that is currently being outsourced nobody would call “good work.” Nobody would promote their firm based on how many hours associates get to spend making binders of “hot docs.” Smart people who found law school intellectually stimulating cry on the inside (and often on the outside) when they feel like their high-powered brains have been reduced to white-collar manual labor.

If some of that work can be shuttled off to India, let ’em have it.

As long as there are enough high-paying, U.S. legal jobs to go around, to allow people to service their massive debt loads and lifestyle expectations upon completing three years of post-graduate education. Of course, there are not enough jobs to go around, which is why you have people fighting over these menial tasks in the first place.

But who knows. In ten years you might truly have two classes of lawyers: lawyers who went to the best schools or got the best grades, who immediately arrive at law firms ready to produce substantive work, and glorified paralegals, who have to fight tooth and nail for every hour of work with legal professionals across the U.S. (and in Asia, the subcontinent, and the Caribbean).

I’m not sure how many current law students would sign up for fewer but better jobs, but at least it’s one possible result of the outsourcing phenomenon.

Outsourcing: The New and Improved Business Model Big Law Needs? [Am Law Daily]

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