While at the Legal Technology Leadership Summit, I attended the panel entitled “Legal Process Outsourcing and Insourcing.” As I mentioned on Twitter, when I go to conferences I enjoy attending the panels that are most likely to cause pain and suffering among junior attorneys. It’s kind of my thing.
Usually, anything involving outsourcing is a good bet to make junior attorneys scream expletives at God before drinking themselves into a stupor. But this panel was surprisingly positive about the future of Biglaw attorneys in a outsourced world — and not just the career associate types. The panelists saw a future for regular partner-track associates with dreams of a better tomorrow.
Of course, even under the rosiest of scenarios, Biglaw firms will lose money as more companies outsource, but corporate GCs don’t so much care about that….
The panel was moderated by Andrew Goodman of QuisLex. Panelists included Douglas MacLean from TransCanada, Vincent Catanzaro from DuPont, Michael Klein from Altria, and Manfred Gabriel from FTI Technology. TransCanada builds oil pipelines, DuPont does chemicals, and Altria owns tobacco companies.
I point that out because oil, chemicals, and tobacco sound like the kinds of industries that help Biglaw pay its bills.
And all of the GCs on the panel were bemoaning the high cost of doing doc review at traditional Biglaw firms. Klein from Altria talked about how he brought it all in-house. Catanzaro from DuPont talked about how outsourcing (whether onshore or offshore) saved the company millions. Our TransCanada representative mentioned how they were planning on using outsourcing for litigation they haven’t even been hit with yet.
That was about the time during the panel where I started tweeting things using the “#deathofBiglaw” hashtag.
And that was before all of the non-monetary advantages of outsourcing doc review were discussed. Catanzaro noted one particular benefit: “You get people who are actually interested in doc review. People who take a higher level of respect for the work that they do.”
That was a general theme from many of the GCs at the conference: non-law-firm e-discovery vendors take doc review with the seriousness that it demands. Law firms, and even the most lowly associates, treat doc review as if it is beneath them.
So from a certain point of view, maybe law firms deserve to lose this business that they’ve historically controlled. Not only do they charge too much for it, but they only want the fees, not the work itself.
Now, any other outsourcing panel would have just devolved into a general discussion of how terrible this all is for Biglaw firms, especially for the junior associates who were traditionally billed out on doc review projects while they were educated in all the practical ways law schools ignore. When I asked the question about this subject, I expected to draw heartless cackles from in-house lawyers with badder fish to fry.
Instead, I got a rousing discussion about how these outsourcing practices will increase the substantive roles for junior attorneys.
The GCs saw a future where junior associates interacted with outside counsel and become responsible for quality control. Sure, it doesn’t mean that firms will be able to dump dozens of associates on a large-scale doc review, but the corporate folks said that they’ll always want one or two associates in the review room, and even the vendors acknowledged the necessity of having somebody from outside counsel as familiar as possible with all the documents.
The money quote came from Catanzaro: “Ideally, you want a mid-level in the review room while [the e-discovery contractors] are doing the review. Their presence is beneficial… you want as little separation as possible between the reviewers and advisers.” But the problem is that some of the reviewers don’t take the job seriously enough.
So the takeaway from the panel is that if you don’t want all of the doc review work and money to go away from traditional Biglaw firms, then traditional Biglaw lawyers had best take doc review very seriously. Firms need to put their best people on it. The lawyers involved should take it as seriously as if there were judges looking over their shoulders.
If Biglaw totally loses this business, they’ll have only themselves to blame.