Outsourcing

Minnesota is beautiful this time of year.

Is having your back-office functions handled on-site — i.e., in the same location as the lawyers being serviced — now a luxury? More and more law firms are adopting the model of sending their administrative support functions to lower-cost locations.

Thanks to advances in technology, it’s no longer necessary to have your back office in the same pricey place as your lawyers. And it’s not surprising that firms are going in this direction when you consider the cost savings involved.

Which law firm expects to save millions of dollars a year by sending support staffers to the land o’ lakes?

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Ed. note: Frank H. Wu is the Chancellor and Dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He shares some of his thoughts about legal education and the legal profession here on Above the Law from time to time.

I was talking to a reporter the other day about changes within the legal profession. She had called me to ask what types of jobs were opening up. I disappointed her. She wanted specialties offering positions that were sexy, new, and numerous.

I explained there were indeed more jobs. But I did not know any of them that satisfied all of her criteria.

There were many possibilities for her article. None of them were everything she was looking for.

That would be true for the individuals obtaining those roles as well. I recall a former colleague who used to say in response to the extravagant expectations that young people express about their careers: “That’s why we call it ‘work.’” She meant that there isn’t any reason to believe it will be fun. It is more likely to be boring, stressful, or both boring and stressful by turns if not simultaneously.

By the journalist’s standards, unless it is sexy, new and numerous, it does not register at all. That isn’t the best understanding of the universe of possibilities. Law is not intrinsically sexy….

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When it comes to Biglaw word-processing jobs, Williams Lea is the grim reaper. As we’ve chronicled in these pages, numerous leading law firms have outsourced their word processing and proofreading functions to this prominent provider.

This has led to layoffs — lots and lots of layoffs. Some affected employees have been sad, and some have been angry. One complained of the “callous disregard for the welfare of long-time Foley [& Lardner] employees” that a Williams Lea takeover displayed.

But could these changes be beneficial — not just for law firm bottom lines, but for the affected individuals? The latest law firm to outsource its WP and proofreading functions, one of the most prestigious and profitable firms in all the land, makes the case….

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The hits to the legal industry just keep coming. Every time you think you have mastered the new normal, there is a new issue that needs to be addressed. Yes, this is probably because law firms were so entrenched in the way they do business that they refused to change and are only now seeing the landscape change around them.

But the reality is that all our jobs are heading to India. Right? There’s many a project manager who likes to threaten the review team when they aren’t coding fast enough, “If you don’t code faster they’ll send this case to India!”

Well.

Maybe…

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Back in 2011, we wondered if on-shore outsourcing was the Biglaw wave of the future. Given the recent cavalcade of “adjustments,” “reductions,” “reorganizations,” and “eliminations” affecting staff headcount at firms across the country, we think our prediction may be coming to pass.

These days, despite news of record numbers in terms of gross revenue, it seems we can’t even make it through one week without news of layoffs coming from within Biglaw’s hallowed halls. In fact, last week brought even more lamentable news from large law firms (on top of the double-digit IT outsourcing at one top firm).

Which Biglaw firm is pink-slipping employees en masse in favor of outsourcing this time?

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Of all the different Biglaw constituencies, legal secretaries have probably suffered the most in terms of recent layoffs. In this technological age, lawyers do their own typing, don’t give dictation as much, and can use voice-recognition software when they do. Shorthand isn’t as valuable a skill as it used to be.

So what should a legal secretary facing a voluntary buyout or an involuntary layoff do with himself? Assuming he’s not ready to take the money and run (or retire), he should find new employment. And that might require obtaining new skills, ones that are in greater demand in 2013.

Some might tell a displaced legal secretary, “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Technology.” If technology taketh away jobs, it can also giveth, right?

Well, not so fast. Even techie types are getting laid off, as the latest layoff news demonstrates….

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Summer associates will soon be arriving at large law firms. So, to paraphrase Antoine Dodson, y’all need to hide yo screamers, hide yo sleazebags, and hide yo husband (or yo gun-toting boyfriend).

While summer associates are present, certain subjects are off-limits. Don’t talk about that group of partners with a huge book of business that’s going to defect any day now. Don’t talk about that salacious lawsuit against the firm that’s still pending.

And don’t talk about layoffs — of staffers or lawyers or both. Reductions are such a buzzkill….

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Kaye Scholer welcomes you to Flori-duh!

* It looks like it’s time for yet another rousing game of Biglaw musical chairs. This time, 11 of Bingham McCutchen’s securities enforcement partners are hightailing it over to Sidley Austin en masse. [DealBook / New York Times]

* This week in on-shore outsourcing: there may be a job waiting for you at Kaye Scholer’s new operations center (so new we bet you didn’t know about it), so hurry up and apply, because the interviews are soon. [Tallahassee Democrat]

* “We’re trained in the law and persuasion, not firearms.” But maybe you should be? After the targeted killing of attorneys in Texas, prosecutors are now on high alert. [New York Times]

* When looking at the current law school model, Paul Caron of TaxProf Blog urges law deans to take advice from Jimmy McMillan because “law school tuition is simply too damn high.” [Businessweek]

* Change our admissions practices amid the worst legal economy we’ve seen in decades? “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” scoffed Sarah Zearfoss, director of admissions at Michigan Law. [AnnArbor.com]

* Drexel Law will accept applications for its two-year law degree program in May 2014. The higher-ups at the ABA are scheduled to laugh their asses off on or about the same date. [Philadelphia Inquirer]

* “[F]or James Eagan Holmes, justice is death.” In a move that shocked absolutely no one, the prosecution in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre case is seeking the death penalty. [CNN]

Bill Henderson

It’s kind of like the Hunger Games. You’re just trying to survive.

– an anonymous partner quoted by Professor William Henderson in a presentation today at Unlocking the Law: Building on the Work of Larry Ribstein. Professor Henderson noted that today many partners move laterally not for greater prestige or pay but for sheer survival.

(One factor that’s keeping partners up at night, after the jump.)

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I reported several weeks ago that I had been solicited to write an article about the future of Biglaw firms. But it was actually better than that: The invitation came from the “Sunday Review” (formerly “The Week In Review”) section of The New York Times, which is a pretty cool place to ask you to write.

Unfortunately, and apparently unbeknownst to the editor of the “Sunday Review” section, the Times ran a “DealBook” section on the fate of large law firms before my ditty could appear in print. This preempted my article (or at least that’s what the editor said, although maybe she was just sparing my feelings). So instead of having a piece in the NYT, I’m just another schlub typing away at Above the Law.

But if I took the time to write a 1,200-word piece on the future of big law firms, then I’m sure as heck going to get some use out of it. So here you are: “The Assault on Biglaw,” by yours truly, which damn near appeared in the Sunday Times….

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