Outsourcing; you might have heard of it. It’s the trend whereby law firms send high man hours/low brain effort work overseas to workers who can complete the tasks at a fraction of the cost. Clients love it, consultants are pushing it, and law firms are struggling to add this new efficiency opportunity into their overall business model.
Well, not all law firms. Peter Kalis, managing partner of K&L Gates, gave a quote to the Legal Intelligencer where he called outsourcing “a gnat in an elephant’s ear.” Evidently, K&L Gates is the elephant, LPO’s are the gnats, and I’m not sure who the clients are supposed to be. Perhaps Peter “Aesop” Kalis can let us know in a future fable.
It’s not that Kalis has his head in the sand when it comes to cost savings that can be generated by moving work out of places like New York and Washington. It’s just that in his world he doesn’t view Mumbai as all that different from Pittsburgh.
An environment in which a person has run up $150,000 in student loans to pay for a law degree only to see jobs exported to India whose citizens are apparently very knowledgeable about the U.S. legal system.
Example: “The best job in the knowledge economy is plumbing because nobody with an advanced degree knows how to use Drano.”
This has all happened before, and this will all happen again. So say we all. At the beginning of the recession, just weeks after Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008, we brought you a New York Times article from 1990 that illustrated the similarities between the tough legal job markets created by Bush 41 and Bush 43.
Today, we run the DeLorean even further back in time, and to an entirely different country. A loyal reader was cleaning out his office and came across an article from The Law College Magazine of Bombay, India, from 1930. The piece is entitled: “Is It Worthwhile? A Frank Talk With Budding Lawyers.” And it’s all about whether a person should pursue a two-year law degree in India in the 1930s.
Folks, let me tell you: some people worry that India will become the new market for American legal jobs, but that’s not the real fear. The real fear is that American law students will become like Indian law students in 1930.
I like paying attention to what consultants say about the Biglaw market. It offers a fun little insight into what people think partners want to hear.
The ABA Journal reports that consultants at Hildebrandt think partners want to hear that they can still fire people — lots of people:
Writing for the blog of law firm consultant Hildebrandt, Lisa Smith makes an argument that outsourcing, efficiencies and increased hiring of staff attorneys could mean a different mix of staff and associate lawyers—and an overall reduction in head count in the next five to seven years.
Hilderbrandt expects an overall reduction of headcount of 17,500. But not partners! Just associates and staff attorneys…
Lawyers are terrified of outsourcing, and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of movement in the legal industry towards keeping entry level legal jobs in America.
But outsourcing didn’t start with low level legal work, and so maybe the reaction against it won’t start in the legal field either. Maybe the counter movement will start in Ohio.
Ohio Governor Ted Strickland just instituted a new ban on outsourcing back-end IT services by the Ohio government. The Wall Street Journal reports:
India’s main software body Wednesday termed the U.S. state of Ohio’s decision to ban technology outsourcing to offshore locations as an “electoral rhetoric” that will be counterproductive, while Infosys Technologies Ltd. said it is concerned about the message from the step.
The Economic Times newspaper said Ohio has banned outsourcing of government IT and back-office projects to offshore locations such as India.
Hey, ABA you might want to pay a little attention to Governor of Ohio. I bet a lot of your constituents wouldn’t mind a little lawyer protectionism just at the moment, globalization be damned.
In keeping with the highly optimistic “dey terk er jerbs” story lines of the last couple of weeks, such as Elie’s on how outsourcing could be great for associates, I thought I would address how attorneys working remotely on e-discovery projects could actually be a good thing for the future of Biglaw.
A couple of years ago, I was a legal recruiter for a small staffing agency placing contract attorneys on e-discovery projects in the Washington, DC area. The attorneys constantly asked me the same questions: “Is it true this is all going away?” Or, “Is all doc review really heading to India?”
I would respond by telling them not to worry about India, because the real threat would be coming from Indiana…
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.
In August, 2008 the ABA issued a landmark ethics opinion allowing the outsourcing of U.S. legal work.
This August, the ABA is pondering whether to accredit offshore law schools that follow the U.S. system. Because apparently 200 accredited U.S. law schools just isn’t enough. The National Law Journal reports:
The American Bar Association is already tasked by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit U.S. law schools. Now an ABA committee has recommended that it should seriously consider expanding that power to overseas law schools that follow the U.S. model.
In June, the ABA’s Council of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar appointed the committee of law professors, attorneys, judges and law deans to examine whether foreign law schools should be allowed to seek ABA accreditation. The council is scheduled to consider the committee’s recommendations in December.
“Believe me, kiddos, this is bad news for all of us.”
As many websites and blogs (including ATL) mentioned last week,The New York Times published an article by Heather Timmons entitled “Outsourcing to India Draws Western Lawyers.” The quote above was from the blog Shilling Me Softly giving its take on the article. As you can probably discern from The Times headline, the piece was very favorable toward legal outsourcing taking place overseas…
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney are still in Hong Kong and will stay FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS WEEK. We still have a handful of available slots for meetings with our Asia Chronicles fans. If we have not been in touch lately, reach out and let us know when we could meet! There is no need for an agenda at all. Most of our in-person meetings on these trips are with folks who understand that improving a legal practice through lateral hiring is an information-driven process that takes time to handle correctly.
Regarding trends in lateral US associate hiring in Hong Kong, we of course keep much of what we know off of this blog. Based on placement revenue, though, Kinney is having one of our most successful years ever in Asia. We are helping a number of our law firm clients with M&A, fund formation, cap markets, project finance, FCPA and disputes openings. These are very specific needs in many cases, so a conversation with us before jumping in may be helpful. As always, we like to be sure to get the maximum number of interviews per submission, using a well-informed, highly targeted, and selective approach, taking into account short, medium and long-term career aims.
Making a well informed decision during a job search is easier said than done – the information we provide comes from 10 years of being the market leader in US attorney placements at the top tier firms in Asia. There is no substitute for having known a hiring partner since he/she was an associate or for having helped a partner grow his or her practice from zip to zooming, and this is happily where we stand today – with years of background information on just about every relevant person in all the markets we serve, and most especially in Hong Kong/China/Greater Asia. So get in touch and get a download from us this week if we can fit it in, or soon in any case!
The legal industry is being disrupted at every level by technological advances. While legal tech entrepreneurs and innovators are racing to create a more efficient and productive future, there is widespread indifference on the part of attorneys toward these emerging technologies.
When the LexisNexis Cloud Technology Survey results were reported earlier this year, it showed that attorneys were starting to peer less skeptically into the future, and slowly but surely leaning more toward all the benefits the law cloud has to offer.
Because let’s face it, plenty of attorneys are perhaps a bit too comfortable with their “system” of practice management, which may or may not include neon highlighters, sticky notes, dog-eared file folders, and a word processing program that was last updated when the term “raise the roof” was still de rigueur.