Friday, September 17, 2010

Work It Out: Tri-party Line

Conversations between general counsel and their law firm counsel regarding LPO are increasingly important. These discussions should include when and if to utilize an outside LPO vendor. That topic is the central theme of my recent article in Berwin Leighton Paisner’s “Work It Out” journal.

The article is entitled, Tri-party Line: The integration of outside vendors into the delivery of legal and support services is one of the most significant developments affecting the legal profession...

The piece highlights issues that in-house legal teams should address and pitfalls to avoid when working within the tri-party relationship. As noted in the article, “The two primary challenges are managing the tri-party relationship – between in- house team, the law firm and the legal outsourcing vendor – and ensuring ethical compliance and adherence to professional standards by all parties.”

Attorneys in law firms and in-house counsels need to anticipate and prepare for these types of relationships which will be increasing in number in the future at LPO becomes a more common practice.

Friday, September 10, 2010

LPO and Outcomes-Focused Regulation

As part of the Law Society’s continuing exploration of the ethical issues surrounding LPO ethics, this week I was invited to speak on LPO ethics and implications for the forthcoming regulatory changes for UK law firms. As a result of the Legal Services Act and allowance for alternative business structures (ABS), the UK regulatory regime is taking a new tack.

The new regulatory approach seeks to provide greater flexibility by basing regulatory obligations on broad “outcomes” giving this regulatory approach the name outcomes-focused regulation (OFR).

It will be some time before this approach is implemented, but it does pose some interesting implications for the ethics of legal outsourcing, including work done by outside legal vendors.

OFR is another thing for UK-based firms exploring or expanding their LPO options to keep an eye on.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Imminent Ethics?

As the regulatory focus on the ethics of LPO heats up in the US and UK, a growing body of knowledge about LPO ethics is emerging.

Most recently, an article featured in the UK-focused publication Outsource, Mark Ross of Integreon provides a summary of ethical guidance on legal outsourcing currently available and a glimpse of what we may expect in the future.

In the article Ross said, “I expect there will be more to report on the ethics of legal outsourcing over the coming months from both sides of the Atlantic as the relevant bodies continue to study this rapidly growing industry. Whether in the form of amendments to the model rules of professional conduct (in the U.S.), or to the Solicitor’s Code of Conduct (UK), lawyers will welcome more detailed guidance. Watch this space!”

I will be speaking on LPO ethics this week at an event hosted by The Law Society. More on that shortly.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ante Up: Law firms and the “Fortunate Few”

One of the concerns of law firms that we see at Fronterion involving the integration of legal process outsourcing vendors into their practice is the real or perceived disruption of partner-track associates. The work which first and second year law firm associates previously “cut their teeth on” (read document review) is slowly diminishing with the increased use of outside legal vendors based domestically in the US and UK, as well as abroad.

The comments in several recent publications highlight the growing focus, and also acceptance, of the changing nature of the legal profession with the use of outside legal vendors to perform “routine, repetitious work.”

William Michael Treanor, newly appointed dean of the Georgetown University Law Center, made several interesting comments on the topic of recent law graduate career opportunities in the Washington Post’s Capital Business.

As reported by the ABA Journal, Treanor said, “Grads who opt for law firm jobs are likely to see the nature of their work change as clients refuse to pay associates for routine, repetitious work... As a result, ‘we'll see more outsourcing and contract employment. So associates will be doing more work that is truly lawyerly work.’”

We’ve seen Georgetown take some very positive, pro-active stances as the legal profession changes, for which we applaud them.

In a related article featured in AM Law Daily, Steven Harper echoes Treanor’s remarks regarding the advancement of the “fortunate few”, those law firm associates who will work on more substantive legal matters as a result of legal outsourcing.

“Instead of the mind-numbing tasks that are the bane of so many young lawyers' lives, associates will find themselves doing work that more closely resembles what they thought being a lawyer meant when they first decided to attend law school.”

More succinctly stated in my book, a senior litigation partner at a large UK-based law firm said this about routine tasks increasingly delegated to outside legal vendors, “Our attorneys didn’t go to law school for that.”

The caveat for this potential advancement for associates to perform more interesting and engaging projects is that law firms may require fewer associates to work through their large, document-heavy matters. Reading between the lines, it looks like law students, with the help of law schools, will have to be more entrepreneurial and seek to develop niche skill sets to make themselves more valuable in the changing legal profession.