A Tale Of Two Markups: One For Lawyers, The Other For Non-Lawyers


by Wilton H. Strickland

Almost a year has passed since I embarked on my quest to become a freelance lawyer, and it’s been the best of times and the worst of times. While exciting and liberating, there are serious challenges such as finding attorney clients and persuading them that they can benefit from outsourcing some of their work to me.

An obvious advantage is that my fee is discounted and thus allows them to turn a profit while saving time. It sounds too good to be true, which often leads people to ask just how this “markup” can be ethical. Upon researching the issue to prepare a CLE course, I stumbled on divergent standards governing markups for lawyers versus non-lawyers. This is an important distinction to flesh out, since many who provide outsourcing services are non-lawyers (often paralegals) who have just as much of a stake in conducting their business in an ethical manner as we lawyers do.

Marking Up The Fee Of An Outside Lawyer

In its landmark Formal Opinion 08-451, the ABA offered several guidelines for ethical outsourcing, including how to pass along the expense to clients. Page 5 of the Opinion broaches the subject as follows (emphases added):

[T]he fees charged by the outsourcing lawyer must be reasonable and otherwise comply with the requirements of Rule 1.5. In Formal Opinion No. 00-420, we concluded that a law firm that engaged a contract lawyer could add a surcharge to the cost paid by the billing lawyer provided the total charge represented a reasonable fee for the services provided to the client.

Notice how the surcharge analysis centers on lawyers, not on paralegals or other non-lawyers. This theme continues on page 6 (emphases added):

Likewise, the lawyer is not obligated to inform the client how much the firm is paying a contract lawyer; the restraint is the overarching requirement that the fee charged for the services not be unreasonable. If the firm decides to pass those costs through to the client as a disbursement, however, no markup is permitted. In the absence of an agreement with the client authorizing a greater charge, the lawyer may bill the client only its actual cost plus a reasonable allocation of associated overhead, such as the amount the lawyer spent on any office space, support staff, equipment, and supplies for the individuals under contract.

Thus according to the ABA, an outside lawyer’s fees may be marked up so long as the final fee to the client is reasonable, and there is no obligation to tell the client what the outside lawyer is being paid. The only stated exception is when the firm chooses to pass along the expense as a disbursement, in which case the firm must charge at cost absent client consent for a different arrangement.

I have found no state or local ethics opinion that disagrees with the ABA’s analysis on this issue. At most, the other ethics opinions stress that the outsourcing relationship might constitute fee splitting if the outside fee is linked to the client’s fee, in which case client consent indeed becomes necessary. See, e.g., Colo. Bar Ass’n, Formal Op. 121, 6 (2009); S.C. Bar Ethics Advisory Committee, Ethics Advisory Op. 10-08, 2 (2010). While the opinions vary on whether client consent is necessary for the outsourcing relationship itself, this is a separate question from whether the payment structure requires client consent, which it normally does not.

Some case law has emerged regarding these markups, and it parallels the ABA’s approach. In one instructive instance, the defendants in a class action sought to exclude outside attorneys’ hours from the lodestar calculation of plaintiffs’ recoverable attorney fees, citing Formal Opinion 08-451 and arguing that such hours must be billed only at cost. The court disagreed, holding that a law firm may choose to pass along this expense as a unified fee rather than a cost disbursement: “[T]hat rule addresses the situation ‘[i]f the firm decides to pass [the contract attorney] costs through to the client as a disbursement.’ . . . This Court is aware of no requirement that a firm do so.” In re Citigroup Inc. Secs. Litig., 965 F. Supp. 2d 369, 394 n.6 (S.D.N.Y. 2013). In a ruling that slightly pre-dates Formal Opinion 08-451, one court gave this assessment that is music to the ears of any contract or freelance lawyer:

[Objectors] argue . . . that the work done by contract attorneys should be treated as an expense to be reimbursed, rather than being included in the lodestar. This objection lacks merit. The lodestar calculation is intended not to reflect the costs incurred by the firm, but to approximate how much the firm would bill a paying client. An attorney, regardless of whether she is an associate with steady employment or a contract attorney whose job ends upon the completion of a particular document review project, is still an attorney. It is therefore appropriate to bill a contract attorney’s time at market rates . . . .

In re Tyco Int’l, Ltd. Multidistrict Litig., 535 F. Supp. 2d 249, 272-73 (D.N.H. 2007) (emphasis added).

Marking Up The Fee Of An Outside Non-Lawyer

Whereas a law firm may choose to bill the work of an outside lawyer as a discrete, marked-up legal fee or an obvious, at-cost disbursement, it seems there is no such choice regarding the work of outside non-lawyers. Their work must be billed at cost, absent client consent to the contrary.

Turning back to Formal Opinion 08-451, only scarce mention is made of how to bill for anything other than the services of an outside lawyer, and it appears within the discussion of billing at cost on page 6. Some duplication of the previous quote is necessary (emphasis added):

In the absence of an agreement with the client authorizing a greater charge, the lawyer may bill the client only its actual cost plus a reasonable allocation of associated overhead, such as the amount the lawyer spent on any office space, support staff, equipment, and supplies for the individuals under contract. The analysis is no different for other outsourced legal services, except that the overhead costs associated with the provision of such services may be minimal or nonexistent if and to the extent that the outsourced work is performed off-site without the need for infrastructural support. If that is true, the outsourced services should be billed at cost, plus a reasonable allocation of the cost of supervising those services if not otherwise covered by the fees being charged for legal services.

So it appears that services outsourced to non-lawyers must be billed at cost unless the client agrees otherwise. One could argue that “analysis” refers back to the entire discussion of billing for an outside lawyer’s work, meaning that there indeed is an option to present a single legal fee that is marked up to reflect the non-lawyer’s work. The flaw in this argument is that the work of a non-lawyer cannot ethically be presented as a legal fee, as emphasized by the New York City Bar Association on page 4 of its oft-cited Formal Opinion 2006-3:

By definition, the non-lawyer performing legal support services overseas is not performing legal services. It is thus inappropriate for the New York lawyer to include the cost of outsourcing in his or her legal fees. See DR 3-102. Absent a specific agreement with the client to the contrary, the lawyer should charge the client no more than the direct cost associated with outsourcing, plus a reasonable allocation of overhead expenses directly associated with providing that service.

Though other ethics opinions do not appear to tackle this issue head-on, many of them rely on Formal Opinion 2006-3 as authoritative. See Fla. State Bar Prof’l Ethics Comm., Ethics Op. 07-2 (2008); N.C. State Bar, 2007 Formal Op. 12 (2008); Ohio Sup. Ct. Bd. of Comm’rs on Grievances & Discipline, Advisory Op. 2009-06, 6 (2009); Colo. Bar Ass’n, Formal Op. 121, 4-5 (2009); Va. State Bar Ethics Counsel, Legal Ethics Op.1850, 4 n.7 (2010).

It’s also worth remembering that in 2012 the ABA Commission On Ethics cited Formal Opinion 2006-3 when construing the ABA’s own Formal Opinion 08-451, specifically in Resolution 105C (which adds new outsourcing commentary to various Model Rules).

I have found only one instance where the work of an outside non-lawyer was allowed to be marked up without the client’s consent, a bankruptcy case out of Mississippi: In re Thorne, 471 B.R. 496 (Bankr. N.D. Miss. 2012). A creditor’s law firm outsourced certain drafting tasks to a paralegal firm and billed those tasks to the creditor as a full legal fee. The debtors argued that the arrangement was illegal and violated several rules of professional conduct, especially the prohibition against splitting fees with non-lawyers. The court disagreed, finding no legal or ethical problem with the arrangement. Id. at 504-07.

Yet Thorne should be taken with a grain of salt. For one, the arguments concerned whether the outsourcing arrangement amounted to fee splitting, not whether a markup for non-lawyer services should receive client consent. Moreover, ethical questions cannot ultimately be settled or enforced by a bankruptcy court, but rather by state licensing authorities.

Conclusion

Unless and until an ethics opinion clearly states otherwise, it is best to operate on the assumption that work outsourced to non-lawyers must be billed at cost, absent the client’s consent to a more profitable arrangement. The hope of obtaining such consent strikes me as a bit fanciful. I could be wrong on that score; if I am, so much the better! For the time being, though, we should assume that the only markups that do not require client consent are for work outsourced to lawyers. It is a far, far better thing to err on the side of being more ethical than less.

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Outsourcing and the feudal legal system


When I was a kid I remember playing a game called “King of the Mountain.”  Its sort of a medieval type of game.  As so aptly described in Wikipedia, the game involves “children attempting to occupy the highest point on a raised platform or hill, while resisting attempts by other children to knock them off and replace them.”  Picture medieval soldiers trying to scale the walls of a castle with men on the wall throwing rocks and hot tar trying to stop them.  In this game, the success of the winner depends on knocking down the other players.

I sort of thought we had developed more as a society since the Dark Ages.  I certainly thought that entering a profession as prestigious as the legal profession would ensure that I spent my career surrounded by professionals in the quest for liberty, justice and fairness for all.  I was wrong.  Way wrong.  I joined a grown-up version of King of the Mountain.

Do you know what kind of salary a law school graduate makes?  It all depends, on whether they are part of the “King” or the “Mountain.”  According to AmLaw 100, a yearly battle of King of the Mountain between the largest law firms in the country, DLA is the new King of the Mountain (overtaking last year’s king, Baker & McKenzie) with annual revenue of over $2.4 billion dollars.  (No, that’s not a typo – billion, not million).  DLA has 4,036 lawyers, so when you do the math, that’s $604,683 in revenue per lawyer.  Of the top 15 ranked law firms on the criteria of profits per partner, the top 15 ranked law firm partners received between $2.7M and just shy of $5M – per partner.  How to they rack up such huge profits year after year?  Okay, if you have over 4,000 workaholic lawyers churning out billable hours at obscene hourly rates, that helps.  But that’s not all that helps.  These large law firms also employ (and I’m using that term loosely), serfs.

This morning I was reading the all too familiar story of a former contract attorney who worked, via a temporary employment agency that specializes in legal work, for $33/hr (trying to pay off a likely $100-$150K student loan) in a room off a parking garage with no heat, no windows, no bathroom, no insurance, no paid holidays or vacations, no connection to the plush offices in the neighboring highrise building other than the case she is working on, a class action suit in which the highrise lawyers are bound to reap large financial rewards, while the contract lawyers working in the dungeon below will be shuffled out the door without even a thank you to be herded into the next dungeon for another law firm.  The Kings in their highrise law firms are millionaires sitting on a Mountain of contract attorneys.

Is it just me that thinks this is a French Revolution situation in the making?

Use of freelance paralegals is an emerging trend that is catching on fire


(republished with permission from WardblawG.com, authored by Millie Tiffany)

Use of freelance paralegals is an emerging trend that is catching on fire

Here are some reasons why:-

Economic reasons: The economic reality of our times is causing more and more attorneys to rethink their expenses and restructure their practices accordingly, with one of the major changes being the use of a freelance, or contract paralegal, rather than a full-time employee. Many firms have ebb and flow business. Obviously, it is more cost-effective to pay for a paralegal’s services only when the work flow is too heavy for the attorney to handle on his/her own.

Quality: Most freelance paralegals are educated, knowledgeable, highly-experienced, specialized, and extremely competent. They have to be. Their business depends upon it.

Technology: Today’s technology allows freelance paralegals to work virtually from their home offices for attorneys all over the USA. Files and documents can be exchanged in many different ways ranging from cloud sharing through overnight mail, depending upon the style of the attorney and his/her comfort level.

Less complicated: With a freelance paralegal, the only expense is her fee. The attorney pays no taxes such as federal income, social security, unemployment or workers compensation. There is no need to generate a W-2 form, pay ever-rising premiums for health insurance, make retirement contributions or provide other benefits. The freelancer provides her own computer, workspace and supplies. There are no personality issues to deal with that sometimes arise with day-to-day contact. Valuable time is not lost on advertising, interviewing, hiring and training, only to have the paralegal quit just when the attorney starts to rely on her, resulting in the process starting all over again! On the other hand, establishing an ongoing relationship with a freelance paralegal assures the attorney of reliable, quality support when necessary, and only when necessary.

Increased quality of life: The utilization of a freelance paralegal’s services is most often sought by sole practitioners who are so crazy-busy that they don’t know which end is up, or perhaps when they are away from the office because of a family emergency, conflict, vacation, or sickness, and need some back-up, or when the attorney would simply like another perspective. There are times when practicing alone is not easy. It is difficult for the solo to handle complicated situations/cases all alone, with no one to bounce ideas off or with whom to engage in brainstorming sessions. A trusted freelancer can provide a fresh perspective. Calling upon a freelancer also allows the attorney some down time to spend doing the things he/she enjoys. Rather than being holed up in the office at 7 P.M. answering interrogatories subject to a complusion order or drafting an Emergency Petition for Special Relief, he can be cheering for his son at a mini football game, watching his daughter’s dance recital, or checking out that new restaurant. A freelancer can help the attorney to restore balance to his life, something that more and more people are seeking.

Millie is the owner of Paralegal Specialists, LLC, which company offers freelance/contract paralegal services and legal copywriting on-site to Northeastern Pennsylvania attorneys and virtually to attorneys throughout the rest of the USA. Millie has 20+ years experience specializing in Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, Wrongful Death litigation and PA Family Law. Millie can be followed on Twitter via @MillieTiffany and you can also connect with Millie on Linkedin.

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Deafening silence from BigLaw about legal outsourcing


By Melody A. Kramer, Esq.

Just this week the news has been circulating about the unsuccessful attempts of Fronterion LLC who bills itself as an “independent outsourcing advisory” to survey large US law firms about their use of legal outsourcing providers.  Why unsuccessful?  The ABA Journal reports that according to Fronterion, of the “nation’s top 50 law firms” (“top” obviously meaning “largest”) only one confirmed outsourcing of legal services “to some degree,” four firms denied using outsourcing, and 20 (40%) did not respond at all or “in a sufficiently definitive manner” to even be included.  Twenty-five other firms (83% of the responding firms) declined to answer the outsourcing questions.

“No comment.”  Is this really what the “nation’s top 50 law firms” have to say on the subject of outsourcing?  What’s to hide?  If the mode of outsourcing they are using benefits their clients, why not openly say “yes, we use strategic outsourcing to reduce overall costs for our clients” or something similar. 

Is there any connection between this deafening silence and some other interesting reports in the legal industry about these same 50 law firms?  Let me review some headlines that have caught my eye recently.  On May 12th the ABA Journal reported that Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe was reconfiguring its business model and now keeping partner profits secret (Orrick Partner Profits Are Now Secret Under 21st Century Redesign, Firm CEO Says).  The same day it was reported that all but 7 of the top 50 firms (the same class of firms that remained mum about outsourcing practices) have partner profits of $1 million or more (What Downturn? $1M-Plus Partner Profits the Norm, Outpacing 25 Years of Inflation).  On April 29th the ABA Journal also reported a slight increase in partner profits in 2009 based in part on law firms “aggressively reduc[ing] expenses.” (Not-So-Bad News for BigLaw: Small Drop in Head Count, Small Boost in Partner Profits).  In March, the ABA Journal reported on results of a Zeugheuser Group legal consulting firm report and concluded that “equity partners at the nation’s top law firms didn’t have to take much of a financial hit last year,” again citing cost-cutting (Crunching the BigLaw Numbers: Equity Partner Profits Drop Less than 1%).

Not only BigLaw, but the ABA is still turning a blind eye to the full picture of legal outsourcing.  As previously reported here, the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 Legal Process Outsourcing (Domestic and International)’s Call for Comments entirely ignored domestic freelance attorneys and contract attorneys who work for legal employment agencies.  This prompted a comparison of freelance lawyers to “freedom fighters” and, as far as google searches have shown thus far, only one publicized response to the Call for Comments.

While BigLaw is standing mute, corporate counsel are becoming more vocal about using project attorneys to handle their workload.  As reported in The Legal Intelligencer, corporate law departments are “increasingly using project- or contract-based attorneys to help handle an increased workload on a shrunken budget.”  “The pool of contract attorneys right now is exceptional” says James LaRosa of JuriStaff in Philadelphia.  “What they are getting typically is an attorney with a lot more relevant experience and a lot more real life practice experience.”  The full article is worth a read.

What’s in a name? “Growing enthusiasm for contract lawyers” but minimal interest in “outsourcing”


By Melody A. Kramer, Esq.

A significant percentage of law firms with 50+ lawyers “expressed a growing enthusiasm for contract lawyers” according to a Weil Altman survey but still are cool towards “outsourcing.”  According to their 2010 Law Firms In Transition report, in 2009, 39% of law firms reported “using contract lawyers,” a number increased to 53% for 2010.  However, the same report cites “less than 10% of firms outsourced or offshored legal work” in 2009 or 2010.  Nowhere does the article explain what the survey respondents meant by “contract lawyers” or “outsourcing.”

“Outsourcing” refers to having non-employees perform functions for your business.  Thus, if a law firm seeks out “contract lawyers” via an employment agency or a self-employed freelance lawyer to perform work for them, they are “outsourcing” work. 

“Outsourcing” is not synonymous with “offshoring” in which persons outside of the country’s territorial borders are performing work for U.S. law firms.

This continued confusion about the nature of outsourcing, contract attorneys working for employment agencies, and freelance attorneys working for themselves still pervades the legal profession, hampering meaningful discussions and actions.  For additional explanation, see the response to a Call for Comments by the ABA on Outsourcing provided by the National Association of Freelance Legal Professionals and freelance attorney Lisa Solomon.

Flying High – a military spouse and freelance paralegal shares her story


Guest blog post by FreelanceLaw member Kris L. Canaday

As I stare out the airplane window, my mind runs through all the things to be done. It’s a quick trip. Find a house and head back across the country to finish packing. I have so many things still to do – I haven’t even touched the kitchen and I still need to schedule the utilities. Oh yeah, I also need to finish that paternity action when we land.

I am a military spouse. I am also a freelance paralegal. Why? So I don’t have to give up my career every time we transfer. Lately, that seems to be regularly. We’re leaving Washington after less than two years and just learned that we may only be in Louisiana for one year instead of three. I don’t think I’m going to unpack much more than my kitchen and office this time around.

After working in law offices around the country, I decided to work strictly from my office and provide support to attorneys both on a regular and as-needed basis. As every military spouse knows, challenges abound in having your own career while living the military life. Employers have no interest in hiring someone who will only be around one to four years. An employer can identify a military spouse simply by looking at the spouse’s resume – two years in this state, four years in that state . . . . Few employers consider that a local could leave just as easily after six months of employment because s/he has decided to look for another job. In contrast, military spouses are more likely to stay with the employer as long as possible because they know their time is limited.

And then there’s leaving for a new place and starting all over again. Both employer and spouse have to start over. The time spouses have for working in each place they live is limited further by the duration in which it takes to obtain work as the result of their military status. It is difficult at best to have a career as a military spouse, even more difficult to move it forward.

The truth is, military spouses bring a great deal of knowledge to the table as the result of their vast experience. After struggling to find work and having back-to-back short tours, I decided to offer support to attorneys who are totally overwhelmed. With the downturn in the economy, I found many attorneys are struggling to keep their practice above water and have insufficient overhead to bring in additional employees, yet they are overwhelmed trying to do everything themselves. By working freelance from my office, I am able to help attorneys reduce their workload and stress and help them move their practice forward without increasing their overhead.

In essence, I’ve turned my lemons into lemonade and made a career I already love even more fulfilling because I know I am truly making a difference in my attorneys’ lives. I no longer have to give up my career every time we transfer to a new location; I actually enhance it as I expand my knowledge and my network. Best of all, my attorneys never worry about my leaving. I am completely mobile and available, regardless of my location, and can continue to support them wherever I may be.

Military spouses need not give up their careers or put a career on hold; it is possible to have and enhance a career. As a paralegal, I found freelancing to be the solution to continuing my career and to providing support to the attorneys who need it the most. It’s a win-win situation all the way around. I truly have found the best of both worlds.

Kris L. Canaday is a [virtual] freelance paralegal providing support to attorneys, firms, and governmental agencies nationwide. You can learn more about Kris and the services she offers at http://www.paralegalsvcs4attys.com. Kris can be reached at (888) 4Lgl-Svc [(888) 454-5782] or kris@paralegalsvcs4attys.com.

Independent U.S. Contract Lawyer Takes On Foreign LPO: Round 2


by Lisa Solomon, republished with permission from Legal Research & Writing Pro

Last fall, I wrote about the risks that lawyers take when they outsource work to foreign legal process outsourcing companies. The primary risk I focused on wasn’t the possibility that the foreign provider might violate confidentiality or conflict of interest rules: it was the risk that the LPO company would produce substandard work. My last post on this subject was prompted, in part, by the abysmally poor grammar used in a particular LPO company’s marketing piece. As I explained in comments to that post, I think the quality of a company’s marketing materials is a good predictor of the quality of its work product. Last Friday, another marketing piece, by another foreign LPO company, brought this issue to the forefront once again:

foreign LPO Legal Outsourcing Handbook

This tweet promoted The Legal Outsourcing Handbook from LegalEase Solutions. Ever curious, I downloaded the Handbook and started to read.I was immediately struck by the “quality” of the writing. From the first paragraph (and, as I was to find out) to the last, the Handbook is rife with grammatical and usage errors; a few typos are thrown in for good measure. These errors alone would be sufficient to disqualify LegalEase from consideration by any sole practitioner or small firm looking to outsource: the last thing that a busy solo or small firm lawyer wants to deal with when outsourcing substantive legal work is having to practically rewrite a brief to get it signature-ready. But more serious still are the Handbook’s substantive errors.

The Handbook describes ABA Formal Op. 08-451 (Lawyer’s Obligations When Outsourcing Legal and Nonlegal Support Services) as “the first opinion issued by the ABA regarding legal outsourcing.” However, while Op. 08-451 is the first ABA ethics opinion that discusses offshore legal outsourcing, it isn’t the ABA’s first opinion concerning outsourcing.

In fact, Op. 08-451 itself discusses the ABA’s two earlier opinions concerning outsourcing: Formal Op. 00-420 (Surcharge to Client for Use of a Contract Lawyer) and Formal Op. 88-356 (Temporary Lawyers [the ABA acknowledges in Op. 08-451 that engaging the services of a temporary lawyer is "a form of outsourcing"]). Although the ABA’s ethics opinions are not binding in any state, they are widely cited in relevant opinions issued by state ethics authorities and some influential local bar associations (such as the New York City Bar Association). One would expect an LPO company like LegalEase to have a better understanding of these opinions, upon which the very viability of its business model rests.

There’s more. As every 1L knows, if you’re going to cite a case or statute in a brief, it’s important to make sure that the case or statute is still good law. In its discussion of its conflict checking systems, LegalEase quotes N.Y. Code of Professional Responsibility DR 5-105(e) (actually, it mis-cites the section as “DR 5 – 105(E), New York Lawyers Code of Ethical Responsibility”). New York abandoned the Code in favor of a modified version of the Model Rules 13 months ago.

When I tweeted about my initial response to the Handbook a few days ago, Russell Smith, the Chairman and President of the self-described “high-end” LPO company SDD Global Solutions Pvt. Ltd. quickly came to the defense of the foreign LPO industry:

With friends like this, the foreign LPO industry hardly needs enemies, does it? After all, wouldn’t it be fair to assume that LegalEase—which uses onshore (i.e., U.S.-based) lawyers to “manage and oversee every project, while the offshore staff performs the bulk of the work”—is also a “high-end” LPO company?

If you’re intent on squeezing every last penny of profit out of the outsourcing equation, you may be willing to spend the time to re-write poorly-written briefs, or to submit lightly-edited versions of those same briefs to the courts, in the hope that the judges before whom you practice aren’t sticklers for good writing. But are you willing to re-do the research, too, or run the risk that the brief you submit overlooks significant cases or statutes. or cites bad law? At what point does the extra work you have to do, or the extra risk you have to take, as a result of sending legal work offshore outweigh the benefit you obtain by maximizing the spread between what you pay to outsource the work and what you bill your client for that work?

There’s no question that you’ll most likely make less profit if you work with a freelance lawyer who lives, is admitted to practice in, and works in the United States than if you hire a foreign LPO company. But there’s more to outsourcing than dollars and cents: foreign LPOs may offer a better price, but onshore freelance lawyers offer solos and small firms better value.

About Lisa Solomon 

Lisa Solomon was one of the first lawyers to recognize and take advantage of the technological advances that make outsourcing legal research and writing services practical and profitable for law firms of all sizes. Through Lisa Solomon, Esq. Legal Research & Writing (www.QuestionOfLaw.net), she assists attorneys with all their legal research and writing needs, including preparing and arguing appeals and drafting substantive motions and trial memoranda. Through Legal Research & Writing Pro (www.LegalResearchandWritingPro.com), she shows other lawyers how to start and run successful practices as freelance attorneys and teaches lawyers in all practice areas how to write more persuasive briefs.

Lawyers are not widgets


By Melody A. Kramer, Esq.

Legal process outsourcing is all the rage these days.  Law firms faced with increasing pressure from their clientele to stop charging outrageous fees are often turning to legal process outsourcing companies who farm out document review and other work to unidentified, but reportedly well-trained, minions across the globe.  Law firms who use LPO companies in an effort to make a cheaper widget so they can compete in the market for their services on price point are entirely missing the point.

 Any law firm that outsources legal work offshore has forgotten what it means to be a lawyer.

Lawyers are not widgets – “something unspecified whose name is either forgotten or not known” (wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn) — and for that matter, neither are paralegals or other support staff.  Each legal professional comes with his or her own unique set of strengths and abilities.  A genius at contract negotiation may quake in her boots at the prospect of appearing in court.  A phenom in courtroom advocacy may have poor deposition skills.  A meticulous patent prosecution paralegal may be utterly lost in a fast-paced litigation practice. 

Legal advice and services should be personalized and unique, whether the client is an individual consumer or a Fortune 500 company.  Providing that specialized and individualized service should be the priority of law firms, not maximizing their markup on billable hour widgets. 

However, the concept of a lawyer being a counselor and advisor has for too long been replaced by the big business model law firm with more and more levels of minions cranking out billable hour widgets that make the partners of mega-law firms millionaires.  What portion of this business model assists the client?  None of it.  No client, not even huge corporations, need a thousand lawyers! 

Can outsourcing of any legal work be of benefit to either law firm or client then?  Absolutely, when both the prism of law firm structure and client selection of law firms is adjusted.  Focus on individual skills and abilities rather than looking for a one-size-fits-all firm or lawyer.  Do you need high quality legal research memos?  Develop a relationship with a local freelance attorney with excellent writing skills.  Do you need a highly organized paralegal to help you prepare for a trial?  Contract with a local freelance paralegal that has familiarity with the necessary office and document management systems and trial preparation experience to help you out. 

Lawyer or widget – which is it going to be?

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