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However, the concept of a lawyer being a counselor and advisor has for too long been replaced by the big business model law firm with more and more levels of minions cranking out billable hour widgets that make the partners of mega-law firms millionaires.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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3 thoughts on “Lawyers are not widgets

  1. Thanks, ReThinker, for your very thoughtful reply. I admit I know next to nothing about freelance legal businesses in the U.S., and I have nothing against them. However, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to observe the work of Indian non-widget attorneys who are highly trained in U.S. legal matters, in comparison with U.S. lawyers. In my experience, the Indian attorneys often are better, more enthusiastic, and less expensive than U.S. lawyers. I’ve even seen them correcting the legal mistakes and grammar of partners at an AmLaw 100 firm. I’ve seen the foreign lawyers outperforming local ones in litigation. But please don’t get me wrong. I’m not making any blanket statements in favor of Indian lawyers or against U.S. lawyers. I have no basis for doing that. I was just reacting to the blanket suggestion that “local” lawyers should be favored. I consider myself a global citizen. I’m not interested in “buying American” if better, faster, and less expensive services can be obtained elsewhere. High unemployment and economic pain is awful, but if that were the criteria, there is more of it in India.

  2. Mr. Smith, I have a question and a response to your comment. First, based upon your particular project (Lawyers Without Borders), you naturally are focused on international exchange of ideas and resources and pro bono projects. I like your concept and would not diminish its merit. However, I wonder how familiar you are with “local non-widgets” who are running freelance legal businesses in the US? Do you know how much they charge, what their enthusiasm level is? Have you had any personal opportunity to make the comparisons you have between “local” and “foreign”?
    Second, I am watching the massacre of legal jobs here in the US, a shaky economy overall, high levels of unemployment, followed by shipping of yet more jobs and money overseas in the interest of keeping money at the top (BigLaw partners profits have barely dipped while their staffs have been decimated). There is simply zero reason to not “buy local” legal talent. It is not legal freelancers who have been bleeding corporate legal budgets drying through ridiculously high billing rates. If you need legal advice and work done, why not get it from a highly qualified, reasonably local person, that you can actually meet and personally evaluate? Why should you fly to India to meet an attorney when the skill set you need is in your own backyard at a reasonable price?

  3. I agree with everything you said, except for your apparently automatic bias in favor of “local” non-widgets. In my experience, foreign non-widgets at legal outsourcing companies can be just as qualified, sometimes even more qualified, and they usually are less expensive, more enthusiastic, and more responsive. Your article is otherwise very intelligent and rational, so it seems odd to inject “Buy American” nativism into the good points you make.

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