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.

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6 thoughts on “Independent U.S. Contract Lawyer Takes On Foreign LPO: Round 2

  1. Lisa Solomon says:

    ReThinker, you should take a look at the response that I submitted, in conjunction with the National Association of Freelance Legal Professionals, to the ABA Ethics 20/20 Commission’s call for comments. You can find the comment at http://tinyurl.com/25jld6e. The response focuses on the needs and interest of domestic freelance lawyers and the solos and small firms who hire them.

  2. I would differ from you on that score. Are you aware that the ABA recently issued a request for comments regarding outsourcing (http://www.abanet.org/ethics2020/comments.pdf) and their three pages of questions did not contain a single question directed towards the actual providers of freelance or contract legal services. There was zero mention of freelance attorneys who provide services on an independent basis. There was likewise no mention of the actual, U.S. licensed attorneys, that perform work via employment or outsourcing agencies. How does that not fall within the category of what you describe as “irrationally discriminating against Western lawyers in favor of Indians”?

    This goes back to the rampant abandonment of the entire concept of lawyering. Good lawyering cannot be packaged and sold like widgets. Good lawyering involves individual skills and abilities put to optimimum use. I’ll take a freelance attorney any day that I can actually meet and evaluate over any regimented “team” assembled where I cannot meet, see, or personally evaluate them.

    My argument is not simply “buy American” as you perceive it to be. It is a call to embrace personal human skills and abilities over ever increasing per partner profits. It is also a call for clients to re-evaluate how they determine the “value” of legal services and stop reverted to the stale “bigger is better” formula.

  3. For the most part, law firms do not look to India as their first choice, but rather as a last resort, and usually under pressure from corporate clients. If there were plenty of contract lawyers who are readily available, in adequately-sized teams, easy to locate and vet, highly qualified, consistently reliable, and better, more responsive and less expensive than the best-ranked LPO providers in India, then I doubt we would be having this conversation. Although I’ve seen plenty of bias against Indian attorneys on the part of Western lawyers and corporations, I’ve never seen anyone in the West who irrationally discriminates against Western lawyers in favor of Indians. And I personally have no complaints about U.S. contract lawyers. However, some clients of SDD Global Solutions in India have chosen our company over U.S. contract lawyers because, according to the clients, the contract lawyers they tried were (a) not consistently available to do the work, (b) required training by the clients, (c) delivered a work product that required extensive revision, and (d) usually, but not always, charged higher fees. As Lisa Solomon has pointed out, it also is easy to find examples of unsatisfactory Indian LPOs, so I’m certainly not saying Indian providers are always better, or even always less expensive. But when they are better, or just as qualified, and when they are less expensive, they are going to be hired. For the sake of U.S. contract attorneys, I hope your argument does not boil down to a plea to simply “Buy American,” even if the result is more expensive and not any higher in quality. Corporations and law firms are increasingly unwilling to do that, just as consumers are not going to stop shopping at Wal-Mart (where most of the products are from China), or stop buying foreign-made clothes, etc. And if you want to appeal to compassion for the human suffering caused by unemployment and poverty, then suggesting a boycott of the people of India may not be the most logical or effective means, in my opinion. A better alternative might be to find ways to compete with the Indian providers regarding all of the above-mentioned attributes that clients are seeking. It seems that a number of on-shore providers are rising up to try to meet that demand, and I wish them well!

    • Gopal Bose says:

      Well.. It is kind of irony that you have posted up here. In my very personal opinion and experience, Indian LPO’s are full of tier 3 lawyers. Since LPO here in India is a last reort for any student graduating from some big institution.

      What I don’t understand is why are U.S. Law Firms so particular about moving the bulk to LPO’s rather than targeting individuals to work as freelancers or a small sized law firm. They are always better than a LPO lawyer.

      Cost differences practically are very much of concern here. A good LPO in India will charge somewhere around USD 150 to 200 per hour and a good freelancer or a small law firm would charge around USD 100 to 150 per hour.

      A bit of research is what required here !!

  4. What I am trying to understand is why law firms would first look to India for legal outsourcing when a wealth of educated legal professionals are right under their noses in the United States? Can they not find them? Do they not trust their abilities? Do they simply want to pay dirt cheap prices to ensure that profits per partner remain unaffected despite a recession and massive layoffs of both attorneys and support staff?

  5. I guess Twitter is not the best forum for expressing ideas on complicated subjects! So I’m glad for a chance to clarify here. According to census data, about 80% of Indians do not speak English. Of the 20% who do, the vast majority know English only as a second or third language. So I guess I’m underwhelmed that Lisa was able to find a few examples (out of an LPO industry with hundreds of companies) of Indian lawyers who make grammatical and other mistakes when writing in English. I also don’t think there is anything controversial or wrong with saying that hiring an Indian company to draft a brief or a contract, if that company’s employees cannot write effective and correct English, is a mistake. This is no matter what the supposed “cost savings” are. But the same applies to hiring U.S. law firms or U.S. contract attorneys, many of whom are unable to deliver a high-quality written product. As for the Indians, most of the legal work going to India does not involve drafting at all, but when drafting is needed, Indian providers need to offer outstanding results at a lower cost. That’s a no-brainer. Conversely, if U.S. contract attorneys can provide top-tier quality at a lower cost than the qualified Indian companies, then they deserve to be hired!

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