Ailing Economy Forces More Legal Work Offshore
International outsourcing has come to the legal profession.
In what may be the most comprehensive article written thus far on the increasingly hot-button topic of offshore legal process outsourcing (LPO), Associate Law Professor Cassandra Burke Robertson concludes that the LPO trend is revolutionizing the way in which law is practiced in the West.
In her 59-page law review research article “A Collaborative Model of Offshore Legal Outsourcing,” Robertson writes, “International outsourcing is quickly reshaping the practice of law. Sending legal services offshore does not merely shift existing legal practice to a lower-cost provider. Instead, it can change the nature of the services rendered, moving cases from settlement to adjudication on the merits and making additional legal services affordable.”
Backing up this claim, she analyzes the example of high-profile Hollywood litigation involving defendant Sacha Baron Cohen of "Borat" fame. Robertson articulates some of the most surprising ways in which LPO services are shifting the legal landscape. "Offshoring.... changed the nature of the defense entirely. It took a case that would likely have been handled outside the court system through a nuisance settlement and brought it within the formal adjudicatory system. As a result, the case was decided on the merits, and the decision is publicly available, potentially discouraging further meritless claims," says Robertson.
Robertson’s views reflect a growing acceptance of the LPO industry among the Western legal community. She also shows how offshore legal outsourcing is not only confined to quasi-legal work such as filling out forms, coding documents, and transcribing depositions, but also includes complex work such as legal research, drafting briefs, drafting contracts, and preparing patent applications. Robertson points out that, “while this higher-level legal work represents only fifteen percent of the LPO market right now, it is quickly growing; as LPO firms become more established, they tend to take on increasingly more sophisticated work.”
Robertson also stakes out a position different from several recent legal commentators, by cautioning against the increasingly prevalent trend of "disaggregation," i.e., where "discrete tasks [are] carved out of the overall legal representation" and outsourced. She argues that this can lead to diffusion of responsibility among the various service providers, a problem that is magnified when work is sent outside the country. Robertson suggests that the risks can be minimized by a collaborative approach between the service provider and its client, where the focus is on "cooperation, communication and negotiation of status and resources."
Robertson’s article will be published in the Arizona State Law Journal in March. Download an advance copy here.
The ABA Journal looks at the outsourcing boom in a recent podcast with Robertson. View here.
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