Outsourcing certain projects or job duties isn’t a new business practice; it’s been around for decades. Although outsourcing is often associated with IT roles, a growing number of businesses are outsourcing legal work. This practice, known as legal process outsourcing (LPO), was gaining serious traction before the pandemic-driven business paradigm shift in 2020. In 2020, about $8 billion in law firm business was outsourced, with an expected increase to $30 billion by 2027.
As LPO becomes more common, even in businesses with in-house legal departments, it’s natural to wonder what outsourcing legal work looks like in 2022, especially if you're considering handing off a special project or legal work to a contracted legal team. Today, we're presenting an overview of legal outsourcing as it stands today, along with our predictions for the next five years.
What Outsourcing Legal Services Really Means
Legal process outsourcing (LPO), or outsourcing legal services, refers to hiring outside legal contractors for certain legal work for a business. Outsourcing differs from offshoring, which is employing cheap overseas labor to remotely complete certain business tasks. LPO, by contrast, involves hiring local legal professionals, such as lawyers and paralegals, to complete legal work like:
- Document review and legal research
- Document scanning and binder organization
- Non-substantive court appearances or in-person motion filing
Many businesses view outsourcing routine legal work as a cost-saving measure, and if you have a small legal department or even just a single in-house counselor, then your dedicated legal resources can be better spent with your in-house team tackling the meat of your legal needs. Mundane legal tasks can be handled by legal outsourcing companies, freeing your in-house legal counsel to focus on more pressing business matters. Even law firms can use legal outsourcing services. Running a law practice has many of the same demands as any other professional service, and freeing up time for in-house lawyers can help them better serve your clients.
What Legal Services You Might Consider for Outsourcing
Litigation and Court Appearance
It’s not uncommon for busy lawyers to have multiple court appearances within the same week or even on the same day. Conflicting court appearances can be accommodated by outsourcing to contract attorneys to attend probate, civil, and even criminal court hearings on your behalf.
Non-substantive court appearances may involve an hour of travel time, another hour or more to wait for a case to be called, and just a few minutes in front of the judge. Even though this brief appearance may have required several hours of preparation beforehand, your client simply sees a few minutes of work — which can lead to contention in billing.
Instead, consider taking advantage of legal per diem services and freelance local lawyers in good standing with your state’s bar association to provide legal representation at a hearing in your stead for a flat fee. An appearance counsel saves you time and will present your prepared motion or other documents.
Some legal outsourcing companies that offer per diem appearance outsourcing include:
- Appear Me, an app allowing attorneys to schedule local lawyers to appear in court for them
- Court Appearance Professionals (CAP), where lawyers can book another lawyer in a particular practice area, like bankruptcy law, probate, general civil matters, or criminal defense
- Attorneys On Demand, which offers services across the country and assigns contract attorneys based on your submitted counsel needs
It’s not uncommon, especially in large civil cases or mass torts with multiple plaintiffs, for one party to hit the other with reams of pages in the discovery process. Each page needs to be reviewed, cataloged, and organized. The review and summarization of discovery documents is a commonly outsourced task.
More substantive discovery tasks can be outsourced, too. For example, suppose that you're representing a client in a personal injury case against a large corporation, and their lawyers send over lengthy motions or long requests about every aspect of your client’s medical history to contest their claims about injuries from the accident. Your client may send back their entire history, and then it’s up to you to determine whether any of that has a bearing on their current personal injury case.
This kind of assessment is a great one to outsource, as a freelance lawyer specializing in personal injury cases can swiftly determine how much, if any, of the client’s information may be used against your case by the other party. This, and similar legal processes, are great tasks to outsource to free yourself up for more direct client attention.
Written Work and Drafting Documents
Both litigators and transactional lawyers benefit from outsourcing drafting work to freelance lawyers. For example, a freelance contract lawyer can construct contracts, deeds, leases, and other legal agreements, and then you can simply review them.
If you consistently need the same documents, a freelancer can create a template for you or create documents for individual clients using your firm’s established templates. For example, if you have a template for certain motions and need it customized for each client’s set of facts, then a freelancer can prepare these for you.
Freelance attorneys can also review filled template documents to ensure they’re error-free and contain all the facts you need for a client. From a litigation perspective, outsourcing this type of written document preparation can be a huge time-saver, especially when you have short deadlines or are in the motion stage of the case.
Law firms with a demanding trial schedule can benefit from consistently outsourcing written documents, even beyond pending motion practice. Freelance attorneys can help lighten the load of other cases and allow you to focus your attention on the trial in front of you. Motions for all sorts of cases and motion replies can be outsourced, as well as briefs and oppositions — any kind of document, even complex ones, can be outsourced, with a final review completed by your own firm.
For example, you may note that a competitor has an attorney blog on their website that's regularly updated. How do they find the time? They may outsource their blog writing duties to a legal professional who can research and write compelling content in their area of specialization.
Some freelancers may create supplemental information for lawyers to add to their websites, such as insight into hot cases in the news or an FAQ about different legal process services the firm offers. Like many lawyers, you might find yourself spending the first 15 or 20 minutes of an initial consultation answering the same questions. You would be better served by sending a packet with answers to frequently asked questions to your clients as a follow-up to their initial inquiry.
Other Areas for Legal Outsource
Any routine legal process can be outsourced to a freelance attorney or legal professional. While you may want to keep the client-facing tasks in-house, many other tasks may be better served through outsourcing:
- Summary of the cases cited in an opposing party’s brief
- Legal research and memos
- Legal process motions
- Discovery, including subpoenas, RFPs, RROGS, and RFAs
- Discovery responses and pleadings like motions to compel/quash/protective order
- Document review
- Deposition summaries
- Powers of attorney
- Legal articles
- Demand letters and other correspondence
- Corporate documents like operating agreements, by-laws, and corporate resolutions
If you're unsure about the dos and don’ts of legal process outsourcing, we can help guide you. Delegating research work, document summarization, and writing assignments can be completed by litigation support services and then reviewed or lightly revised by you to fit your firm’s presentation style.
Key Benefits of Outsourcing Legal Services
Looking at some of the common outsourced legal process services, you may think that outsourcing is really only for a larger firm or one with a heavy trial schedule. But outsourced legal services can be a boon to your practice or in-house legal department, no matter the size of your firm — even if you’re a solo practitioner.
Scaling your in-house legal team can be easier when you outsource certain tasks, especially when you integrate technology solutions with your routine tasks. As your company's legal needs evolve or your legal firm grows, reliable outsourcing can help you keep pace with growth without sacrificing time better spent on client interaction.
Firms utilizing legal process outsourcing can reap these benefits:
Find Legal Services Anywhere
Supplementing your in-house legal department’s knowledge and experience increases your ability to fully serve your business units and clients. You can increase the range of your in-house team’s abilities by retaining niche services from legal outsourcing companies.
Legal process outsourcing allows your firm to partner with practitioners in certain niche areas to provide service and help for a specific project. Or, you can reach out to professionals across the globe for legal “boots on the ground” assistance in a different country.
LPO is a less risky way to hire legal talent in a niche area or remote location. Temporary services can be viewed as a long hiring audition process. If the freelancer is successful in one project and you anticipate an ongoing need for their particular expertise, then you can consider hiring them full-time.
Greater global access to talent gives your legal team greater flexibility in what kinds of services you can offer and helps you provide more value to your current clients. When you outsource specialized legal work to a freelancer in that niche, your clients benefit from their abilities, and your own in-house team can focus on the legal process and business issues they’re better qualified to handle.
Spend Less Money
The most obvious benefit of LPO is saving money for your own company. Routine tasks are delegated to a cheaper firm, allowing your own team more time to provide billable service to your clients. LPO helps reduce staff labor and overhead costs without sacrificing the level of service you provide your clients.
Getting the most value out of legal process outsourcing requires some strategic delegating, ensuring that the work you outsource doesn’t need to be redone or that your team doesn’t have to spend valuable time checking every contract and brief. Prioritize the tasks for in-house legal departments, and then outsource the least pressing or the more routine ones.
Broaden Your Practice Area
Being a generalist law firm can widen your client base, but when you expand too far, you risk losing focus or may be unable to provide the caliber of service your clients need. You can't be all things to all people. However, if you're able to outsource specific services to specialist contract lawyers, then you can better meet your clients' needs and provide more in-depth service.
Have a Test Period Before Hiring
Some cases may have specific elements that, while important to that case, aren’t a practice area that would necessitate you hiring a full-time employee. Outsourcing work on one phase of the case or for one client can help you in a pinch. But if you anticipate needing that kind of service more often, the work the outsourced lawyer completes can be seen as a practical job interview, enabling you to explore the working relationship before committing to hiring.
Balance Your Life and Work
If you're growing your firm, you may be under immense pressure to always be available for clients. Poor work-life balance can make you a worse lawyer or increase your chances of making a mistake. Freelance help can alleviate some of your burdens, freeing you up to recharge, pursue your hobbies, or spend time with your family.
Legal Service Outsourcing: Ethics and Other Issues
Many attorneys may have serious concerns about the ethics of outsourcing, especially when it pertains to client confidentiality. Legal departments engaging in LPO must consider their ethical obligations and take these actions:
- Confirm the competence of the freelancer
- Ensure appropriate supervision of their work
- Preserve client confidentiality and take steps to protect it
- Check for conflict of interest on the part of the freelancer
- Disclose outsourcing arrangements to the clients
Avoid allowing the unauthorized practice of the law. Always verify a freelancer’s license and standing with the bar.
Lawyers are responsible for ensuring that all litigation support personnel under their supervision, including paralegals, support staff, and freelance workers, perform competently. Any outsourced work must contribute to competent client representation. Before outsourcing any tasks, the lawyer must verify that the freelance attorney or legal contracting firm possesses the skills required to competently complete each task and that their produced work ensures the initiating firm’s clients are competently represented, as per ABA Op. 08-451. Ensuring that your outsourced workers are performing competently starts with thorough vetting and due diligence and continues with proper supervision, including timely review of their work.
As per ABA Model Rules 5.1 and 5.3, the outsourcing lawyer must ensure that all lawyers and nonlawyers under their supervision adhere to the ethical conduct prescribed by the American Bar Association. Nonlawyers are required to maintain conduct compatible with the Model Rules, and supervising attorneys must make reasonable efforts to ensure this is the case. A supervising attorney who oversees both lawyers and nonlawyers may commit an ethical violation if that attorney ratifies conduct that violates a Model Rule.
Competence doesn’t just mean the regular practice of the law or the assigned duties; it also includes technology competence. Honing your skills with legal tech tools and software increases your own understanding of the technology and allows you to properly oversee freelance contractors who use legal tech on behalf of your clients. Alternatively, you can work with tech-savvy legal professionals you can rely on to perform competently for your clients using leading-edge legal tech. Any lawyer supervising the work of another attorney or legal professional has a duty to ensure reasonable compliance with all Rules of Professional Conduct.
Working with Confidential Information
Client confidentiality is the cornerstone of legal ethics, and preservation of attorney-client privilege is the duty of all practicing attorneys. This client confidentiality preservation extends to legal professionals under the lawyer's supervision, including legal secretaries, paralegals, and contracted, outsourced legal professionals. This means that any outsourced legal work for a client must follow the same strict confidentiality rules that in-house legal professionals are required to. And the outsourcing lawyer must supervise and ensure that outsourced workers maintain client confidentiality.
ABA Model Rule 1.6 requires lawyers to take the appropriate steps to ensure client information isn’t disclosed to an outsourced service provider, either intentionally or by accident.
Data security is one of the chief concerns with LPO. At a minimum, an outsourcing lawyer should conduct a thorough background check and reference checks on outside service providers. This should include any party handling client information or transfer of information, including nonlawyers and a placement service provider.
You may want to interview the principal attorney or service provider to assess their familiarity with the duties they’ll be handling for you and to explore the possibility of any conflict of interest. Any outsourced legal service provider should adhere to the same level of professionalism and client respect you expect from your in-house team.
Conflicts of Interest
Next to protecting client confidentiality, ensuring that LPO doesn't create a conflict of interest with the client or case is the next biggest consideration for lawyers or law firms outsourcing legal duties. The ABA requires attorneys to ensure that LPOs do not work with adversaries of their clients (for the casework being completed) on either the same or closely related matters.
The requirement is similar to the legal duties that lawyers owe former clients, wherein they may not represent a client in the same closely related matter as a former client. The outsourcing company should disclose to potential clients or legal firms seeking to hire them if they have a current or former client who would pose a conflict of interest with the new work.
Per the ABA Standing Committee, contract lawyers are considered to be associated with the clients for whom they are providing contract work. This means that they are, for the purposes of a conflict of interest, considered to be affiliated with the hiring firm and the client or clients for whom they are providing legal services. Some ethics commentators consider that the hiring law firm has associations with all of the LPO firm's former clients, which means that the scope of conflict of interest would rule out many clients.
Ultimately, it’s up to the hiring attorney or company to determine whether there are conflicts of interest between their clients and those of the intermediary or contract service. Lawyers must adhere to the strict rules governing client conflict of interest, but nonlawyers aren't held to such strict regulations. Nonlawyers of the contracting firm must behave in a compatible manner with legal ethics and screen for conflicts of interest. ABA Model Rule 5.3 requires nonlawyers to avoid conflicts of interest, although again, the ultimate responsibility is with the attorneys.
Law firms that outsource legal work, whether to lawyers or nonlawyers, have a duty to take steps to prevent conflict of interest. This can include a consistent screening process to vet freelance firms. The potential contract law firm could be asked to complete a conflict of interest questionnaire to prove that a conflict of interest check was performed.
Uncertified Law Practice
Another component to properly vetting a potential LPO is to ensure that they are licensed or certified to practice law or perform the duties that they’re being hired for. For example, a freelance lawyer must be licensed to practice law in the state where they are performing work and be in good standing with that state’s bar association. Any attorney who knowingly facilitates or otherwise assists another with engaging in the unauthorized practice of law could run afoul of the regulatory laws of their home jurisdiction.
It's still the responsibility of a lawyer who outsources some of their work to ensure that when they do so, they aren’t aiding the unauthorized practice of law. Suppose an attorney delegates some work to a nonlawyer. In that case, they must ensure that the scope of the nonlawyer's work does not fall within parameters that would be considered the unauthorized practice of law. Attorneys who outsource work still must vet nonlawyer work to ensure its quality. The client still must be consulted about pursuing the objectives of their representation and the means by which their lawyer will pursue those interests. Any outsourced work should be of the same caliber as in-house work.
Outsourcing Legal Work Could Help Your Firm to Grow
Outsourcing legal work can help busy legal firms better serve their clients by freeing up their time for more client-facing duties. And LPO can supplement in-house talent by assisting with niche work or routine duties for companies with an in-house legal team. Small businesses benefit from hiring a freelance lawyer from a legal process outsourcing firm to complete the necessary legal work for their business without the added expense of having a lawyer on the payroll. However, it’s still the responsibility of the hiring lawyer, business, or law firm to ensure that the contracted lawyer or LPO service adheres to ABA ethics standards. Choosing the right high-performance law digital marketing agency can help grow your business through savvy legal marketing. Contact Grow Law Firm today to learn more.