Imagine having access to a team of highly skilled legal professionals who can handle your firm's administrative tasks, freeing up your time to focus on high-value work. With the intense law firm workload pressures, it's no wonder many attorneys seek legal outsourcing support to stay afloat.
For invaluable insight on these questions and more, we sat down with expert Nathan Sumekh. Throughout this episode, Nathan shared his insights and expertise on everything from the different types of legal services that can be outsourced to the benefits and drawbacks of outsourcing and the tips and best practices for successfully implementing an outsourcing strategy in your law firm.
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 employs cheap overseas labor to complete certain business tasks remotely. 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. If you have a small legal department or even just a single in-house counselor, your dedicated legal resources can be better spent with your in-house team tackling the meat of your legal needs. Legal outsourcing companies can handle Mundane legal tasks, 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.
Pros & Cons of Legal Process Outsourcing
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 law practices or in-house legal departments, no matter the size of your firm — even if you're a solo practitioner.
Scaling your in-house legal team can be easier when outsourcing certain tasks, especially when integrating 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.
Pros of Legal Outsourcing
— Find Legal Services Anywhere
You can supplement your in-house legal department's knowledge and experience to fully serve your business units and clients by outsourcing work to niche legal service companies. This allows your firm to partner with practitioners in certain niche areas to provide service and help for a specific project.
It's like hiring an extremely qualified paralegal who has gone through law school in their respective countries and passed the bar there. So they have a passion and drive for law, wanting to help with tasks like basic case management and client litigation preparation.
You can also 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.
— Spend Less Money
The most obvious benefit of LPO is saving money for your own law firm. By outsourcing routine tasks to a cheaper firm, your team has 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.
As Nathan explains in the podcast, a junior case manager in Los Angeles would currently demand around $70,000-$80,000, with starting attorney salaries reaching $100,000. In contrast, outsourcing the same work overseas for an estimated $30,000 annually presents a highly cost-effective solution.
You must strategically delegate to get the most value out of legal process outsourcing. This ensures that the work you outsource doesn't need to be redone and that your team doesn't have to spend valuable time checking every contract and brief. This allows you to employ two or three assistants for the price of a single in-house role.
— 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.
If you can outsource specific services to specialist contract lawyers, you can better meet your clients' needs and provide more in-depth service.
— Have a Test Period before Hiring
When facing cases that require specific expertise not within your practice area, outsourcing work for a particular phase or client can be a practical solution. It is an opportunity to evaluate the working relationship with the outsourced lawyer and assess their performance. This 'trial period' allows you to determine whether their services align with your long-term needs before committing to a full-time hire.
— Balance Your Life and Work
If you're growing your firm, you may be under immense pressure to always be available for clients. The demanding nature of the profession can hinder your performance or lead to mistakes if you neglect the work-life balance. Outsourcing certain tasks to freelancers can alleviate your workload, enabling you to recharge, pursue hobbies, and spend quality time with your family.
Cons of Legal Outsourcing
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 stand with the bar.
— Supervision Duties
Law firms need to ensure that the work product of their outsourced legal team meets the same quality standards as work done by an in-house legal department. This can be difficult if the outsourced work is done in a different country or time zone. It also requires a significant investment in time and resources, as well as a clear understanding of the tasks that are being outsourced and the expectations for the work product.
If a law firm does not have the resources or expertise to supervise outsourced work properly, it may end up with poor-quality work that does not meet the firm's standards. This can damage the firm's reputation and lead to dissatisfied clients.
Law firms should consider the supervision requirements of any outsourced legal work to avoid these risks before outsourcing.
— Working with Confidential Information
Data security is a major concern with LPO. Therefore, law firms must protect their client's privacy and maintain attorney-client privilege. Any outsourced legal work must follow the same strict confidentiality rules as in-house professionals. 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.
Furthermore, conduct background and reference checks on the service provider to assess their familiarity with the duties. This should include any party handling client information or transfer of information, including nonlawyers and a placement service provider.
— Conflicts of Interest
Aside from 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 outsourced providers do not work with their clients' adversaries on the same or closely related matters.
Similar to their obligations to former clients, lawyers cannot represent a client in a closely related matter if it conflicts with the interests of a current or former client. Outsourcing companies should disclose any current or former clients that could pose a conflict of interest for the new work.
According to the ABA Standing Committee, contract lawyers are considered associated with the hiring firm and its clients for conflict of interest purposes. This means that they are, for a conflict of interest, considered to be affiliated with the hiring firm and the client or clients for whom they provide legal services.
— 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 they're being hired for. For instance, freelance lawyers must hold a valid license in the relevant state and maintain good standing with the local bar association. Lawyers must be cautious not to assist in any unauthorized practice, as it could violate regulatory laws in their jurisdiction.
Even when outsourcing work, attorneys remain responsible for ensuring they do not enable unauthorized law practice. If they delegate tasks to nonlawyers, they must ensure the assigned work falls within acceptable boundaries.
The Processes You Should Consider for Legal 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.
— Discovery Process
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 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.
— Client Communications
Client communications are a vital part of any legal practice, as they involve keeping clients informed about the progress of their cases, answering their questions, and addressing their concerns. However, managing client communications can be time-consuming and labor-intensive, especially when dealing with a high volume of clients.
To ease the load, incorporate virtual assistants in your legal communication process. They can help with client communications by sending emails, responding to phone calls, and even communicating with clients via chat or messaging platforms.
But that's not all. Virtual assistants can also help schedule appointments, arrange meetings, and even book travel arrangements for clients. They can also assist with data entry, document management, and other administrative tasks essential to a legal practice's smooth operation.
— 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. 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.
— Marketing Services
Growing law firms embrace smart, targeted marketing, and many of these firms outsource a lot of their creative marketing needs to a legal support services company that provides SEO services for lawyers.
For example, you may note that a competitor has a regularly updated attorney blog on their website. 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 the firm's different legal process services. Like many lawyers, you might spend the first 15 or 20 minutes of an initial consultation answering the same questions. You would be better served by sending your clients a packet with answers to frequently asked questions as a follow-up to their initial inquiry.
Moreover, the cost savings from outsourcing legal services can be strategically allocated to sponsoring marketing efforts. Nathan notes, "It's like a cheat code. By hiring extremely qualified overseas staff saves $10,000 to $40,000 each month. These savings can be reinvested into marketing initiatives, effectively boosting marketing budgets. The extra $300,000 to $400,000 that goes into marketing annually can potentially attract two to three hundred cases annually.”
— Other Areas for Legal Outsource
A freelance attorney or legal professional can outsource any routine legal process. 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.
How Outsourcing Legal Work Helps Law Firms to Grow
Outsourcing legal work brings a multitude of benefits to the table. It allows law firms to tap into a vast talent pool of skilled professionals who can handle various tasks with precision and expertise. Moreover, outsourcing provides the flexibility and scalability necessary to navigate the ever-changing demands of the legal industry. As firms experience fluctuations in workload, outsourcing enables them to seamlessly adjust resources, ensuring that client needs are met promptly and efficiently.
To unlock the growth potential of your law firm, you need to partner with a trusted and experienced marketing agency specializing in law firm growth. Our team of experts at Grow Law Firm can provide you with the tools and support you need to outsource legal work effectively so you can focus on what matters most – delivering exceptional legal services to your clients.