For those of you who thought that the fax machine would never dramatically affect messenger and delivery services; that the Internet was a trend and could not affect old-line traditions such as encyclopedias; and that no one in their right mind would want to carry a portable phone with them so they can be reached every minute of every day; here's another one for you: the ABA has given a thumbs-up to legal outsourcing.
What does this mean? Lawyers and paralegals who have been saying that outsourcing of certain legal jobs to India will never affect them need to re-evaluate that claim. According to an article in the New York Law Journal, the ABA has issued an ethics opinion blessing the outsourcing trend as "a salutary one for our globalized economy."
Companies operating in India -- the most popular destination for legal outsourcing because it has a common-law system and English is widely spoken -- were quick to hail the advisory by the ABA's ethics committee as a major step forward for their nascent industry.
Generally, most of the jobs that appear to be outsourced are document review assignments. Once performed primarily by paralegals, the advent of new e-discovery rules has pushed this position to the temporary contract associate who earns a fraction of what he/she might if they were working in a full-time position in a law firm.
Now, the position is being pushed out the door and into another country, India. What does this mean for paralegals? This situation is a bit reminiscent of the old document coding days when a thousand coders would sit in a room at 6 foot rent-a-tables with only a computer and code documents eight hours a day. Now, temporary agencies and litigation support companies in the states hire unemployed attorneys to review documents. This push toward utilizing unemployed attorneys at around $15.00 per hour eliminated a substantial number of jobs for temporary paralegals.
Now, with the blessing of the ABA, it is most likely that these same type positions will increase (double or triple is my guess) in LPO's located in India and other countries where English is spoken and there are a high number of highly educated professionals and lawyers.
Will this move - that makes outsourcing more attractive to law firms who would have otherwise not considered sending work overseas - affect associates and paralegals? It will affect the legal temporary help business, certainly. However, those paralegals who fear a loss of jobs - get with the program. Those jobs went yesterday to those unemployed associates who have taken over that job already.
What will happen, in my opinion, is that the level of sophistication of work performed by paralegals is about to go up another rung on the ladder. Since the real message here is "delegate to the lowest competent level" (and not necessarily in the U.S.) the amount of work will not go away. There is the same amount of work that needs to be accomplished. What is about to happen, is that the work will look differently. If the trend continues (to keep delegating work to the lowest competent level) this in turn, will force lawyers to increase delegation of lower level assignments that must stay in the U.S. to the most logical person. And that just may very well be, the paralegal.