Law Practice Management

Are Top US Law Firms Outsourcing Some Legal Work? 83% Won’t Say

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An international legal outsourcing consulting firm hoped a new survey would show how many top U.S. law firms are outsourcing legal services. Now the results are in, but they aren’t providing any answers.

About 83 percent of the 30 responding law firms declined to participate in the survey, according to Fronterion, the Chicago-based outsourcing consulting firm that conducted the study. Fronterion managing principal Michael Bell believes a majority of top law firms are using legal outsourcing providers, at least on an ad hoc basis, but they are reluctant to admit it because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Fronterion sent the survey to the nation’s top 50 law firms, but eliminated 20 of them from the results after they did not respond at all or “in a sufficiently definitive manner,” Bell tells the ABA Journal in an e-mail. Out of the 30 remaining firms, only one confirmed that it is outsourcing legal services to some degree. Four law firms said they do not use outsourcing.

Twenty-five other law firms—83.33 percent of the total—told Fronterion they wouldn’t participate in this particular survey. The firms that declined to answer offered responses such as:

• “I don’t think that is something that we can comment on.”

• “That is something that I don’t think we’ll be discussing, thank you.”

• “We consider the information you are requesting to be proprietary (as a matter of policy, we do not discuss our business strategies). I regret the firm will not be able to participate in your survey.”

Fronterion released the survey results in a press release headlined “Wall of Silence Surrounds Emerging Legal Outsourcing Industry.”

Bell says law firms are likely reluctant to discuss outsourcing because of concerns and misconceptions about the ethical implications. The ethics issues include: whether to disclose that work is outsourced, how to manage outsourced employees, how to maintain work quality, and how to bill clients for outsourced work.

Additional coverage: “New Career Path for U.S. Lawyers: Outsourcing Firms”

ABA Journal: “Do Tell: Client consent is a safe step when lawyers outsource work on cases”

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