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It Is Time For Self-Regulation And Accreditation Of LPOs

by Mark Ross

Formal regulation of the legal process outsourcing (LPO) industry and an industry wide education and accreditation program for offshore LPO attorneys is an essential step toward the maturation of the industry. LPOs have overcome the first hurdle in the race to provide quality legal services, which is convincing inherently cautious and risk-averse lawyers of the real benefits in offshore legal outsourcing. The more pressing problem is the proliferation of unknown offshore providers, some of whom are jumping on the LPO bandwagon as a get-rich-quick proposition. Without self-regulation, questionable providers may destroy the hard-won confidence in the LPO industry. This could eventually lead to a burst bubble in LPO reminiscent of the demise of the dotcoms.

What did we learn from the collapse of the dotcoms? Mainly, that an idea (even a great one) is not enough to sustain a business for the long term. Industry leaders and many lawyers in the corporate world already know who the reputable LPO providers are, but potential clients may not. Resources such as the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals will become increasingly important tools for potential clients eager to learn about the variety of LPOs, and such tools can help them make decisions about vendor selection. Moreover, LPOs themselves can come together to create an industry-wide standard of self-regulation so that clients can approach LPOs with a baseline of knowledge about their credentials and experience. Public tools and industry cooperation will ultimately lead to enhanced professionalism among LPOs and increased public confidence about our services.

Some of the self-regulation initiatives I recommend are already in place at LawScribe. Our Indian attorneys undergo intensive 2-month training courses on US rules and procedures before working on client related matters. Several of our competitors insist on similar training for their offshore attorneys, but education alone is not enough. Specific criteria voluntarily adopted by the leading LPOs would create a minimum threshold for service providers. Adoption and implementation of these criteria could lead to an approved quality mark recognizable to clients.

I propose that LPOs meeting the following criteria be invited to participate in development of the initial set of regulatory standards for the industry:

  • The LPO must have been incorporated for a minimum of 12 months.
  • The LPO would be required to have a staffed physical US (or UK, if its client base is English) presence, not simply a post office box mailing address.
  • The LPO would be required to employ at least one full-time qualified (admitted) US (or UK) attorney on-shore.
  • The LPO would be required to develop and implement a written training program for offshore attorneys working on US (or UK) matters.
  • The LPO offices (wherever located), employees and qualifications of attorneys would be subject to independent verification.
  • Employment histories, background checks and legal education achievements of at least 10 of the LPO's Indian attorneys would be independently verified and those verified must be full-time employees of the LPO concerned.
  • Each LPO would be required to provide professional references from at least 10 existing clients (or from individuals for which the managers and owners have previously performed legal services, if the LPO does not then have 10 existing clients).
These restrictions are no more rigorous than an LPO's prospective client would be likely to ask in a standard Request for Proposal. Highly qualified and reputable LPOs can emerge and enter the marketplace at any time, and the self-regulation criteria are not an attempt to restrict the market or inhibit competition. However, the rapid proliferation of entities using the "LPO" name suggests that if we fail to regulate our industry from within, and soon, the industry could become a free-for-all with disastrous consequences for both participants and clients, based on the actions of companies interested only in making a fast buck (or rupee).

About The Author

Mark Ross is Director of Business Development of Lawscribe, which provides staffing and office support services to law firms, solo practitioners and other businesses through overseas outsourcing.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

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