Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO): 2007 And Beyond
by Mark Ross
Author's Note: I am both delighted and fortunate to have contributions to this article from Ron Friedman, Senior Vice President, Marketing at Integreon (http://www.integreon.com/) and Neeraja Kandala, Senior Research Analyst with ValueNotes.
"Most Indian legal service vendors are self-funded, and may not have the capability to develop adequate marketing infrastructure without VC funding. For a large number of the smaller vendors, growth beyond a point will be difficult. While a few will manage to grow given their strong onshore presence, several smaller players will be vulnerable. On the other hand, the interest of large BPOs such as Infosys and HCL in this space is growing. As these BPOs look to build presence and scale rapidly, the acquisition of smaller vendors is an option. Though there is not much activity yet, over time we will see consolidation, with large BPOs and LPOs acquiring capacity and capability."Ron Friedman, Senior Vice-President of Marketing for Integreon and one of the world's leading authorities on knowledge support strategies and the legal outsourcing industry generally provides his view on the consolidation of the LPO marketplace.
"As a general rule, industries consolidate as they mature. In the legal market, we see evidence of that now with electronic discovery vendors and large law firms. Even the traditionally fragmented legal software market is consolidating as LexisNexis and Thomson-West acquire smaller software players.Public Acknowledgement
Given that the majority of the leading LPOs can testify in 2007 to having received projects from AM law 200 ranked law firms, where are the testimonials, quotes, and press releases from the law firms' managing partners? I am perfectly aware from my own experiences and numerous discussions with both the press and my peers at other LPOs that although major law firms have begun to explore the benefits associated through offshore legal process outsourcing they are also clearly still operating from a standpoint of reluctance to discuss their outsourcing relationships. There is a feeling within the industry that the major firms still view their own offshore legal outsourcing arrangements as a dirty little secret. Attempts by LPOs to include provisions within their contracts that allow publicizing of the deals have generally been met with rejection to date. Over the last 12 months I and many of my peers at leading LPOs have written articles for or been interviewed by journalists for publications as varied as Time magazine, the American Bar Association, Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Daily Journal, and the Association of Legal Administrators, to name but a few. The vast majority of these articles are still missing out on the "major firm" perspective. There is an unwillingness to go on record and confirm that the firm is outsourcing elements of their legal functions, whether back-office support or higher value legal work, to India. This is clearly frustrating for the LPOs who want to shout from the rooftops about every major client they have on their books.
I anticipate that this will change over the next couple of years. Don't expect a tidal wave of confessions; however in the same way that the major firms' initial interest in exploring legal offshoring was client driven, so will their eagerness to publicize the fact of their involvement. During the last year many of the law firm partners who have contacted both LawScribe and some of the other leading LPOs have been perfectly content to acknowledge that the reason they are approaching an LPO in the very first place is because their corporate clients are starting to demand that they offer an offshore element in their responses to RFPs or they will simply lose their business altogether.
As it was with the first uptake of offshore legal outsourcing, the public acknowledgement of the actual utilization of these services will of course be client driven. In 2007 we viewed the very first signs that an inherently risk-averse legal profession was publicly embracing the harsh reality that no industry was immune to the forces of globalization. Although the majority of the world's leading law firms are still reluctant to go "on the record" and acknowledge their interest in offshore legal outsourcing, throughout 2007 AM Law 200 firms have been consistently approaching the world's leading legal process outsourcing companies, submitting RFPs and inquiring about the various services on offer.
The picture has started to change. On occasions representatives from leading firms have joined their LPO providers on panel discussions at a variety of legal conferences that have begun to address the subject in 2007. I believe that in 2008 we will reach the point where having the law firm's name out in the public domain as one that embraces offshore legal process outsourcing will actually be an attractive bonus for potential corporate clients, hence helping generate new business rather than turning people off.
Ron Friedman provides his own unique insight on whether 2008 will be the year that the major law firms come clean and publicly acknowledge that offshore legal outsourcing is firmly on their agendas:
There is a common "tipping phenomenon" among large firms where no one wants to be first. Of course, a firm does go first and eventually a couple follow. Once a half-dozen or so have moved, the market tips - then, no one wants to be left behind not doing the new thing. Looking at adoption of e-mail and creation of marketing departments as examples, it seems to take at least five years for a cycle to play out. Today, firms are reluctant to acknowledge publicly that they offshore. Once a few go public, it will likely take little time for the rest to follow. And because of perceptions, more are likely to go public soon…Neeraja Kandala, of ValueNotes agrees that public acknowledgement is just around the corner:
"Early adopters among US and UK law firms are gaining comfort with the idea of offshoring. There are several law firms that are inhibited by various concerns. Those who have held back are now seeing the success stories of some of their competitors. I'm quite optimistic that once the law firms and corporates get more comfortable with the idea of offshoring, they will openly acknowledge their participation."Regulation, Accreditation and Certification
New companies without any real U.S. or U.K. physical presence or without the requisite legal background and qualifications are springing up all the time. The original ValueNotes report in December 2005 estimated in the region of 40 LPOs. 18 months later the numbers had swelled to well over 100. Many are simply jumping on the legal outsourcing bandwagon, seeing it as the latest "get rich quick" scheme.
There have been numerous calls from some of the major players within the industry relating to the formation of trade associations, independent training programs, regulatory bodies and best practice procedures. To date there has been no specific general consensus in these areas. It is likely that 2008 will witness the development of at a very minimum best practice rules for the industry.
2007 saw the first moves from within the industry towards accreditation and self-regulation. Russell Smith from SDD Global Solutions led one initiative with the formation of the first LPO trade association with the inaugural meeting held in Delhi in the summer of 2007. In November, through the forum of the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals, LawScribe led the first Legal Outsourcing Topic Chapter meeting attended by senior representatives from leading LPOs, BPOs, Law firms, academics and other interested stakeholders. 2007 also witnessed LPOs Jurimatrix and SQ Global, in association with one of India's leading training organizations, develop the Global Legal Professional Certification Test.
Throughout 2008 I anticipate that both at legal conferences and on their own initiative senior representatives from the world's leading LPOs will continue to meet and discuss these issues. While it is clear that many within the industry are committed to achieving higher standards to inspire confidence among their clients, to date there has been no general consensus as to how best to achieve this.
Deregulation of U.K. Legal Sector and its Impact on the Legal Process Outsourcing Industry.
In the U.K. the Legal Services Bill finally received Royal Assent on October 30, 2007. The true impact of this piece of legislation will only start to be felt in 2008 and beyond. The particular section of the Bill that will have the most far reaching consequences on the legal profession and provide a colossal boost to the growth of offshore legal outsourcing, is the provision allowing the formation of Alternative Business Structures. The summary to the Bill at paragraph 15 states as follows:
"Alternative Business Structures (ABS) will enable lawyers and non-lawyers to work together on an equal footing to deliver legal and other services. External investment will be possible".Put simply, non-lawyers can own and invest in law firms. To all intents and purposes this opens the doors to banks, insurance companies, supermarkets and other corporate entities both owning and investing in existing law firms or alternatively setting up their own firms and marketing legal services to the general public.
Tony Williams, a former Clifford Chance Managing Partner, recently penned an article for the Times Online, http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article2718339.ece referencing ten trends that will shape the legal market over the coming years. At trend number 4 the author commented that:
"Technology will enable projects to be 'unbundled'. This may mean that parts of the project are outsourced to India and that they are done in a systemized manner. This could have a significant impact on the need for junior lawyers, particularly if they start to price themselves out of the market."Trend number 6 stated:
"High Street legal services will be fundamentally transformed by the Legal Services Act. A number of major brands will dominate the provision of retail legal services. Will that be law firms, or outsiders such as supermarkets or banks? It is too soon to tell whether existing law firms will be able to develop strong enough retail brands."Finally, at trend number 7, the author went on to say:
"If the Clementi reforms (the forerunner to the Legal Services Bill) are broadly successful, one can expect firms higher up the chain to take in outside capital and float on the market."Over the coming years there will be an influx into the legal market of major corporate entities that previously were prohibited from providing legal services. I do not anticipate that in the near future banks and supermarkets will necessarily be providing high end, premium legal advice, however I do believe that these corporations will come to dominate the provision of routine, retail legal services. None of these corporations will be bound by the traditional and antiquated existing methods of legal services delivery. They will simply look for the most cost-effective method of providing legal services to the general public. These companies either already have offshore locations or have the capability to scale up significantly quicker than even the world's largest law firms to provide legal support from offshore destinations. This in turn will have a domino effect and will inspire the world's leading law firms to look at new operational models for delivering routine legal support, with offshore legal outsourcing being the logical choice.
In addition, the potential floatation of some firms "higher up the chain" only reinforces my belief that this will give the offshore legal outsourcing industry a huge boost. When major firms also have responsibility to their shareholders, as well as their clients, then the salaries that they pay their junior associates to perform relatively routine, offshoreable level legal work, will raise more than a few eyebrows. When corporate clients increasingly demand that law firms provide an offshore solution in responses to Requests for Proposals, shareholders will not be happy if the firm is incapable of responding to these requests.
The face of the legal profession in the U.K. is changing dramatically. These changes will have far reaching, cross-Atlantic repercussions. The U.K. and U.S. legal markets are inextricably linked, with many of the world's leading law firms having offices on both sides of the pond. Together the U.S. and U.K. account for over 90% of the world's $250 billion legal services market. What happens in the U.K. does not stay in the U.K. but will soon be felt all around the Western legal world.
The Future - What can't be done?
I firmly believe that within 5 years, in a much consolidated industry, offshoring routine level legal work will have become the norm for the world's leading law firms and corporations. Of the current 100 plus LPO providers, many will have ceased to exist and have been swallowed up by BPOs or will simply have gone out of business. We will have witnessed the development of clear and unequivocal ethical standards of practice and procedure relating specifically to the industry. New destinations and talent pools in Africa and South America which are currently virtually untapped will be in the process of being developed as the rupee continues its rise against an ever-decreasing dollar. I believe that as advances in technology continue to grow exponentially and the quality of the offshore attorneys improves that the question will move beyond what can offshore employees do to what can't they do?
Mark Ross is a UK solicitor and Director at LawScribe, one of the world's leading legal process outsourcing companies. Mark is Chapter Chair of the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP) Legal Outsourcing Chapter, and a regular speaker at legal conferences on the subject of legal outsourcing. Mark has had numerous articles published by leading legal journals including American Bar Association, Association of Legal Administrators, ILW.COM and IAOP. Mark's blog http://blog.law-scribe.com/ has become one of the leading resources for information relating to offshore legal process outsourcing.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.