provider may create a first draft based
on a template, followed by contract negotiations by the client law firm, which
results in requests for adding and modifying clauses. There may be several iterations of onshore negotiations and
offshore contract modifications before
the final contract is produced.
Similarly in litigation support, an
LPO provider may undertake document
discovery for a client law firm in New
York. Here, the iterative back-and-forth
between the client and the LPO provider occurs due to the client’s quality
check on the provider’s work and court-imposed deadlines for submitting specific types of documents.
Distance involved in offshore outsourcing poses a challenge to this iterative nature of work as it requires
smooth handoffs and handbacks.
The traditional model of doing legal
work, in which an associate may walk
over to instruct contract lawyers and
paralegals face-to-face, is not amenable to thinking about managing the
handoffs and handbacks in a systematic manner.
It was the rapid rise in legal fees that
caused law firms to use more contract
lawyers within the U.S. borders. But
these contract lawyers, hired through
staffing agencies, come and go. Some
leading India-based LPO providers
think that with more stable employment in India, it is easier to set up robust processes offshore than onshore,
using tighter project management
with milestones. Thus, ironically, U.S.
law firms may hire contract lawyers
located nearby on a short-term basis,
while they attempt to establish longer-term stable relationships with legal
professionals at a distance. It may well
be that necessity is the mother of invention, and that distance is forcing
LPO providers to take process control,
project management, and data security more seriously. But it is not yet clear
how much of legal work can be easily shifted from a traditional model to
this model of process-based iteration
without undermining quality.
Offshore outsourcing will affect the way
we think about professional work and
the nature of professionalism itself.
The shift from highly qualified to less
qualified occupational skills has been
strategy to decompose
legal support work
into modular parts
may be difficult
to implement in
well under way in legal, medical, and
other professional fields for reasons
that have nothing to do with offshore
outsourcing. However, ICT facilitates
disaggregating a particular piece of
work into finer standardized process
steps. And the more process steps are
disaggregated, the more it becomes
possible to enable a non-lawyer to do
legal support work. Thus, lawyers’ work
has become more fragmented in the
same way that craftsmen were deskilled
by Frederick Taylor’s scientific management theory a century ago. Moreover,
ICT technology further undermines the
advisory function of the legal profession, as more clients rely on self-service
in consuming legal services. 3 Ultimately, it is the changing nature of professions onshore that enables the offshore
outsourcing of professional services.
At the same time, there is an inherent pull toward keeping the profession
whole, which mitigates against the
de-professionalization of lawyers. In
particular, some believe that even the
most segmentable low-end legal work
will suffer from poor quality without
proper legal training. Thus, some patent attorneys may claim the knowledge
of how to prosecute a patent is essential to do the most elementary aspects
of patent search and drafting.
Moreover, the legal profession is self-regulated with nationally based jurisdiction. Thus, lawyers may be deemed
to be less offshorable than paralegals,
who in turn are less offshorable than
other legal support workers precisely
because the two defining characteristics of jobs that cannot be offshored apply to the legal profession. 1 So, not only
does legal work require face-to-face
personal communications and/or contact with end users of the service; specific legal work must be also performed
at a U.S. work location rather than overseas. Given current regulation, Indian
lawyers are not permitted to practice
law in the U.S. or England, while U.S.
or English lawyers are not permitted to
practice law in India. India-based LPO
providers therefore merely supply legal
support work, but never practice law in
their clients’ jurisdiction.
Thus, the global delivery of legal
services is likely to further blur the
boundary between what is done by a
qualified professional and what can
be done by non-qualified personnel
with supervision from a qualified professional. But exactly how offshore
outsourcing will affect the nature of
professions is uncertain because of
multiple forces at play.
There are several reasons why the offshore outsourcing of professional services is occurring. But there are some
unknowns, especially in relation to the
nature of professions that will affect
the future of this phenomenon. The
factors motivating offshore outsourcing are strong, and the pressures to offshore will remain. But the experience
with the offshore outsourcing of software development sheds some light
on just how difficult it is to deal with issues of work decomposition and iteration. The trajectory of global delivery
of software work does not initially appear to translate well into that of professional services due to an additional
factor of uncertainty in the nature of
self-regulation of professions and the
boundary of professional work. Thus,
it is not advisable to draw too many
conclusions about the future of the
professional service offshoring from
the experience thus far with software
1. Blinder, A. S. how Many U.S. Jobs Might Be
Offshorable? CEPS Working Paper No. 142, 2007.
2. Palmisano, S. The globally integrated enterprise.
Foreign Affairs (May/June 2006).
3. Susskind, R. The End of Lawyers? Oxford University
Mari Sako ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor of
Management Studies in Said Business School at the
University of Oxford, U.k.
Copyright held by author.