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Is the virtual lawyer upon us?

June 28, 2013

“Chris can prepare your business/website terms and conditions for £199. In 24 hours you can have a gleaming new set of Terms and Conditions custom written for you. I just need to know your business type and anything unusual about it. I have dealt with just about every business type in my time and usually that’s all I need to get me started.”

This is an offer that arrived in my email today from a company called People per Hour. They promote a tremendous array of low-cost service providers  – many of which probably work extremely well (we found our outsourced book-keeper, a qualified accountant, via this source).

It seems tempting to think about contract preparation this way. Low cost, doubtless a rapid turn-round. Yes, Chris needs a briefing – I must tell him my business purpose and any critical policies, practices or constraints. But I have to do that with any lawyer, so what’s the difference?

Well, of course I do not know the scope of Chris’s expertise. For example, what familiarity does he have with industry regulations? Does he know anything about international trade or foreign jurisdictions? How smart is he when it comes to topics such as intellectual property? But I could discover his competence levels with a few simple questions – and if all I really want is contract drafting, a fee of less than $300 for the finished product sounds rather tempting.

  1. Shalas Benson permalink

    The answer to the question, “Is the virtual lawyer upon us?, is yes. Like other professional services, legal services are being outsourced to off-shore or near shore – locations. The outsourcing practice is called “LPO” which is short for “Legal Process Outsourcing”. It has been around for many years and is growing in popularity as lawyers in the US begin to understand that work traditionally done in the office late at night behind closed doors after client meetings and court appearances of the day have ended can be done almost anywhere. Provided client confidentiality and appropriate security is in place, clients don’t care where the work is done and who actually types the words on the pages of their legal documents. As long as the lawyer they have hired approves the work and is responsible to them for it, they are happy.
    Search for “LPO” on the web and over ten major outsourcing company links will appear. Go to their websites and you will find that, just like attorneys in law firms, the lawyers trained to perform from India are well trained, well educated, and yes, very familiar with regulations applicable to the deals upon which they work. The individuals hired to complete the work are legal professionals who are extremely fluent in English because they are native English speakers. The staff employed are overseen by well-respected attorneys who came from traditional on shore law firms. The LPO services provided, including legal research and contract drafting are considered “back office” services. They are becoming popular because while lawyers in the US sleep, LPO experts in India work on the assignments given. This approach speed up assignment completion and can be very inexpensive compared to outsourcing the same work to on-shore counsel in the US. The quality of work can vary just as the work of any attorney can vary. The concerns raised by the author of the original post regarding the qualifications of the individuals to whom assignments are given apply equally when assigning work to outside counsel in the US. LPOs understand the reluctance attorneys may have using them and work hard to provide high-quality work product. Work product is reviewed by experienced attorneys before it is delivered to clients.
    As with any professional services agreement, contracts with LPOs include warranties regarding use of qualified, well trained and educated personnel. They also include malpractice and professional liability, and general liability insurance and indemnities to address risks. The governing law, jurisdiction and venue should be carefully reviewed to ensure they are acceptable to the customer receiving the services. Limitations of liability should be reviewed and negotiated appropriately.
    For many attorneys, the concept of legal work being treated as a “back office” production activity goes against the grain. The prospect of other faceless oversees professionals being equally capable of performing the same functions attorneys do at significantly lower prices is unsettling. However, the marketplace is very competitive, time is money and we need to adapt. Change can be good. We should embrace virtual teams and adjust and improve the way we work to focus on work that cannot be done effectively off shore. Increased attention to functions that require close proximity to clients, the need for face-to-face meetings to maintain trust and build relationships, access to local courts and the ability to respond quickly to issues clients face as events unfold remains key to client satisfaction and zealous advocacy for them. On shore attorneys won’t be replaced. They may just work fewer late nights and enjoy their lives a little more.

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  1. The Role of the Lawyer: A Growing Focus on Contract Management | Commitment Matters

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