Slaughter and May is eyeing a radical move into legal process outsourcing (LPO), as the UK’s top firms face mounting pressure from clients to embrace alternative models.
Slaughters is in talks with an LPO agency about the prospect of outsourcing low-level legal work, including document review and due diligence. It is understood the move was triggered by a request from a single client.
A growing number of firms are being asked by clients to consider whether certain types of work can be done more cheaply overseas.
The arrival on the scene of ultra-conservative Slaughter and May will surprise many in the LPO market.
Osborne Clarke managing partner Simon Beswick said: “Slaughter and May’s decision to outsource legal work is a watershed moment for the UK legal industry.
“It confirms our belief that the legal market is changing rapidly and demonstrates to clients that market-leading firms are listening to their needs and that they’re willing to innovate.”
It is understood that Slaughters’ plan is at an early stage and relates mainly to data room services.
When contacted by The Lawyer, Linklaters, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and DLA Piper all confirmed they were weighing up outsourcing options, although DLA Piper stressed it was only considering non-legal schemes.
The practice of sending business support functions offshore is widespread, but outsourcing the work of lawyers is a relatively new phenomenon.
A number of LPO specialists have sprung up to meet demand, including Exigent, Integreon and Office Tiger.
Clifford Chance has its own offshore centre in India, which carries out tasks previously handled by UK trainees and paralegals.
Last week it emerged the firm passed 12,000 hours of work to the service centre last year on more than 300 client projects.
Simmons & Simmons is understood to be close to signing a deal with an agency giving the firm access to permanent staff in an offshore unit, after revealing in April that outsourcing was a key component of its new three-year plan.