A few weeks ago I was chairing a round table discussion of in-house lawyers at Taylor Wessing on the topic of outsourcing. It was, if I’m honest, one of those enjoyable evenings during which many of your assumptions are pleasantly overturned. However, it did rather confirm my suspicion that in-house lawyers and private practice are two cultures divided by a common language.
For private practice, outsourcing connotes call centres and a set of processes divorced from the ‘real’ business of legal content and advice. It also means some anxiety over increasing commoditisation of the law and the spectre of legal process outsourcing (LPO) providers encroaching onto traditional territory. For in-house lawyers, outsourcing simply means any legal work sent externally.
What is also evident after serious discussion with in-house counsel is that, despite the increasing influence of procurement, not many are terribly interested in forging new relationships with LPO providers (see feature). Certainly, there are some, such as David Eveleigh of BT Global Services, who have embraced it, but for the majority, scoping and project-planning on top of everyday fire-fighting is just too burdensome; the number of organisations purporting to offer solutions simply induces another headache for general counsel.
Move the conversation to a more general one on pricing, though, and watch in-house lawyers’ eyes light up. This is where they engage more enthusiastically on the topic of unbundling. The LPO providers may say they’re a billion-dollar industry, but their effect in the UK has been limited, especially now they have to compete with law firms doing a Belfast.
On the evidence of what general counsel say, private practitioners haven’t initiated discussions on disaggregation; perhaps the pesky semantics of outsourcing have led to misunderstandings.
The range of providers in-house lawyers now have to choose from may have exploded, but here’s exactly where the opportunities for private practice lie. Like any consumer, if you’re presented with too much choice you usually retreat to the brand you’ve grown up with. If law firms can do it themselves and pass on the savings to the client then they can ride the LPO wave – as long as process is seen as fundamental and not grubby. Quality is not just the thing that’s attached to content; it’s as much about delivery. We may love Foyles, but we all use Amazon.