Pinsents – first firm to offshore work of qualified UK lawyers

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  • This is so depressing. Does it need to be done by the best legal brains in Britain? No. It needs to be the trainees and NQs that are learning and developing to become the best legal brains of the future.

    Pinsents should be ashamed to be among the vanguard of the "low cost low quality" revolution in legal services.

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  • I totally agree with the first comment.
    Clients should understand that today's best legal brains were yesterday's trainees and NQs learning the job by doing first reviews etc.
    It is up to law firms to come with an acceptable fee they can bill for this kind of work, but saving costs by outsourcing is not the right way.

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  • If lawyers (collectively) hadn't been so greedy, and expected such high salaries, this never would have happened. They assumed no one would complete with them for work, and pushed wages up to unsustainable levels accordingly.
    Well, wake up a smell the coffee. If a lawyer – or a member of support staff - is not doing reserved work, or work that can only be handled on-site, they have no USP.
    I'm sure there were textile workers, or furniture makers would thought that clients would care about their profession, and wouldn't let their livelihoods be outsourced. Well, it turns out that clients only really care about price, once basic quality standards have been met.
    If you’ve ever bought a cabinet manufactured China, or clothes made in India, then you really have no right to complain when your own profession becomes globalised.

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  • As an ex-Pinsents assistant, I can say that nothing they do surprises me. I don't think it will benefit them in the long run though. This shows what they think of litigation lawyers!

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  • Anonymous at 4:15 says it all. The first two postings are truly astonishing in their myopia. Lawyers (especially from London) benefitted massively from globalization. Here comes the next phase. Deal with it or stop buying mangoes, Australian wine, Calvin Kleins or putting your money in a UK bank.

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  • Since when was the adverb or adjective "offshore" a verb?

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  • I suppose when morons like 415 and 449 abound in the UK it's no wonder that firms are looking to outsource.
    Do you really think that "clients" want savings at any cost? The problem is that when greedy managers get into full flow, clients end up being unable to find quality anywhere and have to settle for low cost. Look at shoe shops. Twenty years ago you could buy quality shoes for a moderate price. Now, you can spend £20 or blow £200 and either way the things still fall apart because they are all made in the same unskilled, sweat labour conditions.
    And the export of goods is completely unrelated to the outsourcing of services provided by UK firms. Does the sale of Australian wine here put Australians out of work or force them to work for slave wages? No! Quite the opposite.

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  • And instead of making catty, embittered remarks perhaps you could constructively suggest how ordinary people on ordinary wages in the UK (which, by the way, includes most lawyers) are supposed to survive and thrive in their profession?

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  • I agree with the poster of 4:15pm. Like it or not, this sort of move is inevitable and irresistable. Clients will seek to drive down costs and offshoring (sorry to use it as a verb, 5:03pm) is a sure way of reducing costs without making unacceptablle sacrifices in quality. Whilst it may indeed protect PEP, it is ultimately client driven. The only surprise is that it has taken so long for the Legal profession to make this sort of move. Thomas Friedman's book "The World is Flat" charts the progress of offshoring, outsourcing, in - sourcing et al. Its first overview chapter is called "While I was Sleeping". Those who can't recognise that this march is the same as those which have hit other professions and industries, as 4:15 describes, are still sleeping. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, I'm saying it is client driven and it is a fact.

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  • Those who crow about how "obvious" it is as a development may be right but I think they are idiots to speak as though EVERYone didn't see it coming; of course we did but that doesn't remove our right to complain about it.
    It WILL result in unacceptable drops in quality. Being unable to communicate properly with the people doing the work offshore will lead to the same frustration, errors and delays that arose when the callcentre industry started outsourcing.
    It's a very sad development for UK employees and UK clients. I only hope that the regions are protected from this to an extent, since personal relationships are so much more important and deals generally smaller.

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  • anonymous @ 5.46 - how exactly will quality drop? 'Being unable to communicate properly with the people doing the work offshore will lead to the same frustration'. Are you suggesting that South African lawyers can't speak English? Or write in English? Are you suggesting that Cape Town is in a timezone that will prevent the London lawyers from communicating with the South African ones?
    I think your comment is patronising and just plain wrong.

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  • Many general counsel, some of whom will not be English, will almost certainly view with amusement the argument that "not English" automatically means "lower quality".
    Good point on the time zone issue. Why should calling Durban be any more problematic that calling Birmingham?

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  • Fascinating stuff I just had to blog about it. http://uklegaleagle.blogspot.com/2009/06/am-i-about-to-be-outsourced-to-south.html. Lots of valid comments but at the end of the day it comes down to cost, money and profit.

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  • I think, if they are outsourcing, it should come to Scotland.

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  • Dear 5.53 (Mary), it is unlikely that a Saffer will have UK legal nuance at their grasp. But, more importantly, the quality will suffer long term if UK trainees are left without work to train on.

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  • Whatever the rights and wrongs of this issue, what I find really depressing is the level of mis-spellings, poor grammar and above all lack of checking, which pervades this and other comment streams on legal websites. Are not most of the posters lawyers, and were they not trained, like me, to know that accuracy and attention to detail was absolutely fundamental to the profession? Surely that is what our clients expect as a minimum. If they can't rely on their lawyer to be accurate, who will guarantee it? This may be an unfashionable view, and it may seem "boring" to have to check through wording, but ensuring that our comments as lawyers were correct before sending them out would give them significantly more credibility.

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  • Pedant, I think you are exaggerating. There are very few spelling mistakes made by posters. Some posters though find it difficult to construct an argument; this is more worrisome.
    The move by Pinsents was predicted by Prof. Richard Susskind. We were warned and now we are in the midst of a revolution.

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  • What's that smell? Rome's on fire, you say?
    Quickly, write a report, outlining what is happening. And please ensure your grammar is accurate. That's the most important thing, after all.

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  • For a long time, the profession has been held to very, very high standards of professional ethics. It's the only way to guarantee that people can rely on lawyers as part of the justice machine. There will always be bad eggs. There will always be a need to deal with them in a way which can be relied upon to have serious consequences.

    How can any professional body be expected to protect the public from unscrupulous practitioners who cloak themselves through offshore arrangements?

    This is an erosion of professional responsibility and any "client" who thinks otherwise is an idiot.

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  • Margin business planning... don't ya just love it? Equity owners left the Dickensian ethic of upholding the continuance of a profession long behind and years ago. And yet, they've continued selling students and trainees the old pyramid scheme of advancement as gratitude for graft because students/trainees are daft enough to still believe in it. The profession is dead, what we have now is a DFS sofa selling model: get 'em in, get 'em out, make it cheaper abroad and hold seats of honour on the Law Society benches. You gotta hand it to 'em... the greatest trick the Devil ever played...you're looking it square in the eye and not seeing it... there is no future for the young professional because the bossman (if he hasn't sold it off already) is looking to do so in earnest...but hey, it's still one hell of a ride ain't it?

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  • Reading all these posts has been interesting.
    To suggest that work going to another English speaking country and in a different continent will automatically suffer in quality is plain stupid. The quality of lawyers all depends on who Exigent hire. Just as the quality of lawyers at Pinsents depends on who they hire. It should be noted that there partners in City law firms who were educated in South Africa.
    Now the move by Pinsents - this has happened either because the clients have demanded a reduction in fees or the partners want to keep their level of profits......or both! Pinsents cannot now state they provide excellent contentious training for their trainees and NQs anymore because the work will be outsourced.
    In this a revolution? I don' think so. One size does not fit all. Solutions have to be catered to a client's specific needs. You need a lawyer's expertise for this. Clients will realise this one day but in the meantime they'll do whatever to reduce the amount of fees they are paying.

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  • This professional ethics argument against offshoring is just so much hot air.
    If what's done is not a reserved activity, it can be done by anyone - lawyer or not. So, if you don’t need to be a lawyer to do it, professional ethics don’t even come into it.
    Anyway - don't lawyers in other countries have professional ethics? How arrogant to assume that foreign ethics are some how less “ethical” that English legal ethics. Especially considering that English legal ethics have been found time and time again to be nothing more than protectionist attempts at market-grabbing.
    Perhaps it would be nice if ethics required that law firms didn’t rip clients off, by overcharging for their services. But they don’t, so there you go.
    And one final point – if a document can be reviewed by a senior south African lawyer more cheaply than a junior English associate – or even trainee or paralegal – just how is the client suffering?

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  • There is less to this than meets the eye. You don't have to go as far as SA to find decent enough lawyers working for a fraction of city rates.
    If, say, Simmons and Simmons want to acheive "a 50 per cent cost saving on each role", they hardly need to use overseas lawyers to do that. The could outsource to any given UK national firm and make those savings.
    The reasons firms will not do that are obvious and have nothing to do with cost, quality, or client service. Much better to tell your clients you are saving them money by offshoring than admitting that, in fact, 80% of their work could be done by almost any decent firm. I struggle to see that it will be either cheaper or easier to manage work in another jurisdiction. Offshoring support functions is not without its probems, (churn being a big one) and I can't see this will be any easier. I rather suspect that in time clients will see through this move.
    In fact, it looks more like an opportunity to me. "Why pay for hoity toity city firms to send your work to a shed in SA when you can come to UK National LLP (who will send your work to a shed in the Midlands) ".
    The only losers are firms whose model is to charge £200 ph for recent gradates to turn pages. My heart bleeds.

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  • Very interesting .... I think many are missing the point. Changes WILL happen no matter what. That's evolution and that's the impact of technological and other developments.
    FACT - some legal services / advice / processes can be automated or fulfilled by less skilled people with the right training.
    FACT - technology will continue to offer efficiency opportunities
    FACT - clients will demand better value for money
    FACT - clients will expect to get value
    Our challenge is to harness the opportunities to improve our offering.
    Don't fight it - embrace it in the way that will best suit your business. For some this will be to look at how they can harness technonlogy or outsourced services and use them for their business; for others it will be using the marketing oportunity for letting everyone know that the work is all done in house, by a local and legally qualified person.

    And let's remember the most important person here - the client.

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  • Whatever the rights and wrongs of the decision to outsource referred to in this article, and the previous story regarding cost cutting and redundancy talks, the firm needs to take a long hard look at itself and its pretence that it treats its staff well by virtue of its "values" and "diversity" programmes. These are often cited and talked about, but in practice rarely followed.
    Only time will tell when the job market picks up whether it is able to retain any of the assistants which remain or recruit any new ones.

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  • Well, as a Pinsent Masons litigation assistant I must say that I am very upset to learn about this first here on The Lawyer website.

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  • So many comments by English lawyers shows the condition of English law firms work levels. I pity them, while they were sleeping and enjoying on the clients money Indians and SA's has moved ahead.

    Change and innovate, don't crib.

    Peace!

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  • 2.59 makes the point. Those who are carping on about how stupid clients are to fall for low cost-low quality offerings should market themselves as quality outfits whose due diligence or document processing is worth the (much) higher price. If clients agree, they'll pay, If not those firms will be revealed as dinosaurs.
    In the meantime other firms will be trying to work out how they can make money without leverage (i.e. pyramid training schemes). Maybe now is the time to think about setting up a London Wachtell Lipton...with equity financed by Goldmans, finally earning fees that investment bankers find normal, and really adding value.

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  • I fail to see the issue here. I implemented an outsourcing project with Exigent in 2005 enabling secretarial work to be carried out in SA at around 60% of the costs of employing a secretary. Where were the lawyers then complaining on behalf of their co-workers? The silence was deafening. Strange how the situation changes when the boot is on the other foot.
    Lawyers must remember three things;equity partners are in business to make a profit, a law firm is a business (forget all you have been told about it being a profession- law has moved on), and quality will rise to the top meaning that average lawyers who earned a big salary on the back of corporate clients need to think again.
    As I have said quality lawyers will rise up the ranks and be the partners of tomorrow. Many average lawyers will probably end up in South Africa working for Exigent!

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  • The heart of the issue is that assistants and trainees seem to have been led to believe, over the past 10 years or so, that law firms will look after them and their training requirements. If you read law firm recruitment brochures you'd be forgiven for thinking this. But time to wake up. Law firms look after their clients first and foremost. If it was your business you'd do the same. The needs of staff are already met by their salaries. The only way to counter this is to vote with your feet. If your law firm is ignoring your requirements, then when things get busy and law firms cannot recruit enough, remember who did what and when.

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  • The Pinsents litigation assistant should be very careful about what he or she says. Pinsents have a very strict policy on talking to the press and the poster will be hung, drawn and quartered if he or she is found out. The thought police will be searching right now.
    A few years ago someone internally sent a somewhat irreverent picture of the then senior management team to either The Lawyer. He was found out and made to "write" (ie have drafted for him) a letter of apology that was sent to the whole firm couched in the most grovelling and humiliating terms. But you couldnt print it out or forward it so noone outside knew. It was a ridiculously over the top reaction to an admittedly silly joke.

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  • "But you couldnt print it out or forward it so noone outside knew." - so how did you know unless you're from Pinsents as well? If so, how have the litigation team taken the news.....which apparently appeared here first before management told staff?

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  • I was at Pinsents a few years ago when the incident in question happened. The latest rumour I heard about the litigators was pretty negative in terms of morale. I have heard plently of stories about internal strife in litigation since I left (particularly about Manchester).
    Some of the things that happened when I was there defied belief. The work was good, but some of the behaviour was, shall we say, unique in my experience.
    Oh, when I said "either The Lawyer" in my last post I meant to add "or the other legal tabloid" after that.

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  • Anonymous | 22-Jun-2009 6:13 pm your post stated that you found it amusing that not English meant not good quality - I do not think any malice was intended in this regard.

    The issue is not that it is not English it is the lack of personal relationships and communication. There is no way this can be to the same standard as it would be across the same office.

    It is hard enough to build internal relationships and ensure the way you work in Leeds is standardised and is also the way you work in London let alone trying to work in a standardised high quality manner from offshore. Inevitably it will lead to mistakes, lack of clarity, break downs of relationships and so on.

    Even if those lawyers off shore were English the same problems would arise.

    I was a legal secretary at Pinsent Masons back in 2007 when they started the outsource scheme, I spent a miserable 8 months filing! I am now a law student and I am becoming increasingly worried about future progression and the restriction on young lawyers' abilities to excel through experience!

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  • To the Pinsent Masons litigation assistant . You must of missed the in house magazine article about it...plus the whole section on the intranet about it ...plus the two emails???

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  • This is the problem with having a divided profession. I'm a litigator in the US but was once a UK solicitor. UK solicitors do work which, quite frankly, is done by paralegals and contract lawyers here in the US, while the attorneys concentrate on managing cases, taking depositions, drafting particulars and applications, arguing applications, and trying cases in court. 6 years to become nothing but a glorified paralegal, which explains why I fled to the US to do some real quality lawyering. As long as UK firms are content to have new and junior and even some senior lawyers do menial rote office work, then their jobs will be lost to outshoring.

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  • As Mr Burns would say:

    "Of course your jobs are safe! They'll just be done by other people!"

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  • Whilst most rational people will have sympathy with those who are saddened to see offshoring of work there are two sides to the story. The price of commercial legal work in England has been rising faster than the cost of living for decades as have partner incomes. Like housing prices this 'bubble' had ot burst. The real issue is the business model of the 'standard' law firm. It is inflexible and too costly. This recession, offshoring an LPOs should see changes to the basic operating model. Costs have to be driven down and not by the simple expedient of cutting wages - it is much more complex than that.

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