In its Ethics Opinion 08-451, the ABA said that sending legal work overseas is ethically permissible as long as the lawyer doing the outsourcing takes steps to insure client confidentiality and preserve the attorney-client privilege.
||Are legal staffers at risk due to outsourcing?|
So, what does this all mean?
First of all, it could be bad news, and likely will be bad news for many paralegals and legal staffers at the large law firms. If they can handle the work, there are many firms in India that would love a piece of the action. And it's not just legal staff at risk; associates at large law firms could be in trouble as well. In the future, maybe all that will be left are the partners?
In any case, smaller firms are likely safe from the impending outsourcing craze. Most smaller firms, or firms with only a couple of offices, will not want to outsource to India due to a myriad of factors.
Chief among these are that despite the large cost savings of going to India, there are lots of new challenges for smaller firms. Time-zone constraints, communication difficulties, and trust issues are bigger for smaller firms than larger ones. So most smaller law firms and their legal staff are probably safe for now.
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There are several issues with outsourcing that many legal staff and also associates can raise. First is the issue of trust. Client confidentiality and the attorney-client privilege are paramount, and how can most firms trust their new partners in India? Without going there and setting up an entire office, that is? There are outsourcing companies, but sharing data with outside companies is always risky.
|Indispensable legal staff members have more job security.
In fact, a Maryland firm is already trying to get a judge to ban outsourcing overseas. They filed suit, alleging that because the US government monitors overseas communications, no data is safe. The case has been dropped for now, but if they can find an actual example of the Feds intercepting these legal communications, they plan to come back.
Still, the current mood seems to be more towards outsourcing associates, not legal staff. And while they have reason to worry, my guess is that legal staff and what they do is not as susceptible to being outsourced. Salaries are smaller, for one thing, and thus it is not as cost effective to ship a paralegal's job overseas as it is to send down that waste of space pulling down a couple hundred grand a year.
But here is some advice: make yourself indispensible. Knowing how the company works is a skill that can't be replaced very easily. And since good legal staff members are becoming scarcer anyway, if you are one of the good ones rather than a dime a dozen associate, you will have much better job security.