International Legal Ethics Conference IV: The Legal Profession in Times of Turbulence: Day Two

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

(thanks to Fredrik Sarnblad)

The conference is dense and intense. I don’t mean that in a bad way: it is packed with good things and people so there is no let up in talk, listening and questions. All to the good. Highlights for me have been the discussions on outsourcing. What’s clear here is that the idea that is common currency about this is very out of date. The industry is fast moving as David Wilkins showed. The big boys are now moving in: Accenture, KPMG, etc. This will change the landscape and could mean the demise of pure play LPOs. It also signifies we have gone beyond Susskind’s predictions. The potential for rationalisation of legal work goes much further up the food chain than he realised. In-house counsel are proliferating in interesting ways. Michele Beardslee talked about compliance officers in companies and their role is complex and far reaching. International lawyering is being attacked by American lawyers who are looking for rules and certainty in uncertain cultural contexts. Laurel Terry, Catherine Rogers were accompanied by Stephen Denyer of Allen & Overy brought this home in the areas of international dispute resolution, ethics conumdrums and international practice. To close we had the contribution of the neuroscientists in law and moral choice. Now this is extending the boundaries of knowledge in potentially unpredictable ways. Just watch the space. PS. California is still great. Off to San Francisco tomorrow.

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4 Responses to “International Legal Ethics Conference IV: The Legal Profession in Times of Turbulence: Day Two”

  1. Mark Brandon Says:

    Aha, outsourcing is clearly the topic du jour on both sides of the Pond at the moment.

    I’m intrigued though; do you see outsourcing as having ethical implications for law firms?

    One GC said to me he was ‘irritated’ that his law firm didn’t tell him they were outsourcing part of his work on one major deal and attempted to cover it up. He only found out because he directly outsourced a piece of work to the LPO provider himself and they were curiously well set-up for his specific needs. The provider told him the law firm was outsourcing to them. Apparently they’d been doing it for some time, with no noticeable downward movement in the client’s bills…

    Do law firms have an ethical obligation to discuss with a client if they are outsourcing the work to a third party? Are there issues of privilege, confidentiality and commercial information that need to be shared with the client? And is there an ethical issue with boosting profits by using outsourcing while not passing on any reduction to the client?

    mark.brandon@motivelegal.com

  2. John Flood Says:

    Mark,outsourcing is a much bigger thing than most people realise. It’s possible to see LPO as a precursor to large-scale commoditization of legal work; potentially far more than Susskind posits. Indeed, David Wilkins of Harvard and I don’t think he goes far enough. Therefore there are ethical and regulatory aspects to this work. The US have said that lawyers are responsible for LPO work. However, in your example, yes firms should have an obligation to tell clients about LPO work and I don’t think they are entitled to rip clients off by not telling them. That doesn’t create good will.

  3. Mark Brandon Says:

    I do agree, but I think there is going to be the most almighty ding-dong by way of a rearguard action by law firms which could last years. A number of LPO companies have had to set up onshoring facilities because of client discomfort or complaints about offshoring; I suspect they think that’s going to be temporary, because in the wonderful little fantasy world occupied by international accountants, people don’t care where the work is done, whereas I think people actually do care, and the consumer experience suggests that offshoring is not necessarily popular for ‘mission-critical’ activities. I think we have a long, long way to go…

  4. Gareth Jones Says:

    I’m still learning from you, as I’m making my way to the top as well. I certainly liked reading everything that is written on your blog.Keep the stories coming. I liked it!