A new study by Law Without Borders has found that while many male partners at top United States law firms have stopped beating their wives, few firms are willing to answer the simple question: "When did your male partners stop beating their wives?" This reflects a "wall of silence" around an increasingly important development within the legal services industry.
In a survey of 30 top US firms in the Am Law 50, some 83 percent declined to answer this question, despite the fact that responses were confidential.
Okay, so none of the above is true. The real survey was by legal consulting firm Fronterion, and the real question was whether the respondent law firms have used legal process outsourcing (LPO) providers. Only one firm confessed to this. However, Fronterion, using its own primary source market research, says it "conservatively estimates that between 65 and 75 per cent of top 50 firms have used or are currently using LPO providers, either on an ad-hoc basis at the request of clients or through official agreements."
So why the secrecy? Our guess is that 83% of large law firms would decline to answer any survey about their practices from an outside, un-hired consulting firm, regardless of the questions asked.
Even so, there is no doubt that large law firms, other than those in the UK, are not exactly racing to publicly associate themselves with legal outsourcing / legal process outsourcing / LPO, or to be more accurate, legal off-shoring. For one thing, large law firms generally have not been known to be in the forefront of any trend, except maybe over-billing, or over-lawyering.
Another reason for the silence is likely to be the persistent public perception that outsourcing causes a decrease in U.S. jobs. That's unfortunate, because legal outsourcing actually helps companies and law firms survive; it helps U.S. lawyers provide greater value to their clients; it makes legal defense an affordable alternative to settling; it allows business deals to get done, instead of being shelved due to prohibitive legal costs; and of course, like all off-shoring, it helps create markets abroad, such as the huge Indian middle-class, which buys enormous amounts of imported U.S. goods. This causes more U.S. jobs, not fewer.
But there is one survey to which law firms do respond. It's the RFP (Request for Proposal). Increasingly, US companies ask law firms, in RFPs, to describe the respondents' capabilities regarding off-shore legal outsourcing of work to India or other countries. When responding to RFPs, law firms do not hesitate to talk about their off-shoring practices. And if they don't currently have a relationship with an LPO, they quickly get one. Nobody wants to lose clients, or potential clients.