The widely read and debated New York Times article last August on the subject of offshore legal outsourcing ("Outsourcing to India Draws Western Lawyers") led to a litany of comments from veteran U.S. lawyers saying essentially that the sky is falling. In particular, one of the most frequent complaints was that the sending of document review assignments to offshore legal process outsourcing (LPO) companies deprives young Western lawyers of crucial training opportunities. Below are excerpts from a few of those many comments:
- "Document review is essential training for any corporate lawyer or litigator...."
- "Denying American and British associates the opportunities to engage in meaningful document review will only produce third-rate senior lawyers."
- "The whole point of having Junior Associates do the grunt work is to train them and make them experts."
- "Isn't that grunt work done by young lawyers how they learn to be good lawyers?
Now, at least one partner at a major Western law firm has gone public with the truth on this subject. ALB Legal News reports that Tony Denholder, a partner at the top tier Australian law firm, Blake Dawson, said the following at last week's Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA) conference: "I think it is very naive to think that lawyers can't learn unless they are snowed under with repetitive, low level legal work."
Perhaps Mr. Denholder used the word, "naive," with reference to inexperienced persons who might believe that the above-quoted complaints are anything other than attempts to justify the extremely lucrative "pyramid system." This is the money-making machine that the General Counsel of Cisco Systems famously described as "the last vestige of the medieval guild system to survive into the 21st century." Under the law firm pyramid structure, corporate clients traditionally have been asked to pay a king's ransom for massive hourly billing by an army of junior associates at the bottom, who do not know what they are doing, and who, as a result, conveniently bill more hours.
As any candid veteran of large law firms could report, no serious legal training of young associates takes place while they are stuck in a room with boxes of documents, or in front of a computer screen with thousands of pages of mostly meaningless discovery material flashing before their eyes. If any senior lawyer wants to provide a meaningful opportunity for young associates to grow, he or she can train them how to do deals, how to argue in court, how to supervise cases, and how to provide legal advice. None of those things can be done for U.S. or U.K. clients by legal outsourcing companies in India, the Philippines, or anywhere else.