The UK’s appetite for stories and comment about outsourcing remains undimmed. A a long article in The Times on 15 January carried the title Brief for India’s outsourcing lawyers: keep it cheap. Ron Friedmann of outsourcers Integreon, an astute observer of the international outsourcing market, wonders what prompts this show of UK interest in outsourcing with, he reckons, at least one article a week in the British legal press. I am not the only one to have invoked the traditional attributes of Lemmngs on this subject (see Georgetown Law: to Insource or to Outsource by George Rudoy). A more realistic and less clichéd reaction would be that the subject has grown slowly in importance in the US and arrived fully-formed in the UK.
Whilst other firms had mentioned discretely to their clients that they knew a few foreign chaps who could do the grunt work much more cheaply than was possible in London EC2, Pinsent Masons announced it as a positive strategy to be marketed to their clients, and accompanied the announcement with a mass of useful information on Out-Law (which is, I have to say, the place I go to first if I want to catch up with any IT or e-commerce law).
The name and sheriff’s badge logo of Pinsents’ site has got to me, or perhaps it is the Dirty Harry clips I watched when writing a recent piece (see Guidance Software launches EnCase eDiscovery 4 with help from Twitter and YouTube). Hands up! Hands up any law firm who has not undertaken any investigation into outsourcing part of their litigation or other labour-intensive work. Well, you either have very loyal clients or a tame bank manager, I reckon. Perhaps both. Now that the ordinary business news is picking up outsourcing stories, you might find some of the clients asking you about it, and it would be as well at least to know what it is.
The bank manager will know all about outsourcing. To him it means that all those tiresome people who used to ring him up cannot get to him any more, and are instead shouting purple-faced at an uncomprehending Indian housewife whose script does not seem to cover the circumstances and whose English is not up to anything beyond the script. LPO (Legal Process Outsourcing) is not like that, partly because all the best English-speakers work in it (see the Christine Langstieh case study in the Times article) and partly because it is not the end-user (that is, the client) who has to deal with the adverse consequences. To the banks (not mine, I am glad to say) outsourcing client-facing roles is part of a policy known informally as “Sod the Customer” whose sole imperative is saving money. LPO aims to keep the customer by reducing the cost of things the customer is not prepared to pay for whilst maintain quality.
Note the quotation from Richard Susskind in the Times article. “Law firms may have to cut salaries to remain competitive”. Those of you who have read Lord Justice Jackson’s 558 page report will no doubt have choked on your Rioja at this sentence (quoted from a judgment): “One element in the present high cost of litigation is undoubtedly the expectations as to annual income of the professionals who conduct it”. [Para 4.6 on page 34]. If you get the sense that you are being enfiladed from both sides – clients and judges – then you are right.
You may get the sense also that I have had a bad day with people whose telephone “service” is not worthy of the name. I may come back to that – but do not confuse that kind of experience with LPO.