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My Opinion

Outsourcing Outlook

Paralegals are not concerned about outsourcing today but are split about the trend for the future.

By Ashley Johnson

March/April 2008 Table of Contents

 

Outsourcing is a trend that is not going away anytime soon, and the outsourcing of legal tasks, such as document review and legal research, has given rise to concern in the legal arena. But how will this trend affect paralegals and how concerned are they about its impact on their careers? According to LAT’s most recent My Opinion survey, 84.2 percent of respondents are not concerned that outsourcing might affect their current paralegal job duties.

Of those who are not concerned about outsourcing, 28 percent said they are not concerned because their firm or company has never considered outsourcing any nonlawyer tasks, 24.7 percent indicated that most of the tasks they perform could not easily be outsourced, and 20.4 percent said that outsourcing does not seem to be a growing trend in their geographic area. Furthermore, 12.9 percent of survey respondents who said they are not concerned didn’t think outsourcing will affect the paralegal profession overall. “I have not seen any trend toward outsourcing in the local market,” said a 15-year paralegal from Scottsdale, Ariz. “At my firm, they don’t even like paralegals to work from home.”

Of the 15.8 percent of survey respondents who indicated concern that outsourcing might affect their current paralegal job duties, 20 percent said their firm or company already is outsourcing some nonlawyer tasks. “My firm outsources deposition summarizing to a local company,” said a 26-year paralegal from Phoenix, Ariz. “This is taking away billable hours from the in-house paralegals and makes our work seem less valuable.” However, not all survey respondents see outsourcing as a bad thing. “I view outsourcing not as a concern but perhaps a benefit,” said Laura Leonard, RP, an 11-year paralegal from Canonsburg, Pa. “The outsourcing of more mundane tasks hopefully will give paralegals the opportunity to do more substantive work.”

Other reasons given by survey respondents who said they were concerned about outsourcing having an effect on their paralegal duties were that they perform many functions that could potentially be outsourced (40 percent), outsourcing seems to be a growing trend in their particular specialty (13.3 percent) and outsourcing seems to be a growing trend in their geographic area (13.3 percent). 

As a hedge to outsourcing their paralegal duties, 28.6 percent of survey respondents who were concerned said they have tried to convince their employers to give them higher-level tasks and 28.6 percent have tried to convince their employers to keep the work in-house. Other respondents said they have looked for another paralegal job (21.4 percent).

While the opinions of survey respondents about whether outsourcing will affect their current paralegal duties were varied, the responses about whether outsourcing is a concern for the paralegal profession in the future was more equally split. Overall, 54 percent of survey respondents said they were not concerned about outsourcing in the future while 46 percent said they were concerned about outsourcing in the future. A common reason given for this concern in the future was cost savings to clients. “Cost benefit analyses for large cases and the increase in e-discovery lean toward outsourcing for savings,” said William Hershkowitz, a 12-year paralegal from New York City. “It will be cheaper for workers in another country to run the same software to electronically analyze massive amounts of data produced in response to e-discovery.” According to Tara Kim Eberhart, RP, a 10-year para­legal from Washington, D.C., rapidly rising legal fees will lead to client demand for outsourcing. With paralegal salaries increasing each year, a 10-year paralegal from Knoxville, Tenn., thought it might be more efficient and cheaper for a firm to use outsourcing than to pay a paralegal to do it.

Alternatively, one respondent from London said clients would not be comfortable with outsourcing. “There are too many issues involving confidentiality.” In the survey, many respondents indicated trust as a barrier to outsourcing paralegal duties. “Most of the lawyers I’ve worked with would never trust their work to someone they don’t know very well and trust (almost) implicitly,” said Catherine McKenzie, a 10-year senior paralegal from Vero Beach, Fla.

While many think that it will be more common for firms and companies to outsource paralegal tasks in the future, it might not be for a number of years. “We can surmise that the outsourcing of general paralegal tasks will be the norm in the future,” said Jose Pedro Santos, a senior paralegal from Cincinnati who specializes in real estate. “However, it is my opinion that most of the specific paralegal tasks in some fields of law, such as real estate, probate, construction, criminal, environmental, domestic relations, etc., will remain pretty much un-outsourceable for many years.”

Survey Results

Are you concerned that outsourcing is going to affect your current paralegal job duties?

     Yes: 15.8%

     No: 84.2%

 

If you are not concerned about outsourcing, why not?

     My firm/company has never considered outsourcing any nonlawyer tasks: 28.0%

     Most of the tasks I perform could not easily be outsourced: 24.7%

     Outsourcing does not seem to be a growing trend in my geographic area: 20.4%

     I don't think outsourcing will really affect the paralegal profession overall: 12.9%

     Outsourcing does not lend itself to the job duties in my particular specialty: 7.5%

     Other: 6.5%

 

Do you see outsourcing as a concern in the future?

     Yes: 46.0%

     No: 54.0%

 

Do you know any paralegals who have been directly impacted by outsourcing?

     Yes: 14.0%

     No: 86.0%

 

Total survey responses: 57

 

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