Ante Up: Law firms and the “Fortunate Few”

One of the concerns of law firms that we see at Fronterion involving the integration of legal process outsourcing vendors into their practice is the real or perceived disruption of partner-track associates. The work which first and second year law firm associates previously “cut their teeth on” (read document review) is slowly diminishing with the increased use of outside legal vendors based domestically in the US and UK, as well as abroad.

The comments in several recent publications highlight the growing focus, and also acceptance, of the changing nature of the legal profession with the use of outside legal vendors to perform “routine, repetitious work.”

William Michael Treanor, newly appointed dean of the Georgetown University Law Center, made several interesting comments on the topic of recent law graduate career opportunities in the Washington Post’s Capital Business.

As reported by the ABA Journal, Treanor said, “Grads who opt for law firm jobs are likely to see the nature of their work change as clients refuse to pay associates for routine, repetitious work… As a result, ‘we’ll see more outsourcing and contract employment. So associates will be doing more work that is truly lawyerly work.’”

We’ve seen Georgetown take some very positive, pro-active stances as the legal profession changes, for which we applaud them.

In a related article featured in AM Law Daily, Steven Harper echoes Treanor’s remarks regarding the advancement of the “fortunate few”, those law firm associates who will work on more substantive legal matters as a result of legal outsourcing.

“Instead of the mind-numbing tasks that are the bane of so many young lawyers’ lives, associates will find themselves doing work that more closely resembles what they thought being a lawyer meant when they first decided to attend law school.”

More succinctly stated in my book, a senior litigation partner at a large UK-based law firm said this about routine tasks increasingly delegated to outside legal vendors, “Our attorneys didn’t go to law school for that.”

The caveat for this potential advancement for associates to perform more interesting and engaging projects is that law firms may require fewer associates to work through their large, document-heavy matters. Reading between the lines, it looks like law students, with the help of law schools, will have to be more entrepreneurial and seek to develop niche skill sets to make themselves more valuable in the changing legal profession.

Written by Fronterion