The legal services market is—and has been—changing dramatically, and the career paths that have been commonly considered in the past often do not realistically represent job opportunities for the vast number of recent law graduates, in part because of supply and demand, and in part because of larger forces that are affecting all sectors of the economy, which in turn affect budget allocations for legal resources. The forces driving these reductions in legal budgets and needs for legal professionals include: globalization, technology, outsourcing non-core business functions, few restrictions on the location of where services can be performed, labor arbitrage, the increased acceptance of contingent labor forces, professional association support of new service delivery models, changes in corporate budgeting practices, and the emerging interests in utilizing industrial quality and efficiency control processes (such as lean six sigma) to improve the delivery of professional services. One result of these forces is the dramatic changes that we have seen in the legal services industry, especially in the evolving field of legal process outsourcing—a delivery model made possible by its more mature predecessors, namely business process outsourcing and knowledge process outsourcing.
Until recently most young legal professionals only applied for jobs with LPOs out of necessity—that is, they could not find any other employment to utilize their legal education in traditional forms. Indeed, during the throngs of the Great Recession many law grads hit a concrete wall, without any clear path towards how they could start their professional legal careers. In 2011 an article in The New York Times mentioned that in the painfully challenging legal market there was one type of employer that was hiring, and it was called a "legal process outsourcing" company. In fact, this "new" type of employer had already been around for some time, and had been actively engaged in the hiring of attorneys for a few years by the time the article was written. Historically, these employers were primarily in the business of reviewing documents that had been requested for production in the initial discovery phase of litigation, usually via an electronic review and delivery platform. However, by the time The New York Times article was published, the field of legal outsourcing had expanded into other areas related to corporate law that were high-volume in nature, relatively uncomplicated, repeatable, and could be accomplished remotely via technology. One particular legal task that dovetailed with this criteria especially well was the review and negotiation of commercial contracts (typically ones in which the risks for the company were relatively low).
However, since The New York Times article was published, the traditional LPO fields of e-discovery and contract review/negotiation have grown substantially, as have additional areas of LPO work in compliance support (e.g., Anti-Money Laundering, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Corporate Secretarial Services), legal research (including high level legal research), and contract abstraction. Indeed, the increase in the variety, complexity, and management of such legal work has begged the question of whether LPO is an appropriate label for the service model. Alternative names that some believe may better describe the phenomenon include "managed legal services" and "alternative legal services provider". Regardless of what you call it, the immense business growth in the demand for LPO has resulted in a corresponding rise in career opportunities for new law graduates in LPO. It is no longer the case that a law graduate begins his or her LPO career as a document or contract reviewer, destined to spend their entire employment with an LPO in that capacity. Indeed, it is arguably the case that there is a career path emerging for a legal professional in LPO—one that includes decent wages (in line with prevailing market standards), opportunities for developing skills (especially those tailored to business needs and realities), possibilities for leadership and project management training, and the ability to become a subject matter expert and thought leader in important aspects of law that profoundly affect companies in a diverse array of industries.
To further emphasize these possibilities, it’s worthwhile to examine my own career path in LPO. In June of 2011, after graduating from law school and passing the bar exam I read the cited New York Times article as one of the many young law grads facing a tough market for finding a law related job. One of the legal process outsourcing companies discussed in the article was Integreon, and so I went to their website’s Career Section and found that they were in need of a Spanish contract review specialist in Fargo, North Dakota. I was born and raised in Philadelphia and thought I would make my life in the Northeast, but I was determined to do what I had to do to enter the legal industry as a legal professional, utilizing the full bank of skills and knowledge acquired in law school and beyond. I was also fortunate in having served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru, where I learned to speak Spanish fluently, and while in law school having also completed internships translating legal documents from Spanish into English and vice-versa. I applied for the position in Fargo and was offered the job. I moved to North Dakota, and I was again fortunate because I was able to start my LPO career under the leadership of a terrific manager, someone who understood technology procurement contracts from top to bottom and was willing to mentor an enthusiastic (but experience lacking) young professional. With my manager’s help, I learned the fundamentals of the emerging field of LPO, with a focus on process and quality control, as well as an introduction to communicating with global business managers in connection with their commercial transactions. I also learned how to work as part of a team of professionals, how to manage varying work volumes, and how to deliver work product according to a services delivery agreement. By watching and learning from my manager, I learned how a legal project could be managed well, how a team could collaborate successfully, and how an account relationship could prosper—all while developing experience though the delivery of corporate legal services.
After almost a year reviewing technology procurement contracts, I transferred to the field of managed document review, where I worked with a great group of people on securities fraud and employment law related cases. During this time, I also learned about the ways in which legal technology was changing the face of litigation. My good fortunes continued during this same time with an opportunity to serve on a unique project aimed at helping Integreon comply with new HIPAA regulations, organize a contract repository, and develop a corporate wide procurement policy. I subsequently went on to support a Mergers and Acquisition due diligence project, and from that experience helped manage the implementation of a new global security account, subject to myriad regulatory rules and requirements, of national and international significance. In addition to leading a team of talented people and supporting some of the best and brightest legal, compliance, finance, contracts, and business development professionals around, I have also had the chance to become a subject matter expert in the field of corporate governance, risk management, and compliance, and to provide sales support to help Integreon grow a service line and solution in an evolving field and marketplace.
As my personal experience hopefully demonstrates, what started from necessity had grown into a passion, and I believe that opportunities like mine will only increase in the future for those who are only now just considering an LPO career. But even for those who do not wish to make a career in LPO, I anticipate that having the experience of working at one will avail them to possibilities of mastering a variety of subject matters, to manage legal and compliance projects, to lead teams of legal and business trained professionals, to support business and client driven development goals, to craft emerging business strategies, and to interact with major businesses and fellow LPO colleagues around the world. It will also include the ability to become an expert on the changing trends brought about by technological innovation, and their effects on the law, especially as it relates to commercial needs and regulatory compliance. It will also expose such professionals to the mastery of data analytics, and necessarily provide a ripe opportunity for the development of efficiencies in legal review and business-driven processes. In short, the skills that young and older professionals gain at an LPO are becoming ever more valuable in the general corporate marketplace, and thus can be transferrable. As such, today, 6 years after first reading about legal outsourcing in The New York Times article (a short time in legal service delivery evolution standards), law school professors, law career counselors, and law school alumni are talking to law school students about the benefits of launching their careers at an LPO. One such example is Suffolk Law School, which has a partnership initiative with Integreon called the Client Services Innovation Program. The program offers Suffolk law students, as well as a limited number of undergraduate students, a paid opportunity to gain valuable work experience delivering innovative legal services to corporate clients under the supervision of Integreon’s legal experts. I would not be surprised if the partnership between Suffolk and Integreon becomes a model for future collaboration. I expect that as the legal academy evolves in how it prepares its students for a variety of law related careers, it will see that LPOs offer opportunities for professional development in the legal skills of the future: project management, data analytics, cross-functional collaboration, global teamwork, metrics reporting, training, and consulting.
(By the way, you can see current job openings for legal services positions at Integreon here.)
Derek Drizin is Team Lead for Legal Process Outsourcing at Integreon in Austin, Texas.