The ABA Journal came out with an article today, Ethics 20/20 Commission Releases Draft Report on Outsourcing, Seeks Feeback, discussing the reports from the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 regarding the ethics of legal outsourcing. According to the article, the Commission is particularly sensitive to the current employment market for lawyers and the economic hardships faced by those lawyers seeking jobs, especially young lawyers. The article also states that some consider legal outsourcing to be a threat:
Outsourcing has been a hot-button issue for some who view it as a threat to employment prospects for lawyers during the recession, even though the discussion draft notes that most outsourced legal work goes to lawyers or support services in the United States rather than overseas.
Some may view legal outsourcing to overseas attorneys as a threat to the attorneys here in the United States since firms opt to outsource legal work in lieu of hiring a full-time U.S. licensed attorney. During a down economy, it is difficult for all lawyers in the United States to obtain jobs, and outsourcing legal work overseas exacerbates this issue for attorneys here. But do people also view freelance attorneys, such as the attorneys in Montage Legal Group’s network, as a threat?
While some may consider Montage Legal Group attorneys to technically fit under the category of “legal outsourcing,” the attorneys in Montage Legal Group’s network actually play a role in creating employment opportunities for attorneys seeking full-time employment, as well to attorneys seeking part-time legal work. Specifically, the majority of Montage Legal Group’s attorneys have voluntarily left large law firms, arguably “freeing spots” for other attorneys who desire full time work at those firms. Montage Legal Group attorneys are not seeking full-time jobs in law firms, but instead prefer to work on a part-time or project basis. While this arrangement works for Montage Legal Group attorneys, many attorneys desire full-time work with a more stable source of income. Further, Montage Legal Group’s attorneys assist small and large law firms (many of which are facing the same consequences of a down economy) in meeting their clients’ needs and in growing their businesses, without taking the economic risk of hiring an employee they may be unable to support. Success to Montage Legal Group’s law firm clients equates to future and current full-time employment potential for other attorneys.
The discussion draft of the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 also addresses ethics issues that law firms should take into account when they outsource work to lawyers and non-lawyers in the United States or overseas. The ABA article confirms that the draft “contains no dramatic changes in the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct to account for the growing use of outsourcing by U.S. firms” but also states that the draft “does set forth comments to three model rules recognizing that lawyers may outsource work as long as they take reasonable steps to assure that the work is performed in accordance with ethics standards for U.S. lawyers.”
In Formal Ethics Opinion 08-451 (issued Aug. 5, 2008), the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility concluded that “There is nothing unethical about a lawyer outsourcing legal and nonlegal services, provided the outsourcing lawyer renders legal services to the client with the ‘legal skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation’ ” under Rule 1.1 of the Model Rules. “The challenge for an outsourcing lawyer is, therefore, to ensure that tasks are delegated to individuals who are competent to perform them,” states the opinion, “and then to oversee the execution of the project adequately and appropriately.”
Check back to our blog for an in-depth analysis of the ethical rules pertaining to both firms and contract/freelance attorneys.