Having just discussed the possible impact of predictive coding – see our previous post - with fellow contract attorneys on a document review that one of the Contract Attorney Central brains is currently rat-racing at, the topics of demand for contract attorneys and the future of the industry came up. We thought we should share with you the two main concerns and Contract Attorney Central’s take on the future of our beloved industry.
Domestic And Foreign Outsourcing
1. A number of large firms outsource their legal support services but also (parts of) their e-discovery projects to foreign countries. Outsourcing to emerging countries such as India and the Philippines does have cost benefits for the firms and will eventually put them ahead of more expensive competitors when it comes to bidding for e-discovery projects. However we experienced that mainly the first level review (basic coding for responsiveness) is outsourced to foreign countries. Most of the follow up work such as second level review, translations, document descriptions in notes fields, privileged reviews, quality-control and production related tasks are still done by the firms and their domestic teams. Just recently a fellow contract attorney in London secured a position on a second level review for a US law firm working on material previously first level reviews in India. Hence while there is the threat of cheaper (and more productive?) competition on the document review there still is and will still be tasks which firms prefer to be done domestically under their own supervision. This should offer contract attorneys opportunities to secure positions and to get involved in potentially more interesting work.
2. Domestic outsourcing comes with slightly different aspects as it’s not really a replacement for contract attorneys conducting document reviews but rather a change of environment and office culture to law firm-based reviews. A number of e-discovery provider/review centers as well as recruitment companies with their own document review department have recently popped up offering review space, supervision, staffing and management of document review projects for law firms. All the contract attorneys here at Contract Attorney Central have worked on both: law firm based and specially tailored review centers. There are pros and cons to both (which we should discuss in more detail in a future post perhaps). But the bottom line as to the future of document review work in this regard is that contract attorneys will have to get used to being in less glamorous offices or working in conference rooms with fewer facilities (mail room, free coffee, dinners and taxi services) and no support team. The future speaks of more custom-made working environments (open space offices, basic setup, no support beyond project-related matters and no clean bathrooms.
Over-Saturated Contract Attorney Market
The second main concern coming up is whether the contract attorney and document review attorney market in the USA and UK is over-saturated. A very high number of lawyers leave law schools having successfully completed their studies every year. No wonder one American attorney is suing 14 law schools on behalf of unemployed law graduates for allegedly misrepresenting graduate employment statistics. This not only leads to heightened competition for associate positions but also naturally to more and more law graduates choosing the contract attorney route. We here at Contract Attorney Central have experienced more and more law graduates entering the document review world right after law school (in the USA) or completion of their training contract (in the UK) rather than securing permanent positions in law firms, which was traditionally the expected career path. At first glimpse this might appear as a threat to contract attorneys currently in the market. However all of Contract Attorney Central’s writers are receiving a large number of calls every week for potential projects and a look at the job boards (ThePosseList and Totallylegal) reveals a lot of document review projects out there.
From Contract Attorney Central’s point of view the document review market in the US and UK is still busy and document review projects are popping up regularly. Despite the challenges ahead (predictive coding, outsourcing and over-saturation), the situation is not as bad (as we contract attorneys usually tend to moan about) and for the foreseeable future there should be enough work. If you don’t consider yourself a career contract attorney and want to look further afield you may wish to consider your options beyond contract attorney work here and here.
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