Redefinition of Legal Services

In the light of the Legal Services Act and the current outsourcing trend (LPO) two different approaches to the definition of legal services has arisen. On the one end is the “reserved legal activities,” which are exclusive to lawyers, and on the other end is the “legal activities,” which are not exclusive to lawyers and are not otherwise subject to specific regulation.

Jordan Furlong has examined the relevance of these classification discussions in a recent article, which is highly recommended for a thorough reading “Will-writing and the redefinition of ‘legal services'”.

As Jordan concludes, “LPOs, essentially, are forcing law firms (and their clients) to ask the critical question of our times: is a lawyer really the best choice to do X? The answer in many cases is yes, especially when the job calls for the kind of judgment, nuance, skill and wisdom that lawyers bring to the best of their work. These are “lawyer services.” But in many other cases, the answer is no: all or parts of tasks such as document review, due diligence, electronic discovery, document drafting and production, small-claims court representation, and basic transactions like house purchases, straightforward divorces, and as the current situation in England & Wales suggests, wills and estates, don’t always need a lawyer’s attention. Should the providers of these services, whomever they are, be qualified and trustworthy? Of course. Must they always be lawyers? I think the answer is: of course not. The legal marketplace, whether some lawyers like it or not, is heading towards the same kind of stratification as other professional fields, to a massive “sorting out” of what lawyers need to do and what they don’t need to do. ”

Ron Friedmann has also examined the line between legal support and law practice in a recent article on LPO and innovation “Will Legal Outsourcing Drive Large Law Firm Innovation?”. “Working for an LPO, my view is that there is a clear line between legal support and law practice. An LPO cannot practice law so I think there is a clear limit to how far “up the value chain” an LPO can go. Turning the “LPO moving up the value chain” idea on its head may well be a more helpful way to think about the legal market. The very forces that enabled the birth of the LPO industry – globalization, technology, and shifts in buyer attitudes – continue to push legal work toward standardization and systemization (as Richard Susskind discusses in The End of Lawyers?). That means work once done only by associates can be performed by more efficient operating models offered by alternative sources such as LPOs, contract attorneys, virtual law firms, online legal resource providers, and still-to-be-invented providers. So it is likely that repetitive tasks once the exclusive domain of partner-track associates will continue to be unbundled and move to more cost-effective approaches. Document review in litigation is the classic example. Even without LPOs, law firms’ ability to offer this service at associate billing rates is already threatened by corporate clients contracting directly with contract lawyer staffing agencies. An innovative law firm might even decide it makes sense to partner with an LPO to do the high volume, routine work.”

Jordan Furlong further predicts the legal services future as “This is what the next decade will bring: a Great Sorting Out of demand for legal services, as the market reviews its choices and decides where and from whom it wants to acquire what it needs. As time goes by, the category of “legal services” will grow by volume, while “lawyer services” will shrink by volume; but both categories, paradoxically, will grow in quality. Lawyers in particular will benefit from a task list that requires more sophistication and higher-level skills. For that reason alone, but also because of the ultimate interests of clients, we should be working to narrow our focus on the highest-level work while simultaneously supporting the development of practices and regimes to oversee the more basic work we used to do. It’s anyone’s guess whether our profession will step up to that challenge.”