Squaring the circle

By | 26th October 2010

Former Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, once quipped that a week was a long time in politics. After a string of events which were calculated to make a lesser man blanch, Wilson was phlegmatic. He had spent most of his life climbing the greasy pole which is politics and he obviously felt that he needed to present an unconcerned mien to the public whatever the difficulties he or his Government faced at the time. His predecessor but one, Harold Macmillan was less phlegmatic and more laconic. When asked what was the greatest challenge facing a statesman, he replied: “Events, dear boy, events.”

Consider, however, how much more frightening than a mere week must have been the predicament of “Los 33” at the start of their ordeal. In the end they were all safely rescued after 69 days but 10 weeks must have seemed like an eternity to them at the outset and the original prediction that they would not be rescued until Christmas must have caused an agony of despair unknown to a politician.

I must confess I did not give much for their chances on the August day when the news first broke that they had been trapped but, as we all now know, they were eventually released from their underground prison and Chile is rightly in a mood of national celebration.

Mercifully, the miners appear to be none the worse for their ordeal apart from the need to wear wrap around sunglasses which may well be more fashionable in Chile than in the UK but are clearly necessary in a country where the sun shines at least occasionally, unlike here!

Los 33 ( did you know that where we say “cheese” when we want someone to smile in a photograph, the Spanish say “treinte y tres” or 33? Try it and see! It is impossible to say without a smile!) whether smiling or not, will have to get used to living with their families again which will doubtless have its problems not least for the miner who was met at the pithead by his mistress rather than his wife who had only found out about the existence of the other woman while her husband was incarcerated underground!

The world probably looks different to the miners to what it did when they started their shift on 5th August. Since then we have seen:

  • The collapse of law firm Halliwells.
  • England beating Pakistan and Australia losing to India with the “old enemy” slipping below England in the world rankings for the first time since the current system was introduced in 2003.
  • The introduction of the new Practice Direction 31B dealing with electronic documents in multi-track cases.
  • Continued discussion about the merits of legal process outsourcing.
  • The start of a new debate about the whole area of legal training with even the usefulness of the training contract itself being called into question.

Now I would love to spend more time on the cricketing story but I fear that my editor will not allow me to say more than that former Australian bowler Ashley Mallett is predicting that England will retain the Ashes easily and Geoff Lawson and Shane Warne have both questioned Ponting’s tactics in the latest India match and his suitability to continue as captain. I fully expect my Antipodean readers to respond that this is all a bluff to wind up the Poms, but before my editor or my Aussie MD call time on these musings, I must move on!

While the thoughts of the Chilean people are focused on the rescued miners, the thoughts of legal commentators have recently been trained on two aspects of legal life in this country which both have some bearing on our industry and in particular the connection between the lawyers trying to come to terms with new technology and new rules for dealing with such cases and the difficulties which, according to our recently conducted survey, lawyers perceive with the issue of outsourcing.

I understand the huge difference between multi-million pound deals whereby law firms outsource to India the whole or part of their back office function over a period of 3 to 5 years and the regular but still occasional use of LPOs for legal review in particular cases. The headlines for the former are there for all to see, (for example Rio Tinto outsourcing to CPA Global not only part of its legal work but ultimately its General Counsel, Leah Cooper, or CMS Cameron McKenna’s recent deal with Integreon) whereas there is little mention of the latter.

Legal Week of October 14th carried an article called “Inside the Revolution” where author Anthony Lin’s byline read that the LPO industry in India continues to grow, “but not as fast as its cheerleaders hope or its detractors fear.”  LPOs still only account for a small fraction of corporate legal spend and CMS Cameron McKenna’s £500 million deal involved no billable work at all!  [Inside the Revolution, Legal Week, 14th October, 2010 (subscription section)]

The article went on to claim that the LPO industry includes a number of different business models but that the one most familiar to US lawyers-“the use of cheaper Indian lawyers to handle document review and other routine litigation tasks- is not necessarily the most widespread or fastest growing.”

Unlike Integreon, Pangea3 focuses on lawyers’ work such as document review for litigation and due diligence and Lin quotes Pangea’s Sanjay Kamlani as saying that few others have copied them apart from the likes of Quislex, Mindcrest and UnitedLex.

Whatever the position on the ground, the jury appears still to be out! If I were an aspiring lawyer today, I would have real concerns about LPOs effectively removing from law firms the opportunity for their trainees and more junior lawyers to learn about the litigation process. If I were still a partner in a law firm I would worry about that too, as well as about the other apparent disadvantages of outsourcing about which I have written before [e.g. You are only Jong 1200 times, 9th July, etc]

Whoever is right, the clients still need legal review done swiftly, cost effectively and well. The model may be to outsource this process to India and elsewhere and it may be to continue doing it in house at the law firms provided that up to date modern technology is used sensibly and strategically bearing in mind the costs savings which can be made today over previous approaches to this problem.

The Times carried an article (also on October 14th) asking “Has the training contract had its day?” Doubts have surfaced about the efficacy of the current training arrangements for lawyers and the numbers of trainees is falling. This is at least partly due to the recession/credit crunch and I was told by one young lawyer the other day that despite a decent degree from a decent university and a commendation in the LPC, the best offer was for a training contract in 2013! While this may be an isolated example, it would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

So where is this all going? I am not clairvoyant but I think that we may be able to square this particularly difficult circle. We are currently looking at recruiting interns who will have passed the LPC or its equivalent but who, for one reason or another, have had their training contract deferred or where they are for other perfectly good reasons not ready to take one up just yet. With the right people we believe we can offer law firms the best of both worlds. We will be able to offer very cost effective outsourcing of, say, legal review, on their doorsteps and under their instruction without all the disadvantages of outsourcing to another jurisdiction or another time zone, while at the same time offering the interns training in the litigation process and making them knowledgeable about the sort of work they will ultimately have to do when they take up their training contracts.

I will keep you informed as to progress on this front but that optimistic prospect leads me to conclude that not all is doom and gloom in the world of e-disclosure. Far from it! I am confident that this will prove to be a success because those to whom we have spoken about the new service have been enthusiastic about it. Coupled with some of our current offerings including Nuix 3, Equivio Relevance and Index Engines, we are confident that there is every reason to be optimistic about the future.

So much so, that with our 15th anniversary looming, we are planning to celebrate with clients and friends on Guy Fawkes’ Night with drinks and eats, a fashion show, a tasteful girly show and, of course, fireworks. If you have not yet secured an invitation, and when I last checked they were going like hot cakes, you will have to contain your impatience and wait for the doubtless sensational report following the event from our very own roving reporter, Bridie Sheldon.

Finally, back to the miners! Did you know that Robert Peston, the BBC’s economics editor, may well not be able to attend the G20 summit next month? I have heard it said that the BBC sent so many people to accompany reporter Matt Frei to Chile that they have no money to send poor Mr Peston to report on the economic summit. They will just have to find another deputy director on £400,000 plus of licence payers’ money and ask him/her to pay for the flights!

Alternatively, perhaps the BBC should outsource their reporting on this occasion!

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