Legal offshoring will soon be Uberized

  • Subtitle: Practicing In-house
Written by  Posted Date: April 17, 2017
Legal offshoring will soon be UberizedMuch has been written lately in regard to in-house legal departments offshoring work to non-traditional legal providers, be they firms or individuals in countries where legal services are available inexpensively.

There are inherent risks in doing so, of course, not least of which is ensuring compliance with Canada’s provincial Law Society Rules of Professional Conduct pertaining to the delegation of legal work.

It is interesting for a second to try and transpose the Uber model, which (despite recent lawsuits and other challenges) has been widely successful to the world of legal offshoring to see whether the model could help navigate some of those inherent risks.

Delegation

The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Rules of Professional Conduct are specific in terms of the type of work that can and can’t be delegated.  An Uber app or database or offshore legal providers could carefully limit the type of work that is offshored by requiring that the work fall within a prescribed checklist.

Qualification of service providers

Uber carefully vets drivers and their vehicles. The same could apply to legal providers. Uber law could ensure that you are dealing with someone who can competently do the work, that they have experience in the relevant field and even review samples of work they have done.

Contractual terms

Your client should be aware that the work is being offshored. The service provider should be clear as to all expectations. A form of retainer agreement should be in place. Contractual terms would be standardized, perhaps signed digitally, or only agreed to once, when first downloading the app or accessing the database. Time would be saved by legal departments by standardizing on Uber law. There would be no need to negotiate a retainer agreement with each separate offshore legal provider.

Communicating expectations

A key challenge with offshoring is communication. An Uber law app would allow the parties to clearly communicate expectations in writing as to the scope of the work to be done, timing and deadline, deliverables and costs.

Costs

A key objective of offshoring is cost savings. An Uber law app would provide the parties with a tool for estimating those costs, as well as amending them as the mandate develops. Law firms are sometimes reticent to provide exact costs, preferring to provide a range based on a list of assumptions. The Uber law model forces the parties to agree on a cost or an estimate as well as provide flexibility for changes.  Often, with the traditional legal model, time is docketed in the heat of the moment and approval sought after the fact. The Uber law model would require that the work and its cost be approved before the fact.

Timing of delivery

An app could provide visibility as to how close the provider is to completing the mandate in the same way that the Uber Taxi app indicates how far away the driver is. The provider could be prompted daily to provide an update on when they expect to have the work completed.  

Insurance

Lastly, the Uber law model would help allay fears about whether the offshore provider has appropriate insurance coverage or any at all. LawPro does not provide insurance coverage for delegated work. Uber law could carry the necessary errors and omissions insurance in a blanket insurance policy or require that all service providers have the necessary coverage in place before bringing them on board.
 
Parting thought

Will we see an Uber law model applied to offshoring of legal services any time soon? My sense is that something of the sort will appear in the marketplace within the next year or two.

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Renato Pontello

Renato Pontello is legal counsel to Solantro Semiconductor Corp,.  He was formerly vice-president legal, general counsel and corporate secretary to Zarlink Semiconductor Inc. He can be reached at renatopontello@aol.com.

Column: Practising In-house

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