Basic Terminology Used in Outsourcing

August 27, 2009

This post is for those new to outsourcing or those who have been perplexed by the myriad of terms used in discussions about outsourcing. I cover the basic terminology used, and note which terms can mean a few different things.


Outsourcing is having some outside third party perform functions that would usually be performed in house.  These functions are usually performed off-site.

IT outsourcing has been going on for many years, while business process outsourcing (BPO) is a more recent phenomena.  BPO often means outsourcing human resources and administrative work. Legal outsourcing, to the extent that it means contract work, has existed for many years, although certain types of legal outsourcing are more recently becoming popular (i.e., offshoring).

Legal outsourcing

Legal outsourcing usually involves hiring an outside attorney to work on some discrete portion of a case. A large firm may outsource all document review for discovery in a large case. An attorney in a solo or small law firm, on the other hand, is more likely to outsource a single motion, or a research issue, or even relations with a particular client.

Offshoring or Offshore Outsourcing

Offshoring is outsourcing to a different country. It is quite possible to outsource domestically, and in many instances this is the preferable choice. (I will discuss this more in a future post.) In a legal context, offshoring most often means sending work to India. Many big law firms are doing this now to get first-level document review done for a fraction of the cost.

Contract Attorney or Freelance Lawyer

The term “contract attorney” is used in two different ways. The first is to refer to domestic outsource attorneys such as myself. I am a licensed attorney that performs discrete legal projects for other attorneys on a contract basis, working solely off-site. You may hear “freelance lawyer” also used to describe this kind of contract attorney. (I’ve also heard contract lawyer and freelance attorney, although with less frequency.)

There is also another kind of “contract attorney” who works through legal temp agencies and is placed in semi-permanent (months-long) full-time assignments, in big law firms, usually doing document review. (My understanding is that a license to practice law is not always required, although a J.D. is.)

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