Why Do Attorneys Outsource Legal Work?

February 1, 2011

In this post, I explore the varied reasons attorneys choose to outsource discrete portions of their caseload.

Reduced Cost

Reduced cost is a common reason for attorneys to outsource legal work.  In the same way that a firm bills out a paralegal’s time at more than the firm pays the paralegal, it is permissible for an attorney to bill a contract attorney’s time with a reasonable surcharge.  (Says the ABA).  If a solo or small firm lawyer has a pleading to draft, they might give it to their contract attorney to complete at a mere half the rate they bill the client.   The hiring lawyer gets their pleading for minimal effort, and they profit.

The use of contract attorneys also allows solos to grow their business without hiring new associates.  One solo I know says he keeps enough work for about 1.25 attorneys.  By outsourcing the “.25” part, he assures that he has enough work for himself even in lean times.

For the big firms that are offshore outsourcing to India, rumor has it you can get Indian attorneys to do first level document review for about $10/hour.  It’s not hard to see why big law finds this too tempting an offer to resist.


An attorney may lack a specialized skill set necessary to deal with a current client’s new problem, or an issues that arises in an existing case.  This drives a need for a greater level of specialization.

An attorney’s core competencies are his or her most precious resource.  Hiring a contract attorney to outsource legal work to allows the practitioner to start a relationship with pre-set skills.  He can work on his core competencies rather than on developing new skills that he does not think he’ll need in the future.

I knew one litigator that felt a particular weakness in drafting post-trial motions or responses to them.  While she had an associate to dump them on, solos don’t, and small firm associates might already be too busy to pick up extra work.

Rapid Organizational Change

In times of rapid organizational change, outsourcing gives attorneys broader access to a skilled workforce.  For instance, if two solo or small law firms have merged, bringing up a host of internal issues which has taken a lot of time on the part of attorneys who would usually be busy handling the caseload, this may be an appropriate time to seek outside help.  Similarly, a contract attorney can help ease the process of closing a firm due to personal or medical issues.

Emergency Circumstances

Another one of the common reasons that a practitioner will outsource legal work is time.  Time is the most expensive resource an attorney has.  If a litigator finds herself in the middle of a trial, and the opposition suddenly wants questionable evidence admitted, she might not have the time to go home and do four hours of research and drafting to properly oppose.  She may have other trial work to do, or she might simply not have the mental energy to draft a quality opposition and show up clear-headed the next morning.  In this circumstance, having a pre-existing relationship with a contract attorney that works on urgent assignments is critical.

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