The College of Law takes a look at the changing nature of the legal industry in Australia.

The College of Law, 2014, "They Took Our Jobs" - Outsourcing and the Law in Australia [Online] Sydney, College of Law. Available:

There was a time when the term “outsourcing” was reserved for call centres and manufacturing. However, with the Information Age well into its maturity, more and more white collar services are being taken offsite – or, in some cases, offshore.

While the relationship between technology and the law has yielded both benefits and challenges, the outsourcing of legal services is posing an ever-growing threat to the way in which law is practised in Australia. And, as has increasingly been the case over the last several years, it’s the new lawyers who are likely to feel the burn.

From an economic perspective, the trend makes sense enough: firms are looking to cut costs, and advances in technology have permitted flexible workforces in low-cost jurisdictions to conduct more menial tasks. Examples over the last few years alone have been myriad. In 2011, top-tier firm Herbert Smith Freehills established a wholly owned centre in Belfast to handle its document management and review at a fraction of the cost. Similarly, international outsourcing firm Elevate is in the process of establishing an Australia-based centre to handle the legal work of several firms. According to The Australian, Elevate intends to use its centre to handle outsourced legal work that is too sensitive to be sent to the company’s offshore operations at Gurgaon in the Indian state of Haryana.

Elevate’s managing director for Australia and the Asia-Pacific James Odell said the increase in legal process outsourcing (LPO) is “not primarily about saving costs.”

“It’s about increasing flexibility while maintaining, or even increasing, quality,” he said.

“For example, with document review (at traditional law firms), junior lawyers will typically do that on their way through. That is the traditional career path.

“We have many very qualified lawyers in India, and soon (we’ll have) in The Philippines, who have been doing this as their career for 10-15 years – these are professionals in a space that, in the traditional model, is treated as a pass-through task.”

This has created a backlash for many lawyers who are starting their careers. With document review tasks sent offsite, the pool of potential work has dried up, leaving fewer work opportunities for young and hungry lawyers.

Australian law students have become increasingly aware of the shift. Last year, the Australian Law Students’ Association was calling for a review of how law firms use cheap offshore labour for routine advice work.

“ALSA is concerned about the current industry trend towards LPO and the potential ramifications for the job prospects of graduating law students,” it said.

“The effect of LPO on law graduates is that a proportion of the work that was historically done by legal clerks, paralegals, and entry-level lawyers will no longer be available. If this trend were to continue in Australia, this could add a concerning level of pressure to the already tight legal graduate market.”

However, many experts claim the disruption posed by LPO is an inevitability which should be embraced. Canadian barrister, author and legal futurist Mitch Kowalski said more low-end jobs will continue to be outsourced to LPO centres in South Africa, the Philippines, and India, which will result in fewer conventional opportunities for graduates entering the profession.

“The old model of delivering legal services is at the end of its natural life cycle,’’ Mr Kowalski said.” ‘It has served us well for 100 years and now it doesn’t.”

Regardless of whether these predictions are as dire as they appear, there can be no doubt that LPO will continue to change the profession. Perhaps the answer for future generations of lawyers is to follow in the footsteps of these LPO providers and reap new opportunities from the seeds of technological growth.