Legal process outsourcing (LPO) could put the training and development of young lawyers at risk, according to Law Council of Australia (LCA) president Alexander Ward.
Highlighting that the LCA has not yet formed an opinion on LPO in Australia, Ward told Lawyers Weekly of his concern that LPO, while it makes business sense, could pose a threat to the development of the country's young lawyers.
"My personal opinion is that I'm uneasy about it. I can certainly see the sense of it from a commercial point of view. My worry would be the work that is normally done by younger people is not done here," said Ward.
"If it's getting someone to do transcription services [much] cheaper, then of course it's a sensible thing to do, because that's not going to be the work of the young lawyers anyway. But if it's to the extent to which it's actually legal work, even if it's low level, then that would be of more concern to me."
While LPO has, for a number of years, been at the hub of developments regarding the delivery of legal services internationally, many Australian law firms have stood by and watched, reluctant to jump on the LPO bandwagon.
But for consultant and former chief executive of Middletons John Chisholm, LPO is something the Australian industry can't afford to ignore. And to those firms that do disregard it, "do so at your own peril", he says.
"There is an element of work that is commoditised. I don't like the word but it happens. Get used to it and learn to deal with it," says Chisholm. "Those firms that are embracing it and acknowledging it will do really well. But for the firms pretending it's not happening ... or that there's no benefit to it, then good luck."
In response to concerns about the effect outsourcing agreements will have on the recruitment and retention of young lawyers, Chisholm says the "smarter firms" will give their young lawyers "much more interesting work" instead of "mind-numbing discovery".
"Firms are embracing LPO much more now. Mallesons and many other firms are doing it," he says.
In October, Mallesons Stephen Jaques made the big announcement that it will be using 200 trained lawyers in India for legal work after signing an LPO contract.
Following in Mallesons' footsteps, Blake Dawson announced last week it had signed an agreement with LPO provider Exigent.
*See our cover story in this week's issue of Lawyers Weekly (out this Friday) for more in-depth coverage of the impact of legal process outsourcing.