Many law firms and corporate legal departments engage lawyers or nonlawyers, as independent contractors, directly or through placement agencies, to provide certain legal and nonlegal support services. Such outsourcing of legal work can occur on a temporary or ongoing basis. Commonly outsourced tasks include document management, information technology services, legal research services, or even document review by temporary lawyers. The challenge for an outsourcing organization is ensuring that tasks are delegated to individuals who are capable of performing them, and overseeing proper execution of the client project. Among other things, consideration must be given to several ethical issues whenever a law firm or legal department chooses to outsource tasks:

  • Competence - A lawyer may outsource legal or nonlegal support services provided the lawyer remains ultimately responsible for rendering competent legal services to the client.1
  • Supervision - A lawyer who engages lawyers or nonlawyers to provide outsourced services must make reasonable efforts to ensure that the conduct of the lawyers or nonlawyers to whom tasks are outsourced is compatible with professional obligations as a lawyer with “direct supervisory authority” over them.2
  • Client Consent and Protection of Confidences – Proper disclosures must be made to the client regarding the use of lawyers or nonlawyers outside of the lawyer’s firm, and client consent must be obtained if those lawyers or nonlawyers will be receiving confidential information.3
  • Reasonable Fees and Expenses - The fees and expenses charged for the outsourced services must be reasonable and otherwise in compliance with ethical rules.4
  • Unauthorized Practice of Law - The outsourcing law firm or department must ensure that engaged outsourced lawyers are in good standing with the bar and that outsourced nonlawyers do not engage in the unauthorized practice of law.5