The current costly approach to e-discovery document review is not sustainable. I’ve often suggested that offshore lawyers are a cost reducing option. At last, we have a public instance of offshore review – and a big one. At the same time, we have new insight into the use of contract lawyers in BigLaw. So which will win – the offshore option or ongoing armies of costly contract lawyers? 

Let’s Offshore The Lawyers in Business Week (9/18/06) reports that DuPont is offshoring document review. It reports that on “the outskirts of Manila, 30 Filipino attorneys, including three who have passed U.S. bar exams, are seated elbow-to-elbow with 50 other staff at long tables crammed with PCs. Working in three shifts seven days a week, they read, analyze, and annotate digital images” of documents. DuPont hopes to save 40% to 60% by going offshore and “figures 70% of the labor in a typical insurance or liability case can be outsourced.” Moreover, “DuPont hopes it can slash the discovery process in insurance cases to three months from an average of 18 months.”

So finally, a public example of offshore document review. The article acknowledges that this is a test of sorts for DuPont and OfficeTiger, which provides the service. But now the way is paved for others to try, absent a problem.

At the same time, the cover story of the current issue of American Lawyer (Sep 2006) describes in detail how large US law firms increasingly rely on contract lawyers for document review. Temporary Solution reports that the sheer volume of electronic evidence requires armies of lawyers. Some points that stood out for me:
– The working condition of many contract lawyers is not good.
– Firms are turning a tidy profit on contract lawyers.
– BigLaw management is, at least in some instances, troubled by reliance on so many temps.
– Not all contract lawyers have passed the bar.
– Some firms have created (well, maybe re-established is a better word) a new lower class of lawyers for document review.

So, by chance, in the same week, two articles in two prominent publications describe two paths: onshore and offshore. In my next post, I propose how to decide which approach is better.