A recent New York Times article suggests that law firms should worry about corporations outsourcing legal research. Is this right? 

Even Law Firms Join the Trend to Outsourcing (NYTimes, 1/13/06, $) by Jonathan D. Glater says of legal research outsourcing that the “development may be an ominous sign for the legal profession.” The Wall Street Journal Law Blog notes the Times article.

As a consultant (and former BigLaw employee), I focus on legal technology. But I follow outsourcing both for its overall legal business and technology implications.

I see no anecdotal data for Glater’s “development.” He describes LRN‘s network of professors who do research. In 1995, at my invitation, LRN founder and CEO Dov Seidman explained to a group of lawyers I organized his research business model. That group found it threatening.

To my knowledge, the threat did not materialize – I see no evidence of significant BigLaw revenue loss. And observing LRN over the years, I’ve noticed an apparent shift from research to compliance, which may say something about outsourced legal research as a business.

I think the real development is offshore legal research. (See, for example, the list of outsourced legal services that I co-maintain with the excited utterances blog.)

Only time will tell if offshore legal research has a bigger impact than onshore. The Times did report on legal offshoring in March 2004 so it was surprising and disappointing to see domestic outsourced legal research positioned as newsworthy or a development.