The Connecticut Law Tribune reports today that Connecticut state Rep. Patricia Dillon has introduced a bill designed to prevent companies from offshoring the drafting, reviewing or analyzing of legal documents to unlicensed workers overseas.
The bill (HB 5083) amends Connecticut Gen. Stat. §51-88 “to provide that the practice of law includes (1) drafting, reviewing or analyzing legal documents for clients in this state, and (2) researching and analyzing the law of this state and advising clients in this state of the status of such law, and that any person who has not been admitted as an attorney in this state who performs such activities commits the offense of the unauthorized practice of law.” The statement of purpose contained in the bill itself explains that the bill is intended “[t]o provide that outsourcing of legal document review to non-attorneys constitutes the unauthorized practice of law.” (Emphasis supplied). This sloppily-drafted bill (“legal document review” is a completely different animal than drafting legal documents or conducting legal research, which are also encompassed by the bill’s language) ignores the substantial body of principled analysis of the issues surrounding legal outsourcing in favor of facile protectionism that won’t cure the legal profession’s real ills.
HB 5083 is Inconsistent with the Unanimous Acceptance of Outsourcing by Ethics Authorities Outside Connecticut
Although the Connecticut Bar Association hasn’t issued any ethics opinions directly addressing outsourcing, many other jurisdictions have. None of these jurisdictions have found that an independent contractor’s performance of legal work, under the supervision of a hiring attorney, constitutes the practice of law. Because the sections of Connecticut’s Rules of Professional Conduct (pdf) that are relevant to outsourcing (Rules 1.1, 1.2(a), 1.4, 5.1, 5.3, 5.5 and 7.5(d)) are substantially identical to the corresponding sections of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, there is no reason to believe that an opinion by the Connecticut Bar Association’s Professional Ethics Committee would deviate in any substantial respect from ABA Formal Op. 08-451 (pdf) (and the numerous ethics opinions from other jurisdictions that address outsourcing).
Dillon’s ignorance of the ethics of legal outsourcing is painfully obvious. For example, she claims that “…some legal work is being done abroad with no quality oversight.” While I have warned (here, here and here) that hiring attorneys need to be particularly attentive to the danger of receiving poor-quality work product from foreign LPOs, that is a danger to the hiring attorney, as it is the hiring attorney’s ultimate ethical responsibility to provide “quality oversight.”
Additionally, according to her website, “Rep. Dillon is also considering adding a provision to the bill that would require disclosure of who provided the legal work and where it was done.” This is already required under Conn. R. Prof. Resp. 1.2(a), 1.4 and 7.5(d). See ABA Op. 08-451 (discussing disclosure requirements in light of corresponding sections of Model Rules).
HB 5083 Doesn’t Address the Real Issues Faced by Unemployed Connecticut Lawyers
Rep. Dillon says that HB 5083 is intended to protect Connecticut legal jobs. However, the vast majority of U.S. legal jobs that have disappeared in the last few years were lost due to the poor economy, not because the firms that aren’t hiring (or that eliminated positions) sent legal work offshore. Protectionism won’t bring those jobs back, nor will it reverse the trend in all segments of the domestic economy to a more contingent workforce (another development often bemoaned by the same people who support protectionism). It’s not going to stem the rising tide of law school applications, or the rising number of law schools (including a potential new one in Rep. Dillon’s own New Haven backyard) churning out more and more JDs. And it’s not going to rein in ever-increasing law school tuition, or law students’ ever-increasing debt burden.