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The Posse List Reports on the State of Contract Lawyering

BigLaw attorneys have their own annual report in the form of The Am Law 100. But analysis of profits per partner and law firm revenues aren't much use for contract attorneys, who want to know where they can find the next document review gig and whether law firms will cut their rates or send more work overseas.

Now, thanks to this exhaustive study by Greg Bufithis of The Posse List, we can track emerging trends in the contract lawyer market for 2009. The first installment of the eventual five-part series offers some general observations on opportunities for contract lawyers:

Foreign Language, FCPA and Patents -- Foreign language document reviews continue to dominate the U.S. contract attorney market, especially in D.C., L.A. and New York, according to the report. Much of the foreign language document work is driven by the growing Foreign Corrupt Practices Act work at several large firms. In fact, yesterday's Blog of the Legal Times, citing a Wall Street Journal report, noted that the Department of Justice is cracking down on alleged acts of foreign bribery and is currently investigating 120 cases, up from 100 at the end of last year. A stream of international patent litigation also accounts for growth of foreign language document review.

Pharma and Bankruptcy -- Meanwhile, for those contract lawyers who lack foreign language skills, there's a wave of pharmaceutical litigation coming in both D.C. and New York. And while the rise of prepackaged bankruptcies has shortened bankruptcy review times, demand remains for per diem bankruptcy attorneys in the Midwest, South and West.

Europe and Asia -- For contract lawyers willing to travel, there's a large uptick in document review work in Europe and Asia, Bufitihis says. This is due to again to the FCPA and patent work, but also law firm/client use of “blocking statutes” and the emergence of sophisticated European e-discovery companies such as Outindex and Trilantic, and  Asia-based companies such as CCH Workflow Solutions, all of which are developing their document review capabilities.

Future of Offshoring -- Contract lawyers concerned about losing jobs to legal process outsourcing shops in India needn't worry for now. Fewer than three percent of law firms have had any experience with offshoring legal services. Though firms are under pressure to cut costs, data security and quality of work are two key deterrents to sending projects to India. Still, Bufithis notes that "off-shoring is not going away." It's moving toward a blended approach, with a first pass at review in India followed by second review in the United States.

Competition for Placement -- Interestingly, staffing agencies, which traditionally retained a lock on placing contract attorneys, are now facing competition from e-discovery companies that have moved into the market. As Bufithis points out:

[I]t makes much more sense to have the e-discovery companies also handle the “back end” -- the review itself -- since the evolution of the technology makes it a natural progression. Why use two vendors when you can use one? This has impacted the contract attorney job market as more and more e-discovery companies and vendors build out staffing relationships or staffing units such as Merrill Brink and Catalyst.

Bufithis covers several more issues, so you should take a look at his entire post and watch for his future installments. In the meantime, what observations do you have about the contract lawyer market and do you agree with the The Posse List's assessments?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on May 27, 2009 at 09:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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