The ins and outs of insourcing legal work

This fall, Torys is launching a “legal services centre” in Halifax, where a team of six lawyers will support files — by performing document review and writing contracts — from Toronto at reduced rates on fixed fees, says Chris Fowles, a Torys partner who’s moving to Halifax to oversee the new location. Lawyers in Halifax will charge clients less money than their Toronto counterparts, he says, because of the cheaper overhead in Atlantic Canada, plus they’ll be using technology to be more efficient. And, by keeping the office in the country, rather than moving abroad, Fowles says the firm can keep a close watch on the quality of the work.

Meanwhile, global behemoth Baker & McKenzie has built an insourcing empire — with a flagship office in Manila that employs more than 500 secretaries, translators, marketing and financial analysts, staff lawyers and support staff. Kevin Coon, managing partner of Baker & McKenzie in Canada, admits that a Halifax office would have its benefits — it’s a short flight from Toronto and the lawyers would likely be from known Canadian law schools.Canadian and Filipino flags

But, in his experience, sending work — which could be almost anything, including document review of entire files — to a staff lawyer in the Philippines or to an associate down the hall presents the same problem: “I still have to check the quality of that work before I send it to a client.” When it comes to quality control, he argues, the location of the lawyer is irrelevant.

For more on how to make your firm more efficient, read our roundtable, where six big-name lawyers gave us their take on how to make law better.

Icon by Isabel Foo

Torys to open a Halifax office, where lawyers will be off the partnership track

Historically, when lawyers joined a top-tier firm, they knew the deal: work hard, find clients and you’ll make partner — but if you don’t get there after a certain number of years, you have to leave.

These days, however, some firms are creating alternatives to the so-called up-or-out model.

Consider the approach of Torys LLP. In the fall, the Bay Street firm will open a small office in Halifax, and from day one every lawyer — Torys expects to start with a staff of around six — will know that partnership is not in their future. But, unlike their big-city counterparts, those lawyers won’t be responsible for bringing in new business.

“It won’t appeal to someone who wants to move up the ranks in the traditional law firm way,” says Chris Fowles, a partner at Torys who is moving to Halifax to head up the office. But he hopes it will attract talented lawyers who would rather focus on the practice of law, rather than building a client base.

And, in Halifiax, they can do just that.

At the new location, which is part of Torys’ broader strategy to cut costs, lawyers will provide legal services — such as contract writing and due diligence — to clients across the country at reduced rates, taking advantage of the low overhead in Atlantic Canada. “Most of the work will come from Toronto,” says Fowles. In other words, Torys isn’t moving to Halifax to find clients — they’re going there to get work done.

As a result, there could be an opportunity for more work-life balance. “They’re still going to be working regular business hours,” says Fowles. “But they won’t have the same cocktail party duties they might otherwise feel they’d have to do if they were on the partnership track.”

Fowles says plenty of firms are making an effort to accommodate lawyers with less traditional career goals. “Generally speaking,” he explains, “law firms — even in Toronto — are starting to move away from the up-or-out model.”

Read more: After the collapse of Heenan Blaikie LLP, founding partner Peter Blaikie told Precedent that, in fact, there are many partners who would prefer to be senior associates.

Photo by Chaf Haddad