“Be engaged, interested in what others have to say. It’s more important to listen than to speak.”
I had the opportunity to discuss legal outsourcing with Colin Levy, who embodies the skills and mindset of the modern T-shaped legal professional.
Colin and I work on opposite ends of the spectrum: he’s an attorney who’s experienced first-hand how outsourcing to an ALSP can impact his career and place of employment. In contrast, I have expertise in helping law firms find and work with ALSPs. When law firms or legal departments choose to outsource to ALSPs, often, no jobs are lost. However, sometimes an ALSP can replace certain functions. I thought it would be interesting to hear one attorney’s perspective on whether ALSPs are a threat to attorney job security in the legal industry.
Below are notes from our discussion.
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Yvonne: Colin, please tell me a little about your background as an attorney.
Colin: When I graduated from law school in 2010, it took me 1.5 years to find my first role. The Great Recession was on, plus I wanted to look for something in-house. Sometimes we underestimate the amount of resiliency we have and the amount of determination we can put to use when we really and truly want something.
As a fresh law grad, I had to cobble together several legal experiences—all of them pretty unglamorous—to build a credible case for my first in-house role. Eventually, all those experiences started to add up. Fast forward. I have been a lawyer for over a decade.
One company that I worked for during that span of time let me go due to the pandemic. Then, something similar happened in my next role. So I have a lot of experience searching out and finding new opportunities.
Yvonne: Did these layoffs and the pandemic inspire you to stop and question whether you were merely following some default career path up until that point?
Colin: Yes. And I shifted course as a result. 2020’s challenges helped me refocus on what it is that I love to do and why I love to do what I do. The questions I continually asked myself were questions like, “What motivates me?” and “Why are you looking for this kind of opportunity or role?”
It’s been an unexpected journey, but I would say most of my career has been an unexpected journey. I realized I’ve been doing the same thing year after year. It became a bit boring; the intellectual challenge was dissipating.
Losing my job was kind of a sign that I needed to change things up. My husband tells me to listen to the universe when it’s trying to tell me something. If my gut or something is pointing me in a certain direction, I’ve learned to go with it. That’s not always easy for me, given that I am fairly structured and I like my routines. Haha, I suspect this describes many lawyers.
Yvonne: Gut feelings come from the enteric nervous system, which is a network of neurons in the gastrointestinal tract that’s been likened to a second brain. While some people are quick to dismiss gut feelings as hooey, these feelings can signal that we are in a potentially harmful situation. My point: maybe it’s worth paying attention to our gut feelings.
But I digress. Let’s get back to your experience. Since your job security was immediately and negatively affected by outsourcing, what is your opinion of outsourcing in the legal industry?
Colin: In one instance, Yvonne, a past employer, tried to outsource my job after letting me go. In addition, I have been at companies where legal departments outsourced certain functions. I understood their business rationale. I’m not against it. Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons: to be more productive, and not solely to save costs.
Yvonne: I agree with you, Colin. To have a compelling case for outsourcing—i.e., for reconfiguring the supply chain of legal work—there need to be value propositions above and beyond cost savings. But why did you say that?
Colin: Because with any big decision, it’s important to make sure it makes business sense. Turn to data analytics to see what story’s being told. Also understand, if you’re outsourcing, using an ALSP, you have to understand what is their strong suit. They may be very good at doing one thing, but that may not be all you need. Also, ensure they work the way you work: look for alignment of service delivery standards.
Yvonne: Which functions have you seen outsourced where it worked well?
Colin: I’ve seen people go with an outsourced service provider. They’re doing a fine job, the work is getting done, but watch because maybe it’s not coming together as expected—for example, the quality or timing is off. An ALSP can’t come in with a cookie-cutter approach. The onboarding requires some hand-holding and guidance to get to know folks you are working with people on a personal, not just a professional level. In these [more successful] cases, the ALSPs are hands-on from the get-go. That kind of collaboration shouldn’t be underestimated.
Yvonne: Indeed, the objective is to do things in a way that effectively increases value to stakeholders, but to get there, it’s important to actually trust and like the people you are working with along the way. Trust is critical whether you are collaborating with colleagues in the same office, five miles away, or 500 miles away.
Colin: I totally agree. The pandemic has made me question things I take for granted, like in-person connections. We’ve learned there are ways to keep that connectivity, platforms like Zoom, having conversations that aren’t just work-related. We are all humans. We’re all in this together. Although I have a reputation for knowing a lot about technology and innovation, none of it works without excellent workplace relationships.
Yvonne: Maybe losing your job was a blessing in disguise?
Colin: Yeah, I totally agree with that. Absolutely.
Yvonne: How did you determine what your next step should be?
Colin: Great question. I did what I’ve always done. I had many conversations with people in the industry. I was really transparent about my situation and what I was seeking. Then I saw what happened from there. When it comes to looking for a job, we can’t force anything. It has to be an organic process.
Yvonne: As Alan Watts would say, “Wu Wei.” Do not force or go against the grain. Work with it.
Colin: Yes. Be engaged, interested in what others have to say. It’s more important to listen than to speak.
Yvonne: That prompts yet another quote: “You were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason” — Epictetus.
Speaking of listening, I’d like to hear your perspective on this. When it comes to telling employees their jobs are going to be outsourced, what advice would you have for employers regarding their messaging?
Colin: Be open about what’s going on, be honest. Let them know how the department made the decision. Deliver it with a degree of emotional intelligence. Be empathetic, allow the employee to share their feelings, and vent some. Don’t be transactional about it. Try to make it on good terms.
Yvonne: Ideally, on good terms, yes. For instance, the employer can help that person land their next job or present them with opportunities to upskill and network. In that way, employers carry some of the onus for successful employee transitions. More generally, though, how can people proactively prepare to build a career in an industry that is increasingly outsourcing various functions?
Colin: Two things. First, talk to friends and get their perspectives. In particular, looking outside of our legal industry can help you see things you otherwise wouldn’t see. If you have a sense of where you want to be going, look for ways to learn more about that space. Talk to people in that space who are willing to chat with you, and learn about ways you can upskill.
Second, quite frankly, give yourself time to settle and refocus. Sometimes we rush too much and leap to the next thing which may not be better.
Yvonne: After much reflection and consideration of the various opportunities in the market, it seems you’ve finally chosen your next role. Where have you landed, Colin?
Colin: I am proud and honored to say that I am now Director of Legal and Evangelist for Malbek, a leading contract lifecycle management company. Contracting is a space near and dear to me and one that I have lived in for a long time as both a lawyer and a legal tech advocate. I am thrilled to now have combined my passion for contracting with my passion for legal tech in one awesome and unique role.