These summaries were prepared by McGuireWoods LLP lawyer Thomas E. Spahn. They are based on the letter opinions issued by the Virginia State Bar. Any editorial comments reflect Mr. Spahn's current personal views, and not the opinions of the Virginia State Bar, McGuireWoods or its clients. 
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LEO NumTopicsSummary

8-Bills and Fees

28-Law Firm Staff

45-Law Firms - Miscellaneous

50-Lawyer-Owned Businesses

Lawyers may outsource "legal or non-legal support" services as long as they bear various ethics requirements in mind -- mentioning outsourcing to foreign lawyers as only one example of outsourcing, along with "the use of a local photocopy shop" to copy documents, retaining a "document management company" in litigation, using third party vendors "to provide and maintain a law firm's computer system" and reliance on a "legal research service" to conduct research. Lawyers arranging for such outsourcing must ultimately assure competent service by anyone assisting in the lawyer's work for the client. Lawyers' duties under ABA Model Rule 5.1 and 5.3 "apply regardless of whether the other lawyer or the nonlawyer is directly affiliated with the supervising lawyer's firm" -- despite the reference to "a firm" in ABA Model Rule 5.1 Comment [1]. Lawyers arranging for the outsourcing must adequately investigate the people who will be conducting the outsourced work (including even such issues of confidentiality as "recycling and refuse disposal procedures." Lawyers arranging for overseas outsourcing should assess such issues as: the foreign lawyers' legal training and dedication to "core ethical principles" similar to U.S. lawyers, the possibility of confidential materials being seized in "judicial or administrative proceeding" and other threats to confidentiality. Lawyers arranging for outsourcing may have to alert their clients, if the outsourcing services will be performed independently of the lawyer (referring to ABA LEO 356, which deals with temporary lawyers). Because "ordinarily" the lawyer will not exercise a "high degree of supervision and control" over the work that is being performed, the lawyer generally will have to provide notice to their clients. Lawyers providing confidential client information to a third party may do so only with the client's consent, and the "implied authorization" to reveal client confidences in performing legal services "does not extend to outside entities or to individuals over whom the firm lacks effective supervision and control." Lawyers must be very careful to assure confidentiality, and "[w]ritten confidentiality agreements are . . . strongly advisable in outsourcing relationships." In fulfilling their duty to "minimize the risk of potentially wrongful disclosure," lawyers arranging for the outsourcing "should verify that the outside service provider does not also do work for adversaries of their clients on the same or substantially related matters." In charging fees for the outsourced work, lawyers should comply with the standards articulated in ABA LEO 420. Lawyers may generally add a surcharge to the cost paid to those performing outsourced work (without notice to the client), as long as the total fee is reasonable. Lawyers deciding to pass the cost along to the client as a disbursement may not mark up the cost, but may only bill the client the actual cost "plus a reasonable allocation of associated overhead, such as the amount the lawyers spent on any office space, support staff, equipment, and supplies for the individuals under contract." In the case of outsourced services, the overhead cost may include "a reasonable allocation of the cost of supervising those services if not otherwise covered by the fees being charged for legal services." Lawyers arranging for outsourcing must avoid assisting anyone in the unauthorized practice of law, although generally there should be no UPL problem if lawyers performing the outsourced work assist the lawyers (who remain ultimately responsible for the work) and do not hold themselves out as being admitted in the jurisdiction.

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn