As with most ideas that seem a little far fetched, there are 10 naysayers to one keener – I met a keener yesterday talking about my column on legal outsourcing. He is a non-practicing lawyer but said he has been thinking for several years about how New Brunswick lawyers could take on more national work.
As we chatted, I realized the main problem is the lack of a champion to move the idea forward. In general, lawyers aren’t particularly good at business development (except the guys on the billboards) and stepping beyond that into the realm of trying to generate national or international business is virtually impossible.
There needs to be someone or some organization to test concepts such as this. Industry associations or professional groups acting on behalf of the whole might be a good conduit.
For legal outsourcing, someone needs to determine if there is an actual business case. They need to look at what India is doing, look at the model, the types of work being done, the rates being charged, all other aspects – and see if these is a business case (my friend believes there would be). Then someone needs to aggressively sell this concept to potential clients be they large law firms or their large clients who are tired of paying $500/hour for basic legal tasks (at least that is the NYC rate).
This could be done by one of the larger law firms in NB but that is not the ideal conduit if we are looking at a broader economic development opportunity. Plus, the big firms may want to charge their fully burdened hourly rates and may not be able to generate a business case. Someone has to figure out if there is a way to make money on volume, relatively repetitive legal tasks at $100-$125/hour.
Beyond legal outsourcing, I’d like to see a wide variety of industry associations/groups stepping up with ideas. Think about other professional services, ICT, manufacturing, forestry, mining – whatever – they look at what are the big trends in their industry and use their expert knowledge to help government and economic development organizations figure out how that could be translated into opportunity here.
The problem is that we have for the most part either weak or non-existent industry associations and the ones we have are focused on a narrow set of challenges facing their current client base – not on opportunities for growth.
Imagine, for example, an industry association in New Brunswick – say the aerospace and defence group (does that still exist?) – developing a business case for attracting aerospace firms to New Brunswick. I talked a couple of years ago to a major supplier to the industry (based in NB) and he said it would do wonders for the industry to have one or more of the majors physically located here – but……
I know ACOA was gungho to support the growth of industry associations (under the capacity building theory) 15-20 years ago or so but they all but gave up on this after this it only led to more golf tournaments and industry directories.
For industry associations to be attractive, they need to be helping us figure out growth opportunities. Theoretically, no one should be more plugged into trends and opportunities than the people working directly in the industries.
I think it’s worth taking another stab at the industry association/professional association route in New Brunswick as a conduit to help identify and flesh out economic development opportunities. But the associations have to be able to take of their firm-level hats and put on an industry-level hat.