In-Sourcing Professional Services: The Rust Belt's Future?

Again the orbits of my several professional and blogging lives converge:  The New York Times has a long feature this morning on global law firms that are "in-sourcing" some of the services they provide to Wheeling, WV and Dayton, OH, locating non-partnership-track lawyers there and paying them a fraction of what their high-end partnership-track colleagues are making in glamour cities like New York and Washington, DC.

Here's the full Times piece.

The trend, if we can call it that, has several upsides:  Underemployed lawyers have access to decent jobs in communities that are pleasant and affordable.  Regional law schools (Pittsburgh has two, Morgantown has one, Cleveland has two) can look to a job market that is in many ways more attractive than the "BigLaw" firms that occupy prime real estate Downtown.  [More attractive because those BigLaw firms hire from a national pool, including elite schools, not just locally.]  Clients of these firms have access to high-level legal services at more reasonable prices.  Low-cost communities looking for new business and a shot in the cultural arm can attract big companies (which may put underused office or warehouse space back into circulation) and  younger families.  In a lot of ways, this looks like the law firm equivalent of the Return-to-Youngstown story of Revere Data.

It's difficult to predict what happens when Wheeling and Dayton spin themselves forward by several years.  Are the lawyers who took these gigs going to be satisfied with their professional choices?  With their geographic choices?  Will this lead to a longer term economic development benefit to those cities?  Or is this short term PR that benefits the firms and leaves the lawyers (and their families, and the cities) holding the bag?

Perhaps we'll see a partial migration of these folks, over time, back to the larger Rust Belt hubs.  Cleveland and Pittsburgh are are home to legacy global megabrands of the law, firms that are more apt to think of themselves as rivals of Orrick (which has its origins in San Francisco) and WilmerHale (Boston and DC), the firms profiled in the Times, than as competitors of the in-sourced /out-sourced staff in Wheeling and Dayton.

Which would mean, I suspect, that Orrick and WilmerHale may be training the next generation of low-cost competitors to Pittsburgh's biggest firms.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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