Will You be Outsourced?

We all to think we are 'special' and bring high value to our jobs. However, the past two years have made pretty much everyone (except maybe the Chinese) nervous about their prospects. Even lawyers are thinking about the possibility that they are not as 'special' as they once thought. In the words of one colleague, "The Guild has been broken."
A recent NY Times article on this issue helped bring my thoughts into focus on this topic, especially since my dang economics background keeps creeping into my brain. The article uses an admin worker in Florida to demonstrate how some US jobs are now obsolete. In a recent conversation with Greg, I had made a an eerily similar comment about how the Great Reset has accelerated the globalization trend of moving US jobs to cheaper labor sources, be they computers or foreign laborers.
The subject of the article states: "I know I'm good at this. So how the hell did I end up here?" This is one counter example, where "good enough" is no longer good enough or more specifically, no longer cost effective. Although this worker "can anticipate people's needs" technology has allowed people to anticipate their own needs - and do it better, faster, cheaper.
Adding 2 and 2 together - the legal profession is sailing in to the perfect storm of obsolescence. At the same time of accelerating change and a powerful recession - the guild has been broken. With the profession's tendency to lean on precedence for decision making, we are in for one seriously rough ride.
My advice: The people who figure out to make themselves obsolete will be the winners. Think on that one for a while.

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Steven B. Levy, Author of Legal Project Management: Control Costs, Meet Schedules, Manage Risks, and Maintain Sanity said...

China shouldn't get too comfortable. They're winning because they're cheap, not because they offer something special (other than a lot of people). The economics of outsourcing say wages will rise in China, and soon Freedonia or Gondwanaland will undercut the Chinese on price. China can delay it a while by pegging their currency to the dollar, but it will happen.

The margins of profit and error in a commodity business are very narrow.

As I've said before, offshore means "not within 100 miles of a US coast." Thus Bozeman MT is as offshore as Bangalore. If laws don't (yet) allow professional legal services to move to Bangalore, they're certainly welcome in Bozeman. Fewer jobs are "safe" than people suspect.

Act, or react. Acting is usually the better course.

Jason said...


Another good post. I'm trying to think how to make myself obsolete. It is a fantastic question, and one that we can carry over to any industry. I would encourage you to follow up with the thought because I'd love to know how you, Greg, and Lisa would answer the question.

VMaryAbraham said...

Toby -

Thanks for another thoughtful post. One additional strategy is to keep moving yourself up the food chain. If you're constantly delivering more and more value, you will be harder to replace. In a perfect world, your mundane tasks would be outsourced, leaving you with the creative challenge of finding more useful things to do with your time.

Is this too rosy a view?

- Mary

Anonymous said...

Also -- don't be a one trick pony. Be able to offer your institution a broad range of skils/talents/experiences. Never say: "That's not my job." Be willing to do things beyond what is in your job description. That way, when they are looking to lay off, they will realize that you are too valuable to let go.

Toby Brown said...

All 3 comments (thus far), but especially Mary's, remind me of my "go to" book on the economics of innovation. Geoffrey Moore has a book called "Crossing the Chasm." In it he describes 'core' versus 'context" functions of a business. Core aspects are those you start out with that over time tend to drift towards commodity status. Context is what you need to make the core aspects marketable. As time progresses, smart businesses drift towards context functions as this is where innovation occurs. You outsource the core ones as the margins on those decrease.

Mary's thought about moving towards the "creative challenge" is right in line with this thinking. And as such - not a rosy view.

My line about making yourself obsolete - that's the money shot. Drift towards the 'context' if you want to stay on top.


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