Monday, November 10, 2008

Outsourcing the law to India

By Chris Morris
BBC News, Delhi

Lawyers working outdoors in India
Traditional legal work may no longer be attracting the brightest and the best

When you think of out-sourcing to India, you tend to think of call centres and credit card help-lines and rows and rows of young people at computer terminals, carrying out the back office work of banks and financial institutions.

But the outsourcing industry is changing. It's becoming more sophisticated and is attracting more people with the very best educational qualifications, including those in the legal profession.

"In my final year of law school I made up my mind," says Divya Kohli, manager of legal support services at CPA India, one of the biggest legal out-sourcing companies in the country.

"I wanted to go into a new industry which had a lot of opportunities for a young lawyer."

'Recession benefits'

Tens of thousands of lawyers graduate in India every year and an increasing number are now taking on work from around the world, as companies look to cut costs wherever they can.

"Yes, we expect to benefit from the recession," says Matthew Banks who works in Mumbai for Integreon, a company engaged by the British legal firm Clifford Chance to help set up facilities in India.

Inder Dugal, CPA
Companies abroad are looking at (out-sourcing) as an extension of their organisation
CPA Vice President of Operations Inder Dugal

Mr Banks says more and more legal work will be pushed in India's direction as bad economic news in Europe and the United States begins to bite. Legal work can be done here for a fraction of the cost.

"But," he adds, "no matter how much money (companies) may be saving, even if they're going to save 50%, it's going to be a false economy if the work isn't up to scratch."

So quality is critical and the interest of global companies and legal firms suggests that - most of the time - the quality is first class.

That's partly because out-sourcing companies offer young Indian law graduates more money than they could earn working for a traditional law firm.

Even so, at the law campus of Delhi University students are split on whether it's a good career move.

"They pay you well," says one, "but the work is quite monotonous."

"I think it's going to take off very well in India," says another. "We're pretty good at providing services."

'Moving fast'

The head of the law faculty, Professor SN Singh, points out that the Indian legal system has plenty in common with the English and American systems, and that is another built-in advantage for India.

Is this a growth area in the future?

Law students at delhi University
Students say outsourcing may be boring, but it's lucrative

"Definitely," he says. "It's moving fast."

Across the Yamuna river from Delhi, in one of the satellite cities growing up around the Indian capital, the offices of CPA India can be found in a half-built commercial neighbourhood of glass and concrete.

It's a long way from the chaotic scenes often found at municipal court complexes, where lawyers sit under awnings hawking for business.

This is where a new generation of young lawyers are integrating with the global economy - working on intellectual property, contracts and even litigation cases.

And all the work they do is carefully costed in advance, with huge savings for companies in more expensive markets.

"Those kinds of efficiencies we have down to a science," says Inder Dugal, the Vice President of Operations at CPA.

"They (companies abroad) are looking at it as an extension of their organisation," he says. "It's a partnership and a long term strategy, not a short term 'help me reduce my costs right now' strategy."

And all this is happening in a country where tens of millions of legal cases are pending before the courts. India's creaking legal system probably needs all the lawyers it can get.

But outsourcing is attracting growing numbers to tackle legal issues from way beyond these shores.

During his presidential election campaign in the United States, Barack Obama warned of the dangers of out-sourcing jobs to countries like India.

So the former law professor may not be too pleased to find out that the legal community is far from immune to the outsourcing phenomenon.


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