Legal Outsourcing: Another Billion Dollar Industry

Surging business

Virtually unheard 10 years ago, the term “outsourcing” has emerged as a phenomenon in the business of the present day world. It has become the backbone of Indian service sectors. In the last fiscal India earned $6.7 billion by providing services in software, technology and manufacturing outsourcing.

Now the BPO companies have turned their eyes on legal outsourcing. According to a study by the US-based Forester Research, the current annual value of legal outsourcing which is worth $80 million can rise up to $4 billion and can produce 79,000 jobs in India by 2015. National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) also projected that Legal Processing Outsourcing providers (LPOs) in India will soon rise up to $3-4 billion. This heralds the opening of new vistas for law professionals whose number is increasing incessantly.

According to Forrester Research report, “The benefit of the outsourcing companies in the US would translate into a cost saving of about 10-12 per cent. The potential of the Indian resources to absorb the increasing demand in legal outsourcing is because India enjoys the economic advantages of the wage difference and less perks and overheads.”

Nature of work

In the beginning the works which are being outsourced to India are “of secretarial nature and includes patent drafting, legal research, contract review and monitoring,” says Mr. Ravi Shankar S. of 21 st Century Law Firm. But it is set to expand with the enlarging knowledge of Indians regarding the foreign laws. Experts are hoping to receive high-end sophisticated contracts, which require a strong legal base of international standards.

Challenge ahead

The most important challenge to the newly-born sector is the need for Indian lawyers to pass US Bar exams, conflict of interest rules and data security. According to Mr. Ravi Shankar, “As far as qualifications of Indian lawyers regarding handling of foreign legal jobs are concerned, it should be pointed out that the nature of jobs at the lower level is almost the same. So no special qualification is needed to handle them.”

But notwithstanding the optimism prevalent in the legal business, there are a plenty of hurdles which can hamper the growth of this sector. For example the Indian Advocates Act, which deals with the professional conduct of lawyers, does not support work for other countries. Even, in specific laws governing companies and trade in securities, which hugely differ from one country to another, may constrain LPOs to paralegal and secretarial work.

But on the bright side, certain branches of law, which are of a global nature, like Intellectual Property laws (patents and trademarks) can give Legal Process Outsourcing Providers (LPOs) a fillip in their endeavour.

An Indian lawyer can be as good as his American counterpart in US Federal laws if properly trained in US law. What is required of an attorney, either Indian or American, is not that he should be aware of all laws and regulations but that he should be ready to acquire that knowledge.

Rush to grab the opportunity

It is the effect of this optimism that not only established BPO companies but also several legal firms have thrown themselves open to this lucrative opportunity. In fact, American conglomerate, General Electric, was one of the first to set up its captive BPO Gecis in India, which included LPO. Other technology companies, too, farmed out work to their Indian captive units.

Khaitan & Co, a leading law firm from Kolkata has already started an LPO by floating a new company ‘Neoworth’ and engaged 10 US-enrolled lawyers.

There is a strong political opposition in the US against outsourcing as it may affect the livelihood of US attorneys and may also serve as a roadblock. Despite of that feeling, legal firms are more than willing to outsource their jobs to India. That’s because like other BPO activities, Indian lawyers come cheap. An associate lawyer in the US comes with a $225 per hour tag in the first year. By the eighth year, it goes up to $450 an hour. In India, the rates are barely 10 per cent to 15 per cent of that. Moreover, with the time lag between India and the US and the UK, the turnaround time is 24 hours.

Different Career Options for Legal Assistants

Career options for paralegals are aplenty. These individuals can be found working in law firms, private businesses and government agencies. Some may also take on a freelance paralegal opportunity if they do not want to be working for someone else; while others may accept a job as a temporary employee in a legal department.

The majority of the paralegals are found in large law firms. The type of work that they have may vary depending on the type of practice they are supporting and the number of lawyers they are working for. For individuals working in a small law firm, they are mostly engaged in the business of the firm.

If you want to pursue a career in family law, your job description is to communicate with clients who are seeking legal assistance in divorce or custody cases. On the other hand, if you are planning to take a job in immigration law department, you will be working closely with clients who are applying for a visa. You will be assisting them throughout the process of becoming a legal citizen of the country.

There are also career options for paralegals in corporate law departments. Working in this department requires you to support the company by reviewing its contract. You will also need to make a draft of legal documents, intellectual properly, environmental issues, and so on. Tracking of payment may also be your responsibility if you will be working in this field. You will also assist in drafting of documents for closings and financial transactions.

Government agencies are also employing paralegals. There are a large number of individuals who are working in various government agencies that need legal assistants.

Working for yourself is also possible. When thinking of becoming a freelance paralegal, you should have strong skills in licensing, patent prosecution and service contract providers. There are small companies out there that cannot afford to hire their own paralegals. So, they only outsource and obtain services of a freelance legal assistant.

Is this the right career for you?

But before thinking of having a career in this area, you should make a self-assessment first. You should have a valid reason you want to be a legal assistant. What are your strengths and weaknesses that can help you achieve in this area?

When starting to work as a paralegal, you should not be discouraged when the first specialty you choose does not satisfy you. You can always change lanes in order to find the one area that really interests you. Remember that short-term goals can lead to a long-term plan. There are many paralegals that shifted from one area to another until they found the one that really captivated their attention. So do not be afraid to change direction. There are a lot of areas of law that you can look into.

Outsourcing, Captives, and BOTs, Oh My!

The Challenge:

Skills are critical, capacity is needed, costs are important, but what’s right for your business? There are different models out there that can provide strategic or tactical resources to your company. Depending on your objectives, one model can provide a much better value to your business than others.

So, where should you begin? The first place is get clear on your objectives and desired results. Are you trying to fill skill shortages, improve your capacity, improve your cost base, or all three? Are the resources you seeking part of the core competency you bring to the market? By thinking of these questions as you review the options, the answer will become clear.

Captive or Hybrid:

If the need is strategic and impacts your core competency, it is important that you maintain control over the resources. Partnering with another company may be viable, but you should not partner with another company if it has the same core competency as you. The reason, you invite a possible competitor into your business and customer base.

So what is the alternative? A captive or hybrid captive operations allows you to select and manage a team that will add to your core competency and maintain control. In many if not all respects, the staff are your employees, managed by you.

Hybrid captive models take away many of the traditional risks of going to another country A hybrid model provides the recruiting of talent and other human resource management services, while at a lower cost than an outsourcer or BOT arrangement.

Hybrid captive services include locating or providing facilities and managing them. Often, there is no lease commitment, reducing the risk of being tied to a long term rental agreement. The model typically provide an option to go to a full captive arrangement, setting up your own legal entity, your own lease or purchase of facilities, and the transfer of all employees as part of the process for a fee.

Outsourcing:

If the need is not strategic or it is not part of the core competency of your business, outsourcing may provide a very good alternative. A good example where this has worked for many companies is marketing. Marketing is important to your business, but for many companies, it may not be a core competency or skill within your company. Finding a strong partner could have a very positive impact to your business while not putting your core business, competency or customer base as risk.

Typically, an outsourcer has staff on hand or bench. This provides both a benefit and a cost to you since you pay them to have and maintain extra resources. The model typically does not allow you to have control over which personnel will be assigned to you or how long they will stay working with you.

Like a hybrid captive model, outsourcing does provide the advantages of not having to deal with the human resource risks such as employment laws, benefits, hiring, and firing of employees. It also does not require the need to directly lease or own facilities as all these costs are part of the outsourcer’s fees.

BOT:

If the need is more strategic and the desire is to postpone the management of a team, in theory a BOT may provide a good solution. A BOT is a build, operate, and transfer operation. In many respects, a BOT is an outsourcing relationship, with the intent to transfer the operation as some future time. The idea is to provide you with a choice of the team you will have working with you. It is worth noting that in a very high percentage of the time, the transfer never takes place.

In the case of BOT’s, there are typically more risks that are part of the model. Depending on the approach, you may be required to sign up for facility leases, facilities management and other services.

Keys:

So what is the right choice? It comes back to your needs and objectives. If it is non-strategic or tactical, outsourcing may be a good option. If it is strategic and part of your core competency, a hybrid or captive is the best choice. If it is something in between, a BOT may provide a good alternative.

In all cases, it is important to understand that it will take time and commitment from your team. Using global resources can fill skill shortages, provide capacity, and even lower costs, but it does not come without effort.