Sunday, August 12, 2012

For a Few Pennies More or Less...

I am one of those unfortunates who find it difficult to lie.  (In my defense, this, as some other small things, can be squarely blamed on the nuns at the convent school I attended.)  The inability to lie, although it sounds very virtuous, in fact, makes life difficult, because very often, we blurt out the truth when the occasion begs for a lie!   Although everyone glorifies “truth” in the abstract, no one really likes truthful persons.  We are labeled, “rude”, “blunt”, “politically incorrect” and therefore, while universally trusted, we are, nonetheless, mostly disliked.

Now,  although lawyers are widely supposed to be liars, I  happen to believe very firmly that if  success is built on the foundation of subterfuge, lies and deceit, it belittles you. Makes you small. And so, long ago, I decided that I’d rather be a shining failure than a smutty success.  That I have never really tasted failure, could be evidence, I think, to the fact that goodness (and good people) can be far more devastating and ruthless than evil!

Recently however, I received a long tutorial on the art of lying, without actually lying.

I began by pointing out that what I had written was the truth.

Yes, they agreed, it surely is.  But you know what, if you DON’T point out the truth, we'll win this.

But, what’s the point of winning on the back of lies and untruths?

It’s not lying.  It’s just hiding the truth.

But you know what the truth is and you know you’re hiding it even if the other party doesn’t. And at some point, they will know it too.

Oh, by the time they found out, we’ll have won!

But they’ll know you concealed the truth.

Too bad.

They might think you're untrustworthy.

Ha! They do it too.

Isn’t it better to fight fair?

Perhaps. But in business it's better to fight to win.

Damn. I forgot the law isn't a profession anymore. It's business.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bashing up the Bullies.

Nasty, rude behavior, back biting, bullying can make the workplace miserable. But running away from it doesn’t help.  You might find it at some other workplace too.  Nor is it always possible to change such behavior.  Yet simply enduring is not a happy option either.   The only way to deal with such workplace behavior is to devise smart tactics to handle the creeps who indulge in it.  The bright side is that most bullies, whether male or female are usually not very bright and are definitely insecure which is the reason they resort to such behavior in order to hide their own limitations.   So, with a little intelligence, a lot of calm and the ideas given below, you can wipe the floor with them.

1.       Kill them with kindness.  Be nice, be courteous, return their nastiness with sweetness. (Of course, cursing their black hearts all the while.)  Pretend you just can’t believe they really mean to be rude or nasty.  One colleague I knew wrote simply horrible e-mails.  At first, I was aghast. Then I began replying to such mails by telling him I didn’t believe he really meant to say all that or asking him whether the work was getting him down, why was he sounding so stressed and could I help? It took some effort, but after a while he stopped.
2.       Ask questions. The moment you find some person or a group of persons making snide comments or acting rude, ignore what they said and start asking them questions.  Ask anything. Where did you get that shirt? When is Rupa getting married?  How is Mona’s baby?  What does Coalgate mean?  Humans are conditioned to reply to questions.  The bullies will have to do a mental shift to answer your questions and thereby you  avoid a situation.
3.      Never be rude.  Not ever. The moment you begin to indulge in similar behavior, you leave yourself wide open to other people behaving the same with you.   Although it is true that one bad apple may ruin the basket, yet decency is contagious too.
4.       Ask for Help .It is always a good idea to approach management for a solution.  If no help is forthcoming, stand up for yourself. Point out to the person/s who are bullying you or being rude to you, that you do not like bit.  Make sure they realize that you are not going to run away from them, (which is what they want) but will fight to the bitter end to deal with them.  Bullies are cowards.  The moment they see your determination, they'll have their tails between their legs..
5.       Keep yourself busy. You are at the office to do a job. Immerse yourself in it.  Take your lunch out of the office. Take walks in your break time. Talk to cheerful people.  This will help take your mind off the negativity.  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Co-sourcing and LPOs

Co-sourcing was once seen as an alternative to outsourcing and often argued as a better one. 

Co-sourcing is getting an outside agent to do your work while production, time and quality are managed in house. When you co-source, you are still very involved in the job although not as much as if you did it yourself.    Outsourcing too involves an outside agent to do the work; however once delivery and quality parameters are set, the client leaves everything to the offshore/outsourcing vendor to handle.   Often where off shored back office legal work is concerned, all that remains for the attorney to do is appear in court.

Some years ago, law firms abroad preferred co sourcing to offshoring/outsourcing chiefly in order to minimize the apprehended risks of loss of confidentiality and client data.  However, the recent years which proved that in India at least, the incidence of these risks has been almost nil, have to a large extent allayed these fears. The result is that the end of 2011 saw clients who had been offshoring work for some time and reaping its benefits, now wanting some more of the pie.  Law firms that were outsourcing mainly legal work are now asking tentatively whether their offshore vendor can handle a niche project or billing, or maybe write some web content or develop customized software. ( There are also instances where off-shore vendors providing tech or engineering support have been asked to provide legal services.)

For obvious reasons, LPOs will oblige.  However, employees in LPOs are generally lawyers.   Therefore, where niche work is involved or the work is of a completely different nature from that  done in-house or  the project or process does not justify the expense of increasing employee count and consequent  infrastructure development, the vendor will hunt for a co-sourcing sub vendor who could be either an individual/s or a small unit.

The co-sourcing unit reports directly to the off-shore vendor, and is supervised both in terms of time, production and quality by the off shore vendor’s team.  However, the co-sourcing unit is never provided access to the core process or project.
For LPOs it is a win-win situation. For one, a variety of work looks good on the website.  Moreover, they keep clients happy at very little cost.  Last and certainly not the least, the profit margin is substantial since co sourcing  saves the time and money spent on increasing employee count, administration of a large staff and the cost of maintaining infrastructure facilities for that staff.

Different   LPOs deal in different types of work.  The time will come when an LPO doing mainly research or discovery related work, will be approached to do back office legal work and vice versa.  Will they then co -source to each other? Interesting thought.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Attrition and Contrition this Side of the Pond

              Recently I met a couple of  freshers, who told me this blog had motivated them to join the LPO industry.  That is good to hear but also guilt-forming since I have been neglecting writing for some time. I have also neglected to answer another  blog reader,  Varun Dixit an advocate practicing in the Mumbai High Courts, who wrote me saying he appreciates my blog and would like to know what to do to join an LPO in Mumbai.  Varun, some earlier blog posts here  will tell you all you need to join an LPO.   A simple Google search will provide you with a list of LPOs in Pune and Mumbai. All of them have websites with pages where you can post your resume. After that dude, you just walk in.   Let me know how it goes..

Which brings to mind attrition and small LPOs.
 Every business is aware and wary of the effects of attrition. And to small firms, even a small percentage of attrition may spell doom.   In India where our no-poaching laws are non existent, poaching from smaller firms by the Big Daddies is rampant.  Employees in small firms have received usually received intensive, personalized training and exposure to a variety of legal work.  Large multinationals offer these employees the lure of a higher salary, superb infrastructure, pick and drop services and a brand name, all of which is of course, irresistible  to most young professionals.

Small firms however, can control attrition, at least to some extent,  by dealing with bad managers, inequalities in salary, providing work recognition, fair appraisals ; and most important of all, maintaining free and open communication at and between all levels.  This not only gives an opportunity for  voicing opinions and grievances and clearing the air, but can provide insights about the way the company is functioning, and fresh ideas for growth. Most importantly it creates a sense of belonging among employees and  fosters loyalty to the company which prevails when the bogey of attrition looms.

There is also reverse attrition.
In many cases, within months of working for a large company, the reality of 12- hour working days, long dreary trips in cramped cabs, the impersonal atmosphere, and the intense pressures imposed by driven managers,  proves too much and many who left smaller firms long for the snug feel of a smaller office, the better hours and fewer job pressures. If these employees have been let go with no bad feeling, they want to return. That I suppose is the opposite of attrition, or may be, contrition?


Thursday, March 24, 2011

AIBE : More Grist to the LPO Mill?

The Bar Council of India has introduced the All India Bar Examination, as, among other things, a “test of an advocate’s ability to practice the profession of law in India.”

The first All India Bar Exam results are now out.   71% of the 22000 law graduates who appeared cleared the exam which effectively means there are about 16000 freshers looking for options.

Law college freshers in India have the following options:
1. Court practice.
2. Conveyancing.
3. Notary work.
4. Working with a law firm.
5. Joining a corporate office.
6. LPO firms.
Except for OPTION 6 all other options available to freshers in law require AIBE certification.
Court Practice: Most law graduates dream of donning a black coat, standing up in court and “Milord-ing” it grandly. The AIBE is compulsory for those who wish to practice law AND have graduated law after 2009-2010. Therefore unless he passes the AIBE, a fresher cannot sign his name to a vakalatnama, put in an appearance in Court in any matter, or sign a legal document as a lawyer.
Whatever else the AIBE may prepare one for however, it will not prepare the fresher for court practice. Few freshers would dare breach the portals of court rooms without the reassuring coat-tail of a senior advocate to hang upon. Law courts in India are vast terrifying mazes of rooms, corridors, and crowds of advocates and litigants milling about rubbing shoulders with bored policemen dragging strings of sleazy looking under trials. It takes a year or so for most freshers just to find their way around, more to have even a single brief in hand. Many, particularly women never get over their first taste of court life.
Working for a senior advocate is the easiest way to begin court practice. Many freshers do their “junior-ship” with senior advocates and some remain “juniors” well into retirement age. Although most seniors pay a pittance and rarely allow their “juniors” to do more than perhaps file an application on their behalf in court or occasionally argue minor matters but with the senior aging, juniors often manage a decent practice although still under the senior’s umbrella.

Conveyance Practice:
In the last decade, many wise lawyers have concentrated solely on conveyance law. Drafting property sales and lease documents, registering deeds, is always a very lucrative occupation no matter what the state of the estate market.

Some lawyers manage to wangle a notary license which believe me, requires a lot of political clout. A license to notarize allows lawyers to sell court fee stamps and to stamp and notarize documents for a fee. These lawyers may of course continue a court practice but that often means they lose out on clients who need their notarization services and many prefer to concentrate on just being notaries, which after all guarantees a sure fee.


Law firms and corporate offices:
Many bright freshers who are unable to stomach the heat and dust of Indian courts prefer the sophisticated ambience of corporate offices or law firms. Few of them will ever see the inside of a court room, working as they do mainly in the back offices but corporates pay well.

The wisest are those who join legal process outsourcing companies. (LPOs) All you need is a law degree. No appearing or waiting for an AIBE certificate. Moreover, most LPOs do not mind their employees practicing in Courts as well. Many LPO employees have their “sanads” (license to practice in Court) practicing as and when time permits thus having their cake and eating it too.

My earlier posts have discussed the type of work you can do in an LPO and what else you need to get into an LPO 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Indian LPOs and the Banyan Tree

Like the banyan tree in India, that does not grow to a great height but puts down roots any which way, expanding its girth endlessly, legal process outsourcing is putting out roots in the most unexpected places and spreading as wide.    

Most LPOs offer document reviews legal research and back office work. Most LPOs in Pune, where, if I say so myself, the most talented lawyers roost, do almost all court-related document work for foreign law firms. Inevitably attorneys abroad having experienced the bliss of being free of the drudgery of endless form-filling , repetitive correspondence, data and records maintenance, carrying out background research, and at the same time saving massively on overheads, have passed on that bliss to associated industries like health and insurance sectors. 
LPOs now offer law firms the latest technological services,  medico-legal services, related insurance and voice- calling services, in addition to the purely legal work they do. 
Every new technological development brings on some added service that can be provided to the client.
One very telling example of this is a service provided by Paul C Easton .
Mr. Easton offers to law firms, a 3rd party web-page capture/report/seal service. What this simply means is that the LPO seizes upon a page-proof tech processes, with the intention of preserving it as evidence in a pending or anticipated court trial. (I found it diabolically clever.Reminded me of Perry Mason who was a lawyer but behaved like a detective, snooping around, collecting evidence and flourishing it in court, to the consternation of the prosecution.)
Similar would be the consternation of a claimant in a BI case who having claimed that he cannot play tennis as he used to because of the injuries sustained in the accident, is then presented with an authenticated web-page(possibly his blog page or an update he had put on a social website), where he merrily claims:  “Had a good game at the tennis club. The drinks suck, though.”
Almost half of his claim flies out of the window.  Faced with such incontrovertible evidence he might decide to settle the matter out of court.  Even if he doesn't the insurance company still stands to gain.  Of course, the service would work both ways.

Apart from the savings to law firms resulting from out-of-court settlements, litigation expenses are further reduced because the profits are in dollars whereas the outsourced service is paid for in rupees.  I do see other Indian LPOs offering this and other even more innovative services, that will inevitably come into existence the more we start clouding.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

10 Steps to an easy crossing to -This Side of the Pond:

(Inspired by Thomas Kennedy’s post on effectively managing and leading global and virtual project teams.)

Chicken Crossing Road Royalty Free Stock Vector Art Illustration
 1. Don ’t worry so much about working with us. We have centuries of experience dealing with foreigners.  Persians, Turks, Romans, Arabs, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, British, French; they’ve all been here, had fun, made lots of money. So will you.  And this time around, so will we.  

2. You find our accents terrible.   We understand.  We find some of our regional and non-metro accents somewhat “difficult” too.  Indeed, some of our accents are so strong, that no amount of emerying by the best convent schools can get rid of them.  (We suggest that if a task doesn’t need speaking why insist on vendors speaking accent-less English?)

Incidentally, we find some of your accents and slang incomprehensible too. So, do speak slowly and follow up with a written communication which will ensure that everyone concerned is on the same page. 

3. As mysterious as a “lassi” is, to many of you, Budweisers are to us.  When you refer to Big Nick- we may not realize that you’re referring to a burger joint and not to a person. And when you say Snocat, surely you mean a leopard in the Himalayas?  If you’re talking about something peculiar to your country, many of us may never have heard of it so don’t leave us to guess what it is.  Make it a point to explain what you’re talking about.

4.     We turn our nights into days for you.  But dawn can be a killing time.  Literally. Try to wind up before 3 a.m. (OUR time)

5.    If you’re not tech savvy just say so at the beginning.  We’ll hold your hand and lead you through. Do not wait, hoping for enlightenment until we’re well into our spiel and THEN say you’re not.

6.   A sense of humor is not our strong point, and on conference calls particularly, we may not realize that you’re kidding.  So if you do happen to be in a funny mood, make sure everyone is laughing.

7.   Do not mention underwear, yours or anyone else’s when in a conversation with Indian colleagues. Just don’t.  And don’t say you don’t. You do.

8.   Indians irrespective of religion, tribe and caste, think it extremely bad mannered to eat without inviting anyone around, guest, stranger or servant, to eat too. Do not bite into that sandwich without asking your Indian colleague whether he’d like some. Rest assured, you will not have to share your meal.  Every Indian knows that such invitations are just ‘observing the niceties’ and would never dream of accepting, no matter how hungry they are.

9.   We love long complicated ceremonies, getting married takes us weeks, we have dozens of festivals. Get clarity on which holidays are absolutely indispensable to this side of the pond and which are not, in the beginning of the year itself.  Just so you can manage timelines efficiently.

10.   We know all the 4-letter words and use them too.  But it’d be nice not to see them in mails even if they’re not meant for anyone in particular.

Hey, even if you don’t follow any of the above, you’ll still have a wonderful crossing.  Enjoy!