Monday, November 17, 2008

Outsourcing-the Beginning

In India, law has traditionally been a respected profession with many of our politicians and freedom fighters being lawyers and our court corridors teem with “black coats”, many of whom literally tout for work. Most youngsters who take up law are bright kids from educated backgrounds for whom working in murky courtrooms, rife with bureaucracy, corruption and red tapism, and who have to engage in an unequal contest with senior attorneys who never retire but practice till they literally drop dead, is definitely unacceptable. Making a living in the practice of law in India is tough work. To be a successful lawyer here, just good brains are not enough. Moreover, to build up a practice without a father or godfather in the legal field, takes at least five years if not more. And for women, the picture is even more dispiriting. The prejudice against women lawyers, no matter how accomplished is not likely to die down any time soon. The only other alternatives to court practice that are available, are working back office with senior counsel at a miserable pittance, or doing conveyance work. Neither of these options is tempting to young lawyers, burning to make money and earn a name.

Legal process outsourcing has appeared on the Indian horizon like the proverbial rainbow promising a pot of gold, to the hordes of lawyers being churned out yearly by hundreds of law colleges all over the country.

The young lawyer of today is an extremely articulate and well trained professional, holding not only a basic degree in law but often even a masters’ degree. Many specialize in different branches of law, like taxation, cyber law, or intellectual property. A large number also hold management degrees in addition to their law degrees.

We have started dating but will the dream last? Most LPOs here provide only mundane, routine legal work like filling in summonses, or transcribing depositions and interrogatories or coding of documents. This can be extremely boring to a youngster with a string of qualifications and after a while, the package however fat, may fail to provide job satisfaction. Unless LPOs start providing employees with high end work, they could find well themselves facing a dearth of qualified professionals.

Nasscom chief Natarajan predicts a 2500-crore business for LPOs by 2010. That will happen. With the current recession corporations need to save money more than ever and e-discovery costs are a major concern. The present financial crisis will do for Indian LPOs what Y2K did for Indian IT outsourcing companies. But unless we get high end jobs outsourced here, the bubble might just pop.

Paul Easton, MD for Global Colleague, an LPO in Pune puts forth the concept of contract attorneys. According to him, “The recent trend of contract legal employees that is catching on is one that will succeed. Such contract work will give exposure and experience not easily obtained elsewhere without having to make a long term commitment if you are unsure if you want to dedicate your career to an LPO. Some will want to do this work for lifestyle reasons, if it pays enough to allow other needs to be met during the downtime. I think it will shake up the legal market in India.”

Far be it for me to argue with an expert but surely while this might work for those who have an alternate source of income, to the fledgling lawyer just embarking on a career, the prospect of being employed on a contract basis, with perhaps being out of a job, for a few months every year, could be alarming. Moreover, he/she would be put in the unenviable position of being unable to go back to a career in the practice of law since legal practice is a demanding mistress requiring tremendous inputs in terms of time and labor and intolerant of anyone taking a break from it job for any amount of time.

On the other hand, if the LPO industry takes off, as it seems set to do, then the shoe might well be on the other foot. It could be the legal professionals who prefer to work on contract, picking and choosing the type of work they want to engage in.

No comments: