Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Indian Law- Business or Profession?


Knee deep in recruitments, I find that all applicants without exception are senior practicing lawyers some with a practice of 20+ years. Irony. Because these are the very same people who had declared that working for a legal process outsourcing company is not the “real” practice of law ; that lawyers working for legal outsourcing companies were not “real lawyers;” that outsourcing is stripping the profession of its nobility. However, this dramatic change in attitudes is not surprising. It was just a matter of time before lawyers woke up to the fact that the practice of law in India had long ceased to be a profession and that just like any other business, law too was a business,the processes of which could be successfully outsourced. Neither globalization nor outsourcing can be blamed for this change in the face of Indian law from profession to business, which occurred long before outsourcing came on the scene.

In the early 20th century and immediately post-Independence, the practice of law in India was as noble a profession as that of a priest. 50 years post-Independence, that changed. There was bred a whole generation of literate youngsters spoiled for a choice of profession. With the educational system in India giving seats in medicine, engineering and management strictly on the basis of grades, those who could not make it, turned perforce to law. Consequently courts teemed with young lawyers and in the resulting competition the nobility of law took a toss. (In the clawing climb to success, ideals tumble fast.)


One reason for so many Indian lawyers, even senior ones, opting now to work in LPOs, is because nowhere is corruption as rife as in our courts. No one with dreams of idealism and nobility can last long in the legal system. The last decade did see stringent measures taken against corrupt public servants and although matters have improved vastly, it is not yet completely clean. The judiciary has a handful of judges who are really, truly dedicated. Unfortunately, in our bureaucratic system virtue is rarely rewarded. Many of these “good” ones are often passed over for promotions and never make it beyond the district level and retire in bitter frustration. How long can one regard a profession which dances to the rustle of rupees as noble?


Another reason for the sudden influx is the current economic situation. While India is not facing the same degree of recession as the west, the spending on litigation is far less than before. Potential litigants prefer to settle matters out of court rather than "feed" lawyers.

Legal process outsourcing has come to Indian lawyers as manna from heaven. It is, if you are qualified, easy money. Many of us are as familiar with foreign lifestyles, movies, music and art as we are with our own. Even more so. Some of the younger lawyers I interviewed were completely familiar with foreign law-they could tell me about US patents relating to animal euthanasia; all about US no -fault litigation and bankruptcy practices- but had no idea whether we had any similar provisions in India.

There are those who argue that LPOs will change the face of Indian law; that our judiciary will languish for want of good lawyers and judges. I doubt it. Life has a way of balancing things out. Not everyone is cut out for practicing foreign law which is essentially desk practice. I believe that more lawyers working in LPOs will mean that those practicing in courts will get more elbow room to grow, hopefully, into better practicing lawyers and in turn make for a stronger judiciary. Then maybe, our traditional practice of law will return to its past noble state. For now, law is a business and I am, as they say, cool with it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Quality in LPOs

Greetings,

Having read a lot about the concern about quality deficient work that would result from outsourcing work to India and elsewhere, I am convinced that that is one hurdle that can, and has been, easily overcome.


Training young lawyers in an LPO firm, I was amazed to find that they knew more about US and UK laws than the laws in India. They could tell me about euthanasia provisions for animals in the UK but had no idea if similar provisions existed in India. They knew all about insurance law in the US, but asked if we have anything like this here, they were unsure. This will be the trend henceforth if globalization and outsourcing legal jobs goes as predicted. Indian lawyers, especially the fresh graduates will have a degree in Indian law and be practicing US and UK law.

Having seen work done by young lawyers in the US and similar work done by Indian lawyers here, the mistakes that young trainee solicitors make both sides of the pond are similar. Here as there, they need proper training and strict supervision, at least initially. Having tried that in an LPO here, I can vouch that provided with both, Indian lawyers are performing as well and in some cases better than their US counterparts.

What is really dampening is that where both US and Indian lawyers happen to be working on the same matter, the US lawyer automatically assumes that any error in the case is the work of the India team. Maybe he has reason. But what is worse is that the Indian team is quite willing to assume that somehow it must be their fault. This, I think, is the effect of years of British rule which has left us with a definite inferiority complex.

It took some time and a lot of training to build up enough confidence in employees so they would finally be able to say, “Hey look, you’re doing it wrong. This is the way to do it.” Fortunately outsourcing law firms are businessmen first and foremost. If the work is good, they do not have a chip on the shoulder admitting that it is good and paying for it.

There are some concerns expressed abroad that their trainee lawyers, might not have any work to train on if it was being outsourced. A similar concern is expressed by the Indian judiciary which is worried about young legal talent being absorbed into LPOs and the Indian Judiciary which is already famishing for lack of good judges regressing still further. (LPOs are not the reason we do not have good Indian judges, but that is another story. )

In my opinion, these concerns are insubstantial. First of all, not all legal work is going to be outsourced. Second, most of the work is going to be back office work. Thirdly, in India at least, only those lawyers join LPOs who realize that they do not have the required canniness which is absolutely necessary, and indeed the only perquisite, for practicing in Indian courts.

And anyway, the world, as we all know by now, is flat and there is nothing to stop us all from moving where the money is, without falling off it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Swine flu in the LPO

Greetings!

In India, the H1N1 epidemic continues with it being twice as bad here as in the rest of the world with the infection being viciously rampant in my city-Pune . Almost all the deaths due to the flu occurred in Pune. To date we have a death a day, total toll from August 2009, when the first death occurred, being 82.Considering that Pune has a population of approximately 50 lacs which is spread over an area of 450 sq.kms, it was a difficult task to control the flu; and while city schools and colleges were shut down, commercial establishments and offices continued to function and deal with the epidemic any which way they could.

This post is inspired by an interesting post on the legal and workplace implications of H1N1 which went on to speak of the challenges faced by employers in dealing with swine flu and how to deal with them.


The article referred above spoke of the legal affects of swine flu and how to deal with it in the workplace. Here's a tongue-in-cheek, albeit very truthful look at what we did in office to combat the infection:



1. For a week or so everyone came in with masks. A few wrapped their faces in scarves. This however, made communication impossible and so the masks and scarves came to be gradually discarded during the course of the day.(Pic courtesy @devakishor on Twitter)

2. Anyone with a cold refused to attend work. Sometimes even someone who sneezed more than thrice pleaded social responsibility and went home.

3. At regular intervals the air conditioning was turned off and windows and doors opened to let in sunlight and fresh air which hopefully would destroy any lurking germs.

4. Someone heard that eucalyptus oil helped prevent H1N1 and one 50 ml bottle of oil was brought in by the office, which was rapidly emptied by the end of the same day and never replaced.

5. The drug store opposite made a few thousands selling eucalyptus oil tablets, to which I, who anyway had a predilection for the oil, have now got addicted to.

6. The only pregnant staffer was segregated but whether it was as a precaution against swine flu or because she no longer fit into the cubicle, I am not very sure.

7. After a while everyone decided what the hell, if it was going to happen it would happen and stopped all pretense at precautions.

TO BE NOTED is that almost everyone in the office at some point suffered from sore throats, cold sand cough during this period. This includes me who never gets a cold. This is in itself unusual. My theory is that everyone must have suffered a mild form of swine flu and recovered which means we all are now immune.

Hurrah.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pins in Underwear & Quality Set-Ups Part II


To continue with the previous post.

One way a small firm can save on costs is to hire cheap at production level. and splurge at the higher level, praying that good management will control quality. But this does not work. At least not for long. Good project managers are not necessarily good at providing quality work. Nor should project management be expected to deal with quality assurance.

To ensure quality deliverables the firm must have a good quality set- up in place. Introducing quality set- ups in small firms which have never heard of them before is like taking a toddler to the dentist for the first time. She doesn't know what she's in for and eagerly toddles along, so the introduction is not too bad. But the next time you want to her to toddle, she tears your hair out.


The first step in introducing quality procedures is to introduce the team to the concept of "errors".
The reason errors occur is that at production level, the team is often not aware what exactly is the error they are alleged to be making. The client's mails listing mistakes, are sheer babble. (What is she talking about? What error? Isn't that just what we did?)

Asking a direct question therefore: What is an error- draws a blank. Yet in order for the quality procedures to be put in place, this first step of getting the team to recognize what is an error for that particular process, is vital.

This can be solved by getting the team to relate what part of the process seems to them to be the trickiest. Remember, it is always at that part of the task that one finds the most difficult that one is likely to make the most mistakes.
In one instance while applying this strategy, I realized that the team was not really aware of what the process was all about. They were merely performing the tasks told like automatons without the faintest idea of why they were doing it.

An explanation of the whys and wherefores of client requirements serves to bring the team to an understanding of why a particular document needs to be done in a particular manner.
Once the team sees the reason and logic in the work they are engaged in, they can then see for themselves what the client means when she cries "error".

And so thus, the first step in introducing a quality set up- defining an error is taken. For the rest, wait for my next post.

In parting. As I always say a knowledge of the English language is essential if you are going to work on US or UK legal documents. Recently an EBT submitted (deposition) in a personal injury case, read: She cannot put pins in her underwear.
Pins in underwear. Why would anyone put pins in underwear? Do American women now put pins in underwear the way Indians used to pin purses into their underwear to deter thieves?
A little investigation revealed all.
The EBT should have read: She cannot put pants on, her underwear.

Yeah, even legal outsourcing has its lighter moments.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Startups and Quality Set-Ups. Part I

Despite recession swamping the globe the legal process outsourcing industry exulted. LPO gurus both sides of the pond confidently predicted that the industry would flourish.

With several LPOs in the city which had apparently been doing well downing shutters precipitately within six months of that prediction, and even the larger companies- the multi-storeyed, shiny KPOs and BPOs which had wasted no time joining the mad LPO boom, still struggling to establish their legal outsourcing units, one is left looking for the reason why.

The main reason seems to be that our once- magnanimous American attorney, now in the unfamiliar position of having to economize like any rural Indian housewife, when he seeks to outsource, is looking for two things and two things only -cost savings and quality.

Time was when confidentiality was a major issue and the subject of much discussion in the US legal fraternity but in India at least, this is no longer a concern.

So we have here the client who wants to pay the least but expects the best. Unfair? No.

The Indian market is seething with LPOs, and who can blame Big Daddy for wanting to shop for bargains? Here is where the smaller LPOs have a distinct advantage over their richer cousins-the larger companies. Small firms spend far less on infrastructure and facilities . They operate on bare bones infrastructure and hire freshers who work for a pittance. They can afford to quote ridiculously low prices .

But this has its flip side too. Consistently hiring cheap labor results in deliverables that are of poor quality and ultimately the client goes elsewhere.

How to save on costs and yet deliver work of the highest quality is a dilemma all firms-big and small- face. How to deal with I shall leave for my next post.

For now, suffice it to say that the LPOs that will flourish will be the ones that can deliver real value. And real value in every case would be work of the highest quality, within the given time and cost parameters, and with confidentiality as a bonus.

See you soon.

Rosemary


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sala Main To Sahab Ban Gayaa.

If this side of the pond ponders Indian lawyers in danger of turning into clerks, the other side sees US and UK attorneys metamorphosing into top management honchos overnight.

The fear of recession even before the bogey actually arrived, led to large scale layoffs and downsizing of law firms particularly in the US. As predicted, legal process outsourcing itself apart from a slight hiccup in the early part of 2009 saw a smart pickup in the second half of the year.

With the ABA mandating strict legal supervision on all legal work that is outsourced, many LPOs set up in India have begun hiring US attorneys not only to satisfy compliance with due diligence procedures but also to increase the comfort levels of their clients. The salaries paid to these attorneys are invariably twice and thrice what an Indian lawyer is paid for the same job.

The result is that US and UK attorneys who would never otherwise have dreamed of visiting the Orient are making a beeline for India and China and happily playing leading roles in LPOs. At home, they would probably still be struggling juniors, serving summonses and recording EBTs. Here, they manage large teams of Indian lawyers and head ambitious projects. Their salaries may not be as high as what they might have earned in the US even at the lowest rung of their careers, but the lower cost of living both in India and China more than makes up for that. Furthermore, LPOs in India are based in metros where the standard of living can be even more lavish than abroad, what with malls, multiplexes, and in-house help for every chore.

LPOS here may not really need foreign attorneys, particularly those with experienced legal professionals on board. While a JD brings to the firm a deep and close knowledge of the law of his/her land; the basic concepts of law are the same in every corner of the civilized world and US and UK legal provisions and procedural laws, or at least as much of those that are needed to work on legal projects, can be easily imbibed by some focused study on the net. FindLaw.com. and other law sites on every aspect of the law, in every state, are easily available online. Bluebooking skills are not difficult for an intelligent, skilled professional.

Many Indian lawyers fear that having foreign attorneys working here is going to affect their own chances. If so, so be it. In a global setup there is no room for protectionism. The competition is open and it is fierce. And if you are really good you need not fear it. Of course there are others who believe they are as good as their US and UK counterparts and so they are; but they will just have to wade in there and prove it.

In any case, LPOs themselves are totally unconcerned about any real or imagined insecurities that Indian lawyers might be experiencing. And rightly so. Outsourcing firms are sprouting as wildly and enthusiastically here as weeds in the Indian monsoons. Survival may not be an issue to most, but growing into an entity to contend with, certainly is. And for that, every weapon available must be used. If that includes employing foreign attorneys at twice the cost of what they would pay for their highest paid Indian legal employee, well, no one is thinking twice.


Incidentally the title of this post is a popular Hindi song which loosely translated means, "Hell, I just turned into the Boss."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Are Indian Lawyers Turning into Clerks?



A lot of law firms in the US have back offices in India and several insist that the work be done by Indian attorneys rather than paralegals. Most of the work is low end work. The sort of work that in India is done by clerks with a 10+2 higher secondary school certificate.

For starry eyed young lawyers fresh out of law colleges faced with the reality that court practice in India is not for them, LPOs are an attractive option. But rare is the fresher who can work on a legal research project or engage in a really complex e-discovery project. The work they are set to do is prepare case files and upload data. Their concern is therefore, "are we turning into clerks?"

In an earlier post, I had written that a degree in law is sufficient for back office work. I eat my words. While the work is often mindless no-brain work, nevertheless the product delivered by Indian attorneys is often subpar. The reason is not that they are below the average in intelligence as compared with their US or UK counterparts, but rather that the intricacies of the English language often cripple them.

Even for low end, back office work, one needs to understand the queries raised. Legal writing is archaic and very technical. Because a lawyer has to cover all aspects of a situation in order to make a document airtight, the language is also invariably very convoluted and complex. Merely having studied and answered law exams in English does not suffice.

Law in many of our local colleges, is very often taught by professors who, while they are excellent with the subject itself, are from a vernacular background, with the result that their hold on the English language, is tenuous at best. An LL.B. degree merely introduces its holder to legal vocabulary; to breed familiarity, one needs to be constantly reading and handling legal documents.

Not understanding the difference between "referring" and "referral", "consistent" and "consisting", "verily" and "verify", "at " and "on", can indeed, like Cleopatra's nose, decide fates.

I would say the question is not whether Indian lawyers turning into clerks, but whether you are even qualified to work in an LPO merely because you have an LLB?

In my opinion a law degree is far from sufficent even to engage in practice in Indian courts; but since I restrict myself to a discussion on legal outsourcing, for that, I would say, one definitely needs something more. A certificate course in legal process outsourcing if it's syllabus includes training in Legal Communications might help to at least teach the basics. But this course needs to be taught by people who have an idea of the legal processes involved in legal process outsourcing. Anyone seeking enrolment for such courses needs to consider this. See also the Global Legal Professional Certification Test .

The truth is however, that even without a law degree or any legal outsourcing diploma, one can still do most of the low end legal work done in any LPO ( and which is indeed done by paralegals abroad), provided one has a good command of English. The question therefore, is not whether back office work is turning Indian lawyers into clerks, but whether they have the competence to do it? The decisive factor is their command on the English language. And that is the whole truth.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Are you right for a startup -II

The last post generated some questions from job-seekers. A few issues are discussed here.

  • · Most startups and companies employ persons with higher qualifications.

When I was debating whether to study for a higher degree in law, the judge I was working for then, said to me, "It's not the degrees, but what you can do with them that counts." That led to me not only getting my Masters but also to leaving him and going on to better things.

Education is nothing but a manual telling you what to do in order to succeed but ultimately success will depend on your ability to implement that teaching in your daily life.

Any company, large or small, would rather employ someone who has passion and ambition, who can prove that he/she can play different roles, who displays inherent skills like being canny and street-smart, leadership qualities, even aggressiveness, than someone with just a string of degrees.

Qualifications are important. As important as possessing a strong fishing line. But you eat only if you have the determination, patience and skill to use the line to catch that fish.

  • · Companies employ women more readily, than men.

In the news is the Government of India’s latest decision to employ more women in government jobs. It is a fact that the fairer sex is generally believed to be more sincere, more compliant and less likely to run away with the office funds. Women also tend to put down roots and are less likely to job hop. They bond quickly and display far more loyalty than men do. That adds up to a lot of plus points. The downside is that they need more time off for child bearing, rearing, and home making.

Men on the other hand do not take as much time off, are prepared to work late, to come in at odd hours, and to take on heavier jobs. However male employees are far more likely to up and leave and not worry about the mess they might leave their employers in. Men also tend to bond less with their employing company.

However, no firm will employ exclusively on gender basis, except for organizations specifically instituted to provide jobs for women. The best employee base a company could have would be one with a slightly higher level of female to male employees and a finely mixed potpourri of all communities, religions and states, which would bring together persons with area and race-specific skills, adding to the richness of the work atmosphere and also enhancing productivity.

  • · Too much emphasis is placed on communication skills.

In my opinion, not enough emphasis can be placed on communication skills. Face it guys, you have to learn to talk the talk. You need not be an expert in the language. Even people whose mother tongue is English routinely make grammatical and spelling mistakes. However, knowledge of basic grammatical English is a must.

Very often students and employees ask for “tips” to enable them to speak English well. No amount of “tips” can make you speak and write well. I have always maintained that you must think, speak, and write the language if you want to master it.

I also feel very strongly that training in Communications does not end with the training period. During training you learn the basics but in order for the training to have any effect, you must continue to think and speak in English at all times and not just when you are forced to do so. If not, all that you learned will be just so much water down the drain.

I saw a message posted the other day which read, “Say him to write to me.” If you do not know when to use “say” and “tell”, I, for one, would not employ you.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Obama and the Indian in the LPO.

Overheard recently, “Obama is out to close all the BPOs in India!”

Will President Obama really turn the tide of outsourcing back?  No. There could be lesser work offshored by the US. But it will be mainly the small-change projects that will not be outsourced. And most BPOs and KPOs here are all set to meet this deficit by turning their attention to Australian, UK, and European processes.

So far as LPOS are concerned, Mr. Obama’s policy of taxing the profits earned by offshorers could result in vendors indulging in cost-cutting this side of the pond to increase profits; and the principal area of this cost-cutting is going to be salaries.  One way of cost-cutting will be LPOs hiring mainly freshers on per-contract basis and paying them a minimum salary.  Another method that is fast catching on, is providing a “training period” of two or three months to new employees and/or paying them a small stipend.

Should this side of the pond worry?  I think not. Legal work demands  higher ethics, and a greater degree of confidentiality and security of data than any other field of work.  The attorney-client relationship is very like the doctor-patient one.  It is based on absolute trust- which even a small breach of confidentiality will absolutely ruin.  At the same time, the work produced by the LPOs has to be faultless, since no matter how high the level of trust, if the outcome of the litigation is affected because of  the shoddy work done by vending LPOs, the client is going to yell blue murder.  Therefore, sooner or later, every LPO is going to have to take a call on whether to hire freshers and risk less than perfect output, or sacrifice a percentage of profit and pay experienced professionals to provide a high quality of work.

Incidentally, it is this unique attorney-client relationship that is the root cause of the LPO industry taking a longer time to ramp up.  No matter how convinced a law firm is of the ability of an LPO to meet its efficiency and due- diligence standards, prudence dictates that it test the waters by sending out smaller jobs initially, and then graduate slowly to larger ones.

In his latest post  Mukul makes a conclusion that legal process outsourcing is no longer a hot career option for those interested in legal services. This sounds very much like what the naysayers were saying when Jerry Rao launched Mphasis-There was never going to be a future for those who choose to make a career in BPOs.  It is Jerry Rao and those who did take the leap who are still having the last laugh.  There is never going to be a dearth of lawyers opting for LPOs.  With the lawyers who passed out of law colleges in 1955 still practicing in courts today, where is the place for the hundreds of lawyers tumbling out of colleges each year?

Besides, I find many management students opting to do short-term courses in various branches of law, merely because they do not want to lose out on a chance to work in legal project management.  Many of my lawyer-colleagues with a dozen years and more of practice in Pune courts, are very keen to give it up and work in LPOS.

I do agree however, that if LPOs continue to provide only back-office job work to employees, this may inhibit the more talented legal professionals from entering the industry.  But this percentage is minuscule compared to the hundreds who will find even the more simple back office functions performed in LPOS challenging, mainly because they find English speaking a challenge.

A few LPOs are making hay by providing training in US Law and English language at a fee while they wait for the bigger projects to come in.  Wise ones!  It is not only those who hit the gold lode but also those who provide the spades that win.

 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Outsourcing Without Terror

The Central Industrial Security Force Act (CISF) has been active, on paper at least, since 1968. The Act provided cover against terrorist attacks mainly to central government installations and public sector undertakings.  Of note, the CISF  covers public monuments, including ‘samadhis’, which does raise a question of how come the long dead-and-gone are of more value than the living, particularly since despite active lobbying by the private sector the Act had so far not provided cover to any private sector undertakings or joint ventures. 

However, post 26/11 the concerns of the private sector fuelled by global anxieties about security issues relating to business with India, reached a crescendo, ultimately resulting in the amendment to the CISF Act in February 2009.  This amendment extended CISF cover to establishments in the private sector, where threat perceptions were adjudged to be the highest, by Indian intelligence agencies.

The IT sector is the first to be allowed such cover.   Strangely, the hospitality industry, read 5-star hotels, which was the target of 26/11, has not been granted CISF cover as yet, despite repeated terror threats even after 26/11.

The CISF security net comes at a steep price.  It is provided on a full cost-reimbursement basis.  However, to the multinational corporations which are raking in profits in dollars and pounds, this is not an issue.  They are prepared to pay the price, if only to let their foreign clients sleep easy.

The security cover provided includes paramilitary personnel, commandoes trained to strike and fire at terrorists, and to prevent and retaliate in case of terrorist attacks.  CISF also provides consultancy services, in fire and security.  Data protection however, is not its field.  Nor will the security personnel under CISF perform the services performed by your regular security guards.  Companies will have to continue to hire their regular security staff for that.

The giants-Infosys, Wipro and Reliance are the winners in the scramble for CISF cover.  They can well afford it.  What about the smaller fry?  Should someone be thinking in terms of training and arming and maintaining private security forces to provide cover to smaller establishments? 

The question of course remains as to how effective any form of security cover could be when faced with an attack like the 26/11 one.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

MAKE YOUR RESUME WORK FOR YOU

BEFORE WRITING YOUR RESUME:

THINK:  Your resume is YOU.  When a prospective employer reads your resume, he/she is looking at what you are.  Your resume should present a picture of you.

UPDATED RESUME:  If you have been hopping in and out of jobs or working on different projects for brief periods, maintain a diary of the projects you worked on and keep your resume updated on these.  If you have worked on new or different software, or learned a different skill, make notes and remember to update your resume with those.

NEVER LIE.   A single lie, even a white one, will doom your prospects.

KEEP IT CONCISE:  No more than one or two pages.

MAKE IT TARGETED:   Don’t send the same resume for different job-types.  Target your resume to the job.  If you are technically qualified as well as a good writer and are applying for the post of copywriter which requires mainly writing skills, emphasize your writing skills and achievements, mentioning tech qualifications briefly.  Conversely, while applying for a technical job, emphasize those skills and experience mentioning writing prowess as an additional skill.

DON’T TRY TO BE CREATIVE:  A creative resume is one written in an informal style.  This can be arresting and interesting, but unless you are applying for a creative post, refrain from doing it.  You might come across as being unprofessional.

WHILE WRITING:

MAKE IT CHRONOLOGICAL:  Begin with the latest qualification or job and move backwards.  If you have a degree that presupposes having an earlier degree, you need only mention the latter one.  For example, a B.A. cannot be had in India without the qualification of an HSC.  So if you are a B.A., you need only list B.A., unless you scored really high in the HSC results, in which case this deserves a special mention.  Again, if you went to a really prestigious school/college, mention this in your resume, since like it or not, a good school makes a difference in terms of communications and attitude.  If you do not happen to have attended any well known institution, just mention your academic qualifications, the university you got them from, and leave it at that.

GAPS IN JOBS:  When listing jobs you have held, mention the period for each job.  If there is a break in jobs, state the reason for the break e. g., study break, a break to have a baby; look after a parent, etc.  If your job graph shows a gap because you were unemployed then you could just mention the year in which you worked at a job for e.g., if you worked for six months in the year 2006 and were unemployed the rest of the year, just put: “2006: Worked as research assistant to Dr. Dubey at Pune University.”

If you are questioned, tell the truth.

LONG TIME -ONE JOB: If you have been at a single job for a long time mention the promotions you received at that job and the various job functions you performed.  This helps remove the idea of being stagnated in a job.  For e.g., 1985 to 1997:  Legal assistant to Advocate Seth.  Filing, keeping accounts, drafting sale deeds, conveyance, court appearances.

LISTING SPECIAL AWARDS:  Mention awards and scholarships received separately; but do remember that your employer is not interested in the prize you won for winning the tennis match in Grade 10, or the prize you won in the chess tournament held on Company Day.  Any pro bono work, affiliation with NGOs, voluntary work should be mentioned.

LISTING HOBBIES:  Unless you have some really unusual hobby like digital art, photography, designing, or bartending, do not list hobbies.  If you are requested to list them, be truthful and don’t try to impress by saying things like coin collection, when all the coins you have are the ones that went out of circulation a couple of years back.

PERSONAL INFORMATION OR SALARY HISTORY:  Never, except on specific request.

AFTER COMPLETION:

SIT ON IT: Don’t send it off at once.  Read it again the next day or in a couple of days.  You will find it needs editing and additions.  Also get someone else’s feedback on it.

BRIEF COVER LETTER: Address the cover letter directly to the person who is offering you the job.  If you do not know the name, find out; if not, address it to the position, for e.g.: The Personnel Manager, Dublin & Co.

MAIL IT:  If you are sending off your resume by e-mail to several different companies, do not lump names of all the companies together, in the address column.  That’s really stupid.  Send to each addressee separately.

Do write in if you have queries.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Freshers' Future

Posting in a long while.  Sincere apologies and a promise to post every fortnight. 

Last week while at college I was asked what was the scene like in LPOs.  Well, cost cutting seems to be the name of the game these days.  Rightly so.  Whether you are, or are not affected by the recession, or the situation in the US, this is not a time to be insular.  It is rather a time to work together to overcome the financial crisis.

The future of legal outsourcing has been discussed threadbare.  Everyone seems to agree that it is going to go places despite the recession in the US.  Personally I feel that this may not be so in the very near future at least. 

But the bottom line in business is profits and while a firm could decide NOT to offshore work where the anticipated profits are small and thus be seen to be patriotic, where larger profits are involved, the work will be offshored, immaterial of considerations of political correctness. 

The affect this side of the pond will be that small projects may not be offshored but the bigger ones certainly will.  Similarly the smaller legal firms abroad would decide to offshore work simply because they cannot afford not to.  They need to make profits in order to survive.

It is very true that the most affected by the state of the economy, are freshers.  Every company even those with bigger projects on hand, is preferring to recruit on a temporary basis and not face the hassle of handing out yearly packages.  Go with the flow.  Take what comes and be sure to keep note of where you worked and what you worked on.  Some day soon, all this work experience on your resume is going to look good.

Another concern expressed was that of US and UK lawyers being employed in Indian LPOs.  I really do not think the figures would be significant enough to affect the professional prospects of Indian lawyers.  However, even if they are, I think if you are going to go global, you have to be ready to face the competition. 

I repeat and repeat, polish your language and communication skills.  This is your Achilles heel. 

Next week’s post:  On Resumes and References.


 

Sunday, February 1, 2009

PGDin Legal Process Outsourcing

The Indira Gandhi National Open University has just announced a one-year post-graduate diploma course in Legal Process Outsourcing. The eligibility for the course is a degree in Law and final year law students also may apply. www.ignouonline.ac.in/pgdipo. Now this is a first.
An earlier post also talks about the Global Legal Professional Certification Test for those seeking a career in LPOs.
I doubt they would be teaching you anything there that you would not learn in your first couple of months on an LPO job but in a competitive world, any extra teeth are always useful.

Do remember that irrespective of the number of diplomas and degrees and your degree of technical knowledge, no LPO is going to hire you if you do not have a good knowledge of spoken and written English.

RECRUITMENT IN AN LPO: Freshers are generally hired by most firms for all the routine dig-the-dirt jobs. What an LPO looks for while recruiting freshers is a good knowledge of English, a good law degree, and some computer knowledge, in that order.

For the high-end jobs, an LPO would seek legal professionals with an excellent command over English, good law degrees from reputed colleges, an ability to carry out legal research, and an ability to be able to compile and draft documents. Since legal process outsourcing is a new field, experience of working in an LPO in such a capacity would be invaluable, but if you can show that you have the potential to do such work, lack of experience would not really be a hindrance.

If you have done any thesis or have written papers in your college courses, (which involved researching, collecting material, compiling a paper) put that in your resume. You might, even if you are a fresher, be considered for the quality jobs.

Some good news on the Pune LPO front. I hear of start up LPOs which are undertaking legal process work outsourced by Indian law firms. (Watch this space for news on such LPOs.)

For those setting out on a career in LPOs, the LPOs tackling local legal process outsourcing jobs are a safer bet to work for, than those which handle only offshored projects because the latter are at some time or other going to face a gap in between projects, which means you are going to be laid off at the end of the project.

An LPO which handles local work as well as offshored projects, will usually have projects the year round. So those of you looking to start a career in outsourcing, you should, at least initially, opt for those LPO firms which handle both local and offshored projects, if you don’t want frequent ‘breaks’ in your career graph.

All the best,

Monday, January 19, 2009

Types of Jobs in LPOs

To conclude the discussion in my last post, on the type of work you could find in an LPO.

Legal Research Projects: This is really enjoyable work but does require some experience in actually conducting research. Unfortunately, the syllabus for the LL.B. and the BSL.LLB. course followed in our colleges, does not provide any training in conducting legal research. However, the Masters’ degree course in Law does, and if you would like to be entrusted with this sort of high-end work it would be better if you equip yourself with an LLM from a good University. (Yes, that makes a difference!) Nevertheless, even that degree is useless if you do not have a grasp over the English language and a keen analytical mind.

A good researcher understands thoroughly the subject he/she is researching; is able to comb through, sift, and filter all the matter collected and ultimately judge what is relevant for the project and what is not. Many LPOs employ freshers to do the base research because freshers are cheap labor. Freshers do not take on the responsibility of deciding which material needs to be jettisoned and which retained, with the result that a load of every and each nugget of information on the subject is put up before the senior researchers, who do the ultimate sifting and filtering. This is a serious waste of time and money, with projects having killing deadlines.

The baseline is that in order to do legal research, you need to be either very good at legal analysis, or you just go get that LLM degree. In either case, make sure your English is good.

Drafting: While you may have been drafting documents, deeds and notices in Indian courts, drafting US and UK legal documents is not exactly the same thing. For one, although UK and Indian laws have a similar base, the legal language there is far superior. Each country also has a definite pattern of drafting documents, which you will learn once you jump into the drafting field, provided you have a flair for the language. This, coupled with a good legal degree, and a little bit of training from the LPO, and you could be all set to work on drafting documents.

Legal transcription: While this generally figures as low end work, it is extremely difficult to get good legal transcriptionists in India, which is the reason why few LPOs handle it. Nowhere else is a command over the language as essential as in this field. Transcription is a process of listening to voice audios and transcribing as you listen and a good legal transcriptionist needs to be able to understand the accents of US and UK attorneys and have some knowledge of the laws of that country. In the US particularly, accents differ depending on the region. Moreover, most attorneys are overworked, harassed persons, whose dictations are peppered with asides and often garbled. Yet, accuracy is essential. Since transcription work often involves court orders and depositions, even a word out of place could prove fatal.

Legal editing: This is the easiest of all LPO jobs. All you need is knowledge and excellence in every other field of work!!! The bright side is that you don’t need to be too tech savvy and you are allowed to be temperamental.

Next post: What would I look for in a prospective LPO employee?

If you have any inputs, criticisms, brickbats, whatever, it would be helpful if you post comments, rather than e-mailing me.