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.

No comments: