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.

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