Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Of Small and Big Fishes in this Pond

         A year or so ago, this blog had predicted that at some point, the smaller outsourcing firms will be swallowed by the bigger giants. And sure enough, here come the giants! Pangea3 was acquired last month by Thomson Reuters and the buzz is that there are several more large MNCs putting out feelers looking to acquire small working LPOs with a working staff of at least 50.
         Despite tax sanctions and outsourcing restrictive measures that the US administration has in place, legal outsourcing has grown. Not perhaps the meteoric growth predicted by business gurus, but the scope and variety of the processes outsourced is amazing.
          But are all small LPOs, ready to be taken over? Are they like our traditional Indian brides waiting hopefully, pretending to act coy, yet in reality eager to be acquired? 
         That I suppose depends much on what the firm sees its future to be. Cost considerations would be a major factor in taking the decision to merge with a larger firm. Even if the LPO is doing fairly well, the expense in maintaining the huge staff and infrastructure that is required for big document review projects, is considerable. Moreover, such projects especially large ones may not be as forthcoming as one would like them to be. While the firm may have lots of work,  often it is not enough to justify holding on to the extensive staff and premises, required for carrying out larger document review projects.  Firms handling only legal processes do not require large staff or impressive infrastructure which sounds good, but their climb up the financial ladder is slower.  Document review projects are the ones that really bring home the dough!
         When the LPO tide came in, several small LPOs sprang up with the sole intention of cashing in on the latest LPO craze. Most are now defunct. The few that have survived are the ones who did not hesitate to take on any sort of work that came their way. While some feel accepting any and every type of work dished out by law firms abroad, is not the right way to go about business, many start-ups  prefer to knuckle down and accept whatever is offered merely in order to stay afloat and live to fight another day.
          Personally, I think it’s better to have any kind of work than no work at all. Besides one never knows where a seemingly small project might lead to. One start up LPO in Pune that was affiliated to a large IT company was asked by a US law firm to design its website. It agreed very reluctantly but the decision proved a wise one because the law firm eventually became its biggest client.
           Generally speaking, the outsourcing service provider with a strong IT team that can provide tech support and a production team that is not chary of multi-tasking and not afraid to take on work, even work that might be somewhat out of their scope, is on pretty strong ground. But where legal process outsourcing is concerned, LPOs find it difficult to get their legal staff to cooperate on processes that do not exactly involve “legal” work. Most Indian lawyers come with a chip on their shoulder. Freshers particularly, the ink on their degree certificates not dry yet, are quite determined to do only “real” legal work. That most of them ultimately prove woefully inadequate to do it, is another story.        
          It is definitely not economically viable for the small LPO to hire separate non-legal staff to do the non-legal work, just to humor its legal employees. The Indian lawyer who wishes to enter the legal outsourcing field would do well to learn to multi-task and do the work on hand rather than take the high road. Once the small firm finds success, then whether it decides to be a small fish in a big pond or vice versa, it’s going to be a win-win situation  for not only its owners but also its employees.

Friday, September 17, 2010

"All for want of a horseshoe nail...."

Sanjay Bhatia of SDD Global forwarded me his article"How to start your own LPO.. listing a number of essentials for a successful LPO.  Thank you Mr. Bhatia.

 To my mind, the lifeblood of any startup is a good healthy count of clients.  The more the better, because no matter how much work a single foreign law firm or client can send you, it can never be enough to maintain an LPO full time.  Therefore, the more the clients, the lesser the likelihood of a start up shutting down or having to lay off staff because of the loss of a client or two.
And to build up a healthy client count what is needed is first is a team of excellent lawyers this side of the pond to provide legal services, cleanly and promptly.  And second a dynamic sales team.
 Just as justice must not only be done but must manifestly be seen to be done, so also a start -up must needs flaunt its ability to deliver the goods and I agree with Mr. Bhatia that  merely having a well designed website and adequate infrastructure is  not enough.
Speaking from the point of view of start ups, the team need not necessarily be lawyers; but, yes, it must most certainly have lawyers on the sales team to convince the client that the company can handle the work.  
It is also vital that these salesmen-lawyers not only know have a thorough knowledge of the subjective law, but must also have excellent communication skills.  Displaying an eager to please attitude may flatter the client and bring some initial work to the start up, but the glow will not last long.
Moreover, the type of work that the firm can snag -whether simple basic work like data entry  or more high end work like legal research or legal drafting which is regarded as more high end, will depend on how much at ease this salesman-lawyer is with discussing the finer points of patent laws, thresholds,  motions , Section 8, et al.
 An unsure and faltering salesman-lawyer will bring in only the lowest end work and while work is after all work, if the start-up wants to outgrow its start-up status, it must be able to land the better projects/processes.
Sanjay Bhatia pleads his case, arguing that, "Having a mix of exceptional Indian and Western attorneys, in a ratio of 10:1 or lower is almost certain to put your LPO on the road to success. "

Seriously, if an LPO can afford to have foreign attorneys working for it in that ratio, it is already a success.
However, I do agree that an LPO must have at least a couple of persons on the sales team whether they be a part of management or not, to wade into those foreign seas and fish for clients. 
While having a western attorney on board can never be a disadvantage it is definitely a rather expensive plus that few start ups can afford to indulge in.   In the interests of preserving attorney-client privilege and protecting confidentiality , yes a foreign attorney is an asset, but this job can well be, and indeed often is performed by an attorney working with  the law firm that outsources the work.  
Where I agree most whole-heartedly with Sanjay Bhatia is when he says, " In short, the fastest way for an LPO to fail is to hire staff with sub-par writing skills. "
 I know managers who believe that hiring one or two supervisors to correct shoddy work  is  sufficient  to ensure quality.  This is a complete misconception.   The importance of having a team of lawyers with good command of the English language can never be under emphasized.  And Mr. Bhatia is right when he opines that while many Indian lawyers grasp legal concepts and understand foreign law perfectly, it is very, very difficult to find lawyers who can grasp the importance of that “misplaced comma.”
Like the proverbial horse that lost its nail, much may be lost for want of a comma.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Indians teach English to US attorneys

A  recent article in the Times of India, titled- Indians Teach English to US Attorneys inspired this post. The article talks of Indian lawyers correcting grammatical and other errors in legal documents drafted by US attorneys.  This is really not as unbelievable as it might appear.  In the course of the work that I do for US law firms, I have found quite a few attorneys displaying poor spellings and grammar.  Instances like, “absents of the plaintiff,” “it is not expectable” and “forgive the incontinence” (inconvenience) do, I think, prove my point.   Nevertheless, the number of Indian lawyers who can boast of possessing impeccable English is still very small.

Managing the legal work done in the LPO firm that I work for, I see that within a short span of a year and a half, the legal work outsourced to us by foreign law firms, both quantity and variety, has grown in leaps and bounds.  Since my firm deals mainly in documents, this does seem a fair indication that the newer breed of Indian lawyers is rapidly gaining proficiency in English. 

Very often, prospective LPO employees express concern that they may not qualify to work in LPO firms because of their poor English.  To them I say, take heart.   LPO firms generally deal with different types of legal work, and somewhere you are bound to suit. 

There are a few firms that handle only project work like  document reviews; and there are a few which work as back offices for law firms in the US and UK, and which handle mainly process work. And there are the enviable ones that do all types of work.

  Legal process outsourcing includes handling practically all the back-office jobs of a US/UK law firm.  Right from entering case and client data, sending letters to involved parties, drafting summons and complaints, arbitration requests, deposition transcriptions, responses and motions.

While both types require a decent knowledge of English, there is no way you can work in a firm handling legal processes without knowing the language well.  Moreover, while some firms doing project work may not even require employees to have a law degree, this is not the case with firms handling legal processes.  In order to be able to draft legal documents, one needs legal knowledge and every employee in such an LPO firm must therefore have a law degree.  While the actual statutes differ from country to country  the basic tenets of law remain the same; and as I have said here before,  some aggressive training in foreign laws quickly brings the Indian lawyer up to date with foreign law. 

Another major difference in legal project and legal process work is that most legal projects come with a time limit.    If the company does not have another project on hand where your services are required, you are out.   On the other hand legal process work is a continuous stream of work.  This is a point that will need consideration when you're wondering which LPO firm to apply for a job.

Before signing off, I should mention that to my concern, I have found that so far as knowledge of the English language in Maharashtra is concerned, except for metros like Mumbai and Pune, the rest of Maharashtra is a disaster.   Lawyers from areas in Bihar, UP and MP, who were heretofore considered “backward” so far as their knowledge of the English language was concerned, fare better than those from Maharashtra.

My fellow Maharashtrian lawyers, you do well to learn and preserve our mother tongue, but if you want to progress vertically and not have your options to work limited to municipal and local courts, it would  behoove you to learn the global language.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Is your Management poisoning your Company

A blog some months ago had a post by someone who had recently been handed the pink slip.  He was ranting about the  Managers responsible for his termination.  The post was tailed by several comments posted from other employees who at different times had been removed by the same Managers.  The organization shut down recently and while that may or may not be related to management glitches but it is worth a think.

The worth of any organization, large or small, is always the sum total of the worth of its individual members and particularly its leaders. A bad leader is a pain but a toxic leader is poison.
 A large organization may host a dozen toxic leaders and not notice the difference for a while until it gets caught up in frauds, malpractices, employee harassment suits and the like.
But the smaller the organization the more significant is the presence of a toxic leader because even one can lead to its disintegration in a very short while.
Toxic leadership is indeed very common even in large well run institutions like the Army or the Church and even there, is difficult to eradicate.

What is toxic leadership and why is it so difficult to spot and remove a toxic leader particularly in organizations which are people oriented?

Marcia Whicker defines a toxic leader as a leader who is “maladjusted, malcontent, and often malevolent, even malicious.”   Every leader, good or bad, is a person with vision but a toxic leader has a vision for self rather than the organization.  Such a leader will seek to rise above the team rather than with the team. Such a leader is successful but the toxic leader’s success is not the company’s success and more often achieved by clawing the company’s back.

Toxic leadership is the more difficult to spot because at first look such leaders come across as intelligent and very performance oriented.  They project an attitude of confidence.  On the job, they are often to be seen ordering, commanding, rushing around, their reprimands, praises, communications very public and visible; and their presence very much felt.  They may not always be loud though. A toxic leader may be soft spoken and quiet too.  But loud or not toxic leaders display a common characteristic. With the boss they are compliant.  A toxic leader will never argue with the boss. They are the “yes bossers”, the  essential “babus” the ones who are always assuring the boss  “the job will be done.”

And indeed initially the job is done.  The toxic leader will deliver value by making sure there are enough intelligent, performing   people on the team to provide value. If there are mistakes, there will be elaborate cover ups and scapegoats firmly in place.

But any value provided by such leaders will be strictly short term. In the long term toxic leaders do not add value to the organizations even if the unit performs successfully under them.

This is because toxic leaders succeed by tearing others down. They are fiercely protective of their territory and will go to any extent to stop anyone encroaching on what they see as their turf.   They are completely in control of their team but they rule by intimidating rather than uplifting. The most lethal characteristic of a toxic leader is the tendency by the leader to weed out more intelligent members of the team.
A toxic leader is always wary of anyone who is smarter and will immediately remove anyone who could be a threat. Such a leader is intelligent enough to be able to pick out the persons on his team who although capable, have low levels of confidence and esteem and are prepared to work without threatening the leader’s position.  If any member of the unit threatens to overshadow the leader, there will be no hesitation in using any weapons, even a resort to criminal practices in an attempt to eliminate the member.

This is the chief reason why such leaders cause the downfall of the organization they serve.   At some point the performing unit members will wake up to the reality, that there is no scope for them to grow. There is always a higher rate of attrition in an organization, with such a leader.  Moreover, toxic leaders in the long run do not engender the level of confidence in their team that is necessary to lead to an esprit de corps.  The team becomes dysfunctional because the members will seek every excuse to escape either out of the team or if that is not possible out of the organization itself.

An organization would do well to be on the watch for tell tale signs which betray the presence of a toxic leader-a general sense of dissatisfaction among the team members, a tendency for the more intelligent to leave the organization, a reluctance among the team members to speak out freely, signs of fear.  The best way to spot toxic leadership is to get the team assessed by an independent manager.  Invariably the team members whose qualities have been played down by the toxic leader will turn up trumps.

However, despite spotting one, companies very often find it difficult to remove such a leader, usually because such leaders are spotted too late and by then have so much influence and control over their teams that it is hard to break the bond.  Such a leader often engenders with his team one of  two states of relationship-one where the team consists of entirely sub standard employees who know they will survive only under the aegis of their leader and the other where there has developed a poisonous bond between the leader and the follower- a bond which the followers their spirit too long broken- lack the courage to break.

(Until next time,then and hoping to post more often. Also just noticed the new followers. Welcome.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Medical Insurance in India

The Central Mumbai District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum recently directed the Oriental Insurance Company to pay Rs. 64223/- that had been deducted from the hospital reimbursements made by it. The refusal to pay was based on the fact that the amounts for which reimbursement was claimed -the fees charged by the surgeon, the anesthetist and the operation theater; together with Rs.293/ -charged for cologne, blade and a blanket -were “too high. The company claimed that their policy promised to reimburse only “reasonable customary and necessary” expenses. Held that the company had not proved that the fees charged by the hospital were not reasonable, customary and necessary.

In India, mere production of the hospital bills is usually proof sufficient that the insured had incurred that expense.

It is completely plausible that the fees charged by the subject doctors, may have been excessive. In India, in a single area it is common to find different facilities charging varying amounts for similar services. An ultrasound test can cost anywhere between a few hundreds to thousands, or is even free. A specialist in nuclear medicine, a friend of mine, who I visited for a medical check up, asked me if I had insurance coverage. If so, he said, I should go ahead and perform a few tests, but if not, no need, because they were really quite expensive and unnecessary. In the cities, if the patient has medical insurance, he is invariably subjected to a battery of tests and spends weeks admitted in the hospital, after which he is generally recommended treatments which would not have been done, if he was not covered.

To prevent arbitrary charging of fees for medical services, we should, like the US, design CPT Codes. CPT (current procedural terminology) codes are numbers given for different types of medical services and supplies provide all over the country. What this means to the US citizen is that the insurer is going to reimburse the treatment provided under that code at a fixed rate. This generally results in physicians and medical providers restricting their fees to the amounts prescribed under the CPT codes. Similar coding procedures in India, with variations for rural and urban areas; would, at the least, prevent overcharging for services rendered, although it would not prevent hospitals and doctors from prescribing unnecessary treatments and providing medical supplies even for very minor complaints merely to collect insurance benefits, which is what happens in the US. In the US, insurance companies do not squeal “overcharged”, they scream “lack of medical necessity.”

Insurance law in the US is very highly developed and the processes extremely sophisticated and streamlined. Both providing insurance and claiming it, is seriously, big business. Medical treatment is usually provided by companies formed by physicians and providers who get the patient to assign insurance benefits in their favor. These companies then send in their claims to the insurer and hire law firms to sue the insurer, if the claims are not paid.

In India, insurance law has a long way to go. Here, insurance cover is mainly taken by people in bigger cities and metros. Insurance companies still project themselves as benign entities aiming to protect the innocent consumer. However, it will not be long before the real face of insurance emerges-that of a giant Midas, whose ‘protective’ touch turns everything into money.