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Straight Talk About Outsourcing Legal Jobs to India.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | April 3, 2009

Posted by Cliff Tuttle

Well, as soon as we (and probably others) pointed out that Above the Law was feeding us a steady diet of law firm layoffs, they departed from their usual fare, but only just slightly. Here is a stream of consciousness post on legal outsourcing that left me perplexed. What are you trying to say, ATL? And what is that photograph beside the post? A submarine? Someone please explain to me what this subject has to do with a submarine.

So, to clear the air, here’s a short post that ATL might have run on the subject.

They speak English in India, that’s true. They have an excellent educational system and their graduates work for pennies against our dollars. And they have lawyers, many of whom are probably smart, resourceful and talented. But the idea that lawyers sitting at computer terminals in India can do the work of American lawyers at a significant cost savings is absolutely absurd.

First of all, there’s a vast cultural gulf between our two countries. We, Americans and Indians, don’t think alike and neither do our legal systems. There are too many concepts, nuances, emerging trends and anomalies of American Law that are pretty hard to keep straight, even when you are immersed in our legal culture.

Which brings me to my second point. We have licensing requirements in each of our fifty plus jurisdictions for a reason. When I was a corporate house counsel, I frequently found it necessary to seek the advice of a lawyer in another state because the legal concepts used in a specialty I knew well enough in Pennsylvania were quite strange across the state line. Is it good practice, then, to assign this work to a lawyer on the other side of the earth, one who is not licensed in any state in the United States?

Perhaps you will say that these lawyers in India are not practicing law here, but simply working for a lawyer who does. But that misses the point. Can the American lawyer receive good value from such an arrangement? How reliable is the research performed by someone, however smart and well-trained, who represents a very different legal tradition? How persuasive can a brief written by such a lawyer possibly be to an American judge?

Several years ago, an American mega-bank had hopelessly mismanaged my client’s tax escrow account. I attempted in vain to communicate with a series of customer service people from India on the telephone. It became clear that no amount of explaining would work. I had to send detailed instructions on how to fix the problem by fax, so this information could be relayed to Americans with whom I was not permitted to speak. At no time, did I speak to anyone who had the remotest idea of what I was trying to communicate. In this situation, where complex problems were being described, no amount of training could replace experience which no one in the call center in India had. As long as they remained on their side of the earth and we remained on ours, it could never be otherwise. Multiply this situation by 100 or 1,000 and you have Indian lawyers trying to be American lawyers.

And as for cost, I have heard hourly figures being quoted that are not far from the fees charged by experienced and competent lawyers in America. Some of them are probably being grossly underemployed in electronic discovery projects run by the same firms that are trolling the waters of the Indian Ocean, looking for bargains.

Forget India. Outsource inside your own jurisdiction. Outsource next door.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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