New Delhi: Suchika Deora finished law school in 2005 and spent time both at a corporate firm and with General Electric Co.’s in-house legal department, before turning her attention to another possible option—the legal outsourcing industry.
But, it took some wooing before she accepted an offer from the research company Evalueserve Inc. to start a new legal group in its Gurgaon office.
“I was very apprehensive,” Deora said. “For two-three months they tried to convince me.”
Better prospects? ClutchGroup, a legal process outsourcing firm based in Bangalore. LPOs are drawing law graduates away from courtrooms and corporate law practices with promises of global experience. (Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint)
Dozens of other legal process outsourcing companies have started to draw recent law school graduates away from traditional courtroom litigation and corporate law practice to the offshoring industry.
As business process outsourcing (BPO) work moves up the value chain, these companies—commonly referred to as legal process outsourcing firms, or LPOs—have started to handle legal support projects for foreign firms. The work ranges from transcribing depositions and electronically filing documents on the low end, to researching cases and drafting motions on the high end.
As a result, legal outsourcing companies are poised to become major employers in India’s legal market.
For Deora, it was the prospect of an international legal experience, and the opportunity to try something new that won her over. For other young lawyers, the promise of better salaries and professional work environments also beckon.
“I worked at a law firm for two-and-a-half years,” said a young lawyer at another legal outsourcing company who declined to be named since her employer doesn’t allow media interviews. “This is the first time I get Saturday and Sunday off.”
A recent report by business research firm ValueNotes Database Pvt. Ltd, estimated that the industry’s manpower in 2006 hit 7,500, but the same report expected that number to skyrocket to 32,000 by 2010.
As legal outsourcing firms recruit, they’re changing career trajectories for many of India’s young lawyers.
The country’s law schools churn out around 80,000 graduates a year. Only around 10% of them, according to legal recruiter Ritvik Lukose, even have access to jobs with law firms and in-house corporate departments. But, if the others tended to struggle in the courts or pursue careers outside the law, LPOs have changed that.
“What the LPO option does,” Lukose said, “is give 10,000 additional people the option of entering global legal services practice.”
LPOs are tight-lipped about what they pay, but the ValueNotes report estimates that junior lawyers at these companies make between Rs18,000 and Rs27,000 per month, while comparable positions at law firms command Rs14,000- 22,000 per month.
“I would in fact be looking for the same people to work with me in a law firm,” says Anindita Phukan, a partner at law firm Poovayya and Co. “There is a big competition, so to speak, to get hold of the best law school graduates.”
Work at LPOs is different from work at law firms, though, since members of an LPO staff deal exclusively with foreign law. Career progressions also more closely mirror the set-up of BPOs, rather than a law firm’s, since junior attorneys climb through the ranks to positions such as senior associate, team leader and project manager. The work is still pyramid-like, with hundreds of attorneys at the lower levels, and a much smaller number in management.
But, for Lukose, who is vice-president at Rainmaker T&R Pvt. Ltd, that doesn’t close off long-term career prospects. LPOs recruit based on four qualifications, he said, only one of which is legal reasoning: Good English, comfort with technology and an openness to learning new things are just as important, he said. “It’s providing a stepping stone to in-house legal practice,” he said, where international corporate experience is key.
The industry, of course, has its sceptics—those who think LPOs take young attorneys too far afield from rigorous legal work and training. “We’ve told our recruitment consultants we don’t want anyone that has worked at LPOs,” says Srinivas Katta, a partner with the Bangalore law firm Indus G&D. “We find them short on competence. They speak well and are very presentable to clients, but there’s no depth, is what we’ve found.”
But, LPO executives are more optimistic.
Abhi Shah, chief executive of an LPO in Bangalore called ClutchGroup, expects his company to be a good training ground for when India’s legal market opens up and foreign law firms set up shop in the country. “Folks that went through the Clutch programme are better poised than anyone else,” he said, since they would already have the international experience that most Indian lawyers don’t get.
And LPO staffers echo the sentiment. David Isaac, an attorney with ClutchGroup, sees himself as a corporate honcho in 10 years. “The judicial system in India requires a complete overhaul,” he said in an email message, when asked what attracts attorneys to LPOs rather than conventional legal work. “Court practice has lost its charm.”