Legal outsourcing going to India

Houston Chronicle
Newhouse News Service

March 25, 2004

Your will, the legal research for your mortgage or the proofreading of your lawsuit could soon come with a "Done in India" label.

Most of the outsourcing of legal work seems to be going to India, where there is a highly educated legal work force that will work for less and get research and other support work done while American lawyers sleep.

Law firms around the United States are taking tentative steps toward outsourcing transcription, legal research and document management for trials to cut costs.

Many in the legal community believe it is a matter of time before sending legal work out of the country becomes a mainstream practice.

"Offshoring has become not just a trend, but an accepted part of business practice for many large businesses," said Leon Steinberg, chief executive of Intellevate, a legal-support firm that operates an office center in India that serves U.S. lawyers.

"There is no question in my mind that it is going to happen. It already is. It is just, in my opinion, the matter of degree and how fast it takes off," he said.

Some in the legal community said the concept is flawed, however, and may be hard to reconcile with the ethics rules that govern lawyer conduct, because much of the work flows via the Internet.

And policing attorney conduct can be hard if some of the legal work is done in another jurisdiction, by lawyers not educated in the United States or subject to U.S. law, some critics said.

The majority of the work is going to India because English is spoken there, the legal system is similar to America's, and salaries are much cheaper. In most cases, the work is done by Indian lawyers or paralegals.

Andrew Corp., a telecom equipment maker with offices in Warren, N.J., is sending some of its patent application work to lawyers in New Zealand, where the charge is 30 percent less, general counsel Jim Petelle said. And General Electric has a team of lawyers working in India to do basic contract work, company spokesman Peter Stack said.

But not all the reviews are positive. Some lawyers said outsourcing can become complicated because of language difficulties between Indian lawyers and their American counterparts. They also said complicated legal work can take too long to complete because the time difference makes telephone conversations difficult when it is necessary to work out nettlesome details.



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