Lawyer outsourcing to India an opportunity, not a threat

By Alyssa Williams,

With an unsteady U.S. job market, the $250 million annual revenue in India from legal outsourcing as reported by The Wall Street Journal could concern many Americans.

However, Sanjiv Kripalani, Manager of Client Services and Development at Stoel Rives LLP, believes the poor economy, which may have prompted recent increased lawyer outsourcing, as the tipping point to prompt Americans to open their minds about legal advice.  “Indian lawyer outsourcing is not at threat, but an opportunity to get clients what they need,” said Kripalani.

While Kripalani is currently unaware of outsourcing in Oregon law firms, he has been researching the possibilities for the past three years, meeting with seven leading providers of lawyers in India.

India law that is based on the British legal system, like American law, as well as the time difference that allows Indian lawyers to work when we sleep, could be beneficial to clients, Kripalani said.

U.S. law firms cut costs by hiring experienced lawyers in India who charge $75 to $100 an hour compared to their American counterparts who bill almost twice that amount.

Forrester Research Inc. predicts 35,000 U.S. legal jobs will by outsourced by 2010 and 79,000 by 2015.

Not everyone is convinced of the benefits of lawyer outsourcing. One downtown Portland lawyer said it would be like seeking medical treatment from a doctor who has never examined you before.

“We all want to save money,” he said. “But I am not willing to get my medical advice from a doctor in India, nor am I willing to go to India for legal advice.”

The downtown lawyer claimed certain laws, such as enforceability of non-competition agreements for employees and securities laws, vary so greatly from state to state that it would be unlikely for an outsourced lawyer to know the specific intricacies of the laws. Additionally, malpractice laws in other countries that are supposed to protect clients from bad advice may not be thoroughly enforced.

“What good is advice if you can’t have face-to-face interaction?” he asked.

The current hiring decline for junior lawyers may already point to the rise of this offshore trend. Nevertheless, Kripalani believes that while lawyer outsourcing may not work for every client, it is certainly the way of the future.

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