Sunday, December 30, 2007

LPO: A Primer for Solo Attorneys

Update, Dec 30, 2007: A reader of this blog wrote in to share their own reason for embracing LPO, I am sure other Solos find themselves in a similar situation.

I am a solo practicing in Kentucky and I am very interested in LPO. I work between 60 and 70 hrs per week to keep up with my very busy general practice and I fear that my professional success is coming at the personal cost of my family. Long story short, I need to maintain and/or increase productivity while at the same time cutting back my hours by at least 20 per week.

Earlier Post

Susan Cartier of the blog Build A Solo Practice inspired me to write a guest post on how Legal Process Outsourcing can benefit solo attorneys or small firms. The following is the original post, that Susan may edit and post on her blog. Any queries are welcome at my email id.

Jonathan ‘Lawsome’, See offshore!

So you’ve decided to go solo? Congratulations, the life with dreams of a mahogany furnished office, graying hair and firm politics wasn’t for you. Good riddance!

Now that the time has come to begin the journey towards proving yourself to yourself (and perhaps others), lets get going. You may have heard about India. Yes, contrary to the notions you have, India is no longer the land of snake charmers and there are other modes of transport than elephants! As it was known-to-be in the last millennium and early this millennium, India is an economy powered by knowledge. Even though there are many reasons for India not being great in the sports requiring physical agility, there are enough Indian minds that are agile enough. If you have been around for some part of the past century, you would have heard of some Indian scientist or the other. Yes, Indians are good beyond the Patel Motel dhandho and Pooja and Priya Grocery Stores and Video Parlors!

As you may have read over the past few years, India has become the destination for knowledge driven industries and call-centers. IT outsourcing was the first to pick up and there now exist behemoth Indian companies in that space. There is a grand range of activities getting outsourced, from call centers to animations, from payroll to architecture design. Somewhere in that spectrum lies the outsourcing of legal work. As has been repeated ad nauseam, two of the critical reasons that enable the Indians to serve low to medium complexity western legal work are the common law background of the country’s own legal system and that most Indians study in what are known as “English-medium” schools i.e. schools where the medium of instruction is English. And given the fact that the great Indian middle class lays an almost inordinate amount of stress on the importance of education, there are enough kids who are good. Add to it the fact that it is a country with a billion plus people, you have many very competent people. A joke about the competitiveness ingrained in Indians goes like, “In India, even if you are so gifted to be one in a million, there are more than a thousand people like you!” So all of these factors combine to make the phenomenon of legal outsourcing a reasonable success at the moment and outstanding success-to-be in the times to come.

And you can be a part of this success. Go offshore! No, I didn’t mean that you move to India yourself but rather that you think about having some people work for you and build your practice, helping you become increasingly competitive and profitable at the same time. If using offshore resources also enables you to scale up your own operations, why not?

That said it isn’t straightforward to embrace legal offshoring, at least not just yet. I keep a tab on the industry development and growth and my own research says there are more than 140 “LPOs”, all shapes and sizes, including some fly-by-night operators. Nascence and lack of regulation has led to presence of some players and companies that no serious and mature industry will let survive. However, help is close to find! Read on…

First, remember that trusting the vendor you ultimately choose is very important. If there is cynicism in your mind, the relationship will not succeed.

Choosing the vendor: For solos like you it is not always advisable to go after the big names. You won’t be the largest client for them and therefore not always high on their priority list. One big client and your work will be de-prioritized. Choose a mid-sized vendor, who has certain advantages that work in his favor, may be a non-metro location or may be attractive stock options for employees or whatever, such that he is able to provide you with quality resources and commitment to service. Make sure you meet the vendor before you start regular work with them. This may mean sitting in a coach seat for a trip half way round the world, but if the relation works out and grows, it will be worth the backache and the bad food!

Confidentiality: It is just natural to be worried about the confidentiality of the documents you send offshore. India and Indians are no better or worse when it comes to protecting the confidentiality of data, so take the same amount of caution as you would in your country. There are vendors who might be able to do the work cheap for you but let’s face it, there is no way for you to know or control a situation where your work is floating around to sub-contractors of the vendor who couldn’t care less for confidentiality. So don’t take this lightly and take utmost care to build confidentiality into the contract that you sign with the vendor with heavy penalties in the event of a violation.

Conduct pilots: Good looking websites, impressive management profiles, ISO standards for data security are great first level of filters in your due-diligence process. However, you must ensure that the vendor has people who can deliver according to, or close to, what you need. It may be a long call to expect training to help parrots to analyze for you! Conduct pilot projects with the vendor, paid pilots if you have to. Usually some research or draft that has already undergone your scrutiny and efforts can make for a good pilot.

Train your people: No one knows more about your style and nuances better than yourself, so the best teacher for people who work for you is you. Train the team who works for you on law, research and analysis, drafting, etc. Having said that, make sure your vendor respects the fact that you spent effort in training their people and that your intellectual property is not used beyond what you permit. Also, make sure you work with the vendor to help him retain the people you train.

Try and increase the skill of the people: Just as your coaching job does not stop at the initial training when you hire in your own country, having a resource offshore is no different. Conduct constant feedback sessions for the people who work for you. Such sessions don’t have to be elaborate: inline comments, regular teleconferences and occasional video-conferences, if both your vendor and you have access to, are enough. Start with low complexity work for your offshore resources and over time (few months or as applicable) increase the complexity of the work that you send offshore. For example, if you are a patent prosecution lawyer, start by asking the vendor to conduct searches, gradually moving the writing the more descriptive sections and over a longer period of time moving to claims drafting. Work with your vendor to draft a guidebook for your style. Conduct periodic tests for the people who work for you. They will value it.

Meet them: Agreed, physically seeing your vendor or his resources may not be often possible. But do it when it is possible, combine an Asian vacation with a day’s visit to your vendor’s premises. Speak to your team often. Form a relation; it matters a lot to Indian people if you ask about their family, interests and aspirations.

Form a group: You must realize that you will not be the largest client for your vendor, so you cannot always have very pressing deadlines and too much iteration beyond the original scope of work agreed. The simple lesson there is that, scope your work carefully and don’t leave it to the first draft to realize what all should have or should not have been done. Like it or not, in this world, might is right. Therefore, do form a loose association or a group of people in your profession who can pool together to have enough regular work for a couple of vendor’s people (or more, depending on your specific case), if you can. Having a predictable inflow of work is also good for your vendor and thus you (or your group) will always be an important client for him.

Legal Body Shopping: This isn’t a common form of practice in the LPO space and I am not aware of a prior use of this phrase, but do work with your client to see if it is possible to form an arrangement where the people who work for you can be trained at your location for sometime and then sent back to the vendor’s location but dedicated for your work for a committed period of time. This notion worked very well for IT companies and their western clients in the 90s. Move to Full-Time Employee (FTE) model when possible for you, it boosts productivity, reduces costs and helps increase the complexity of work that you can get done offshore.

Billing rates: You are in it for long and for value. As with any other relation, getting it to work to your benefit will take time and effort, so don’t nickel and dime about the rate too much. As the saying goes, if you pay only peanuts, you get only monkeys!

Be nice: Give references to the vendor, if you like them. Doing so will make the vendor always respect you, your work and your demands. Seeing friends benefit from LPO, a notion that you introduced to them, will only make you popular and respected! After you have become confident of the quality of the work product, share it with your clients and pass on the benefits to your clients. You are sure to gather a lot of goodwill doing so. However, make sure your vendor does not poach your clients, make the relation work to your benefit.

Do remember, persistence pays, so don’t give up because an experiment or two failed. Buy the CD, or call me and I will sing this for you:

I’ll never rest until I can make my own way
I’m not afraid of fading
I stand alone

Make offshoring work for you. Welcome to India!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

LPO: The talent bit

The following is an email exchange with a reader of this blog, I often get such mails from people willing to enter the industry but worried about the talent availability. I think there is no easy answer or a short-cut strategy to the trained talent shortage problem, perhaps an industry consortium supported training forum may help - long call, I know!

Hi Rahul
Firstly I would like to thank you for creating a vast online information center which provides valuable insights in to LPO business. I'm in the process of setting up a center where in we'll be providing paralegal services to US based law firms. We would be providing services mainly related to Document Review, Legal Research and Transcription. In this process I was a bit skeptical in deciding the right type of people to hire. It would be great if you could help me by providing some valuable inputs regarding this. Some of the key points that I'm not sure about are:

  • What type of lawyers to hire (fresh graduates from Law Schools/ experienced)
  • What key capabilities to look for in the prospective candidates.
  • What type of training needs to be imparted in order to get our team fully equipped for production.

My reply:

Being a relatively nascent space at this point in time, LPO does face a bit of talent crunch and you would need to devise your proposition for attracting the right talent carefully. My suggestion would be to spend a good amount of time getting the first few people, carefully document the process description of the service offerings you would deliver from India and work with your clients/counterparts to create comprehensive training plan and documentation. If you have these three things (good supervisors, process documentation and client/US attorney/paralegal developed training material), then you can hire people with relatively little work experience, and in some cases even freshers.

You must keep in mind that an average Indian law student may not be suitable for working in an environment that a company serving Western legal needs from the word 'go'. So, you do need to spend an adequate amount of time training those people not only on matters related to the work product they will be delivering but also on soft skills.

Key skills to look for are no different as you would in any other industry: dedicated people keen on learning a lot of new things, agile enough to grow with the company and the industry, good written and oral communication skills and willingness to give the company and their career enough time to develop and not get impatient. Having a better than average academic record will help too not only from a "learnability" perspective but also for sharing team resumes with prospective clients. There is a fine balance that would need to be maintained though when it comes to hiring the right talent. You wouldn't want to hire say the rather "high-fliers" from the top schools, because even if they do join you, their impatience co-efficient, so to say, will be high enough making it difficult for you to retain them.

I would advocate grooming the talent in-house rather than always relying on poaching experienced people as a hiring strategy. It is very important for the industry to have, what I call, multiple "entry points" i.e. companies which have great training programs, good enough for fresh graduates or people with no relevant work experience to come in, get trained, work for a good amount of time before considering moving on. It does not serve the industry for only a couple of companies to have training programs while all others luring people from those companies when it comes to setting up shops or increasing headcount. The presence of certain training-only companies will also help the industry.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

LPO: A New York lawyer grieves!

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross must be a genius, the model she described in 1969, so aptly outlines the grief of a closed-minded NY lawyer who was angry enough, even in this festive season, to lambast the whole notion of legal offshoring and the millions of dollars worth of benefit that American corporations and law firms have drawn from it.

I have seen young parents worry about the influence of crime on impressionable minds, that practicing criminal law can, in extreme cases, also have its effects is a new one!

SHG, Esq - can I propose you start benefitting from offshoring by using secretarial services, perhaps someone who could help you with idioms? At the least, Medical tourism can do YOU good.

All the animals in the zoo,
Monkeys, elephants, tigers and shrew
The monkeys eat peanuts,
The elephants too,
The tigers eat meat and
they might eat YOU!
- Laura Reynolds, age 12, London

Update: Mark Bennett takes a third-party view of the "conversation" between SHG, Esq. and me. Mark notes that certain aspects of US legal work can be offshored. Bulls eye! I have myself noted in a previous post that it is unlikely we will see a day when even theoretically every Western lawyer will be replacable by an Indian lawyer. May be criminal law is not an area suitable for offshoring, but are all Solos practicing criminal law?

Similar cynicism was witnessed when Intellectual Property work first started going offshore - from "My cat could write a better patent application..." to "...they eventually found the right company and trained its non-lawyer employees how to write solid applications. Now, a year later, Carpenter & Kulas has filed more than 100 patent applications that were outsourced to India...".

150 IQ is a powerful asset, don't under-estimate it!

Snippets from Mark's post:
So if the LPOs are hiring smart Indian lawyers and training them well, there's no good reason to think that they couldn't do the bulk of the work that the bulk of American lawyers do. Aside from document review, American legal research is well within the reach of properly trained Indian lawyers. Contract drafting, as well, might be feasible. Teaching law is a cinch.
And there's the rub. Much of what lawyers -- especially trial lawyers, and most especially criminal trial lawyers -- do requires a thorough grokking of the culture. Such knowledge of American (or Texas, or New York) culture can't be taught; it takes decades to absorb. And so communicating with juries, judges, and valued clients -- almost all we do as criminal trial lawyers -- cannot be offshored.

Those willing to benefit from India will find the right resource to help them, and the closed-minded ones will continue with their FUD drivel - the end customer has to decide for himself.

Monday, December 10, 2007

LPO: Transactional versus FTE Model

A reader of this blog, David, had the following comments on preferring a transactional model over an FTE model for a legal process outsourcing contract with Williams Lea, he refers to this previous post:

"Interested reading your article LPO: A Primer for Solo Attorneys.

To be honest much of what you say is very true for medium size and even the larger silver/magic circle firms.

However, I would like to add a rider under your section Legal BodyShopping: we are actually trying with Williams Lea LPO to move to a transactional model and away from an FTE model. This gives us greater flexibility and allows us to build without the FTEs sitting waiting for our work. Maybe this model is easier for larger firms to work and still get dedicated focused staff, but it certainly is the way to go on anything that can be transcationalised (if there is such a word.) We will be trying it on various areas, basic stuff like document production and volume legal services - conveyancing and even research.

I think it goes without saying that it is what works best for each individual or individual firm but certainly don't rule out the transactional model as the way forward for law firms.

I think the transaction model works well for the long term too. The FTE model is so fixed and rigid, it does not allow for a lot of flexibility and is the reason many people leave outsourcing contracts. In addition many of our corporate clients are wanting transactional pricing and therefore we are building with Williams Lea more of a partnership (without sounding too much of a cliche). We work with WL in legal process outsourcing areas to define the best areas for us to transactionalise."

Being an operations person, I will favor an FTE model, whenever feasible for my client, but as they say, the customer is the king!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Alma mater gets interested in LPO alumni!

It seems getting popular with your alma mater just got more defined, go open an LPO! Prestigious law schools are doing features on their promising alumni who took the, to use a financial term, contrarian route of either leaving active law practice in the US, or building such practice by way of LPO - food for thought for Solo attorneys?.

Columbia Law recently did a feature, "Is the Future of American Law in India?", by profiling Russell Smith, class of '85, and now Chairman of SDD Global. Some snippets:

Under the supervision of American lawyers in New York, Indian attorneys perform the types of tasks normally handled by American paralegals and associate lawyers — at a fraction of the price. Also, Smith pointed out, office space in Mysore is 43 times cheaper than in Manhattan. These savings are passed onto clients. Instead of billing $200 to $700 per hour in the United States, SDD charges $30 to $90.

Many large U.S. law firms — including Kirkland & Ellis, the country’s seventh largest — already outsource some of their legal work. But most do not like to publicize the fact and, in the foreseeable future, are unlikely to set up offices in India. “They can’t credibly bill an Indian lawyer at $365 an hour, and they still need that markup,” Smith said.

It is up to clients to force firms to lower their rates through outsourcing, Smith said. “There are some fields, such as mergers and acquisitions, which will stay in the United States, but a lot of litigation and contract work can be outsourced.”

[This is something almost everyone involved has opined time again - corporations need to push their outside counsel to adopt legal process outsourcing - is enough happening? I don't think so. Is law firm spread FUD when it comes to offshoring legal work a reasonable success. Perhaps.]

Many in the legal profession are concerned about what effect outsourcing will have upon the future of the profession at home. But Smith believes such worries are misplaced. “If legal services become more affordable, that will transform the field,” he said. “Right now, so many financial deals, especially those for less than $1 million, don’t get done because the legal fees for these transactions are so expensive. It’s not worth it. That’s all going to change with the rise of outsourcing.”

Coming back to the subject of this post: If you want to be in your law school's newsletter, go join an LPO - Jonathan Goldstein did (several months ago)! Heck, start by interning (if you have questions, just mail me)!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Legal Process Outsourcing Blog: Among ABA Journal’s BLAWG 100!


Editors of the ABA Journal today announced they have selected Legallyours, your favorite Legal Process Outsourcing blog, as one of the top 100 best websites by lawyers, for lawyers.

Now lawyers are being asked to vote on their favorites in each of the Blawg 100’s 12 categories. To vote, go to Voting ends Jan. 2, 2008.

“Lawyers nationwide are using the power of the Internet to educate the public about developments in the law, market their practices and attract new clients,” says Edward A. Adams, the Journal’s editor and publisher. “Our list of the 100 best lawyer blogs is the cream of the crop from our directory of more than 1,500 blawgs in dozens of categories, including blawgs focused on almost every state, law school and major federal court in the nation.”

If you have benefitted from this blog, or will benefit from it in the future (which I sincerely hope you do), please vote for this blog! To vote, please click on, scroll down to about 80% of the page or search for "Rahul" and click on the vote button adjacent to the blog mention. Thanks for your support!

About the ABA Journal:The ABA Journal is the flagship magazine of the American Bar Association, and it is read by half of the nation’s 1.1 million lawyers every month. It covers the trends, people and finances of the legal profession from Wall Street to Main Street to Pennsylvania Avenue. features breaking legal news updated as it happens by staff reporters throughout every business day, a directory of more than 1,500 lawyer blogs, and the full contents of the magazine.

About the ABA:With more than 413,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.