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.