Tuesday, April 28, 2009

“In India legal profession is not a business and it is not up for sale”

Lalit Bhasin, the President of the Society of Indian Law firms, in one of his interviews to the Economic Times of India remarked

"The demand for opening legal services sector in India does not come from Indian businesses or professionals or even foreign multinational companies…. the demand comes from foreign lawyers and particularly those from the U.K. It is obvious that the U.K. is witnessing a negative growth so far as legal profession is concerned. Accordingly, India and China offer good prospects -- but the problem is that, in India, the legal profession is not a business and it is not up for sale."

Mark Ross had in his blog commented on this statement by saying “It is simply impossible to separate the law from the economic forces that impact every other professional services industry. The lack of reciprocity, which Bhasin references, for Indian attorneys wishing to practice within the UK or US, is also a false comparison. This is purely a protectionist stance, nothing more, nothing less.”

In the current state of volatile economy coupled with accelerating pace of change in the legal sector, it is rather strange that some people still try to insulate the legal sector from the dynamics of globalization. The recent LLP Act is one such indicator where the Indian legal sector has started opening its doors for the foreign firms.

The call of the time is not to be like an ostrich and shut one’s eyes to happenings around us rather it is the opportunity to scale-up the quality of our domestic Indian firms and give a tough but healthy competition to foreign firms. After all, competition is good for the consumers.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

LPO industry in India

‘In 1991, with India running out of hard currency, Manmohan Singh … decided that India had to open its economy. “Our Berlin Wall fell … and it was like unleashing a caged tiger … We went from quiet self confidence to outrageous ambition in a decade” [Tarun Das, Chief Mentor, CII]
Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat

In the era of liberalization, the Indian economy moved from being a moribund and a closed set-up to become a dynamic growing economy with an annual average of 6% growth between 1991 and 2005. This growth was led by many factors, the most important being the growth in the service sector of the country. According to AT Kearney’s annual global services index, India is the current global capital for outsourcing and offshoring with other Asian destinations dominating the top five positions.
1. India
2. China
3. Malaysia
4. Thailand
5. Brazil
6. Indonesia
7. Chile
8. Philippines
9. Bulgaria
10. Mexico

The service sector in India accounted for about 52% of GDP in 2004-05. In fact India’s service exports had more than doubled from US$ 25bn in 2003-04 to US$ 60bn in 2005-06 and now accounts for nearly 37% exports.(1) According to the IMF report in 2006, productivity growth in India has been strongest in services. Emphasis on strong growth, privatization, foreign investment, and tax reduction provided the much needed acceleration to the already emerging economy.

In this burgeoning sector, a major chunk of the service sector is constituted by Information technology (IT) and IT-enabled services. The software services in Indian economy increased by 33% which registered revenue of USD 31.4bn. The outsourcing industry has been the stalwart in achieving this growth. This rapid increase in growth is directly correlated with the technical and critical aspect of the work being outsourced. An upward trajectory has been witnessed– moving from back office operations to becoming more knowledge intensive in nature. In other words, the movement has roughly been from BPO to KPO to now LPO.

Legal process outsourcing

“Legal process outsourcing refers to the offshoring of different elements in the legal process by law-firms, corporations, and in-house legal departments (mainly in US and UK) to offshore centres (mainly in India).(2) It is a very recent phenomena which has in few years gained huge momentum. The first firm to do legal outsourcing in India was Bickel & Brewer in 1995 with its office, I&A International, in Hyderabad. It dealt with digitalization of the legal documents and creating searchable databases. Later on it hired lawyers to review documents produced in lawsuits. In 2001, GE was the first company to offshore its in-house legal work in India. Since then a lot of companies have entered the arena in one form or other.

There are four basic models of LPO firms under which the companies function in this domain. They are – captive centres (when a large corporation starts its own centre in foreign country responsible for its legal and business processing issues), captive centres formed by U.S./U.K. firms and their subsidiaries (law firms in the U.S./ U.K are working with firms to India to set up subsidiaries to provide legal and paralegal services for export purposes only. For example, Fox & Mandal and ALMT Legal, two Indian based law firms, are teaming up with Patent Metrix, an Irvine-California based law firm), joint ventures by U.S./U.K based firms and third party vendors providing services to law firms and in-house counsel.(2) Among these, research indicates that it is most difficult to maintain captive centres. Capgemini, the French IT services & Consulting company, on the basis of Forrester research found that the cost of starting and maintaining captives far exceeds the cost of hiring third party alternatives and that 60% of the captives are struggling in India.(3) Currently, third party vendors are the ones that have proved to be beneficial both for the clients and the company itself. Whichever model it may be it is an indisputable fact that this industry has huge potential. Between 1990 and 2005, the legal services industry grew at an approximate annual rate of 6.75% and is expected to grow at 6% per year for the next decade, 2006-15.(4) Also, different estimates made by different research entities present a picture that spells out business and opportunities. ValueNotes projects LPO to become a $640mn industry by 2010. While Evalueserve estimated revenue from LPO at $300mn by 2010. Forrester research projected that legal outsourcing to India will reach $4bn by 2015. Although these estimates are varied, they do give a sense of huge potential of business increase in LPO industry in India. The biggest economy currently served by this industry – the United States, has a huge legal services sector. According to US Census Bureau, the legal services industry in the US generated approximately $184 bn in revenue in 2008. Even a small fraction of legal work outsourced would translate into huge amount of business for offshore service providers. Ron Friedman on the basis of a survey, “The Change Agenda: Looking Ahead”, conducted by Rees Morrison and Aric Press came to a deduction that U.S. LPO spending in 2013 will be almost $2bn.

Growth in LPO domain

The LPO industry has in a span of few years seen major mergers and acquisitions, partnerships and alliances. The first acquisition happened when Mysore-based Software Paradigms International (SPI) India acquired the entire BPO/LPO clientele of Comat Technologies across the US and UK, which was served by Comat’s Mysore-based operations. Such deals are indicative of the pace of growth of the industry. Gavin Brier in his article “Recession” “Depression” Unemployment” “Meltdown” “Crisis” … wrote “The IT industry took 13 years to come to maturity, BPOs took half a decade and now LPOs are emerging in a big way.” Even magic circle firms like Clifford Chance are taking interest in doing business in the Indian subcontinent. Established LPOs including Pangea3, Jurimatrix and SDD Global have attracted a significant level of private equity and venture capital. Big player like CPA Global has entered into strategic alliances to further enhance their products thereby giving an edge to their services. In 2008, CPA Global entered into an alliance with major electronic discovery software provider Applied Discovery Inc., a division of Lexis Nexis. The relationship ensures that CPA’s clients around the world benefit from a total review and e-discovery solution. Such tie-ups have played an instrumental role in making LPO a fast growing business. Recently UnitedLex entered into an alliance with Huron Consulting Group as well as Ocean Tomo, thus further enhancing and enriching the quality of their services and expanding their market. In terms of mergers and acquisitions, in 2008, Integreon acquired Datum Legal. CPA Global in the same year acquired SVPG to strengthen formers’ presence in German market. In short, business deals in the LPO space has made the industry grow from few vendors to more than 100 within a remarkable short period of time.

Services provided

A plethora of services are provided by the legal offshore service providers. The key being – contract management, document review, legal research, deposition summaries, litigation documents, patent renewals, patent analytics, IP support services, data verification, IP recordals, patent research, trademark renewals, trademark watching, digital content watching, trademark search, and so on. These services can be categorized under two categories:
1. Manpower intensive functions – Such as legal transcription, document conversion, legal coding and indexing, document review etc.
2. High-value services – They include patent and general legal research services like freedom-to-operate search, patent assessment, patent portfolio management, statutory and case law research, due diligence services such as technical, legal and financial analysis of companies for mergers and acquisitions, and contract drafting and review of contracts.

Corporate legal departments are the major clientele of these afore-mentioned services. A key consideration among corporations world over is the reduction of costs though not at the expense of quality. Indian LPOs have, in such a scenario, provided cost-effective solutions while maintaining expected or higher quality levels and in some cases even exceeded the quality provided by in-house teams. A balance between cost-and-quality aside, there are other advantages that vendors located offshore are able to provide to their clients. These include the benefits emanating from having an effective 24-hour work day and more importantly, providing access to a workforce that is keen enough to service tasks thought of as ‘mundane’ by in-house staff. Adherence to operations methodologies similar to Six Sigma and compliance with global certifications such as ISO 9001:2008 (Quality Management System) ensure consistency in the quality of the work product delivered from an offshore location such as India. For mature and stable providers of offshore legal services, the recession has only added to the business with clients expanding the offshore teams who had been serving them either in a shared model or as a dedicated team. As an example, one of CPA Global’s European telecommunication company recently doubled the number of engineers performing patent research and analysis for them.

In this manner, the ‘recession’ has further enhanced its attractiveness and financial viability. The present economic conditions have also made corporations, primarily the ones having large patent portfolios, to look for ways to reduce cost (e.g. by abandoning unused segments) or generate new revenue (e.g. by out-licensing/sale of patents). Large companies such as CPA Global, which have multi-shore operations and services catering to patent monetization, have also gained from such focus on the use of patent portfolios.

Bhaskar Bagchi, country head CPA Global, in his interview with Financial Times remarked “There is now a very clear economic reason for both corporate and law firms to look for offshoring. India has proven that they can deliver the same quality, if not better, from what they got when they did the work onshore.” A clear indicator of this growing profit and business is the rate of hiring seen recently in the LPOs. Rohan Dalal, managing director of Mindcrest India, plans to hire “400 plus staff in a phase-wise manner”. CPA Global has set the target of 2,000 employees by 2010. Other companies like Pangea3, UnitedLex and others have also reported plans for increasing their teams. The emphasis is not only on recruiting but also on retaining the valuable human resource. Companies have initiated various programs to promote a culture of growth and what Bhaskar called “empowerment”.

Distinguishing aspects of LPO industry

The LPO industry thrives on innovation, constant learning and development. A lot of emphasis is laid on the fact that employees are regularly updated with information as well as required skills. This education is not only limited to technical knowledge but also involves acquiring skills to be able to operate in a global environment. Himanshu Arora, Global Head, Learning and Development at CPA Global, in an interview told about the objective of providing training to the employees. He said, “The education doesn’t pertain only to enhancing knowledge and skills but also educate employees about how to deal with different cultures which helps in building fruitful cross-cultural relationships. Best practical content is used, which is developed by the subject matter experts to make the learning process an enriching one”. Another big LPO unit, UnitedLex brings in two U.S. patent attorneys to train the lawyers and review their work.(3) Thus, the opportunity to learn in a consistent manner and with the company laying stress on this aspect gives the employee required exposure as well as a chance of growth. Being a knowledge-driven service it becomes imperative that the stress on learning continues throughout the service tenure.


LPO as an industry is quite different from other knowledge-based industries. The work done is high on intellectual level and is also expertise-centred. As it is in the growing stage, one can expect a lot of innovations happening. With the newly enacted LLP Act, it is expected that international law firms will also be making foray into the Indian legal market. Sec 59 of the LLP Act allows law firms to set up their business within Indian boundaries. Such firms will act both as consumers and producers of trained force suitable for addressing the legal support needs of global corporations. In that respect, the LPO industry and the international law firms will converge and are expected to fuel the growth of each other. It is also expected that some international law firms may also setup their own ‘captives’ that will address the offshore legal support needs of their clients.

Knowledge intensive outsourcing functions such as offshore legal offshoring aka LPO have the real potential of becoming indispensable tools in a corporate strategists’ toolkit. What is needed is a ‘leap of faith’ to move from transaction-oriented client-vendor relationships to a relation that is a true partnership. Anyone who has used an external provider for legal needs, offshore or otherwise, knows that depth and ability to fulfill complex needs comes with time. The same is true for work done by engineers and lawyers located offshore. Offshore companies that have healthy client relationships and talent retention practices that actually work would be ideally placed to grow into the role of such partners.


1. India 2007. Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Government of India.
2. Legal Process outsourcing: Can offshoring of legal services to India be both efficient and ethical? Maya Karwande. Legally yours blog.
3. “Will tough economy push companies to outsourcing” David Hechler. http://www.law.com/jsp/ihc/PubArticleIHC.jsp?id=1202426925586
4. Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO)-Hype Vs. Reality. E-ValueServe.

- Megha Pande

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Indian Legal Outsourcing Scores Major Hollywood Victory

A.R. Rahman conquered Hollywood, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Score, in Slumdog Millionaire. Now the Indian lawyers at SDD Global Solutions in Mysore have scored their own Hollywood triumph, doing the legal research, and drafting the motion papers, to defeat a Los Angeles libel case against HBO’s “Da Ali G Show,” starring Sacha Baron Cohen of “Borat” and “Bruno” fame. It’s one thing for an Indian legal outsourcing company to draft a brief for a U.S. litigation. That’s been done several times before, by SDD Global, Atlas Legal Research, Lexadigm and others, to the credit of the outstanding Indian lawyers who did the work. But in this case, the work was victorious, and it resulted in a precedent-setting decision protecting comedy writers, comedians, and their producers and broadcasters everywhere.

In this case, the Indian lawyers at SDD Global drafted, and are credited by name in, the successful summary judgment brief (which you can access by clicking here) for dismissal of Doe v. HBO, the lawsuit filed by a woman who once knew comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and claimed that Cohen, while playing the role of the television character, “Ali G,” libeled her by name during a spoof interview with historian Gore Vidal. Suing under the legal pseudonym, “Jane Doe,” the plaintiff claimed that Cohen, as “Ali G,” falsely claimed to have had sexual relations with her. In the brief drafted entirely in India, the defense argued as follows:

"No reasonable person could have believed the statements, given that they were made by what the plaintiff now admits is a 'fictional character,' in the context of a series of absurd and unbelievable jokes, in what she admits is a 'comedy,' where the actor never steps out of his fictional role. This is confirmed by the fact that the plaintiff has no evidence that anyone believed any of the statements, much less the statement at the core of this lawsuit, namely, that the plaintiff had sex with a fictional character. As a matter of California and U.S. constitutional law, such statements are not actionable."

Today, Judge Terry Friedman of the Los Angeles Superior Court, agreed. He ruled as follows:

“The Court viewed the excerpt from the Ali G program which is the basis for Plaintiff’s action. No reasonable person could consider the statements made by Ali G on the program to be factual. To the contrary, it is obvious that the Ali G character is absurd, and all his statements are gibberish and intended as comedy. The actor, Sacha Baron Cohen, never strays from the Ali G character, who is dressed in a ridiculous outfit and speaks in the exaggerated manner of a rap artist. Ali G’s statements are similarly absurd. For example, prior to the reference to Plaintiff, while ‘interviewing’ the author Gore Vidal, Ali G refers to the Constitution of the United States as having been written on two tablets, clearly intended to confuse the Constitution with the Ten Commandments. Altogether, the program is obviously a spoof of a serious interview program. No reasonable person could think otherwise.”
The Court also adopted two other legal arguments, drafted by SDD Global, which helped seal the fate of the plaintiff’s case.

As reported earlier in this blog, this case is historic, and not only because it is one of the first “libel-in-fiction” cases in the television context. The case is important also because it is the first high-profile, U.S. media litigation in which the legal research and first drafts of the motion papers for the defense were completed entirely off-shore, by Indian attorneys at a legal outsourcing company. The lead counsel for the defense, New York-based SmithDehn LLP, supervised the work and appeared in court on behalf of the moving party, Channel Four Television Corporation, the UK’s second largest television network, which incidentally developed and produced Slumdog Millionaire, The Crying Game, Trainspotting, The Last King of Scotland, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Also present in the courtroom was Padma Shanthamurthy, SDD Global team leader, who traveled from her home in Mysore, India to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York to assist with oral arguments and depositions in the case.

Channel 4’s Prash Naik added: “US court actions are extremely costly to run, and even where a defendant wins, little if any of their costs are recoverable from the plaintiff. As so often happens in cases like this, the ‘chilling effect’ of the threat of substantial damages and significant legal costs, forces defendants to settle with plaintiffs who have no justifiable claim. However combining the skills and expertise of US attorneys with US law-trained Indian attorneys has proved to be an innovative and cost-effective way for Channel 4 to fight and win the suit.”

Sanjay Bhatia, SDD Global’s Head of Operations, emphasized that “this is a case where outsourcing created more work in the U.S., rather than less. Because our team made the defense affordable, U.S. lawyers were able to do the things in the U.S. that they do best there, such as strategizing, supervising, editing, and appearing in court. The implications of this case are huge. With legal outsourcing, baseless lawsuits can be defeated on the merits, instead of settled simply out of fear of legal fees.”