Business, Economics and Jobs

Outsourced or insourced: An Indian lawyer's tale

Legal process outsourcing, or LPO, is one of the hottest sectors for offshoring -- helping Overland Park, Kansas-based United Lex grow its billing by more than ten times over the past three years to become one of America's fastest growing companies, according to Inc magazine and

GlobalPost will be taking an in-depth look at the LPO business in India as part of the America: the Gutted project.  But here's a nibble of what's to come:

LPO may be hot. But it doesn't work for everybody.

Take Rajinder Singh, a New Delhi-based lawyer who specializes in bail cases and cases involving domestic violence. He has been on both sides of the LPO fence -- in a way.

First he was offered a deal to do some LPO work himself, out of his small New Delhi firm. A US company that dealt with hundreds of domestic violence cases first asked prospective clients to fill out a standardized form, from which lawyers could determine whether they had a case and what kind of action could be taken. But somebody had to go through all the forms.

Enter Singh.

The firm approached him and cut a deal to pay his firm on a per form basis for going through the documents and jotting down quick advice on what legal action to pursue. He lasted only a month or so. And not for the reasons you think.

Despite the differences in Indian and American law, there were no difficulties involved with analysing the forms and recommending a course of action. 

And despite the differences between Indian English and the American lingo, he didn't have any serious communication problems.

The problem was money.

In the beginning, Singh was hungry for the business, so he didn't worry too much about what the fee would be. American law firms bill at better than $200-$250 an hour, right? He set up operations so that he and some junior associates could keep the office running through the night, taking on the US business while he kept his cases running in India's glacial pace courts during the day. But eventually when he and his new clients started talking money, it turned out they wanted to pay $20 or so per form.

"They must have been thinking that lawyers in India are charging very low fees," Singh said. "But it turned out that what they wanted to pay me wouldn't even cover the cost of keeping the office open, keeping the lights on and the A/C running."