Date:03/07/2007 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/edu/2007/07/03/stories/2007070350050400.htm
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Now, for some LPO action

SACHIN MALHAN

Career prospects are tremendous in the Legal Process Outsourcing industry


The argument that off-shoring, as a practice, can create tremendous employment opportunities is now largely uncontested. It has been validated time and time again, and India is a shining example, arguably the best example.

The Indian BPO industry, which currently employs 6.5 million people, has become the stuff of stories and legends. People have made their careers not just in the industry but even ‘on’ the industry, through bestsellers and big-screen blockbusters!

The benefits of off-shoring have been felt in numerous industry verticals, including health care, research, media and, more recently, the legal industry. The significance of ‘off-shoring’ in the Indian economy is continuously increasing, and many believe that these are the ‘early days’ of offshoring, not just in terms of volume of work but also in terms of variety.

For the legal industry this is a period of tremendous learning and development, and the shape that Legal Process Outsourcing has taken raises incredible possibilities for legal professionals and industry alike.

The Indian higher education machine, and it’s a big one, turns out close to 80,000 law graduates every year.

Of this lot, only a handful, mostly from the top 12-15 law schools (a number not exceeding five per cent of the total graduates), join the law firms and legal departments, or apprentice under good counsel (senior lawyers) at the various courts and tribunals.

A sizeable percentage of the rest pursue other options including the civil services while the remaining majority struggle to succeed in the courts.

Diverse work

LPO opportunities can transform that five per cent to something closer to 40 per cent, by drawing law graduates into work that’s not just large in volume but tremendously diverse.

Rising legal costs in the U.S., and more recently in the EU, are amongst a variety of other factors that are driving a diverse portfolio of legal work to India. There is now offshoring work at almost every level of expertise and this is what makes the curry very spicy and appealing to a wide range of legal professionals.

For a young legal professional, a career with an LPO is attractive for several reasons: it is a sunrise industry which should see a boom in the next 3-5 years; there is a tremendous variety of work at all levels of expertise; high-end opportunities for graduates of top law schools; attractive remuneration and future management prospects; an opportunity to work in a corporate structure that straddles borders; a learning opportunity for those considering legal and paralegal careers in the U.K. or the U.S.

Forrester Research estimates that there could be a demand for as many as 79,000 LPO professionals in the next 7-8 years.

According to Russell Smith of SDD Global Solutions, the offshoring arm of a leading U.S. law firm, the figure is based on an assumption that only 10 per cent of law firm work can be outsourced while with an increase in global confidence in Indian legal services that percentage could be much larger.

Already 155 of the top 200 U.S. law firms outsource some portion of their work.

Some critics have remarked that most of the work will be high volume but low value.

But several leading LPOs including Quislex, Jurimatrix and Bodhi Global have created business models leveraging high-volume high-value opportunities which they strongly believe are out there for everyone to see. Research, Transaction Support, Case Analysis are good examples of high-value work that’s also coming across in large volumes.

Skills

So what does one have to do to be, and excel as, an LPO professional. Currently, 77 per cent of all LPO work emanates from the U.S. Therefore proficiency in American English, drafting and research methodology are essential skills. Comfort with work place technology is another important pre-requisite as all product creation and delivery is done using computer applications.

Only a tiny percentage of graduating lawyers are equipped with all the skills needed for the LPO industry. Capacity building and re-orientation to U.S. legal systems and methodologies will be the key in ensuring success.

Interestingly there is a healthy chunk of work that can be done, or in some cases required to be done, by non-lawyers. For instance, there is a tremendous demand for engineers in the intellectual property work space.

The work involves analysing scientific and technological inventions for the purposes of crafting legal protection for the same. This work needs to be done by those with technological skills and hence the opportunities.

One message that’s writ large – professionals who enter the industry now, at this strategic phase, will be best positioned to benefit when it booms in the months to come.

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