Mysore Is Waiting to Do All Our Work

Catching up on my reading of The Hindu, a piece on Legal Knowledge Outsourcing should be read by everyone.

Even if you discount the ambitions massively, the challenge is still quite amazing.

A few quotes:

The majority of legal services in the West can and should be sent offshore, says Mr Russell Smith, President and Chairman, SDD Global Solutions Pvt Ltd, a Mysore-based legal services KPO (knowledge process off-shoring). “And we are talking about services that now fetch a price tag of $250 billion per year and growing”

. ((Mr Smith, a Columbia Law School graduate and former partner at Frankfurt, Garbus, Klein & Selz, has over two decades of litigation and other legal experience relating to the television and film production industries, broadcast networks, motion picture studios, and production companies.))

“The vast majority of the offshored work will go to India, because of 80,000 English-speaking law graduates entering the market each year, the ‘common law’ system India shares with the US and the UK, and India’s reputation as the leader in outsourcing.”

I would say our three most sought-after services are legal research, legal drafting, and the handling of US immigration visa applications. Because we are the only legal outsourcing company in India managed by a US law firm, we provide the same or better results as US attorneys do. And because we are in India, we get the work done with increased speed (often overnight), and at a fraction of the cost.

Essentially the Indian attorneys in our Mysore office are doing the same work as if they were licensed attorneys in the New York office of our US law firm. Except that they do not actually provide legal advice, and obviously they do not appear in US courts. The work here is high-end, knowledge-based. It’s most of what lawyers do in the United States.

On legal research and drafting, one example is the work we do for motion picture and television studios. We do the research and write the memos that help the clients figure out how to make film and TV productions while avoiding legal trouble as much as possible. We also draft opinion letters that allow them to get the necessary insurance. And when there are claims, we draft the legal papers needed to respond. We do this work for companies like 20th Century Fox, HBO, Sony Pictures, and Channel 4 Television. In addition, our immigration visa specialists figure out lawful ways for our business clients to get the skilled personnel visa they need in the US.

A lot of what we do is oriented toward preventing litigation, rather than responding to it. For example, one of our clients, Sony, needed massive legal research and a lengthy opinion letter in order to get insurance for a proposed movie. The job would have cost as much as $2,50,000 had one of their usual big US law firms done the work. Instead, SDD Global did the job for $43,000. Our draft of the 45-page opinion letter, complete with 242 footnotes, helped okay a major film. Otherwise, the movie might never have been made. We also draft and review business contracts, which are other examples of non-litigation matters. Or we process immigration visa applications, getting talented people into the US. We do just about any non-litigation research or drafting that any law firm in the US does, and most of the litigation work as well.

How has been the growth of legal outsourcing, in India? Four years ago, you could count the number of Indian legal outsourcing providers on one hand. Now there are over 100, with another 200 reportedly in the works. Revenues recently have more than doubled, to $146 million in 2006. The number of employees has tripled since 2005. Research analysts predict that legal outsourcing revenues and employee numbers will reach $640 million and 32,000 respectively by 2010. Those predictions are conservative. The actual potential is higher.

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Comments

  1. “Our draft of the 45-page opinion letter, complete with 242 footnotes, helped okay a major film.

    So the number of footnotes matters, now? That’s about 5.4 footnotes a page. Were those only citations or was there substance?

    I’m clearly doing something wrong. My 388 page article for the Advocates Quarterly only had 511 footnotes. A more recent 103 page article only had 454 footnotes so I’m still below 5 per page. However many of the footnotes aren’t just citations.

    Of course, when I finished, I couldn’t have claim that I’d saved myself umpteen million dollars – or whatever the equivalent saving would be in my context – by outsourcing the work and having somebody else ghost-write it for me. “Tzouris”? – it’s Yiddish, look it up – maybe, but I doubt it.

    Maybe the big firm bill wouldn’t have been appropriate at the stated amount. We can’t say because we’ve no idea about what would be involved. However, that’s the value of work issue. The expertise issue. If there’s huge risk to one in providing an opinion, then maybe there’s merit in one charging based on the risk, not just on time. What if the outsourced opinion is wrong? Does the US client have recourse against a source with assets to pay for its losses? Does it care? Does the Indian company have adequate E&O insurance? Can one can be satisfied the insurance will pay? That one doesn’t have to sue in Inda? There’s a more than a few reported cases in the English courts over the insurance protection applicable to failed films. The cases make interesting reading.

    Assuming that Mr. Smith has been forthright about the list of clients, then we have to assume those clients are satisifed that the savings cover-off any risk; or they’ve other mechanisms in place.

  2. Thanks, David, for your good questions. First, we obtained insurance coverage for the film, so there is insurance coverage for the film. Second, the opinion letter was signed by a U.S.-licensed attorney (me), who has full malpractice insurance coverage. But thanks for asking! Oh, and yes, the footnotes were mostly citations. Thanks for caring! — Russell

  3. Wow – the Chennai press reports, and three hours later a Canadian blog is acknowledged by the Mysore / California principal, who explains the background to the Indian interview.

    Global web 2.0 at an astonishing pace. Wow.

    And thanks to Russellji.

  4. Mr Smith,

    Speaking hypothetically, of course —

    If my impression is right that the structure of an outsourcing firm analogous to SDD Global Solutions Pvt Ltd is a pyramid, and the lawyer(s) at the top who is (are) qualified and authorized to practice law the jurisdictions where the client resides, that’s going to

    1. take more than one lawyer at the top of the pyramid for the outsourcing firm to be able to assure the clients that there’s at least one knowledgeable “local” lawyer where the outsourcing firm provides services in disparate areas or

    2. take one heck of a polymath if, borrowing from a certain TV show and movie, “there can be only one”.

    Kidding aside, what you’ve done is simply move the drafting and research out of North America to a cheaper local using local people. (Sounds like the model employed by a certain very successful training shoe company, and others.) The Big law firms could, of course, set up foreign branches and ship home-trained lawyers out there, but could they hire without paying US equivalent? That would defeat the purpose. So, one hires local expertise. If one is satisfied that the local help knows the subject at least to the level of the NA associates (peons), that’s your answer. But that’s the question, isn’t it? What assurance does Big Co in the US (or Canada or the UK) etc have that that lawyers trained in India understand – let’s use the US – US rules as well as the lawyers trained in the US schools.

    I suppose they don’t, really have a reliable assurance – or the Deans of the US law schools would insist that that any belief they have is ill-founded – so if it doesn’t matter to the client then the answer is all about cost and risk, no?

    In any event, good luck with the the business.

  5. David, you’ve correctly observed that we are outsourcing legal services to a place where the costs of living and doing business are dramatically lower. I don’t know a lot about shoe manufacturers, but I can tell you that our Indian lawyers have a higher standard of living that most law associates in Manhattan. They generally live in houses, not cramped apartments, their commute time is about 1-5 minutes (no need to get in a subway or cab), and the weather is great, year-round. You should visit! Regarding the role of U.S. lawyers, yes, we need more than one, and right now we have six, with two more on the way. But the Indian attorneys at SDD Global are rising up the ranks, with the quality of their work ever increasing, so there is less and less work required on the part of U.S. attorneys in relation to each Indian one. What assurance do clients have regarding quality? No more or less assurance than they get from a U.S. law firm. They hire SDD Global to do a job, their in-counsel sees the result, and they find that the product is as good or better than their usual big firms, at a fraction of the cost. Thanks for wishing us luck.

  6. Russell,

    What assurance do clients have regarding quality? No more or less assurance than they get from a U.S. law firm. They hire SDD Global to do a job, their in-counsel sees the result, and they find that the product is as good or better than their usual big firms, at a fraction of the cost.

    As you know, the notional quality control in the “standard model” (to borrow a phrase), whatever the source of the opinion, is the expertise of the senior lawyer (or other expert, if it were a non-legal opinion) ultimately signing the opinion. That would apply no matter where the underlying work is done. That would apply no matter the field of the work. So, if one is able to provide quality underlying work to an expert enough person at a lower price …

    As many of us have said, good help is hard to find. What are they teaching those associates in school, now.

    As you indicate, it’s in-house counsel’s job to make adequate inquiries to satisfy himself or herself that the service provider is appropriate for the job in all relevant respects. That means competence and price and timeliness and whatever else is relevant to the particular job. You’re obviously able to do that. More power to you. I’m assuming, as we must, that in-house counsel have done their jobs properly. At the end of the day (as many people have accurately said) law is neither brain surgery nor rocket science. You’re proving it. Again, best of luck in bringing down the cost of legal services.

    Cheers