Outsourcing Legal Research

Interesting to read the account of some legal support services being outsourced to India, including legal research.

The account of drafting a factum with North American trained LLMs doing a draft for review by the North American lawyers is fascinating, and a bit scary.

With the electronic sources being as available in Bangalore as here, it may make no difference where the researcher is, and then it’s down to the insight, skill, knowledge and experience of the researcher.


  1. Really interesting post, Simon. I’ve long thought that this was on the cards. With a billion people and a burgeoning middle class and English as a main language, India will undoubtedly play a burgeoning role in legal research and opinions.

    I wonder what the various local law societies and insurers will have to say about it.

  2. I highly recommend reading the current bestseller The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. He puts this into a global context, discussing how our world is more affected (and flattened) by supply chain management than ever before. Routine work is being outsourced, but it will still be up to local lawyers or services to supply the high level, specialized, personalized work. We are all going to have to evolve. In particular he is especially critical of the United States, stating that in his opinion they are falling behind on the learning curve.

    (See also my blog post regarding a recent interview with Friedman
    http://conniecrosby.blogspot.com/2005/05/where-were-you-when-you-realized-world.html )

  3. Just returned from South India where the National Law School in Bangalore is turning out graduates who are going straight into the major London or Sydney firms, or else off to Harvard or Oxford for advanced degrees.
    Based on the same highly competitive model as the Indian Institute of Technology, they have a vast catchment population and a fiercely competitive work ethic.
    My nephew Sushil was one of the team that won the Jessup Moot a few years back, so don’t anyone make the mistake of thinking that these graduates aren’t the equal of North American law schools.
    Indeed because they are so focussed, they may end up being more closely matched for practice needs than our own graduates.
    But that is an entirely new rant.

  4. Ah, well, Friedman wrote his whole book with that rant. 8-)

    Interesting to hear it second-hand.

  5. Ah yes – but mine would be a law school rant, which gets us back to other posts about how the otherwise splendid new graduates couldn’t do legal research, if their lives depended on it.
    And to the extent that our legal arguments rest upon such foundations, … well let’s say that the need for remedial research instruction is a constant with all research lawyers and law firm librarians.

  6. Another angle rarely considered – we may also be the recipients of the outsourced work. With the Canada-US dollar difference, perhaps some of that work may coming north of the border?

    Honestly, I think Canadian law firms have less to fear than our US counterparts, given the comparable differences in salaries and hourly rates. At the very least, the trend should hit down south first. Intellectually these types of worries are interesting to entertain, but realistically (in my mind) it’s a wait and see…

  7. I agree with Simon C that it would be a mistake to underestimate Indian lawyers.

    But a question for the practitioners: are there any wholly research law firms in Canada? (I can see that apart from anything else the cost issue would be tricky: it might or might not be cheaper for mainstream firms to farm out research work to a specialist firm.)

    If I were a venturing soul and younger, I might think of starting a research law firm in India, and simply becoming the best there was. With decent North American contracts I could afford to pay more than many or most Indian law firms, and I could offer associates the chance to be groomed really well for the big overseas firms and crazy big salaries.

  8. No – and the onces that once bid strong to sweep the markets for legal research like Dov Seidman’s LRN have been reduced to rather marginal all-state surveys.
    I’d argue that research can’t be divorced from the larger strategic legal goals, and that few clients have problems that pose themselves purely as abstract legal questions to be researched in detatchment from the facts, drafting and strategizing.
    And if you look at the Indian models, they seem to be going beyond the pure research model.
    I thought pointing out the defects of the client’s current filings was chutzpah, but brilliant none the same.
    The fundamental Friedmann challenge remains – if communication barriers are eliminated, and professional skills can be levelled, then what work will be sent to lower cost providers, and what will be kept here?

  9. Related article: Legal Services Outsourcing Could Be Worth $US3-4 Billion For India The India Economic Times reports

    NEW DELHI: Legal services are fast emerging as the next big thing in outsourcing and could soon turn into a $3-4 billion opportunity for Indian legal eagles from the US alone.This comprises paralegal and research support, contract drafting and revising and contract management, library services, patent and trademark prosecution and litigation support.

    Link: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1210834.cms

  10. The buzz phrase in India is “knowledge process outsourcing” which is a step up the value chain from “business process outsourcing”. Google the phrase and be amazed.

  11. A new overview by Ron Friedmann and Joy London of Excited Utterances gives a sense of the scale and growth of this activity.

    See http://excitedutterances.blogspot.com/2005/08/exponential-growth-in-legal.html

  12. These comments are becoming a good little list of resources in and of themselves! I have just run into a PriceWaterhouseCoopers study:

    A Fine Balance: The Impact of Offshore IT Services on Canada’s IT Landscape

    Executive summary and list of resources are given on this page; the full report can be ordered from PWC. I notice Thomas Friedland’s 1999 book The Lexus and the Olive Tree is included in the resource list. From the report’s blurb:

    “This survey report offers an analysis of the trend of sending IT work to low cost centres in India, China, Russia, and other emerging economies, as well as Canada’s role as a nearshore provider of IT services for U.S.-based companies.”

    So, it is looking at Canada as both a user and a provider of “offshore” services. Interesting.

  13. And it may be that your children are the next ones to be helped by off-shoring:

    See today’s NYT

    September 7, 2005
    A Tutor Half a World Away, but as Close as a Keyboard
    COCHIN, India – A few minutes before 7 on a recent morning, Greeshma Salin swiveled her chair to face the computer, slipped on her headset and said in faintly accented English, “Hello, Daniela.” Seconds later she heard the response, “Hello, Greeshma.”

    The two chatted excitedly before Ms. Salin said, “We’ll work on pronouns today.” Then she typed in, “Daniela thinks that Daniela should give Daniela’s horse Scarlett to Daniela’s sister.”

    “Is this an awkward sentence?” she asked. “How can you make it better?”

    Nothing unusual about this exchange except that Ms. Salin, 22, was in Cochin, a city in coastal southern India, and her student, Daniela Marinaro, 13, was at her home in Malibu, Calif.

    Ms. Salin is part of a new wave of outsourcing to India: the tutoring of American students. Twice a week for a month now, Ms. Salin, who grew up speaking the Indian language Malayalam at home, has been tutoring Daniela in English grammar, comprehension and writing.

    Using a simulated whiteboard on their computers, connected by the Internet, and a copy of Daniela’s textbook in front of her, she guides the teenager through the intricacies of nouns, adjectives and verbs.

    Daniela, an eighth grader at Malibu Middle School, said, “I get C’s in English and I want to score A’s,” and added that she had given no thought to her tutor being 20,000 miles away, other than the situation feeling “a bit strange in the beginning.”

    She and her sister, Serena, 10, a fourth grader at Malibu Elementary, are just 2 of the 350 Americans enrolled in Growing Stars, an online tutoring service that is based in Fremont, Calif., but whose 38 teachers are all in Cochin. They offer tutoring in mathematics and science, and recently in English, to students in grades 3 to 12.

    Five days each week, at 4:30 a.m. in Cochin, the teachers log on to their computers just as students in the United States settle down to their books and homework in the early evening.

    Growing Stars is one of at least a half-dozen companies across India that are helping American children complete their homework and prepare for tests.

    As in other types of outsourcing, the driving factor in “homework outsourcing,” as the practice is known, is the cost. Companies like Growing Stars and Career Launcher India in New Delhi charge American students $20 an hour for personal tutoring, compared with $50 or more charged by their American counterparts.

    Growing Stars pays its teachers a monthly salary of 10,000 rupees ($230), twice what they would earn in entry-level jobs at local schools.

    Critics have raised concern about the quality of the instruction.

    “Online tutoring is not closely regulated or monitored; there are few industry standards,” said Rob Weil, deputy director at the educational issues department at the American Federation of Teachers. Quality becomes a trickier issue with overseas tutoring because monitoring is harder, said Boria Sax, director of research, development and training for the online offerings of Mercy College, based in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

    Growing Stars is rapidly expanding to accommodate students from the East Coast, Canada, Great Britain and Australia.

    Its recruits, mostly with recent postgraduate and teaching degrees, already have deep subject knowledge. They must go through two weeks of technical, accent and cultural training that includes familiarization with the differences between British English, widely used in India, and American English.

    “They learn to use ‘eraser’ instead of its Indian equivalent, ‘rubber,’ and understand that ‘I need a pit stop’ could mean ‘I need to go to the loo,’ ” said Saji Philip, a software entrepreneur of Indian origin and the company’s chairman and co-founder who works in New Jersey.

    Still, the cultural divide is real. In Cochin, Leela Bai Nair, 48, a former teacher who has 23 years of experience and is an academic trainer for Growing Stars, said she was “floored at first when 10-year old American students addressed me as Leela. All my teaching life in India, my students addressed me as Ma’am,” she said.

    That same morning in Cochin, an English teacher, Anya Tharakan, 24, directed her student away from the subject of video games to concentrate on a passage from “Alice in Wonderland,” enlivening the lessons with puzzles and picture games.

    Ms. Tharakan, who tutors Serena Marinaro among others, said a bit of the cultural gulf was being bridged when students asked her “How big is your home?” or “Do you have friends at work?” or “Can you send me your photo?” For her part, Ms. Tharakan is learning about soccer and rap music from her students.

    Thomas Marinaro, a chiropractor in Los Angeles and the father of Daniela and Serena, had been unhappy with the face-to-face tutoring he had previously arranged for his daughters at home. After three months with Growing Stars, however, Dr. Marinaro said the girls’ math skills were already much improved. As a bonus, it cost a third of what he paid the home tutor.

    Dr. Marinaro said that he had misgivings when he first considered enrolling his daughters for English tutoring. “I thought, how could somebody from India teach them English?” But after a few weeks of monitoring, he said he relaxed. “I want my girls to develop a good vocabulary and write better, and I believe they are learning to do that.”

    Biju Mathew, an Indian-born software engineer, set up Growing Stars after moving to the Silicon Valley five years ago to work for a technology start-up company. In India, he had been paying $10 a month for twice-a-week tutoring sessions for his children.

    In the United States, he found, a similar service could cost $50 or more per hour. The idea of homework outsourcing was born, and the company began offering its services in January 2004.

    Growing Stars has been cautious, offering its students a choice of United States- or India-based tutors for English. It charges a $10 premium above its normal $20 rate for students who choose a tutor in the United States. When parents have expressed concern over a tutor’s accent, the firm has offered a change of instructor.

    Other online tutoring firms in the United States adopt varied approaches. Tutor.com, for instance, uses only tutors based in North America. SmarThinking of Washington, D.C., has tutors in the United States but also has instructors in South Africa, the Philippines, India and Chile. However, only those in the United States provide English lessons.

    “We haven’t found any cultural divide,” said SmarThinking’s chief executive and co-founder, Burck Smith. Eliminating factors such as skin color, appearance, gender and accent made the Internet “more egalitarian than most classrooms,” he said.

    The demand for online tutoring is reflected in the firm’s 50 percent growth rate in the last few years. Twenty new clients – including high schools and colleges – have signed on for tutoring beginning this fall.

    Firms like Growing Stars are aggressively looking to expand their online tutoring under federal programs. This summer, for instance, Growing Stars’ tutors ran a successful pilot for the Upward Bound program at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

    The program, financed by the federal Department of Education, helps children of high school age get into college. With the start of the academic year this fall, Growing Stars expects to provide online tutoring in math to 80 students from Marist’s Upward Bound program.

    Also, the firm has just been approved as a licensed tutoring provider in California under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Currently, Growing Stars is trying to find a way for its teachers to be fingerprinted by the Department of Justice to meet legal requirements of the program.

    Mr. Philip, the chairman, said his company’s work would help make Americans more competitive.

    “Offshore tutoring,” he said, “is a step toward ensuring that we are not always beaten in competition against Japanese carmakers, Indian software firms and Chinese manufacturers.”

  14. Do we in Africa stand a chance to enter the legal outsourcing industry,we have staff but no contacts.


    Well its wonderfull to know that the there is a huge demand for Indian legal brains and that its is just the begining. Does even small to medium sized corporate law offices stand a chance to enter and be a part of this Legal Outsourcing BOOM in India. If yes, proposals are welcome.

  16. That legal outsourcing is a fine idea bu indians need to be cautious as legal relationships are based on trust . Best way is to employ /engage a U.S. attroney to head the legal outsourcing business/unit as we have done .It helps to train employees continously in u.s laws