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Legal Outsourcing Gains Momentum
Some doubt the quality of the finished product.

By Tina Dhamija

As technology has refined traditional methods of billing and document pro­cessing in the legal profession, the con­venience of e-mail and secured networks make it possible to send work to a third party with the click of a mouse. Labeled a "hot button" issue, sending legal work to foreign countries has started to appeal to the legal industry as it provides fast turn­around and money saved.

Outsourcing started to catch on in the profession as more U.S. corporations and firms realized with the nine-to-13 hour time difference between countries such as India and the United States, work that typically could not be finished before junior level associates or other staff returned to their desks in the morn­ing, can be transmitted electronically to India and completed overnight

"We are able to provide a much faster turnaround for our clients," said Leon Steinberg, chief execu­tive officer of Intel-levate, a legal out­sourcing vendor with more than 85 employ­ees in Bangalore and New Delhi. "If some­one sends out work on a Monday evening, they can have it by Tuesday with nearly 24-hours of work done on it, collectively."

While the benefits of outsourcing legal work to India are recognized by some, others fear sending legal work to foreign countries will compromise its quality, which possibly could ruin a practitioner's reputation or even bring forth a malpractice suit.

"If I represent a client, I must be sure that the research I have is com­pletely solid because the client's case is based on the research I have gathered," explained Charles C. Abut, a solo practi­tioner in New Jersey. "If I have sent work out to be done by someone else, who perhaps did not understand all of the questions posed in the research, it could prove fatal for my client. This is a ripe area for legal malpractice."

When looking at the type of legal work outsourced to foreign countries generally research, brief writing, patent proofreading, prior arts searches, docu­ment review and various paralegal func­tions — it's clear there is a possibility mis­takes could be made. But Sumeet Nath. vice president of Lawwave.com, a legal outsourcing provider and subsidiary of Openwave Computing, said his service allows clients to fashion their own train­ing techniques for employees in India.

"When you outsource legal work, a big negative people think is that you lose some of the control over the fin­ished product," he said. "But we work to provide clients with the authority to train the outsourced employee under the procedures and practices used in their own firms."

Steinberg also said many people have a misconception of how some out­sourcing companies are run. "When most people envision outsourcing offices in India, they might envision a large room with people at cubi­cles reading off a script, with some higher-ups around to monitor them," Stein­berg said. "What we do is very different We prefer to estab­lish a team for each firm or corporation, so it becomes an extension of the firm itself. It's on our payroll, so ultimately it's our responsibility."

Even so, the legal community remains conflicted over the quality of work that is being outsourced. "I am a firm believer that you get what you pay for. If you want to pay $199 for your research project, you will get research worth $199," said Lisa Solomon, a New York-based solo practitioner who also offers legal research and writing servic­es for attorneys through her Web site. QuestionofLaw.net. "A primary concern of mine is that you are outsourcing core functions of an attorney to someone who is not a licensed American attor­ney. Personally, I don't know how com­fortable I would feel if the tables were turned and I was doing research in Indian law."


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