If William Shakespeare had written "Henry VI" under today's economic circumstances, he might have penned that famous line as: "The first...
SAN JOSE, Calif. — If William Shakespeare had written “Henry VI” under today’s economic circumstances, he might have penned that famous line as: “The first thing we do, let’s offshore all the lawyers.”
That version of the drama is appealing to Ajit Gupta, chief executive of Speedera Networks, who complains about the thousands of dollars an hour he spends on U.S. patent lawyers when his network-infrastructure company gets into legal sword fights. He’s entertaining the idea of looking to India, where Santa Clara, Calif.-based Speedera has a subsidiary, for a cheaper alternative.
“I’m willing to try anything that can reduce my costs,” Gupta said.
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Offshoring legal work is the latest play in the increasingly global theater of business, where all kinds of white-collar jobs — from software engineering to tax-preparation services — are being sent abroad. It’s still not clear how big legal offshoring will be, and skeptical audiences question the ethics involved in sending legal casework and privileged client information overseas.
The dialogue on legal offshoring is a sensitive one that many companies want to avoid because of a backdrop of cutbacks and job-security worries among employees. So it’s hard to assess how many companies are offshoring legal work. Abhay “Rocky” Dhir, a Dallas lawyer and entrepreneur, thinks there are very few jobs his three lawyers in Bangalore can’t perform.
For a bargain hourly rate as low as $60 (compared with $350 at the low end of the typical U.S. scale), Dhir’s Atlas Legal Research can study legal precedents in state law to craft arguments in a trial brief. It’s possible because U.S. case law is available online, and India’s English-educated lawyers work in a common-law legal system similar to ours.
Dhir said the Indian lawyers he has recruited and trained are fully qualified to compose legal briefs, which he carefully screens and edits to maintain quality. He thinks they offer advantages other than their low cost.
“Because they weren’t trained in this jurisdiction, they have a fresh perspective,” said Dhir, 28, whose company has about 50 clients and grossed $160,000 last year. “They approach the law in a very innovative way and see solutions even I don’t see.”
The ethical questions depend on the type of work offshored, said Matthew Powers, head of patent litigation in the Redwood Shores office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges.
“My view is that legal services are no different than any other services — there are some that can be commoditized, like data collection and low-level legal research,” he said. “But there are some that can never be outsourced, especially when it comes to exercising legal judgment.”