Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Passage to India

I remain troubled and intrigued by a New York Times article by Heather Timmons published August 4th: “Outsourcing to India Draws Western Lawyers”. The article discusses the inevitable outsourcing of legal work from the United States and other Western countries to India. Essentially, Indian companies, under the direction of Western lawyers, can perform many legal services at a cost as low as 10% of what American firms would charge.

Of course, all of this was predicted by Thomas Friedman in The World Is Flat”, but it is still disturbing, given the well-publicized inability many newly minted lawyers have had in finding gainful employment.

What was even more interesting than the article were the many varied responses in the comments section, mostly from people wringing their hands. One person wrote that going to law school was “foolish” and that employment afterwards was “a lie perpetrated by law school deans.” Another wrote that outsourcing was the “extermination of the middle class.” However, my favorite response was from “SGB” in Vancouver, as follows:

Message to lawyers, handwringers, and students considering their future prospects: the market for more affordable legal services is VAST.

Here's a great question for lawyers: "Could you afford yourself?"

Most lawyers--who are among the most highly paid employees in the world--will admit they cannot. Which means that legal services are too expensive by a substantial margin for all but the top 4 or 5% income earners in the US. The only way for others to access legal services is to give up a big part of their net worth or arrange contingency fees. Which means that probably 90% of individuals and small businesses will walk away from their legal problems rather than engage a lawyer to help solve them.

The comment goes on to say that outsourcing will bring down the total cost of legal services, making them more affordable and will present a unique opportunity to both consumers and attorneys. I wrote about this a few weeks ago in the context of pro bono work (i.e. the cost of legal services vs the demand for legal services and the need for legal services)”. This is a very daunting time to be a practicing lawyer, but as some people seem to recognize, it may be a time of great opportunity. It is a very interesting question. Also, if I were younger and keen for adventure, I might be on the next plane to India. I like the food and Ravi Shankar.

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