The Internet revolution has created a significant impact on the entire legal profession by globalising the profession. Earlier, law graduates faced a standard set of career choices. They could work for a family-run law firm, join an independent counsel or opt to be part of the corporate world as in-house legal counsel focused on India-centric legal practice.
The times have certainly changed. If you graduate this year from India’s top law schools — National Law School, Bangalore; Government Law College, Bombay; Faculty Law College, Delhi; Symbiosis, Pune; ILS, Pune; and NUJS Calcutta — you would be facing a new set of choices in LPOs, or legal process outsourcing companies.
Since most people fear change and the unknown, this could be a daunting choice. But interestingly, all law firms are LPOs. Traditional India-based law firms outsource Indian legal services to Indian or overseas clients who prefer not to handle their Indian legal matters internally within their organisations. What people call LPO today simply refers to companies that provide legal services to corporate clients and overseas law firms (mainly in the US and Europe) about legal matters that do not relate to India. The irony is that both are technically “legal process outsourcers”; it is just that the term LPO has come to refer only to the latter.
When you work for an Indian law firm servicing some of the largest global multinationals, you certainly get the best exposure that you could possibly ask for in terms of the client base. However, in most cases, the transactions you are seeing from those clients are likely limited to India-centric transactions — setting up a subsidiary in India, availing tax holidays in India, and such. The scope of these transactions for Fortune 500 multinationals is not nearly as broad as the scope of transactions that are occurring globally.
Compare this with the work done at an LPO, where the virtual office environment created by the Internet enables the work done at an LPO to be truly global in scope. At high-end LPOs, lawyers are servicing multinational in-house lawyers and law firms on their global practice. Large multinationals, whether it be a GE, Microsoft, Boeing, Google, or a Goldman Sachs, are typically not approaching Indian law firms for activities that are not India-centric.
The exposure at an LPO also varies across industries. You could be reviewing a services agreement on a given day and a financial indenture on another. Thus, if one wants to move from an LPO to an Indian or an international law firm, the transition is easy due to the exposure gained.
In a traditional law firm, most law graduates learn by getting thrown into a transaction with minimal guidance. From a learning perspective, LPOs have institutionalised training programmes for fresh graduates.
Lawyers in India have hardly had an opportunity to participate in growth stories; mainly because in-house lawyers are treated as a support function and law firms tend to be closely held. High-end LPOs can ensure that Indian lawyers get that opportunity.
The author is co-founder and co-CEO of Pangea3, an LPO company.