Thursday, September 30, 2010

Think twice before claiming “things” on Social Networking sites

Come March 1st, 2011, the Advertising and Standards Authority of UK shall have a bigger role to play. The ASA’s digital remit has been extended as far as it relates to public relations.

All advertising and promotional claims on the internet, including social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, are to come under the same regulations as the press and television. This seems to be a welcome extension of the powers of the ASA.

So think twice before you claim things on social networking sites or advertise your products or services in any one of them.

ASA’s new powers will be funded by a 0.1 per cent levy on paid-for advertisements appearing on internet search engines. It said that Google, the leading search engine, would be providing “seed capital” to initially finance the ASA.

There shall be a quarterly review of the extended digital remit by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), Advertising and Standards Authority ASA) and the Advertising Standards Boards of Finance (ASBOF) to ensure that the UK’s advertising self-regulatory system continues to work in the best interest of consumers and the marketing community in the online and offline world.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why are you Tweeting?

It seems that thousands of lawyers all over the world are taking the social networking sites very seriously. They are now pretty much keen on being members of such sites and using them on a regular basis to market themselves and take their professional issues ahead. Sites like Linked In, Face book and Tweeter has become an everyday name with lawyers all over the globe.

The concept of marketing your professional goals is pretty much “foreign”. The Indian system does not allow any lawyer to market his professional activities and the Indian Advocates Act casts a big “no” “no” on such front.

As an Indian lawyer, working on Indian legal matters, how do you feel that using social networking sites or even “Tweeting” has helped you at any point of time?

In case you are in the LPO industry how important is it for you to be at par with the kind of social networking activities that your counter-parts in Europe and US adhere to?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

United We gain Part II

I floated the idea of the Consortium in my yesterday’s write up----in continuation of such idea, I might say that a consortium would facilitate a steady and reasonably quick growth of the business of its members. The pooling of resources would allow a greater reach to foreign countries in terms of marketing and publicity. The joint effort would also ensure that there are a good number of LPO- trained Indian lawyers under its umbrella.

Member companies of the consortium would have the option of specializing in certain verticals without being required to run after a full laundry list of services. There could some member–companies which would concentrate only on purely legal work while a few others can concentrate on legal secretarial or legal clerical work.

The bouquet of offering would make the Consortium a one-stop-shop for the foreign buyer. This wide range of activities and offerings through specialized work force would imbibe more confidence in the foreign law firms. Marketing activities would take place with equal emphasis on all the verticals for which services are being offered by the member-companies of the Consortium.

The combined strength of the resource would also allow the Consortium to maintain a representative office setup in US as well as UK. This on-shore presence in these two destinations would fetch a huge mileage for all the member-companies of the Consortium. In fact, going ahead, the Consortium might also think of maintaining a skeleton set-up of foreign lawyers in the on-shore office/s.

In case this looks like a viable idea, "we can get into the room" and discuss more about it. KPOC will be more than happy to see the idea mature into reality and take part in the project professionally.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

United We Gain

Experience, coupled with Statistics, say that there are a huge number of medium sized LPOs in India. There is no doubt about the fact that all such LPOs have a good number of talented lawyers working under the respective banners. There seems to be no dearth of trained s well as teachable lawyers in Indian LPOs.

Despite so, it is common knowledge that many LPOs do not get a continuous flow of off-shored legal work and many a times struggle even to keep themselves afloat. Lack of work brings uncertainty in the minds of the associates and creates a feeling of instability. Some associates leave in search of more stable pastures while others stick on hoping against hope.

Many of these LPOs lack a marketing budget which means a lack of exposure to the UK and US legal circuit.

How about a consortium approach?

The wise and the learned have always said, United We Stand, Divided We fall; let us modify it and say United we gain Divided we lose.

I would come back with a number of consortium friendly ideas .. till why not jot down some of your own?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Newer legislation required

Friends, there is no doubt about the fact that the Indian legal system has to go a long way and implement newer laws before India can truly become the best destination of choice for off-shoring legal work by foreign law firms and corporations. There needs to be a major change and shift in the attitude of the Indian legislators in the matter. Some proactive action needs to be taken by all in the industry to force, cajole, convince, lure the Indian legislature to enact laws which shall unambiguously establish India to be an extremely LPO friendly country. It is important that by such laws the foreign buyers be made to feel “at home” in India.

I would request all of you to kindly jot down your ideas of the kind of laws you feel should be enacted in India for the matter. We can take this up in our ensuing Global LPO Conference 2010 in India.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What of the future?

As I was reading the paid online version of the Times UK this afternoon, an article by Richard Susskind drew my attention and I cannot resist myself from reproducing a few points from his article without adding any of my own words to it.

They are as follows:

1. The next few years will bring further massive change:

2. LPO will burgeon;

3. Paralegals will be employed more extensively;

4. Clients will share the costs of some legal services;

5. Document and workflow automation will be widely deployed;

6. Social networking will take hold;

7. High definition, desktop-to-desktop video conferencing will transform communication between lawyers and clients.

8. Big cuts in public legal funding will compel lawyers to rethink the ways that they work and urge professional bodies to think more profoundly about the future (the American Bar Association is leading the way with its commission on ethics 20/20) and governments will increasingly be committed to virtual courts and online legal guidance.

9. Leading accountancy firms will renew their interest in the legal sector, largely by offering multidisciplinary services to the mid-market, as well as LPO.

10. Top legal publishers will expand their dominance over online legal service.

11. Private equity firms will make their long-awaited investments, mainly by helping to build high-tech, process-driven legal businesses that can deliver high-volume work at lower prices than conventional law firms.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Scrambling for Higher Market share

That has been the mantra for all business owners all over the world and law firms are no exceptions

In a spree to get a chunk of the global market share, medium and big UK law firms are now busy tying up with American law firms through trans-Atlantic mergers. This will allow the UK law firms to gain more business from the global legal circuit thereby increasing their profits and extending their virtual global foot prints.

UK’s 25th-largest firm Hammonds, is supposed to be negotiating with Squire Sanders & Dempsey, an Ohio-based firm. This merger is supposed to create a practice with revenue of about £400 million. That seems to be a big number! On the other hand SJ Berwin is negotiating with New York-based Proskauer Rose.

Undoubtedly, the financial crisis has badly hit the demand for commercial legal services in UK. This is driving even middle-sized law firms to enter into synergies with US law firms. But then again we have no reason to believe that all such trans-Atlantic mergers taking place at the moment are defensive mergers. In fact, many of such actions are being taken as a part of growth strategy.

If all that is all right on two sides of the Atlantic, I wonder why people press the panic bell when the concept of legal off-shoring comes in. It’s just another way of a virtual merger or virtual collaboration, isn’t it?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Global Race for the Chair

It seems that the global race to succeed to the Chair of Stuart Popham, the senior partner at Clifford Chance is gathering momentum. The Upper Bank Street Office at Canary Wharf in London is warm with competitive filings. Lawyers from different offices of CC are joining the contest. Ambitions seem to be as tall as the building itself.

Nomination of candidates by the partners, followed by voting seems to the methodology that is to be followed for the selection of the final candidate.

Clifford Chance has been a truly global firm with a global attitude. Their policies show that they understand the 21st Century-business-of-law in the true sense of the term. The very fact that they opened up a captive center in Gurgaon, NCR, India, bears testimony to the fact as to how thoughtful they are in the matter of providing quality services at a reduced cost to their clients.

I do recall as to how in a recent London conference Mark Ford, Director, Knowledge Center, Clifford Chance, LLP was stressing the importance and benefits of legal off-shoring to India. He was happy to answer all questions and queries raised by the attendees to the conference.

Our best wishes for the upcoming selection process. May the best man win. Who ever may succeed to the Chair of Stuart Popham, we sincerely believe that he/ she shall definitely take the firm ahead with a truly global outlook. We look forward to your higher level of LPO activities in India.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Move the work to where the people are.

After being the boss of Clifford Chance and steering the world’s largest law firm for about a decade, Stuart Popham says:

“There are 59,000 Indian law graduates joining legal process offices in India every year. That’s a third of the total lawyers in the UK.” So the firm will deconstruct its transactions: in the way that an Airbus has its wings made in one country, fuselage in another and “its assembly, the design, the difficult aspects” in another. “Commercial law has to go that way; to take cost out.”*

So the whole challenge is to move the work to where people are. It is a step towards working smarter; the most essential policy to adopt in this roller-coaster global situation.

This is the right time for the High Street firms to harvest in the Indian lawyers in India, by training them, educating them and grooming them so as to be capable of providing high level legal support from India; much above the document review or the typical paralegal work.

To speak in terms of economics, it is more beneficial to create an Indian replacement of a junior UK lawyer than a paralegal; the saving is much higher. In the wake of the Legal Services Act, the most affected ones will be the high street law firms. So why not take an alternative route to success?

*You might not be able to view the web-link if you are not a paid online subscriber of Times UK.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Code of Conduct goes for a toss?

The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) is apprehensive about the fact that the ABS would severely hit the very basics codes of conduct of legal practice.

The CCBE feels that lawyer’s duties to maintain independence, to avoid conflicts of interest, and to respect client confidentiality will stand endangered if non-lawyers are allowed a significant degree of control over the affairs of the firm.

Of course, UK is not the only country that allows non-lawyers to be involved in the affairs of law-firms; there are a few other member states that allow similar activities. Speaking from an Indian perspective, and being an Indian lawyer, I feel that this aspect requires a huge deal of attention from the regulation makers. Though of course I have always advocated for the ABS structure but I have never intended it to be an unregulated free-for- all play ground for any one and everyone under the sun.

As the wise and the learned have always said; there cannot be a problem which does not have a solution; similarly, the issue raised by the CCBE also has a solution. As every aspect of human life needs a regulation and an implementation authority, I feel that making of strong and mandatory regulations to guide governance of the conduct of non-lawyers in all ABS is the only solution. Such regulation being framed must be strictly administered, implemented and complied with by all ABS. There should be regular checks and measures put into place by the regulatory authorities to satisfy themselves about the due compliance of such regulations by those functioning under ABS.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Is the CMS Cameron McKenna and Integreon deal a pure LPO deal?

Many of you who keep yourselves abreast of the developments in the LPO scenario around the globe must have heard about the “largest deal in the legal market”. But the much spoken about LPO deal between CMS Cameron McKenna and Integreon for a 10-year, period and valued at £583 million seems to be not exclusively for pure legal services. It seems to be for a well coined level of “middle-office services”

As reported by “legal futures” (see, Cameron has agreed to outsource “substantial portions of accounting and finance, human resources and training, marketing and communications, learning and development, library and information services, research, information technology, facilities and other services”.

I believe that LPO services per se should have something to do with law and legal work. If “legal futures” has reported it right, I wonder why the deal is being termed as a LPO deal when a good part of the work off-shored is of the nature of human resource and training; marketing and communications; accounting and finance etc.

So can a deal be called a LPO deal just because some work from a law firm is being off-shored to India, irrespective of the nature of the off-shored work? I mean, isn’t it weird to get the accounting work of a law firm off-shored to India and call it a LPO deal? While counting the inflow of foreign exchange to India on a national basis, can you count the revenues from it as being earned from LPO activities? I would really like to stand educated if any one from E Value Serve or the like, step in and explain the calculation methodology. More often than not, we get statistics from such companies talking about the foreign income inflow into India from LPO activities in India; so what do you take into account for arriving at such figures?

Perhaps it is time that we actually differentiated pure LPO activities from that of a “mixed-play”.

Is Integreon calling it a LPO deal or is it just another off-shoring deal incidentally with a law firm?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Enter the UK legal market

It seems that soon the lawyers in UK would have to stop counting/ banking on a body or bundle of work that only lawyers are exclusively authorised to perform. Though there has been a haphazard development of reserved legal activities over many centuries, it seems that with the ABS as being implemented in the UK, much of the reservation and protectionism will have to be given a go bye.

As reported by the Times UK, even a regulation specialist like Ian Miller has said that “There are large swaths of legal work that you do not need to be a lawyer to handle, so why bother with the hassle and expense of being regulated?”

Times UK also reports that an American academic namely Thomas Morgan has noted “Particularly lawyers who serve organizational clients are likely to find themselves competing for attention against a wide range of foreign lawyers and non-lawyer consultants. Fewer issues are likely to be seen as distinctly ‘legal’ in character.”

This is perhaps the right time and opportunity for the Indian providers of off-shored legal work to strike synergies with UK based lawyer as well as non-lawyer firms intending to take advantage of the ABS model. Successful synergies shall open up a flood gate of work that can be moved to India.

Legal assignments like mergers and acquisitions need not necessarily be done by Solicitors in UK and with the ABS loosening up things; it will be a right move for any Indian LPO to hold hands with intending non-lawyer firms and entities and enter the UK legal market as a new entrant.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Who is the fairest of them all……Part V…. Eliminate the element of “disconnect”.

Some Indians suffer from a mental “disconnect” when ever it comes to issues about foreign countries. Everything that is “foreign” seems to be like rocket-science to them. This mindset is particularly present in people who have not been groomed up in the comparatively bigger cities in India. I would not take it as a fault on their part; it is just that they never got exposure to bigger things of life and it does not necessarily mean that they cannot adapt themselves to the bigger picture.

Even bright young law graduates who have done well in their law examinations in India, tend to feel that they are just not being able to grasp anything while attending training session/s about the basics of FRCP or CPR. It is not that they do not have the capacity to understand, but the very feeling of dealing with civil procedural codes of US or UK brings in an element of disconnect in their minds. This sense of “disconnect” prevents them from grasping even the very basics of legal theories which are more or less the same as between CPC and CPR or CPC and FRCP.

As a lawyer who has been in practice for more than 14 years in Indian courts, I feel that if someone has been able to grasp the theory and provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure of India, there is no reason why he/ she should not be able to grasp the basics of the FRCP or CPR. It is just that the sense of “disconnect” stands as a major barrier in the way.

This necessitates the curving out of a well laid training manual. As a foreign Attorney, if you are in charge of training Indian lawyers, please do make sure that you involve the participation of senior Indian lawyers while creating the training manual. Draw analogies between Indian law and the foreign legal theory on which you are training the Indian lawyers. This will help them to comprehend things in an easier manner.

It is also a good idea to spend some informal-time with the lawyers in the LPO to which you have off-shored your work. May be a tea-party or a short cocktail; you get to know them better and they get to understand you more. This leads to the germination of a bond and a relationship. Talk to them as a friend and gain their confidence, show them that you care for them and you are done.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Who is the fairest of them all…… Part IV …. Decide the methodology of measuring quality.

Though SLA defines the level of the service and it includes the element of quality but it is very necessary that the smallest nitty gritty of measuring quality be extremely well defined. As an overseas client off-shoring legal work you need to be very sure about how you would like to measure the quality of the finished work-product that you receive from the Indian LPO. Such methodology of measuring quality must be put to test by application of such quality measurement parameters on the work of your own attorneys working in your on-shore office. This will allow you to test the feasibility of application of such methodology on any work product.

It is advisable that the demonstration of such quality measurement on the work products of foreign attorneys be provided to the senior management of the concerned LPO. As an overseas foreign client you need to make sure that your attorneys who are in charge of measuring the quality of the off-shored work have a clear understanding of such parameters as laid down in the contract.

Instances are not unknown where foreign law firms which hired contract attorneys in their own countries to act as QAs for a particular off-shored project, had a tough time because their own contract attorneys did not have a clear understanding of the agreed parameters.

Parameters of measurement of quality must be mutually acceptable by both parties to the off-shoring contract. As an LPO vendor you should insist that such parameters be made clear to you and you in turn pass on the parameters clearly to the lawyers working in your LPO.

Depending on the nature of the project the quality parameters may require a re-negotiation during the pendency of the project if the situation so demands.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Who is the fairest of them all……Part III…. Know your overseas people.

The most important thing is to understand the people and the environment of the country to which you are off-shoring your work; their culture and attitude, their thinking patterns and behavioral norms.

An average Indian is supposed to be a shy person who would not speak out and talk about his difficulties till he reaches the brink of the cliff. This, I believe, is not an appreciable quality in terms of western standards but the Indians perhaps cannot bring a sea change in their deep rooted attitudes over-night. Needless to say, that, such character trait of Indians is in no way indicative of the fact that they are inefficient.

I have seen and experienced situation where a bunch of newly appointed Indian lawyers in an LPO did not speak a single word despite not being able to follow the training that was being imparted by a British Attorney in India. They were all fresh pass-outs from law colleges and for each of them it was their first job. On the conclusion of the fortnight long training and after the departure of the British Attorney, these trainees Indian lawyers flooded their respective team leaders with queries which they ought to have raised in the training session. Fortunately the team leaders were efficient enough to deal with all queries of the trainee lawyers.

The above matter was discussed with the British law firm before they came down to India the next time to train the next batch of lawyers for the same project. This amiable gentleman who was a senior Attorney representing the British law firm suggested that at least one team leader be present on each of the training sessions. He instructed the team leads to spend at least half an hour everyday with the group of trainee lawyers and ask them to raise query about all that they could not understand during the training for the day. All such queries raised by the trainees with the team leads were to be to be conveyed by the team leads to the British Attorney who was imparting the training. This would allow him to take care of all such queries at the start of the training session on the next day. Thanks to this foreign lawyer who understood the cultural issue and cooperated whole-heartedly. Thereafter, the training session was a cake-walk for all concerned.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Who is the fairest of them all……Part II…. Create a work flow plan.

Many law firms who have never off-shored work are found to be very weary about the work flow plan. They keep on pondering about the method and the methodology in which work shall be assigned to the off-shore LPO and the way in which it shall be brought back to the office of the law firm overseas.

They want to be very sure about seamless exit of assignments and return of finished products. Obviously they have every reason to be very particular on such issues. Depending on the nature of the project, create a proper plan of receiving assignments and sending back finished products. Draw up every detail in a chart; show even the minutest step in that chart so that the foreign law firm is extremely sure that there would be no bottleneck or glitch in the whole process. Gain their confidence by pointing out the back up measures that you have put in place for every portion of the work-flow plan.

Thereafter, it is necessary that you as the LPO vendor follow the workflow plan extremely religiously and not deviate it from it without the knowledge of the overseas client.

Set realistic delivery timings with the foreign law firm/corporation and re-negotiate it in case of genuine daily difficulties. As a vendor, do not hide issues from the overseas client. As an overseas client it is necessary that you lend a patient hearing to the issues raised by the LPO and sort it out in the best possible way so that the project runs smoothly. A few minor changes or modifications in the already-signed SLA would not make hell break loose; in fact it might make life simpler for both sides. Moreover with such minor adjustments the mutual bond shall stand tied at a higher level. There is perhaps no reason to think that “amiability” is the other name of “indulgence”.

Who is the fairest of them all……Part I…. Expectation Management

While zeroing in on a partner, whether in business or personal life, one has to ask this question. Who matches with my requirements, expectations, capacities, budget etc. etc, etc,.

The method of selecting an LPO vendor is no different. It has to pass the test of all such parameters which are absolutely essential for the smooth running of the collaboration. Yes I have purposely used the word “collaboration” because whether or not you collaborate on pen and paper, the spirit of collaboration needs to be present in every buyer-vendor relationship.

With an isolated attitude of just buying and selling, things cannot go very far. A level of trust and confidence must be present between the on-shore company and the LPO situated on opposite shores of the sea. The expectations must be managed at the outset and not left for a later date. If the buyer has a very robust expectation which tends to a level of infeasibility, the project is bound to fail. A neat list of what the buyer wants and what the vendor can deliver needs to be made out so that the oft quoted management jargon of “expectation management” is taken care of.

Be ready to say and hear the word “No”. It is better to be told “no” to certain things than to have promises made and broken by the vendor. If you want to test the dealing-honesty of the vendor/s, put before them an expectation sheet from your side and tweak it to an unrealistic level during the course of negotiations. Watch as to how the vendor across the table reacts to it. If he says a “yes” to an expectation of yours which you as a buyer yourself know to be unrealistic, then you have every reason to feel alarmed.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Countdown for the Indian IT industry thriving on off-shored work from different State governments in US?

The news is definitely a bang on the heads of all who thrive and make pots of money from off-shored IT work from government departments of US. The ban brought about by the US State of Ohio on outsourcing government IT and back office projects to off-shore locations such as India is definitely not palatable news for us all.

Mr. Strickland, we understood that “international trade” is Federal subject matter. In the fitness of things, could this kind of regulation be actually legally passed by Ohio?

Do you really mean to keep this regulation in force for quite sometime Mr. Strickland? Or is it just to take care of the situation just before the November elections to the US Congress and Governorship of Ohio?

One of the reasoning put forward by the Governor for the State of Ohio for passing such a regulation is:

"There are pervasive service delivery problems with offshore providers, including dissatisfaction with the quality of their services and with the fact that services are being provided offshore,"…….

Are you sure Mr Ted Strickland that this was the reason for taking such a step?...... delivery problems and quality? …..Perhaps you should have thought twice before making such a statement….if the problem was all about quality could that not have been resolved by other means?

The world knows that Indian IT guys have been delivering very high quality of work and the phenomenal growth rate achieved by the Indian off-shore IT industry during the recent past also bear testimony to such fact.

Mr. Strickland, would such a regulation not bring about a rise in the budget of the State of Ohio? I mean, if all the IT jobs off-shored by the government of the Sate of Ohio is withdrawn to be done onshore, then the cost of having such assignments done on-shore would undoubtedly be many times higher than having it done from India. Would that not put a heavy stress on the already tightened coffers of the concerned State? It is not unknown news that Governments of different States in US are going through strict budgetary measures to cut cost in all administrative and support functions.

Experts are afraid that other States in US might follow suit. Perhaps before blindly following the foot prints of Ohio, the other States would do well by actually taking stock of the amount of work the intending Sate government off-shores to India. Thereafter weigh the dollar equivalent of the bill it pays to Indian companies for such work as opposed to the amount it would be required to spend for pay to its on-shore IT guys for having the same work done on-shore. This will help them to find out the required hike in the budget for the intending State government.

The intending US States would also do well by looking at the fiscal studies released by the US Chamber of Commerce about the financial efficacy of off-shoring. Loss of jobs can be tackled in a better way than by floating a policy of pseudo-protectionism.

The silver lining in the small little dark cloud hanging over the head of the Indian IT industry is that, only the Government IT jobs from Ohio will not come to India; the private sector remains untouched.