Paralegal Outsourcing – India is too far!

Over a year ago I did a post entitled, Paralegal Outsourcing: Is India too far?” noting, “If an attorney in Boston can “supervise” a virtual paralegal located in San Francisco, could she not also do so with one located in India? Since licensing is not required in the United States, is the door open to this sort of outsourcing? Perhaps, it is happening already. If any of you know, I’d like to hear from you.”

The answer, it appears, is that it had been happening for several years, but many of the problems noted in the post do indeed arise and, as a result, at least one company is moving its outsourcing back home. According to Law.com, “About a decade after it helped pioneer the trend of outsourcing legal work to India, Schwegman Lundberg & Woessner, a patent prosecution boutique, is bringing the work back to U.S. soil.”

One of the primary, although not the initial, reasons for the outsourcing was cost savings, but some of those savings are phantom savings, especially when you factor in the cost of doing the kind of supervision discussed in the original post;

“There’s a very large volume of paralegal work required to support patent prosecution,” Lundberg said. “It was working well for us because we were getting substantially lower pricing.” Schwegman’s Indian outsourcing peaked at about 15 people doing document or paralegal work for the firm.

The arrangement worked well for several years, but the firm “finally figured out that our productivity in the U.S. was substantially higher,” Lundberg said. Meanwhile, costs in India had risen, and automation was more prevalent. “It started to look less and less attractive to be in India,” Lundberg said.

The firm originally saved about 50% in labor costs for the outsourced work, assuming that productivity was equal. But shipping work to India also involves many layers of management, supervision and training expenses, plus work culture differences that can affect cost, Lundberg said.

“A U.S. employee would feel a lot more freedom to take action in gray areas than an Indian employee,” Lundberg said. “They would ask permission for things a U.S. employee would do without blinking an eye.”

The extremely hierarchical nature of work in India is also a factor, he said. If a copier runs out of paper, for example, a paralegal in India would go and find an administrative person to load the paper instead of just doing it, Lundberg said.”You get a lot of that type of thing going on that ends up slowing things down if there’s any question about how things are going to work.”

The ability to take initiative, to exercise judgment, and work  independently, I have argued here and in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional is an essential element of professionalism.  This demonstrates that this kind of professionalism is an essential element of keeping United States paralegal work in the United States.

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