Finally, a firm that is honest about what it’s doing. Only, I’m not so sure this is good news for paralegals. It may be good news for graduate students in India and for clients opting for lower cost legal fees. It seems like you can have one or the other but never both.
Howrey has opened an office in India. "It’s not outsourcing," insists Robert Ruyak, managing partner and CEO of Howrey, describing his firm’s new office in India. Of course, it’s not lawyering, either, since an American firm practicing in India would violate Indian law. Instead, it’s a new attempt by a U.S. law firm to cut costs by creating an office in India to handle document management in litigation, IP and arbitration matters pending around the world. Howrey is the first Am Law 200 firm to open an office in India to handle client work.
Like many U.S. businesses, Howrey hopes to take advantage of the growing class of well-trained — and comparatively low-paid — young Indian professionals. And Ruyak believes he can persuade reluctant clients, who will choose where their work is done, to embrace the venture. The question is whether they will do so.
We’ve written here many times about the threat of U.S. paralegal jobs being taken away by its counterparts in India. Our attitude has been that outsourcing is here, it’s not going away and it’s time that paralegals take a hard, cold look at what’s happening in the field. However, it’s our belief that if played properly, paralegals in the U.S. will only upgrade their assignment level. Howrey has actually hired paralegals based in India as direct-hires to save costs. This does not mean hiring American paralegals and sending them to India, folks. This means hiring people from India, not necessarily trained paralegals, either.
It’s just like if you had people working at home or in another location," says Ruyak. Much of Howrey’s work is document-intensive litigation, intellectual property and international arbitration. And already, much of the firm’s document management work is done by more than 200 employees, most non-lawyers, who work in an office in Falls Church, Va. It’s not a huge leap, Ruyak hopes, to extend that work to India, where a paralegal would earn $20,000 to $25,000 per year, as opposed to $40,000 to $50,000 in the United States.
Come on, fella. Just like if we had people working at home or in another location? At $25k per year less? Huh. I don’t think so. Just be honest with the message. It’s really o.k. Paralegals will deal with the situation just like 20 years ago when firms outsourced to the Philippines.
However, paralegals need to come to the realization that outsourcing to India (or in-sourcing as the case may be), is here and not going away. When asked, most paralegals will tell you that outsourcing does not affect them for whatever reason. There needs to be a huge wake-up call to the community.
When BigFirms start to hire paralegals from other countries as the firm’s permanent employees (not through an outsourcing company), the handwriting is on the wall. Our advice? Get thyself crossed-trained and out of lower level document management assignments. That work is going to cheaper labor and that cheaper labor is probably not you.
Ruyak concedes that clients "don’t want to use outsourcing." But this, he repeats, will be different. "We will have our own people working on this. It’s training, it’s control, maintaining the security, the quality of the results." He adds that clients will have the choice of whether to use the Indian office to cut costs or to have their work done in the U.S. Let’s see: $300,000 for the project or $30,000 for the same project. Hmmmm…….I wonder what they’ll choose.
Howrey partner Amit Saluja, an Indian-American corporate attorney hired last year from Hogan & Hartson, will be shuttling between his current office in Washington, D.C., and the new one in India to help hire and supervise new employees. The firm plans to hire recent graduates from Indian universities and top Indian students out of American colleges and graduate programs, who would train at the Virginia facility before returning home to India.
The office in India is just the first step in Howrey’s long-term goal of expanding its support services worldwide. The firm hopes to eventually create similar offices in Europe and Asia. So far, though, it’s just an experiment. (Meaning, if it falls on its face, no one has to take responsibility, it was only an "experiment".) "We’ll have to see how it goes," says Ruyak.