"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 an American law firm to cut costs by creating an office in India that will handle document management in litigation, IP and arbitration matters pending around the world.
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.
Some British firms, like Clifford Chance, have already opened offices in India to handle back-office functions such as accounting and information technology. But Howrey is the first Am Law 200 firm to open an office in India to handle client work. Ruyak says he hopes to open in Pune, India, this month, with up to 15 Indian employees.
"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.
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.
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. "We'll have to see how it goes," says Ruyak.