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The outsourcing of U.S. jobs to India and China has emerged as one of the most hotly debated issues on the presidential campaign trail. And Hildebrandt International wants to make sure that debate takes place among law firm managing partners as well: The well-known law firm consulting group announced last week a joint venture to offer American law firms a means of outsourcing their support staffs to India. The joint venture between Hildebrandt and New York-based outsourcing group OfficeTiger will not mark the legal profession’s first foray into offshore outsourcing, but the prominence of the Somerset, N.J.-based Hildebrandt, which has advised many of the nation’s top law firms, will no doubt lend the issue further momentum among lawyers. OfficeTiger, which has about 1,600 full-time staff, mostly in Chennai, India, has already signed up some major firms, including London’s Allen & Overy and New York’s Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. Rick Vita, an executive vice president at OfficeTiger, said the consolidation and reorganization taking place within the legal industry would push firms toward outsourced solutions. “They’re the same drivers that corporations were experiencing in the mid-90s with [information technology] outsourcing,” he said. Hildebrandt has played a role in several of the largest law firm mergers, including those resulting in Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, Bingham McCutchen and others. Vita said that Bradford W. Hildebrandt “lives and breathes how law firms and law departments operate” making Hildebrandt an ideal partner for OfficeTiger’s big push into the profession. Hildebrandt’s end of the joint venture will be overseen by Hildebrandt; James Jones, a former managing partner of Washington-based Arnold & Porter; and Michael D. Short, a director at Hildebrandt in Washington. Short said the joint venture will focus on administrative functions including word processing, recordkeeping and finance and accounting. He said the joint venture also will be able to provide staff for legal and nonlegal research functions. “We’re approaching the marketplace with a suite of services that we know have applicability to a number of firms,” said Short, adding that several firms have already expressed interest in the possibility of outsourcing to India. He said the joint venture will not offer outsourced lawyers for now but will wait to see how the market develops. Dennis D’Alessandro, the executive director of New York’s Dewey Ballantine, said his firm had briefly discussed outsourcing some functions a few years ago but few partners expressed real interest, citing concerns about the quality of work by outsourced staff. Though he said he doubted outsourcing is on the horizon for Dewey Ballantine, D’Alessandro said Hildebrandt’s entrance into the marketplace might sway opinion. “That’s a very well-respected firm,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few firms go that way in a few months.” Significant savings Short said that the case for outsourcing is compelling. Given an estimated 30% to 60% cost savings in support tasks, he said, outsourcing could potentially free funds for firms to hire more lawyers. But law firms might just as likely use the savings to increase partners’ compensation. Though corporations can point to shareholder benefit or increased research and development spending in justifying outsourcing, law firms are vulnerable to charges that such moves are motivated only by greed. Ganesh Natarajan, a former partner at McGuireWoods of Richmond, Va., and the founder of Mindcrest, a Chicago-based legal outsourcing company, said that the political side of the issue is influencing a number of law firms. “We have been told very clearly by some law firms that they are going to wait until after the election,” he said. Vita acknowledged that outsourcing is a controversial subject at the moment, but he said that he expects the rhetoric to die down now that the presidential race is past the primary phase.

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