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The outsourcing of U.S. jobs to India and China is one of the most hotly debated issues on the presidential campaign trail. And Hildebrandt International wants to make sure that this debate takes place among law firm managing partners as well: The law firm consulting group recently announced a joint venture to offer American law firms a means of outsourcing their support staffs to India. The 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, says consolidation and reorganization in the legal industry would push firms toward outsourcing. 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 says the fact that Bradford Hildebrandt “lives and breathes how law firms and law departments operate” makes Hildebrandt an ideal partner for OfficeTiger’s push into the profession. Hildebrandt’s end will be overseen by Bradford Hildebrandt; James Jones, a former managing partner of Arnold & Porter; and Michael Short, a director at Hildebrandt in Washington, D.C. Short says the venture will focus on administrative jobs: word processing, recordkeeping, finance, accounting, and legal and nonlegal research. “We’re approaching the marketplace with a suite of services that we know have applicability to a number of firms,” says Short, noting that several firms have already expressed interest in the possibility of outsourcing to India. He says the joint venture will not offer outsourced lawyers for now, but will see how the market develops. Dennis D’Alessandro, executive director of New York’s Dewey Ballantine, says his firm had discussed outsourcing some functions a few years ago, but the partners were concerned about the quality of work. Though he says he doubts outsourcing is on the horizon for Dewey, D’Alessandro says Hildebrandt’s entrance into the marketplace might sway opinion. Short says the case for outsourcing is compelling. Given an estimated 30 percent to 60 percent savings in support tasks, he says, outsourcing could let firms 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 and the founder of Mindcrest, a Chicago-based legal outsourcing company, says 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 says. Natarajan says law firms, despite the politics, generally see benefits in outsourcing. He notes though that many firms, still suffering from the weakened economy, are more concerned about underutilizing their present staff. Corporate law departments, he says, are much more apt to use outsourced legal staff, often because other corporate divisions also have used outsourcing. Natarajan, who provides Indian lawyers to his clients, says there are few concerns about the capabilities of outsourced legal staff. He says many of his outsourced lawyers, who earn from one-fifth to one-half of what American lawyers make, had training from U.S. law schools and are well-versed in common law doctrines. Short says OfficeTiger’s staff all possess undergraduate degrees and about one-third have advanced degrees. But D’Alessandro says the concern is not so much about the capabilities of the staff in India but about control. “There is clearly some paternal instinct within firms,” he says. Lawyers at the firm like to work closely with staff to ensure the final results and would be wary of waiting for documents to return electronically from abroad. Short says he expects many firms to be initially reluctant to outsource staff work. At least early on, he says, most firms that look to offshore outsourcing will probably do so as part of a larger restructuring. But Vita predicts that demand will probably snowball as more and more major firms sign on. D’Alessandro agrees: “It’s a herd mentality.” Anthony Lin is a staff writer for the New York Law Journal , an American Lawyer Media newspaper, where this article first appeared.

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