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In recent months, Microsoft Corp. has begun using Indian professionals to search for prior art in preparation for filing patent applications. Other Fortune 500 companies, such as Oracle Corp., have considered it. And law firms, which often follow the lead of their clients on new initiatives, are finally catching on. Outsourcing may have been a dirty word in last year’s presidential campaign. But in the real world — where costs and competitiveness matter — lawyers, like other professionals, have started to recognize the value of tapping into the highly educated, English-speaking Indian workforce to carry out tasks that would typically be performed by junior-level employees. Several outsourcing companies are courting the U.S. legal market, using Indian lawyers, scientists and other trained professionals in cities like Hyderabad, Bangalore and Noida. Vendors like Lexadigm Solutions and Lawwave.com rely exclusively on Indian lawyers to conduct low-level legal work and analysis. Others, like OfficeTiger, use a mix of lawyers and trained professionals to handle legal and nonlegal tasks such as managing conflicts databases and document management and review. A few vendors specialize. Intellevate has hired an Indian staff of lawyers and Ph.D.s to conduct patent research and other IP work. The company has a dedicated team devoted just to Microsoft’s patent work. Smaller law firms are taking advantage of the range of services offered by these companies. Document review is the most popular task to outsource. In most cases a vendor scans and uploads the documents onto a secure intranet site. Lawyers in India access the documents, identify responsive and privileged documents, and, when complete, upload their findings back onto the intranet. The process varies slightly for lawyers who outsource IP prosecution work rather than just discovery. “A large company will send us an invention description,” says Leon Steinberg, Intellevate’s chief executive who oversees 72 Indian employees and offices in Bangalore and Noida, a suburb of New Delhi. “We would have a computer science expert, or some other kind of trained specialist, do research and determine whether the invention can be patented. They use proprietary databases and online tools to conduct research. Then they post their search result on a Web site that only our client can access.” Some law firms and legal departments have opened their own offices staffed by Indian employees rather than outsourcing their work to a third-party vendor. A few years ago General Electric Co. established a legal team in Gurgaon, India, with lawyers and paralegals who draft contracts and other legal documents. While cost might be the most obvious incentive for outsourcing legal work to India, lawyers cite a number of other motivating factors. One is the 9-to-13-hour time difference between the United States and India, which gives U.S. lawyers the sense of operating on a 24-hour basis. “When I go home at six I can have them do the grunt work, research and proofreading that I would otherwise have other people do,” says Solan Schwab, a New York�based solo practitioner who outsources research projects like analyzing state-by-state insurance regulations with QuisLex, which has 12 lawyers in Hyderabad. “Then when I come in in the morning, I receive a beautiful e-mail with research done exactly how I like it.” Some lawyers say that the financial incentive of outsourcing legal work is the factor that most impresses their clients. “None of my clients have opposed it because it saves them money,” says Noah Henry Simpson, a partner at Dallas’ five-lawyer Simpson, Woolley, McConachie. “It probably saves them at least half of what they would usually pay.” The lure of inexpensive labor, however, isn’t enough to convince many lawyers that outsourcing legal work to India is a good idea. Their primary concern is security, and how to deal with issues of attorney-client privilege. “If I’m one firm and I’m outsourcing work in India, then I don’t know that another firm isn’t using the same lawyers,” says G. Hopkins Guy, an IP partner in the Silicon Valley office of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. “We need to tightly manage conflicts. I’ve heard of instances where just by sending documents out to a place like Kinko’s, lawyers have had problems with conflicts.” Many lawyers also say they are uncomfortable with the idea of outsourcing work to professionals whom they’ve never trained, let alone met. “I would be concerned about the absence of quality assurance,” says Matthew Powers, head of patent litigation in the Silicon Valley office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. “If you ship work to India and there’s a problem and the judge says, ‘How did this happen?’ and you say, ‘I don’t know,’ then there’s an abdication of responsibility.” Helen Coster is a reporter at The American Lawyer magazine, which is affiliated with IP magazine.

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