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As a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer of Dallas, Abhay “Rocky” Dhir was as bright and eager as they come, attracting the attention of a couple of big firms that wanted to hire him as an associate. But Dhir knew he would take a different career path. When the clerkship ended in 2000, the comfortable salaries firms offered were certainly tempting for the University of Michigan Law School graduate. But they didn’t slake the entrepreneurial thirst Dhir had since childhood. So the next year, Dhir founded Dallas-based Atlas Legal Research, a legal business that provides affordable services such as brief writing to small firms and solo practitioners. But it’s a business with an unusual twist — the bulk of the research is performed by lawyers in Dhir’s native India. Dhir and his family immigrated to the United States in 1976 and became U.S. citizens. Recently numerous American companies have outsourced work to employees in India in areas such as technical support and records transcription; such companies take advantage of educated professionals who work at a fraction of the cost of American employees. But the practice was fairly rare nearly three years ago when Dhir started his business. To arrive at his business plan, Dhir drew from an experience his father had when he lost a job as a structural engineer and was looking for work. The Dhir family had gone to a copy center to print his father’s resume. While standing in the store it dawned on them — even in a bad economy, people still need copies of their resumes. So they set up their own print shop business in Arlington, which was later moved to Las Colinas. As soon as he was old enough to drive, Rocky Dhir worked as a salesman bringing in new clients by handing out business cards at office complexes. When Dhir, now 29, decided to create his own business, he did much the same thing as his father when coming up with an idea, looking no further than Buchmeyer’s courtroom for inspiration. “You looked at briefs from smaller firms, and they weren’t able to compete with the larger firms,” Dhir says. “But you watch these same lawyers in court and they’re brilliant. But their clients weren’t being represented as well as they should.” He knew small-firm and solo attorneys were capable enough to write legal briefs; sometimes they just didn’t have the time and resources to do legal research and writing on the fly. And Dhir believed that by employing Indian lawyers, he could provide a service to American attorneys at about one-third the cost of the hourly rate charged by an associate at a Texas firm. Law students in India receive all of their legal training in English. Even Indian Supreme Court and appellate court decisions are written in English, Dhir says. And Indian lawyers work while U.S. lawyers sleep because of the 11 1/2-hour time difference, Dhir says. So Dhir ran the idea for what would become Atlas Legal Research past his fellow clerks and his parents and they all gave him the thumbs up. Even Buchmeyer gave Dhir his approval. “Judge Buchmeyer said, “Rocky, this is what you’ve got to do,’ ” Dhir says. Buchmeyer says he expected nothing less from Dhir. “I thought it was a wild idea, but brilliant,” Buchmeyer says. OUT OF INDIA With $20,000 in seed money loaned from his parents, Dhir traveled to India in 2000 to set up his business. Dressed in his American clothes, Dhir had no real contacts with Indian lawyers when he first arrived in India. He spoke the language but knew no one within the country’s legal community. So he started visiting law schools, speaking with professors and students to pitch his business plan. Although he started his search for Indian attorneys in Delhi, he eventually found his way to Bangalore in South India where the National Law School of India University is based. Bangalore is the high-tech center of India — a city similar to Austin in size, population and atmosphere. It’s a place where the residents are used to dealing with Western business clients. That’s where Dhir located several attorneys who wanted to work for him; Dhir spent five weeks in India training them in May 2001. Initially, he contracted with a group of eight attorneys who were already involved in a business that gave online advice to other Indian lawyers. But in 2003, he broke off from that original group of Indian lawyers after their online business dissolved. He later hired two attorneys from that same group to do the bulk of the research for his business. Atlas’ Indian lawyers, Sanjay Bhatia and Aaranthi Chellappa, maintain Indian law practices while working for Atlas Research; each makes between $17 to $30 an hour for their Atlas work — which is a good hourly rate for Indian attorneys, Dhir says. Experienced lawyers in India make about $30 an hour and those with lesser experience make as little as $5 to $10 an hour, Dhir says. Dhir usually e-mails Bhatia and Chellappa the work that needs to be done for Atlas’ American clients. If there’s time, the Indian lawyers may participate in an online chat with a client if they need to ask additional questions. The Indian lawyers respond with an answer or an initial draft of a brief. Then Dhir and a paralegal check it for accuracy and style before the final work product is submitted to a lawyer-client for his or her approval. So far the Indian attorneys have briefed a variety of issues ranging from white-collar crime to jurisdictional questions in insurance coverage cases, Dhir says. Bhatia and Chellappa excel at research, Dhir says, and sometimes find angles of the law that an American lawyer might miss. However the toughest job the Indian lawyers face is the writing, Dhir says. Indian lawyers write in the passive voice and often are not direct when making legal points, Dhir says. “I’ve had Indian lawyers tell me, ‘We can’t tell the judge what to do.’ “ Bhatia says that’s where Dhir helps the process along, editing briefs and sending them back to India so Bhatia and Chellappa can see the difference. “In India, you would almost never find any precedent cited in a brief,” Bhatia says. “One has to make a conscious effort to conform to a U.S. style of drafting. “ And getting it right usually means numerous messages back and forth between himself and Dhir, Bhatia says. “Whatever expertise the India team has gained has largely been through Rocky’s sustained guidance,” Bhatia says. “In fact, he has shown a lot of patience with us every time we ‘misfired’ in our work. More often than not, Rocky has more belief in our abilities than we ourselves, which is tremendously motivating.” Bhatia says he loves working for Atlas, which provides extra income to supplement his Indian law practice that includes civil, corporate and matrimonial litigation. And Bhatia says there is a certain amount of prestige in India for lawyers who have a hand in assisting American attorneys. “People drop their jaws and look at me with awe and respect when I tell them that my area of practice including doing high-end outsourced legal work for U.S. lawyers,” Bhatia says. As for Dhir, he says Atlas is “proudly in the black.” During the business’ first full year of operation in 2002, the company brought in about $90,000 in revenue — $60,000 to $70,000 of that amount was Dhir’s take-home pay. THE DIFFERENCE There’s nothing wrong with an American attorney using an Indian lawyer to help with research or brief drafting, says James McCormack, a former State Bar of Texas general counsel who’s now a partner in Austin’s Tomblin, Carnes, McCormack. “The lawyer who is representing the client is ultimately responsible for the work product and would be ill-advised to simply take research from anybody without at least some understanding of the issues involved,” McCormack says. “I’d be nervous about having lawyers 5,000 miles away doing legal research for me,” McCormack says. “But not everyone is as squeamish as me.” And plenty of lawyers have used Dhir’s company for help without complaints, Dhir says. Dhir says he encourages Atlas’ lawyer-clients to participate in the drafting process and read the finished product over carefully before filing it in court. Dhir says he has between 30 and 40 clients, the majority of whom are in the Dallas area. Jay Ethington, a Dallas criminal-defense solo, heard about Atlas Legal Research, but was wary about using the service for the first time when he needed briefs researched and written so he could file a pre-trial motion in a white-collar crime case. He met Rocky while both were visiting Judge Buchmeyer several years ago. They exchanged business cards, Dhir says. “I said, “Hey, I like to have people work with me that I can reach out and touch,’ ” Ethington says. “ And so Rocky had to educate me on what this is all about. And then it made sense. It made dollars and cents.” Atlas Legal Research charges about $80 an hour, a cost that saved his client money, Ethington says. “[Rocky] said, “I’m going to use my research guys in India,’ ” Ethington says. “ I didn’t care if he was using old ragged books from the library. And when [the pre-trial motion] came back it was great.” Henry Simpson, a partner in six-lawyer Simpson, Wolley, McConachie in Dallas, used Atlas to help in a multinational insurance coverage case. Ironically, American law doesn’t necessarily come into play in his case, which involves coverage issues and the merits of the claim, he says. “In this particular case it turns out that U.K. [United Kingdom] law may well apply. And Rocky and his employees ended up doing a lot of U.K. research,” Simpson says. “It was a good exercise in some rather esoteric areas involving federal jurisdiction and he was very helpful.” Dhir says Atlas is doing well as a company — he hired a legal assistant and moved the base of his operation from his home to an office near the Southern Methodist University campus. About five months ago, Dhir also started his own solo law practice for two reasons: because Atlas clients asked him to be co-counsel on some cases and because he wanted to keep his litigation skills sharp so he could relate to his Atlas lawyer-clients. Ethington says although many other American companies now outsource work to professionals in India, Atlas Legal Research is different. “If I had to communicate with people in India directly [for legal help] I don’t think I’d get much done,” Ethington says. “With Rocky in the middle, we don’t have a problem. That’s the difference.”

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