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How globalized is the legal profession and how to build a Career in International Law

published April 28, 2008

By Rona M. Lum, Esq.
( 20 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
<<As Thomas Friedman's bestselling book proclaims, "the world is flat." As we all have come to realize, globalization is not an idea for the future. It has arrived and is here to stay.

So, to what extent has globalization affected the legal profession? I recently reviewed a thought-provoking report which touched on this issue. Walker Clark, LLP, business advisors and counselors to the legal profession, conducted a survey in May and June 2006 to gather information from law firms throughout the world. Their survey results, reported in the fall of 20061, revealed interesting information.


First, law firms in foreign countries tended to have larger client bases of international businesses as compared to US law firms. This is quite interesting when one considers the fact that there are far more attorneys in the US than in any other country in the world.

Second, "the one region that appears to be relatively detached from the international legal market is the United States." Walker Clark's report noted that there was a significant difference between a law firm's experience with international practice and the experiences of individual attorneys responding to their survey. The data suggested that experience with international clients tends to be concentrated among relatively few attorneys.

Third, the majority of US law firms have staffs of 20 or fewer attorneys and more localized client bases. The Walker Clark report noted that international businesses tended to hire larger-size law firms. However, smaller firms characterized as "specialized or boutique practices" were successful in capturing a significant amount of work from international businesses.

I can personally attest to some of the observations set forth in the Walker Clark 2006 survey report. My law firm can be characterized as a small "boutique practice." My firm specializes in corporate and business immigration law. But the size of my firm has not been a deterrent to clients' decisions to hire us and has not deterred my firm from seeking international businesses as clients. Approximately 80% of my client base is international businesses in a wide array of industries.

My firm interacts with our international business clients and their foreign national employees on a daily basis. Efficient and effective use of technology allows us to communicate with our clients around the world in a timely manner. My international business clients have fully embraced the concept of globalization, and guess what? So has my law firm.

My clients have no reservations about hiring an attorney located on the other side of the globe. Many of my international business clients have shared with me that for their companies the bottom line is the quality service for commensurate value that they are receiving.

Another intriguing aspect of the globalization of the legal profession is the offshoring of legal work to other countries. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Forrester Research Inc.2 estimates the current value of legal work shipped overseas to be $80 million but predicts that $4 billion worth may be shipped to India by 2015. Companies such as Pangea3, Office Tiger, and Lexadigm offer to do legal work in India. Pangea3 employs 240 lawyers in three offices located in Mumbai, India, and has been successful in obtaining millions of dollars in funding from private equity companies.

It seems that the trend of legal offshoring began with a slew of articles, followed by an ever-increasing number of companies advertising these services. The services vary from company to company. However, the majority offer to offshore legal functions such as document drafting, legal research, substantive and administrative aspects of intellectual property legal work, review of discovery documents, paralegal services, and administrative and secretarial support services. In other words, no one in the legal profession, no matter what type of position he or she holds, is immune to the offshoring of legal services.

As with offshoring in other industries, the primary reason for offshoring legal services and/or functions is economics. Many of the attorneys I have spoken to who have chosen to go the offshoring route indicate that it results in lower overhead costs, particularly in the area of payroll and employee benefits. Why pay an associate $200 per hour when you can get the work done at $25 per hour in India?

On the other hand, the jury is still out for many attorneys on this issue. This writer must admit that she falls in this category. While the economic benefits can be appreciated, there are very real concerns such as confidentiality, possible conflicts of interest, and quality of the work product that must be addressed.

In all states attorneys are bound by rules of professional responsibility. An attorney is not excused from responsibility and, hence, possible liability by saying that the legal work or service at issue was performed by a third-party legal professional located offshore. I would dare to say that such a response would not garner a favorable response from a tribunal if an attorney were called to task for legal work performed in this manner.

In the end, the decision to offshore legal functions and services must be given careful consideration. As with any other business, globalization has impacted the legal profession. While it appears that it will continue to impact our profession into the foreseeable future, attorneys and paralegals who have direct client contact can take solace in the fact that it would be difficult for our offshore counterparts to replace the personal interaction that we provide our clients. And in spite of the world's reliance on technology, people still prefer the human touch.


1 See www.worldservicesgroup.com/publications for a copy of this report.
2 Forrester Research Inc. is an independent technology and market research company.

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