Legal services outsourcing plays an important supporting role for companies seeking to standardise routine legal processes and tasks. But providers and their employees are also becoming more sophisticated in the services that they provide, as Emma Jones reports from CPA Global’s operations in Delhi
When corporate legal departments first investigate the potential advantages of legal services outsourcing (LSO, also known as legal process outsourcing or LPO), they tend to focus on highly administrative tasks, such as IP docketing or contract and document review. They do so for good reason: Indian-based LSO providers, such as CPA Global, have quickly built themselves an unrivalled reputation for high-quality delivery of routine legal services and yielding significant cost savings. But as important as these benefits are, the potential of LSO does not end there. In fact, as the CPA Global employees and clients that we meet in India tell us, the services that they provide are rapidly becoming more sophisticated.
Dan Bell, a Microsoft architectural technologist, currently working at CPA Global’s offices in Noida near Delhi, tells us that there has been a growing maturity in the level of the intellectual property (IP) work that CPA Global’s India-based support team takes on for Microsoft’s head office in the US. ‘Only 30% of the work that the India team now does is the same as they did when the contract with CPA Global first started,’ he says. ‘The other 70% involves far more complex IP tasks, and the team has been restructured into vertical teams that report directly into the IP heads of Microsoft’s product lines.
‘The IP support we receive from CPA Global allows Microsoft to budget better and work smarter,’ he continues.
Putting the team in place
However, the increased level of support provided to companies such as Microsoft would not be possible without the appropriate levels of skill and knowledge among the Indian-based team.
In charge of attracting, recruiting and training this team is Rakesh Kher, CPA Global’s vice president of human resources for India. He explains that while the country’s continual outpouring of highly-educated law school graduates is still something of an untapped resource, competition has become fiercer for higher-level graduates as the LSO industry has taken off. Of the 80,000 or so law graduates that emerge each year, Kher explains that CPA Global would look only at those in the highest brackets, effectively reducing that pool to about 20-25,000 potential new recruits. Lateral hires of more experienced lawyers – who have, at minimum, completed law firm training contracts – boost these numbers. ‘They play a more senior role overseeing the work of new graduates or fulfilling specialist tasks specifically requested by clients,’ says Kher.
Moving away from the traditional law firm partnership track may be unusual for a Western lawyer, but it’s becoming increasingly common in India as the lawyers we met in Noida and Gurgaon tell us. Contract review team leader Ritu Solanki explains how she had undergone her training contract at a small firm in the UK, but on her return to India to join a national law firm had become quickly dissatisfied with the limited exposure that she had to clients. ‘At CPA Global, I manage the dedicated contract review team of a global telecoms provider,’ she says. ‘I really enjoy the work I do, but I particularly appreciate the interaction that I have with the lawyers in the client’s head office. We just wouldn’t have access to that sort of exposure in a law firm in India; at CPA Global, we’re part of the client’s team.’
Other lawyers explain that they joined CPA Global originally to find out more about LSO as an industry. ‘There is a perception that it’s very process-orientated work,’ says one, ‘and to a certain extent that’s true. But, at CPA Global, the work is far more complex and specialised than many people realise. There’s lots of room for us to build experience and to take on more challenging work as we develop.’
Training by example
Ensuring that employees have the right level of support and training is equally important. Kher is well aware that employee turnover would be fast and difficult to control if the work and working conditions were not attractive to new and current employees. A free taxi service to and from work, a free lunch, an onsite library, a games room and regular employee team-building exercises play an important cultural role in retaining CPA Global’s talent. But it is investment in the form of training that Kher attributes to the company’s low attrition rates. Its turnover is only 11% compared to an industry average of up to 40% in India. ‘Our work is pioneering in India in terms of our size, recruitment techniques and training,’ he says.
Kher explains that the Indian team’s training programme includes ongoing instruction by lawyers from CPA Global and a number of Magic Circle firms in the UK, many of whom are also brought to India to deliver top-level support to client projects. ‘Senior lawyers come from the UK and the US to give us training in key subject areas,’ one employee tells us, ‘and we are supported by senior CPA Global lawyers in the US, Australia and Europe who oversee the quality of the work that we produce. They educate us in the laws and procedures of the relevant jurisdictions or practice areas, so that we are able to take on projects no matter the country or sector. And the type of work that we’re taking on is evolving all the time. We just wouldn’t be able to gather that sort of knowledge or experience anywhere else.’
It has been suggested in the past that LSO is simply a passing fad – or a short-term means of cutting costs. But that misconception is quickly dispelled on a visit to CPA Global’s operation in India. It’s not just that the office space is state-of-the-art, that the employees are so enthusiastic and highly-trained, or that the level and quality of work that they produce is so high. It’s the nature of the support and the buy-in from CPA Global’s clients that is the most revealing. Microsoft’s Dan Bell encapsulates this neatly when he tells us: ‘We don’t see our support at CPA Global as simply a service provider; they are very much an extension of our team.’
‘It’s a similar story for most of our clients,’ adds Karlyn Stanley, director of legal services for CPA Global’s Indian operations. ‘They used to manage a lot of this work in-house, but it tended to be disjointed across various locations. Outsourcing legal work to CPA Global provides them with a single place of accountability and the ability to measure quality, and structure and map performance. Our job is to build on that to provide clients with the ongoing support that they need.’
Stanley emphasises the fast-moving environment for LSO in India. US born, she moved to Delhi in September 2009 to provide additional support and leadership to CPA Global’s team. ‘Originally, many companies looked to open captive operations in India. They recognised early the potential of the country for business and knowledge process outsourcing, in terms of its resources and costs,’ she explains. ‘But there is a glass ceiling of growth for captive operations, as you can never grow bigger than your core business, and there are high levels of risk in terms of the management of work and financing. That’s why many of these pioneers sold their Indian-based operations to more general service providers, who could then provide – as we do – services as and when those companies require them. Tailoring our services to multiple clients has allowed us to grow quickly and to gradually raise the level of complexity of the work that we do.’