Sanjay Bhatia works in a modern downtown office, researching American case law and statutes, drafting creative legal documents and supervising junior associates. And every night, he returns home to a comfortable, upscale house.
It’s a lifestyle shared by many American lawyers. Only Bhatia is not American and doesn’t work at a U.S. law firm.
Instead, he is a graduate of the National Law School of India University who has spent more than a year working for SDD Global Solutions, a high-end legal process outsourcing company located in the heart of Mysore, India.
He knows it’s a life that many American lawyers would not imagine him living.
“Many believe that LPO [legal process outsourcing] companies are factories where U.S. law firms and corporations outsource their chore legal work,” Bhatia said. “Unfortunately, the perception of the industry is not very positive.”
Although the majority of Indian LPOs engage in more tedious work, such as document review, Bhatia said his work at SDD Global has allowed him to “give vent to my creative legal talent.”
Michael Cleaver, an associate with SDD Global’s parent firm, U.S.-based SmithDehn, said there is a misconception among Western law firms that Indian attorneys can’t do such creative work when they are analyzing American legal issues.
“They’ve all graduated from law schools that were taught in English and based on the common-law system,” said Cleaver, an Asheville, N.C., attorney who supervises the work of SDD Global’s Indian attorneys. “So, they have the same foundations as we have here, and after that, it’s just a matter of learning the practical aspects, which is something that we all have to learn after law school.”
Another misconception is that attorneys working at LPOs in India are stuck in low-paying sweatshops.
Instead, SDD Global’s Mysore office is in an “elegant,” state-of-the-art building with a glass-façade, Bhatia said. It’s fully wired and fashionably decorated, and it sports a rooftop cafeteria that looks out onto the city.
While his pay may not match those of U.S. associates, which are as high as $160,000 per year at some major American firms, Bhatia said the SDD salary range of $6,000 to $36,000 allows Indian attorneys to enjoy a high standard of living.
His two-bedroom house, for instance, rents for $150 per month.
Indian law schools produce 80,000 graduates per year, and Bhatia said more of them will turn to the LPO industry instead of seeking work as in-house counsel bogged down by mainly administrative duties or as litigators stuck in a low-paying, slow-moving court system.
“It is exciting to be a legal professional right now,” he said.
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