Legal Ethics

Rules Unclear re Supervising Indian 'Lawyers'

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As outsourcing American legal work to foreign attorneys in India becomes more and more common, U.S. lawyers need to give some thought to potential ethical pitfalls.

Because the Indian legal education system is different and the duty of confidentiality to clients is narrower than in the United States, it is dangerous to assume an Indian lawyer’s understanding of applicable professional standards is the same as his or her American counterpart’s, according to the Professional Lawyer (PDF), an ABA Center for Professional Responsibility publication.

Plus, in a number of states here an Indian attorney is not considered a lawyer for the purpose of applying legal ethics rules, adds the article, which is written by Laura D’Allaird, a third-year student at Columbia Law School. Hence, the American lawyer in charge may be ethically required to adhere to support staff supervisory standards when overseeing the work of an Indian attorney.

However, there is currently little specific guidance about the ethical requirements that apply to U.S. lawyers supervising Indian attorneys and other foreign lawyers, the article notes–even as the booming Indian legal outsourcing market, which produced an estimated $52 million in annual revenue for U.S. law firms in 2002, is expected to bring them between $970 million and $4 billion in 2015.

An ABA Journal feature article this month takes readers inside the offices of one of India’s most successful legal outsourcing teams, where local lawyers are eager to work on American law firm projects. As an post notes, a well-paid Indian lawyer might start at an annual salary of perhaps $7,000. So, with this enormous savings over the cost of hiring an American attorney, the likelihood of continued growth of the outsourcing industry appears high.

Given that reality, more guidance is needed about American attorneys’ supervisory responsibilities, D’Allaird writes. “Indeed, direction from the ABA as to whether confidentiality can be effectively protected while outsourcing abroad, and, if so, what measures should be executed to insure this protection would be of great assistance to U.S. lawyers seeking to outsource to India.”

The title of the Professional Lawyer article is “The Indian Lawyer”: Legal Education in India and Protecting the Duty of Confidentiality while Outsourcing, and it can be found in volume 18, issue no. 3, for those who don’t have an online subscription.

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