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Call of the bar

When Arvind Gupta, a fresh law graduate from the Banaras Hindu University, chose litigation over a legal process outsourcing (LPO) job two years ago, many warned him that he was committing a grave mistake. Then, every fresh law graduate dreamed of working at an LPO. This meant a corporate lifestyle and a great pay package. Now, however, the sector seems to have lost its glitz. Today, many prefer to follow Gupta’s example.

A recent survey by Valuenotes, a Pune-based online research aggregator, affirmed the trend. According to the report, despite LPOs surviving the global meltdown and bagging some plum offshore assignments, most law graduates would prefer to join law firms that pay far less. Surprisingly, the survey revealed that despite 45 per cent of the respondents acknowledging that LPOs offer a better pay package, they still considered law firms a better bet in the long run. The remaining 55 per cent did not know very clearly about LPOs.

This prejudice and ignorance is making it difficult for LPOs to get the crème-de-la-crème of the 80,000 odd law students who pass out every year in India. “Despite a large number of students graduating every year, the percentage of employable talent is relatively low. With both international and national law firms eyeing this talent pool, LPOs will have a tough time battling it out for quality candidates if law graduates harbour such a negative perception of them,” points out Neerja Kandala, principle analyst for legal services, Valuenotes.

The general perception of law students is that LPOs are all about repetitive and process-driven legal work. “I chose not to join an LPO because I always wanted to practice in court. That apart, working as a researcher on foreign law just didn’t appeal to me,” says Gupta, now a Supreme Court consumer advocate. The fear of getting stuck in a rut and not being able to pursue a career in litigation is the other reason students are a bit apprehensive. “I’m afraid that I might not like the work in an LPO. And what happens if I cannot find a litigation job after I decide to quit the LPO sector? So I’m a bit scared,” confesses Shivam Gupta, final-year law student at South City Law College, Calcutta.

A fresher working in this sector can draw a monthly salary of between $600 (Rs 29,000) and $900 (Rs 44,000). After gaining some experience, the money can go up to $1,800 (about Rs 90,000). Despite that, and great perks, many like Ameen Jauhar, second-year student of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Science, would prefer to give LPOs a miss. “I am prejudiced against LPOs,” he admits. “Maybe because I’ve a conventional outlook, or maybe it’s because LPOs do not offer any scope for litigation. Either way, the sector fails to appeal to me. And despite the corporate lifestyle and hefty pay packet, LPOs don’t attract many law students.”

Dinesh Sawant, chief operating officer of the Bangalore-based LPO Clutchgroup, confirms this. “We do face some difficulty during campus recruitment,” he says. “We manage to employ a few through counselling. Then we use their network to pull in more people.” According to him the fact that many LPOs initially recruited lawyers for non-legal work harmed the sector’s credibility.

Many, however, do not agree with the Valuenotes survey. “I was quite surprised at the report. We haven’t experienced any such difficulty,” says Vivek Hurry, co-founder of Exactus Corp, Mumbai. “That could be because we recruit students from the top 10 law colleges, who are quite open to such jobs.” Yet even he doesn’t deny that students from mid-ranking law colleges do have apprehensions about the LPO sector.

To overcome that, law colleges are developing modules to educate students about LPOs. For instance, the Symbiosis Law School (SLS), Pune, has included comparative law, practical training, data base research, case method and legal analysis in its syllabus to give students an insight into LPOs. However, academics feel that it’s best to work at an LPO only if it is offering quality legal services. “It is a good option only if the firm is utilising law graduates in the right way and not as glorified call centre staff. That apart, they should use it as a launch pad to working for the great legal firms that they outsource for,” points out Shashikala Gurpur, principal, SLS, Pune.

If SLS is modifying its curriculum, the Indira Gandhi National University (Ignou), in collaboration with the Mumbai-based legal management house Rainmakers, recently developed a postgraduate diploma programme in LPO. “We created this for those interested in LPOs. With so many law graduates passing out every year, logically it is not possible for everyone to get absorbed in legal firms. LPOs would be a good option for such candidates,” says Srikrishna Deva Rao, director of the School of Law, Ignou, New Delhi. So how many applicants have contacted him so far? “We have received around 100 applications,” he says. Only a 100-odd from 80,000 law students.

Clearly, LPOs are no longer a hot career option for those interested in legal services.

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