In what seems to be the rough equivalent of a "man bites dog" story, the ABA Journal reports today that highly trained legal process outsourcing (LPO) attorneys in India have been assigned the task of correcting grammatical and other mistakes of partners and associates at one of the top 100 law firms in the United States:
Indian legal process outsourcing companies have taken a lot of heat from U.S. lawyers for siphoning work, but they now may need to steel themselves against editors if New York City lawyer Russell Smith’s experience is any indication.
Smith, who helped start the Indian LPO firm SDD Global Solutions, says his firm may have found a new niche correcting the grammar of U.S. attorneys.
It all started with Smith—who keeps handy his copy of Plain English for Lawyers —pointing out the drafting and grammar flaws of some of his Indian lawyers as part of his company’s daily training program in U.S. law for staff. Those flaws, he says, “seemed to be mostly derived from British-style pomposity—vestiges of relatively recent colonial rule. Sentences were too long and winding. There were too many uses of passive construction and indirection.”
From there it wasn’t too long before Smith’s company began editing the work of U.S. lawyers for grammar and style. SDD Global—which has helped do legal research and drafting for U.S. lawyers working on films like Borat, Bruno and The Yes Men Fix the World—soon had a client ask them to edit the work of lawyers involved in a Hollywood lawsuit at an Am Law 100 firm in Los Angeles.
Smith admits that he never expected a team in India to be correcting the grammar and legal writing efforts of U.S. lawyers, but he’s not surprised either.
“Lawyers at some U.S. firms do not have time to conduct or participate in similar training,” Smith says, “and they are either too busy or under too much cost pressure to take the time to do a perfect or near-perfect job.”
Not to mention that “high-quality, effective English writing has been out of fashion in the U.S. for decades,” he adds.
This unusual assignment did not happen because the U.S. lawyers were incompetent. The client's motivation was to save costs, by eliminating a layer of BigLaw review, while at the same time providing a high-quality second look. In addition, most of SDD Global's Indian lawyers are preparing to become admitted to practice law in U.S. jurisdictions. When that happens, the "Buy American" critics who say that only U.S.-admitted lawyers are capable of doing U.S. legal work might be further confounded. They'll have to argue that it is not good enough to hire U.S.-admitted lawyers -- they must be U.S. lawyers in the U.S.!