Protectionism is a song as old as time. We do it, and other countries do it to us. Every country is trying to figure our how to maximize the benefits of globalization without making their own people join a frenzied “dey tuk er jerbbbs” mob.
And that’s fine. This economic competition is good for standards of living all across the world — unless, of course, it leads to nuclear war.
But sometimes the lack of global reciprocity can become maddening. Take the outsourcing of legal work. For years we’ve been talking about how entry level, “document monkey” jobs are going from junior Biglaw attorneys to cheaper workers in India and a few other countries. Ever since the American Bar Association changed its rules in 2008 and allowed American legal work to be done offshore, competition from India over low-end legal work has been a key factor for those who care about the future of Biglaw.
And yet India remains a closed legal market to U.S. and British firms. Western firms are not allowed to do legal work in India, even though Western firms and clients are free to send work to India at the cost of American jobs.
Does this mean whoever keeps an eye on the Indian legal economy is doing a far, far better job than our own American Bar Association? Sure. But it’s hardly breaking news that the ABA is ineffective.
What’s far more newsworthy is that this fundamental inequity between the two legal markets might be changing — not because the ABA is magically getting its act together, but because Indian authorities might be willing to stop being a$$holes….
A story in the WSJ Law Blog today talks about a potential softening of the Indian position against foreigners providing legal services:
There are signs, however, that India is considering opening its doors at least partially to foreign firms.
India’s Law Minister Salman Khurshid and the U.K.’s Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke recently agreed to begin work on an arrangement in which India would allow entry to U.K. law firms and the U.K., in turn, would open its doors to Indian firms, the Hindustan Times reports. (It’s unclear whether U.S. firms would be invited to the party.)
“We understand the UK firms want to open offices in India for non-litigation purposes — mainly drafting of business contracts, deeds, agreements and other similar works,” said Ashok Parija, the chairman of the Indian body that regulates the legal profession. “We will negotiate with our UK counterparts to work out a principle of reciprocity, which will benefit both sides.”
First of all, I’m just going to assume that any relaxed restrictions that eventually apply to the UK will also apply to the U.S. You know, because we never occupied them to the point where their people had to starve to make us go home, and because I assume the American legal community has someone who can negotiate with Indian authorities without asking “dots or feathers” first.
The proposed changes are so obvious that one wonders why they haven’t been adopted already. And the answer to that is equally obvious. India is afraid of a little competition:
Still, the Economic Times reports, many Indian lawyers fear the competitive threat posed by foreign firms and remain opposed to lowering India’s barriers to entry.
Yes, some Indian lawyers will undoubtedly get out-competed should India lower its barriers to entry.
Welcome to the damn club. I hear junior contract lawyers who are begging for jobs in tertiary markets while saddled with six figures of debt are getting jackets made.
I’m not trying to compare the relative standard of living of a worker at in Indian LPO who is trying to feed a family on less than a McDonald’s wage with a discovery attorney in Wheeling, West Virginia, or with a 50-year-old Indian attorney who has all of his clients rush to the new Allen & Overy office in town. What I’m trying to say is that it sucks, all over, pretty much all of the time. A few industries are benefiting from the global economy, consumers are benefiting, and workers of almost any description are getting screwed.
But you can’t stop the shining. Globalization is coming to break down an ancient, racist, protectionist policy near you, and soon. It just will happen. Are you going to go to war over it? No? Then let the Brits and the Americans ruin your legal economy as you know it, just like low-cost labor from India and the Philippines is having the same, ruinous effect on the old legal economy of the U.S. and UK.
It’ll hurt less if you just embrace it.
India Considers Opening Its Doors to U.K. Law Firms [WSJ Law Blog]
Earlier: Extinction Level Event: Outsourcing