MUMBAI — Adventurous or desperate? That’s the question for a growing number of American law school graduates looking for work in India. For Sally Nicholson, a recent arrival, the answer lies somewhere in between.
“I’d say I’m desperately adventurous,” shrugged Nicholson, “I’ve been looking for work for months but the job market in the States has completely tanked. It was at the point when I realized I was looking in parts of the US that weren’t places I’d like to live that I decided why not go abroad? So far, it hasn’t been too bad.”
As the U.S. market continues to make it hard for thousands of recent graduates to find work, a number of these young attorneys opt to hang their shingle in another continent. Like many of her compatriots, Nicholson feels she’s following the jobs.
The development is a logical one, according to Daisuke Nakamoto, Professor of Economics at the University of California Berkeley.
“It began with big clients putting pressure on the major firms to cut costs,” Prof. Nakamoto explains, “Those firms began contracting with outsourcing companies, the system grew and now big firms are opening offices over there to handle a mix of document review and back-office functions. Lots of individual companies are outsourcing or opening legal offices as well. It was only a matter of time before American lawyers started following this source of potential revenue.”
Most of the arriving emigres find themselves in the booming Indian metropolises of Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. There they contact local recruiters and employment agencies who arrange interviews with the various legal offices around town. As American-trained, native English speakers, their skills make them competitive candidates for the positions doing 50-state surveys, document review, due diligence, drafting forms and other functions described in the hiring pitches as “vital legal functions.” Though the salaries are lower than those in the United States, all candidates point out the similarly low cost of living.
With the market continuing to absorb these new arrivals, some liken the present situation to a golden age of expatriate legal hiring. Yet the situation was even better only several years ago. For a prime example, look no further than Theodore Weeks.
After graduating from law school in 2007, Weeks decided to take year off to get his bearings and tour the world. Arriving in India, he fell in love with the culture and decided to look for employment in Hyderabad. He soon found himself employed at a budding start-up legal outsourcing office, and with the booming growth quickly elevated to a position managing fifty attorneys.
“Hyderabad’s pretty nice,” smiles Weeks, “Sure, there’s a bit of a culture shock when you first move here, like the areas of poverty and all that, but the pay off is huge. Here I am now: a relatively recent law school grad with a bunch of hard working subordinates, a great condo, a live-in maid and a personal driver.”
Indeed, a common thread among the law school expatriates is how affordable India is for the employed expat, or “imported outsourced attorney” as they like to call themselves. Many of their salaries rival the barrel-scraping hourly rates they would have received doing similar work as contract attorneys in the United States, allowing them to live like “Slumdog Millionaires” as several attorneys put it.
Meanwhile, the most common complaints were the over-stressed public transportation system, hot weather and parasitic worm infections.
“Those worms are not pleasant,” notes Weeks.
Some new arrivals discovered an unexpected bonus: Their location makes it much harder for student loan debt collectors to track them down. Several attorneys interviewed candidly admitted they stopped paying their loans once they arrived in India. Of those, several changed their names to further confuse any collections agencies.
However, these defiantly defaulting graduates need to remain vigilant: under pressure from the private loan companies that provide much of their vital funding, a number of law schools, led by Thomas M. Cooley Law School and New York Law School, are hiring bounty hunters to collect their outstanding debts on the subcontinent.