My Indian Obsession
Although we are used to Indians from India doing jobs that we once thought only Americans could do, it surprises some that law firms are now outsourcing to Indian lawyers. Much to my horror, West Publishing Company is outsourcing a great deal of legal writing (my bread and butter) to India. So far, however, it's only the West keynotes--the basic building blocks of legal research. My job for West and for others has been to simply, simplify, simplify--break down long sentences, use modern English, eschew Latin, recognize that courts of chancery no longer exist (for the most part) in America. My hope is that Indians will never have enough familiarity with the nuances of American law practice to write accessibly about U.S. law. But the Indian work ethic and desire to succeed cannot be understated, so I may well be wrong. Here are some recent articles on the creeping encroachment of Indian lawyers:
Commentary: Is India Still an Outsourcing Haven? full story...
Legal Outsourcing to India Is Growing, but Still Confronts Fundamental Issues full story...
Shipping Legal Tasks to India Becoming more of an Option full story...
A Gateway to India? full story...
Outsourcing to India? Lawyers from India don't like it anymore than lawyers from the U.S. full story...
Pros and Cons of Drafting Patent Applications in India full story...
Am I a member of the last generation of people who can recognize a preposition, who knows where to use an objective pronoun rather than a subjective one, who knows the difference between passive and active voices and can tweak a sentence to quell its passivity, who will never place an apostrophe in the possessive "its," who will never use the phrase "a myriad of," who will not use "their" as a singular possessive? Maybe.
Am I one of the few who can spell without a spell checker, know whether quotation marks go inside or outside of punctuation, and know that the brand name is DuPont but the company is "E.I. du Pont de Nemours"? Might be.
Among lawyers, are there others who know the Uniform System of Citation so well that they need to look up a form of citation in only the rarest instance?
Are there others who have such a high degree of technical precision, yet can write with elegance and wit, and tailor their writing to the intended reader?
Maybe there are . . . but can they also build a website using HTML and Dreamweaver? Nah, just me.
My History in Legal Publishing
Back in 1976, I took a 13-week paralegal course at a school called Paralegal Institute, down on Nassau Street. It was run by a person named Carl Person. The Institute was not too proficient at job placement, yet it hooked me up with a little company called Clark Boardman on Hudson Street. I started as an editorial assistant to the managing editor, Justin Franklin, and wound up staying at the company for the next 21 years. Over the course of those years, hot lead type was replaced by electronic type, I got a law degree at night, Thomson Corporation bought Clark Boardman and blended it with other legal publishers (it's now a part of West Publishing), I attained and lost the title of Editor in Chief, I left the company to become Editor in Chef at Practising Law Institute (PLI). Eventually, West moved all the Clark Boarman publications out of town, and stopped needing an editor in chief. Since 2001, I have been writing, editing, and indexing materials related to law, and some other extraneous materials.
A Visit to a Law School in Calcutta
Through these gates on an avenue in Calcutta lies Jogesh Chandra Chowdhury Law College, an affiliate of the University of Calcutta. In January 2007, I paid a vist to the school, wanting to see what a class at an Indian law school might be like.
So I went in and asked if I could sit in on a class. I got escorted to the office of the dean, who served me chai. I asked him about the various rebellions taking place around India, and he launched into a diatribe as to why the US invasion of Iraq is totally illegal. Then he introduced me to a women's studies professor, who, when she found out I work for a legal publisher, pulled out her manuscript on the advances made in women's rights in India. I never got around to reading it, nor did I ever sit in on a class (I was glad about that--it would have been a 3 hour ordeal in an uninflected Indian accent). A very bleak and depressing school, but the grads are probably going to get all kinds of routine work from US firms, and the are fully qualified to write keynotes (headnotes) for West Publishing Company.
Calcutta's a communist-run city in the Communist-run state of West Bengal--hammers and sickles all over the place. The dean did provide me with one answer I was looking for: on my second day in Calcutta, the city shut down--it was a general strike, which seems to happen quite a bit (especially on Mondays--the long weekend is appreciated all over the world). But I wanted to know what the strike was about--I figured it had something to do with Communist agitation against the central government. But no. Although the strike was not even significant enough for the newspapers to report on, or for the TV news shows to mention, the dean explained to me that it was an eminent domain issue, and the Communists were the bad guys. Further south in Bengal, the government had appropriated the land of some villagers, paying them for it, it order to sell the land to people setting up an industrial park. I later found out that the park was the setting where Tata Motors wanted to build their affordable car. And the protesters wound up chasing Tata out--Tata's setting up on the other side of the country.
The leftist branch of Congress party, the party of Nehru and the Gandhis, had organized the mass walkout in protest. In Calcutta, the Communists are the establishment--the backer of Tata--and the ruling Congress Party foments rebellion. The topsy-turvy world of India.