Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Outsourcing to India

This month's ABA Journal has an article on the trend of outsourcing legal work to India. The process is basically that an attorney here in the US takes in a case, then sends all the work of drafting pleadings, contracts, discovery or the like to the outsourcing firm in India where it is handled by an attorney who is admitted (or whatever they do there) in India.

The article was silent about the ethics of this type of arrangement. I can see many issues - are you obligated to tell the client about the arrangement (if not, why not) - can you mark up the fees you pay to the Indian attorney? - are you being deceitful if you file the work as your own (see the previous posts on the topic of 'ghost lawyering?'

Personally, I don't care much for this type of arrangement. I think that if a client hires me to do a job, then they should get me and the staff that is under my immediate control, not someone halfway around the world who may, or may not, be familiar with the laws and rules under which we operate here. While I am sure that the law schools in India do a great job of educating their graduates on general principles of law, there is no substitute for the experience of practicing in a jurisdiction. I think the quality of work would suffer. I think that clients would choose another lawyer if informed of the arrangement and I think there is a duty to inform them.

I am going to post an opinion poll. Chime in and let me know your thoughts on the ethics of outsourcing.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Proposed Bankruptcy Law Changes

Congress is currently considering two bills, one in the Senate and one in the House, designed to alter the bankruptcy code to help homeowners who find themselves in the mortgage crunch. I have read both versions of the bill and think that the House version probably goes the furthest toward fixing some of the problem.

The basic problem hasn't been that the failing mortgages are "sub-prime." The problem has been that the mortgage industry has consistently made loans in excess of the value of the property. This has been litigated time and again, but it never seems to make the press. The mortgage brokers work with appraisers to get the property valued so that the loan can close. That value may be far in excess of the fair market value of the property. When it is it becomes impossible for the debtor to sell the property in the event the payment becomes too much. The debtor simply can't sell the property for enough to obtain a release of the loan.

What the House bill does is permit a bankruptcy court to cram down the mortgage to the value of the property. This would result in two things - first, the debtor could possibly then sell the property and pay off the mortgage - second, the debtor could perhaps obtain financing on the realistic value and remain in the property.

Now, this probably doesn't go far enough, but it's a start. I don't think it goes far enough because it requires a bankruptcy filing in order to cram down the amount of the loan. Congress should pass a law making it possible to cram down the loan outside of the bankruptcy process. If you ask our congress people they will tell you that the threat of bankruptcy will make the mortgage lender more willing to work with the debtor, pre-bankruptcy, but I don't see that happening. When someone is struggling to pay the debt load on a property, or is behind, it becomes an adversarial process fairly quickly. If a debtor is unable, or unwilling, to file bankruptcy he would have no better bargaining position under the proposed law than he has under the old law.

Still, it is a step in the right direction. Please write your congressman and ask for support for this bill. The bill numbers for each version are - House : HR3609IH Senate: S2136IS


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Up and Running

I finally have things up and running in the new office space in Lebanon. The final piece, internet access, was installed yesterday. Last week was the first week that I was actually open here and seeing clients. I had several, which is encouraging. I think this office will be productive.

I am currently developing a marketing plan. In this month's ABA Journal there was an article that gave tips for marketing a small law firm. I am happy to report that I was already following most of those tips.

Perhaps the biggest marketing item on the agenda is that I am writing a column for the Wilson Post, the newspaper with the highest circulation in Wilson County, Tennessee. That column will focus on legal news that is of interest to the lay person, such as rights under the Federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, credit reporting laws, consumer protection laws, landlord/tenant, criminal law and the like. The column should be available online and I will post a link here when it is. The first appearance will be Wednesday, November 7, 2007.

I also have a long list of topics to blog about, compiled during my absence. There have been some interesting developments in lawyer marketing online and I have some cases that pose novel legal questions that make for interesting discussion.

My most major project right now is moving into the house that I leased in Wilson County. That gets accomplished at the end of this month.